Farm Bureau celebrates 75 years, traces roots to county
by Matt Shinall
Mar 22, 2012 | 2532 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In 1937, Robert M. Stiles, a Bartow County farmer, laid the groundwork for what would become the largest organization of its kind in the state of Georgia. Out of necessity, local farmers joined forces to form what is now Georgia Farm Bureau, celebrating this year its 75th anniversary.

Bartow County Farm Bureau, 1130 N. Tennessee St., may be best known for insurance but the organization still stands for the same principles Stiles had in mind when he founded United Georgia Farmers. Although Georgia Farm Bureau offers insurance and membership benefits to any Georgia resident, the organization's mission is the advancement and protection of agriculture.

Georgia Farm Bureau focuses much of its attention on legislative matters, lobbying for farmers and the agricultural industry. Other efforts promote awareness through education initiatives.

A 1987 internal publication, marking the organization's 50th anniversary, described the formation and inspiration for the independent, non-governmental, nonprofit, volunteer organization.

"Although farmers' organizations had failed in the past, Mr. Robert M. Stiles and others believed a farmers' organization controlled by farmers would succeed. At Mr. Stiles' request a group of farmers from the seven Northwest Georgia counties of Bartow, Cherokee, Cobb, Gordon, Floyd, Polk and Paulding met on June 17, 1937, at the Bartow County Courthouse. The result of this meeting was the formation of the United Georgia Farmers," stated the 1987 publication. "Mr. Stiles laid the foundation for the development of a strong organization. His dedication and commitment to the idea of a farm organization led by true farmers molded the lasting philosophy of Georgia Farm Bureau."

What began in Bartow, incorporating 50 farmers in its first year, now holds 3,000 member families in Bartow County and more than 340,000 member families statewide.

"If it wasn't for Farm Bureau, agriculture probably wouldn't be what it is in the state of Georgia, or even in Bartow County, because there wouldn't be the protection there is of the farmer itself," said Georgia Farm Bureau Field Representative Roby Murray. "Bartow County, along with every county, has played the role of helping to further agriculture and protecting agriculture in the county and in the state.

"Bartow County is getting to become more of an urban county but I think agriculture still plays a large part of Bartow County and there are a lot of businesses that derive an income off of agriculture."

Agriculture is Georgia's largest industry contributing more than $69.8 billion to the state's economy each year. According to Georgia Farm Bureau, one in seven people are employed in agriculture- or forestry-related fields.

Although state headquarters are now located in Macon, local staff represent county organizations, and volunteer leadership makes up county and state boards of directors.

Bartow County farmer Dean Bagwell, owner of Shady Grove Farms, runs a diversified farming operation with his father and his youngest son. Bagwell has served as Bartow County Farm Bureau president since 1996 and has been involved in the organization since the early '80s.

"A large percentage of revenue comes into local folks in Bartow that are employed in agriculture. It may not be the leading industry in the county but it is certainly one of the top-producing commodities for our area," Bagwell said. "We have a good balance of residential, agriculture and commercial development in Bartow County."

Bagwell credited Georgia Farm Bureau's presence in legislative matters for several crucial matters decided during his career, including an amendment exempting farm equipment from ad valorem taxes, the delay of tax assessment on timber land until the time of sale and conservation use land tax classification for agricultural property.

Beyond agricultural promotion, Georgia Farm Bureau formed Farm Bureau Insurance in 1959 and is now the largest Georgia-based personal lines property casualty insurance company.

In 1937, membership dues were $4 a year. Today, annual membership is $25. Membership funds agricultural promotion and grants access to organizational benefits, including the ability to purchase insurance, access to health and dental insurance, and discounts on hotels, rental cars, vehicle purchases and more.

For more information on Georgia Farm Bureau, visit www.gfb.org or call the Bartow County office at 770-382-2951.