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Farmers Union 100th Anniversary Celebration

By Marilyn Bay Wentz

Fifty members of Rocky Mountain Farmers Union joined in the National Farmers Union (NFU) centennial celebration held in Irving, Tex., March 1-4.

NFU was founded in Point, Tex., in 1902 when Newton Gresham and nine other men hosted a public meeting to discuss ways to improve the financial hardships faced by farmers. Considered to be a clandestine group, early members had to prove themselves to be accepted and passwords were used to ensure that no enemies of the fledgling group were allowed into its meetings.

It was this humble beginning that more than 1,000 Farmers Union members from throughout the nation gathered to commemorate. Convention headquarters were Irving, Texas, a suburb of Dallas.

Following a Friday evening welcome dinner and entertainment of Country Western music, participants Saturday morning climbed on 20 buses and headed for Point, a destination about 80 miles southeast of Dallas.

The citizens of Point, all 500 of them, hosted the all-day event. It included exhibits of antique tractors, ladies period dresses, craft and art booths. Point residents prepared and served a Texas-style barbecue. Highlights for the day included an address by Bob Bergland, who was U.S. Department of Agriculture secretary during the 1970s in the Carter administration. Bergland, a Minnesota native, described the commodity marketing environment he experienced while growing up on his parents’ farm.

“Commodity checks would bounce, grain buyers refused to pay quality premiums, and input supplies and service were woefully inadequate,” Bergland said. “It clearly was not enough to complain. We had to take action, which we did by forming marketing and supply cooperatives.”

The day included visits to both the site of the first Farmers Union public meeting and the Lone Star Cemetery where Gresham and other founders are buried. The day ended with a stew supper and a concert by Country Music artist Mark Chesnutt.

The program was held in a giant, rodeo-arena-sized tent. It was a well-planned and impressive program, but someone forgot to tell Mother Nature that the area needed the balmy weather that is usual for early March. It was unseasonably cold and windy, with the mercury at just 10 degrees when the buses left the convention center at 9 a.m.

Convention participants stayed much warmer Sunday when they attended a non-denominational church service, followed by greetings from other agriculture organizations and reports from NFU officers back at the hotel convention center.

The convention featured a special salute to retiring NFU President Leland Swenson, who served the organization since 1988. Delegates elected Dave Frederickson to replace him.

Other business conducted by delegates to the NFU convention included strengthening of policy supporting country-of-origin food labeling, banning of packer ownership of livestock, asking for legislation to keep public funded agricultural technology in the public domain, and provisions to strengthen communications technology in rural America.