BRATTLEBORO - The Windham County Farm Bureau, the state's second oldest county farm bureau, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
The Windsor County Farm Bureau began one year before the Windham County group formed.
The Windham County Farm Bureau started as a social group for farmers and their families in Windham County in the days before the Internet, television, and even electricity, when farming was a solitary job.
Through the years, as each of Vermont's other counties formed their own bureaus, the Windham County bureau has changed to meet the growing complexities that farming in the 20th century created.
Windham County resident, and former Secretary of Agriculture, Roger Allbee said the farm bureau has remained an important model for farmers to have a voice in agriculture policy as farming has changed over the past 100 years.
Allbee said over the past 100 years Windham County farmers have been at the forefront of agricultural advancement and policy. From early innovations in farm machinery, to experiments in apple and blueberry production and the establishment of the Holstein Association, and right on up to today's Windham County farmers who are leading the state in value added products such as quality sheep cheese and goat milk caramels, Allbee says Windham County farmers have been leading the way in Vermont agriculture.
"A lot of innovation took place in Windham County and the farm bureau was a big part of that," Allbee said.
Allbee said the farm bureau has always put resources into education and as the bureau enters its second century Allbee said it will be important to continue supporting young farmers.
"Windham County was ahead of the idea that education was important for farmers," Allbee said. "The farm bureau really took on an important role and became an advocacy organization. Windham and Windsor counties were the most populated parts of Vermont and agriculture was always a big part of that."
The statewide Farm Bureau formed in 1915, when only a handful of counties had created their own bureaus and other states were also forming farming organizations. Today there are more than 4,000 member families in all 14 counties.
Windham Country Farm Bureau president Chip Hellus said that even as the statewide group has grown and the farming issues have become more complex the county system continues to give farmers a way to affect state and national farm policy.
Issues discussed at Windham County Farm Bureau meetings are brought to Montpelier, and then on to Washington, D.C. when national policy comes into play.
"When a farmer has an issue the farm bureau is a place to go," said Hellus. "It gives farmers a voice. One person can make a difference."
Tim Buskey, executive director of the Vermont Farm Bureau, said the Windham County Farm Bureau helped pave the way for the statewide and national farm bureaus, as well as for the extension service, which eventually became a program of University of Vermont.
He also said the early farm bureau groups established a good model for getting farmers involved in agricultural issues.
"Members have an opportunity to enter into the discussion at every level," said Buskey.
Today the Vermont Farm Bureau lobbies lawmakers in Montpelier on agricultural issues, and as a member of the U.S. Farm Bureau also brings the concerns of Vermont farmers to Washington, D.C.
"We found out over 100 years ago that the policy development process works well," Buskey said. "They started the process of starting a farmer-to-farmer discussion. It is based on a respect for individual thought and it is a good way for solving issues and problems facing agriculture."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 802-254-2311, ext. 279. Follow him @HowardReformer on Twitter.