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Dist. 1 Leadership Summit shines on national stage

District 1 representatives Kelly Leach (left) and Julie Stephenson staffed a booth at the recent AFBF convention, sharing information about the District 1 Leadership Summit, held in June of last year to help strengthen county and regional Farm Bureau leaders across southwestern Michigan.

The 2022 national Farm Bureau convention provided one last opportunity for Michigan to promote one of its many successful COVID-era programming hacks, a district-level seminar that forged county Farm Bureau leaders throughout the southwestern Lower Peninsula into a tighter, more cohesive team. One of a dozen regional events designed to compensate for the cancellation of the usual winter “meeting season,” MFB’s District 1 Leadership Summit in June of last year compensated and then some, proving to be a notably successful option members there are keeping on their roster of Ideas That Work.

Gingerly slotted into the brief post-planting lull, the event brought together almost 80 Farm Bureau leaders from Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph and Van Buren counties and earned a national-level County Activities of Excellence Award from the American Farm Bureau Federation. On the invite list were all county Farm Bureau board members in the five-county district, as well as prospective future leaders and county staff.

Staffing an informational booth documenting the Summit for throngs of Farm Bureau members taking in the sprawling Activities of Excellence Showcase were District 1 representatives Kelly Leach and Julie Stephenson. Leach is president of the Kalamazoo County Farm Bureau; Stephenson of St. Joseph County represents District 1 on the state Promotion & Education committee.

Leach said the curiosity of most visitors fell into three categories: the immediacy of the Summit’s impact; kid-friendliness; and applicability back home in their own non-Michigan territories.

“Obviously the kid question was a ‘no’,” Leach said, citing the relatively heavy lifting Summit participants undertook in the form of DiSC personality profiles. “We explained what DiSC was and most were familiar with it, but it was new to many of them.”

The immediacy question also had an easy answer.

“There was not necessarily an immediate reward but we knew it was working based on the response we got from people at the event,” Leach said. “We were looking for long-term success from really thinking about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

“You work on yourself. It’s an investment in our people.”

Some of their visitors at AFBF were Farm Bureau staff on the hunt for new ideas worth trying back home.

“We talked to a lot of staffers,” Leach said. “They wanted to bring fresh ideas back to their counties or districts and a lot of them thought it was ideal.”

In touring the exhibit floor themselves, neither Leach nor Stephenson saw much evidence of other states investing in their members quite like Michigan does.

“Everyone struggled not being able to have in-person events. We saw some social events, some safety-related events that could be doable and would be good for us… Most everything else was either events on farms, drive-through events, social events like date night at the orchard.

“But nothing similar to our booth.”


P.S.: One quick editorial comment: The best thing about attending AFBF is the pride you come home with — home to Michigan, where we Farm Bureau with the best of ‘em!

Date Posted: January 11, 2022