Friday, January 21, 2011

Growth and Plans

These are exciting times. This week I've seen the plan for growth for the Alaska State Grange and the plans for the Wyoming and Florida State Granges are coming together rapidly.

I am a firm believer that growth comes to those that plan for it and then work to accomplish it. The three states that are building and implementing plans are demonstrating this principle.

This process of creating plans to create growth is critical to success. Every Grange should take some time to make plans to achieve growth. Goals need to be set and commitment to those goals must be made by members.

Goals do not need to be big or huge, but they can be. As an example, the Alaska State Grange currently has seven Community Granges and has adopted a motion to have 15 by 2015.

Those who plan for nothing generally find what they are looking for. Make plans and have goals to work for. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish when you have a plan to work on.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Agriculture Subsidies and the Farm Bill

I read an op-ed piece this week that showed off the lack of understanding that many people have about the Farm Bill. Are you aware that 67% of the money spent through the 2008 Farm Bill is spent for non-farm purposes?

It also appears that it is a common belief that a great deal of money is spent subsidizing non-farm companies or individuals who own farms. From the numbers that I’ve seen, only about 5% of farms are not owned and operated by farmers. In addition a little less than 15% of the money spent through the Farm Bill is used for farm commodity support.

Agriculture is important to our Nation! It provides jobs both directly and indirectly. While some work in the fields and barns, many people work for companies that use agricultural products to produce everything from medicines to prepared foods to biodegradable products.

Agricultural production requires tremendous investment in land, equipment, seed, and more and is then subject to weather fluctuations and volatile markets. Every farmer plants his crops and nurtures his livestock not knowing if his efforts will result in a product that he can sell nor what the price for that commodity will be.

In my Address to the Delegates last November I said the following.

“Due to the financial deficits of the federal government the Grange focus in the 2012 Farm Bill will be in the following areas. We must ensure that credit is available to farmers regardless of size. Rural development issues must continue to be a priority in order to provide necessary infrastructure to get our product from field to table. Research and funding of the Extension program must be continued if we wish to ensure innovative practices and new tools beneficial to agriculture and society are available. The creation, improvement, and implementation of both primary and secondary energy sources through agriculture must remain a priority to lessen our dependence on foreign oil. Crop insurance and disaster relief must be adequately funded in order to serve as the primary way of helping farmers deal with unforeseen weather and market fluctuations.”

The Grange does not insist on commodity subsidizes, but we must ensure that farms have the opportunity to remain profitable to the families living on them. If we abandon agriculture and reduce the less than 18% on non-subsidy agriculture support, our county’s citizens will pay a high price. The world’s safest, most abundant food source is the result of our agricultural base. We have fed ourselves and much of the world and there is no reason that should not continue.

If we truly support agriculture we cannot allow the media to show a few bad examples, or only share a bit of the information and then imply that their view is the total picture of agriculture. It is time for all who support their local farmers to take action and share the real picture of American agriculture.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Spending More Than You Make

I’m beginning to wonder about either the sanity or intelligence of some of our politicians, at least in regards to financial matters. Our Federal Government is drowning in debt, at least 10 states are aware that bankruptcy is a possible option and what the heck is going through the minds of many of our elected officials?

Illinois raised taxes this week, a number of states have raised their taxes over the past two years and seem to be avoiding reductions in spending. On the other hand, a number of states have either already slashed spending or are proposing serious reductions in spending now.

I’ll admit that I’ve read a couple of books dealing with economics, that I’ve been managing my families finances with my wife for 30 years, and that in working in business and with a variety of non-profit groups I have a bit of experience dealing with money and budgets. Even though I’ve never dealt with billions of dollars, much less trillions, I think that I’ve learned some simple fundamentals.

Rule number one, don’t spend more than you make. I understand that you sometimes borrow money in order to purchase big ticket items, but you don’t borrow more than what you can comfortably make the principal and interest payments on. If your income goes down, you reduce spending, even if you have to give up something you like. If your income goes up, you set aside a bit for a raining day in the future before increasing spending.

Governor Martin O’Malley, MD said “This year I think all of us will come to appreciate just how important the recovery and reinvestment dollars were.” He was referring to more than 350 million from the federal stimulus that was used by Maryland to pay off its pension promises for the past two years.

To top off Maryland’s situation, their legislature is discussing raising taxes to deal with their deficit.

I think someone doesn’t understand not spending more than you make or not borrowing more than you can afford, at least in Maryland and a number of other states. When do elected officials begin to act like most Americans do when their income drops? What spending is critical, what is important, what is nice, and what is simple extravagance? Our families have to live with the realities of rule number one and make hard decisions, why do some elected officials not understanding this simple concept?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Arizona Shooting and Grief

The shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 13 others is a terrible crime which appears to have been the doing of one mentally unstable person. Knowing Grange members, I expect that all the victims and their families are being prayed for by our members in every state.

I am disgusted with a few politicians and some political commentators for their actions. Attempts to use this tragedy to attack political opponents or to further political agendas are despicable at best. These actions are great examples of either stupidity or of cold-hearted partisanship.

In 2008, we lost one of our National Grange officers to death suddenly. While it wasn’t a violent act, it was a shock to all. I saw members gather in Granges and remember John and his service to our organization, even when they had never met him personally. There was an outpouring of grief and prayers for his family. No one suggested that we use our time for anything other than remembering John and comforting his family. We were united in that moment. Every community organization that I am familiar with responds to death and crime in the same manner.

Maybe some of those in public life should look at all the positive examples of how Americans deal with tragedy and loss. I know that I have no intention of ever voting for someone or listening to anyone who uses moments of tragedy to further their own goals and agendas. Remember that life is about the people in our life not things or an agenda.

This terrible shooting in Arizona will undoubtedly create debate about dealing with mentally ill people, gun laws, and even free speech, but those debates should be starting next week, after many of the facts have been gathered, not while the shock of the crime is still fresh and the families have only begun to realize their loss.

My prayers go out to every person who has been touched by this horrible crime.

Friday, January 7, 2011

View into Isolation

Yesterday was one of those days where I spent it in airports and in the air. One of the treats of air travel is time to catch up on reading, since there is seldom room to use the computer.

The book that I read was one that I bought a few months ago and just hadn't had time to get to. The reason I bought it was that it is written by a distant cousin who I've never met.

"In the Wake of the Frontier" by Ruth Vincent is about her experiences in Alaska in the early 1950's. While I found the book fascinating due to both the mention of a few family members I knew and the reality of Alaska before statehood, the account of how she dealt with isolation was inspiring.

The experiences she outlined are a view into the past, more specifically the situation that was common in rural America following the civil war. Can you imagine going to town once or twice during the year? Can you imagine not seeing another person of your own gender for months?

The question that also crossed my mind was, is isolation still an issue today? Are people who spend the majority of their time on the internet, experiencing a new form of isolation? I believe that we are social by nature and I question if the internet can substitute for real person to person interaction. On the other hand are people who spurn the internet experiencing a different form of information isolation?

The role of organizations, like the Grange, that bring people together is still strong and necessary even though true isolation has become extremely rare.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

When Does Childhood End?

Today's society sends a lot of mixed messages to our young people. One that really confuses many is when does childhood end?

I don't believe that one day you are a child and the next you are an adult, even though legally that may be true. It seems to me that being a teenager is a time to transition from childhood into adulthood.

My teens were a time when my parents gave me steadily more responsibility and expected me to stand on my own. Picking berries, and other summer jobs gave way to a "real" job when I got my drivers license. By the time I was eighteen I considered myself independent although I did follow my parents rules at home.

I like the way the Grange treats teenagers. At age 14, we treat them as adults. If they are willing to accept responsibility, we give them authority. When they make mistakes, we help them learn and grow from them. Each individual grows and moves forward at their own speed and age doesn't matter. I know a number of young people who some might call children, but I call adults due to their maturity and actions.

As I observe people and listen to the reports of the media, I think that is is time to remember that if we treat teenagers as children, that is what most of them will act like. When we expect them to act like young adults, they will usually exceed our expectations.

Let's brag a bit and show society that treating teenagers like young adults benefits both them and us.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Planning for the New Year

I hope that every Grange has made plans for 2011. This is a new year and it should be treated as a clean slate. It doesn't matter what went wrong or if there were failures last year. We learn from our experiences and then we create the future we want.

Planning is critical for all Granges. There are several steps each should take. You should have plans for the activities, events, and fund-raisers for the year. Your Grange should also consider a plan to help each member grow in leadership ability.

First the Grange should adopt an idea. Second a team or committee should be appointed to formulate all the details of a plan. Third, either the Grange should adopt the complete plan, or the team should give a complete report to the Grange. This would depend upon how the Grange adopted the idea. Fourth, implement the plan.

The last part of planning is to ensure that evaluation is done during and after the policy. After all, we need to learn from each experience if we are go grow and do better next time.

The reason that planning is so important that without plans we seldom try new things, or even improve the things we usually do. In the Grange, planning is an essential part of each year. It is never too late to start making plans!