"It's up to us to organize. No one can do it for us. See to it that your Farm Center endorses the State Federation at its next meeting. If the farmer does not demand a square deal no one is going to do it for him."
A few weeks after those words appeared in the September 1919 edition of the Monterey County Farm Bureau Monthly, delegates from 32 county Farm Bureaus met in Berkeley to create the California Farm Bureau Federation.
The fledgling organization, with a combined membership of 24,168, elected Dr. W.H. Walker of Willows as its first president and occupied two rooms within Hilgard Hall on the University of California campus in Berkeley.
The university and its Agricultural Extension Service acted as midwife in the birth of the Farm Bureau movement in California.
Created by Congress in 1914, the extension service operated through the nation's land grant colleges, including UC. Before extension staff could bring the service's education programs to a county, the service was required to establish a farm organization within the county. That guaranteed a channel through which county farm advisors and extension specialists could reach individual farmers and their families. A county Farm Bureau representing at least 20 percent of the farmers in the county had to be operating before a farm advisor could be appointed for the county.
The first California County to qualify was Humboldt, which formed its Farm Bureau in 1913. The following year, Yolo, San Joaquin and San Diego counties founded their Farm Bureaus.
B.H. Crocheron, the founder of California's Agricultural Extension Service, promoted the formation of county Farm Bureaus and, eventually, the state organization as well. In a circular written in 1917, he envisioned the county Farm Bureau acting as "a sort of rural chamber of commerce and ... the guardian of rural affairs. It can take the lead in agitation for good roads, for better schools, and for cheaper methods of buying and selling." Crocheron added, that its first and surest function is to “increase the local knowledge of agricultural fact."
Farm Bureau retains to this day a close association with the extension service, but it also became clear to early organizers that Farm Bureau should pursue a broader agenda as well. Because the university could not participate in those extra activities, organizers decided to separate the Farm Bureau from the extension service. That was accomplished with the birth of the CFBF on Oct. 23, 1919, when its constitution and bylaws were officially adopted.
In the early years, the local farm center formed the basis of Farm Bureau life. At the peak of the farm-center system, in 1923, some 568 farm centers operated within the 42 existing county Farm Bureaus. As transportation systems improved, allowing farmers to travel more widely to meetings, the number of farm centers decreased. But a few farm centers remain in operation today.
The state organization, meanwhile, began assembling some of the basic functions it still performs. In 1920, CFBF formed a Law and Utilities Department to represent farmers' interests before California's courts and commissions. In 1921, a Publicity Department was created and a statewide edition of Farm Bureau Monthly began publication. In 1922, an Organization Department was formed to encourage membership.
In an effort to improve the quality of life in the state's rural areas, the early CFBF also established a Farm Home Department. A university study in 1933 described the purpose of the department as "to assist the farm family to maintain an adequate standard of living by supporting home-demonstration work and by exchanges of experiences in homemaking."
Farm Bureau also showed an early interest in providing farmers with low-cost insurance coverage. As early as 1925, the organization formed a committee that endorsed the creation of county mutual companies to provide rural fire insurance. For a brief time in the late 1920s, CFBF and county Farm Bureaus offered an automobile insurance discount to members.
Eventually, Farm Bureau decided to expand its insurance offerings, launching the Cal-Farm Insurance Company in 1948. Now independently operated, the new CalFarm remains a key partner with Farm Bureau, offering farmowners, agribusiness and commercial insurance as well as auto and health plans.
Obtaining low-cost workers' compensation insurance was also a key concern for Farm Bureau members. Several county Farm Bureaus arranged blanket policies for farm employers. In 1943, CFBF entered into a partnership with the State Compensation Insurance Fund—a partnership that remains in force today—to provide a group discount on workers' compensation insurance premiums.
The 1940s also saw the establishment of CFBF's Young People's Program, now the Young Farmers and Ranchers program. Designed as a service to help young agriculturalists succeed in the business and to train new generations of Farm Bureau leaders, the YF&R program began in 1947.
Communicating with members and the general public has always been a key Farm Bureau function. County Farm Bureaus were publishing monthly newspapers for members even before the statewide organization was formed, and the Farm Bureau Monthly remained the organization's main publication into the 1970s. The weekly newspaper Ag Alert® began publication in 1974 and has since become the most widely read and respected agricultural publication in California.
Farm Bureau also recognized early the benefits of broadcast communication. CFBF sponsored radio programming during the 1920s. The organization returned to the radio business in 1950, launching the Voice of Agriculture over the 12-station California Farm Network. CFBF produced radio programming for 47 years and today operates a radio news service that provides daily news briefs and sound bites to stations statewide.
CFBF began producing television programs in 1964, with a weekly program also titled Voice of Agriculture. The program began as a combination of in-studio guests and educational films before evolving into a newsmagazine format in the early 1980s. Retitled California Country in 1996, the program now reaches viewers on stations and cable systems throughout California, plus a nationwide audience via the DirecTV satellite system.
Farm Bureau's communications efforts took a new direction in 1996, when the organization entered cyberspace. CFBF launched CFBF.com, providing news and information about Farm Bureau and California agriculture to computer users around the world.
Throughout its history, Farm Bureau has remained a flexible organization, adding new functions when needed by its members and discontinuing other programs to reflect changing times.
Sparked by unionization drives and other labor unrest, CFBF delegates approved creation of the Farm Employers Labor Service in 1970. The service provided farm employers with labor- relations advice and group legal services. Following passage of the state Agriculture Labor Relations Act in 1975, FELS expanded its staff to include field representatives working in eight regions of California and Oregon. A wholly owned subsidiary of Farm Bureau, FELS has expanded to offer a wide range of personnel management services.
As California's population grew during the 1960s and '70s, Farm Bureau saw the need to assure adequate representation for farmers and rural residents on the state's elected bodies. In 1976, CFBF formed a political action committee, FARM PAC®, which supports candidates who understand agriculture.
The continued urbanization of California brought a sobering realization to farmers: Many people had no idea where their food came from or what was necessary to bring that food to their tables. That realization brought a creative solution. CFBF created an Agriculture Education Program in 1980, to incorporate agriculture into the regular curricula of the state's elementary and secondary schools. Reorganized in 1986 as the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom, the program provides classroom materials and training for teachers, including the annual Summer Agricultural Institute.
Throughout its history, the California Farm Bureau Federation has maintained a reputation for innovative programs aimed at one goal: providing the best possible services available to farmers and rural residents.
Today, we have 53 county Farm Bureaus, representing 56 counties. They are:
|San Luis Obispo
Farm Bureau's Constitution:
Much like our forefathers who drafted our national constitution, the founders of the California Farm Bureau Federation wrote a constitution based on a firm belief that California farmers and ranchers are fully able to handle their own affairs. The California Farm Bureau Federation has never deviated from that principle.
Farm Bureau policies emanate from the grass roots...the members of the organization. The policies are decided annually by a representative body made up of delegates from the counties. These delegates also elect a board of directors to guide the organization between meetings.
The broad base of its representation has served to ensure the continuation of the California Farm Bureau Federation as a general purpose organization working for the best interests of all agriculture.
(History courtesy of California Farm Bureau Federation)