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Grassroots vs. Astroturfing

By Todd Hagenbuch

I had the pleasure of attending my first NFU national convention in March in Denver. How fortunate we are to be able to host this exciting event for our friends and colleagues from around the country. I was impressed with the events we hosted and was proud to say that I represented the people of the greatest Farmers Union group in the nation.

As I visited with those in other states, I was encouraged to see that they, like us, are working on increasing membership. I had dinner one night with the president of the Alaska Farmers Union. He had just brought in an extraordinary amount of associate members by encouraging another group to come into the Farmers Union family. Even though Alaska doesn’t have a huge number of traditional farming and ranching families, it does have people who are critical to producing food and fiber for that state and for our country. If we aren’t a voice for producers in areas such as this, places Washington, D.C. can easily overlook, who will be?

‘Grassroots’ is a term used by so many groups to indicate that they are a bottom-up organization, taking the will from those at the base and elevating them to the top. The Farmers Union was based on this philosophy- take the needs and desires of those working in the field and give them a voice in politics. By electing delegates to the national convention who weighed in on the national policy formation process, you passed on your opinions to people in Washington, D.C., who can get your concerns to policymakers.

As a board of directors, we need to hear your opinions and ideas, too. I’m very encouraged by the ideas our members have for different cooperatives, projects, etc. We have a lot on our plate, but presenting new ideas and opinions keeps us a grassroots organization. Remember when you give us opinions, though, that we must balance your ideas with someone else’s in our organization. We will do the best we can to make sure all viewpoints are taken into consideration.

In some groups, ‘grassroots’ is giving way to ‘astroturfing,’ the new term used to describe organizations that claim to be grassroots but are faking it. As farmers and ranchers, we can appreciate how important it is to make sure our roots are strong so we can grow. We can’t grow astroturf in our fields, so we shouldn’t try to grow it in our union. As a member of Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, you can be assured that we are grassroots, and that we will do all we can to make sure you are represented, not only at home but at the national level as well.