In our Interview with Barb Iverson, current president of the Oregon Farm Bureau, we asked her about the OFB’s stated stance on issues such as cap and trade and GMOs. She was concise and could back up many of the policies, but she began to waver when it came to education. She mentioned that farmers from across the state draft the actual policy book and that she didn’t agree with all of it, not to mention things she thinks shouldn’t be in the book at all. Upon asking, we found that Barb’s objections began with the philosophy of the bureau: the first line reads “We believe in the traditional American family,” or, in other words, the OFB doesn’t like non-traditional families, which almost always means queer people. Barb has been involved in LGBT activism, and it was surprising that she was president of an organization that seemed to conflict with some of her personal beliefs.
Not to mention, why does the OFB even have an official philosophy regarding gay marriage? I combed through their policy book to see if there were any more stances seemingly unrelated to farming. Worthy mentions:
- English should be the designated national language,
- People applying for social services should be drug tested and go through a mandatory job training,
- And last but not least, the Oregon Farm Bureau is in favor of capital punishment.
What’s Wrong With That?
If the Oregon Farm Bureau wants to achieve its mission of “representing the depth and breadth of Oregon’s diverse agricultural community,” it needs to address these highly partisan, non-agriculture-related policies. If the president of the OFB has qualms with its policies, then there have to be other members who have problems, not to mention farmers that are not members precisely because of these policies. The already existing rift between urban and rural is not helped when an organization that claims to be in the interest of all farmers then uses that platform to support unrelated partisan opinions, thus associating all farmers with those opinions.
This project is interesting as a lot of engagement would be internal to the organization. There are those who draft the policy book, presumably the origin of these unrelated policies. Then there are those members of the OFB’s management who are not involved in the drafting, like Barb. Less inward-facing actors would include members of the OFB not involved with actively running it and Oregon farmers who feel as though they cannot be represented by the OFB. OFB management not involved with the policy book draft are motivated to make the policy book as inclusive as possible in order to recruit more members. Existing members are less active, as they either agree with, do not know about, or do not care about non-farming stances taken by the OFB. Non-members are also less active but could be motivated to join an organization they feel represents them.
How it Would Happen
Ideally, our group would be able to convince the management of the OFB to gather and have a conversation about the inclusivity of their policies. If this conversation was able to happen, there would likely be policies that the majority would agree to remove from the book entirely. Going forward more members of that group would be involved with the yearly policy book draft, making sure to question the relevance and inclusivity of any existing or proposed policies. Every couple of years the OFB could send a survey to its members and other Oregon farmers asking them to rate how much they agree or disagree with the policies in the book, to better represent their membership and to see what policies keep non-members from joining.
The main issue with the policy book is that it seems as controversial or odd policies get swept under the rug to instead focus on whatever current farming policy crisis is on the table. But with diversity come strength, and the Oregon Farm Bureau could find an even stronger base by uniting many different types of people under the banner of being a farmer.