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Reflections on Farmers Union and its 100 Years

By John Stencel

Fred Macy, a young farmer from Pine Bluffs, Wyo., who attended the National Farmers Union’s 100th Anniversary Convention, March 1-4, in Irving and Point, Texas, summed up the experience best when he said it was exciting to reflect on Farmers Union’s history while getting to know the leaders that will launch Farmers Union into its next 100 years.
Fred, I could not agree with you more.

My appreciation for the founding of our organization deepened as my wife, Marian, and I joined the 1000 plus Farmers Union members who traveled to Point, Texas, March 2, to commemorate Farmers Union’s 100th birthday. The frigid wind and bone chilling cold reminded us of what it must have been like to farm one hundred years ago.

The ten men who founded Farmers Union in 1902 had to brave the elements to do their farm work, and then they willingly braved the elements again to attend meetings as they got the fledging Farmers Union off the ground. Added to this was their fear of persecution for forming the organization as evidenced by their secret passwords and thorough screening of potential new members. Looking from the past to the future, I expect great things from our newly-elected NFU President Dave Frederickson, formerly president of Minnesota Farmers Union. I have known Dave for a long time. He is highly intelligent and committed yet a very down to earth sort of guy.

In a news conference just after the announcement that he would be the next NFU president, Frederickson said his first priority is passage of a farm bill that retains as many of the Farmers Union-supported provisions as possible. When asked about his next priority, he said a new farm bill that is better yet. He told the reporters that price is the bottom line, and that without a reasonable price for commodities, farmers and ranchers cannot survive.

“A lot of farmers would like to see a return to what were once scoffingly called the failed policies of the past,” Frederickson told the press corps. “Farmers have to receive their income from the market, not from government payments.”

Frederickson’s sensibilities, passion and candor will certainly set the stage for Farmers Union for the coming year and beyond.

Another reason for enthusiasm about the future of Farmers Union is the growth of the organization. In the past few years, Farmers Union organizations have started in California, Alaska, Oregon, Washington, and Missouri. Alaska Farmers Union now has nearly 200 members, which doesn’t sound that impressive unless you know that it started in 1998 and that there are fewer than 400 farmers in the state.

Also encouraging was the number of young people—from children and babies, to teens to folks in their early twenties and thirties—attending the convention. The participation of people of all ages at this convention shows that Farmers Union is an organization for families and one that is relevant to all ages.