By Jeremy C. Nagel
One daunting hurdle Farm Bureau newcomers face is our ocean of acronyms that inundate the language of members and staff alike. Nobody wants to see a full list, but it’s no stretch that somewhere in the top 10 — maybe the top 5 — is CAM, short for County Administrative Manager.
It’s also no stretch that CAMs, as the nerve center of the county Farm Bureau, play an absolutely vital role in the organization’s function and success. Covid nixed the last two County Staff Conferences, so this month’s event in Midland felt like an overdue family reunion.
MFB President Carl Bednarski’s opening remarks summed up everyone’s first thoughts: “Happy to be back in person!” he grinned before sharing an update on the ongoing home-office makeover that’s kept most MFB staff working from home despite the easing of pandemic restrictions.
“The pandemic’s permanently changed our habits,” Bednarski continued, touching on yet another challenge of the CAMs’ key role in the organization. “You are the support for our county leaders and you have a unique challenge to push them a bit.
“They look to you for direction — you are the tip of the spear,” he said before introducing MFB staff leaders.
Sarah Black shared an update on Great Lakes Ag Labor Services and Nika Degg summarized the progress being made on the next generation of county Farm Bureau websites on behalf of the Center for Marketing and Media.
From there Field Operations Director Deb Schmucker launched an in-depth conversation walking attendees through their DiSC profiles — an effective means of better managing how their and member leaders’ personalities influence county Farm Bureau dynamics.
The afternoon was packed with almost a dozen themed roundtables led by MFB staff and touching on topics as diverse as design and printing, youth programs and member communications alongside well-known programs like membership recruitment and policy development.
“At every roundtable I went to I learned something helpful for serving my counties better,” said Jenn Marfio, a triple CAM serving Farm Bureau members in Mecosta, Osceola and Oceana Counties.
The challenge of providing relevant programming for more than 50 CAMs from across the state wasn’t lost on Cass County’s Pauline Harris: “Together we’re an incredible tapestry of experience and youth and energy and patience.
“We each bring a unique perspective to this position,” she said, alluding to how each CAM cultivates her own approach to serving members, but with shared devotion and priority on upholding organizational integrity.
“From my board to my members, I feel a sense of ownership,” Harris said. “We have such a diversity of members and leaders, and a passion for who we are and who we represent.
“I’m honored to serve the men and women of Michigan agriculture. None of us would be here without our farmers, and how lucky am I to be able to work alongside them?”
“It’s so rewarding to serve my members because every one of them is different,” said Lapeer CAM Liz Beach. “I’m always learning more about them, growing and building better relationships so I can help them more.
“They’re like family and I’m always here to help them; they can rely on me and it gives me a sense of purpose and satisfaction.”
Lori Scheich-Givens is a quintuple CAM for five counties across the northernmost Lower Peninsula: Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Emmet and Presque Isle.
“Serving our members gives me a sense of pride and satisfaction, knowing that everything I do can have a direct and positive impact,” Scheich-Givens said. “I’m proud to have the opportunity to help them be successful on their farms by sharing with them everything their membership provides.”
Maybe the truest test of any conference is how well it inspires and refreshes participants’ enthusiasm for the work they resume back home.
“The best part is that for two days, we are the focus,” Harris said. “We aren’t gathering materials or making agendas, we don’t have to contact the caterer or confirm RSVPs.
“Our sole purpose is to pause, recharge and find motivation we may have misplaced. The networking opportunities are endless and the access to home office staff is invaluable.”
“It provided a great opportunity to network with others in my position,” said Rachelle Lehman, CAM in Ionia and Barry Counties. “I enjoyed hearing what other counties are doing while talking through challenges and solutions.”
“I left feeling refreshed and reinvigorated.”
“It’s always great to have the opportunity to share ideas — learn about what other CAMs do and what works for them in their counties,” echoed Beach. “I’m always able to relate and replicate the ideas and strategies they use.”
“And as always, it was a blast to be back together laughing and having fun with CAMs from across the state. It’s been too long since we’ve all been together.”