Your Hometown: Broome County's agricultural history
Much of the Southern Tier's history has deep seeded roots in agriculture. And even today, agricultural communities continue to play an integral role in the region's economy. In this week's edition of "Your Hometown," our Carmen Perez tells us about a one hundred year old organization that started in the Southern Tier and has since expanded nationally to help farmers preserve their way of life.
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BROOME COUNTY, N.Y. -- For one hundred years, the American Farm Bureau Federation has worked to support and protect the livelihood of farmers in the United States. But did you know that this nationwide organization got its start right here in Broome County? Join me as I explore Broome County's rich agricultural history.
"It is still big business in the county, it has always been the biggest industry in the county," said Broome County Farm Bureau historian Charles Baldwin.
And farming has been a way of life for many families. But there was a time in Broome County during the early 1900s when urban living seemed like it was going to win out over life on the farm.
"The chamber was concerned with the number of abandoned farms in the county and the general farm economy and wanted to do something," said Baldwin.
Farm communities were big business in the county and business leaders did not want to see a decline in the farm population. So leaders in Binghamton's Chamber of Commerce suggested a farm department be created under the chamber. They recruited John Barron, a Cornell graduate and expert agriculturalist, to head the new bureau.
"The first farm bureau agent was hired for the farm bureau of the Binghamton Chamber of Commerce in 1911, March of 1911 here in Binghamton," Baldwin said.
A few years later in 1914, the farm bureau separated from the chamber and became a different organization controlled entirely by farmers. Both the farm bureau and cooperative extension you know today evolved simultaneously from this model.
"The fact that there was local control where the farmers could decide what it is they thought was most important and what they needed was the key," Baldwin said.
The idea that they were controlling their future appealed to many farmers and word spread quickly.
"Within three to four years, there was county agents in almost every county in the U.S. By 1920, the American Farm Bureau Federation formed," said Baldwin.
As time has passed, that bureau has grown into a voice for farmers in the industry.
"They make policy. It is very grassroots. It comes from local policy that works it way up to the national level, so the farm bureau is very important in representing the agricultural community," said Cornell Cooperative Extension Executive Director David Bradstreet.
That includes helping farmers shift their focus to more specialized farms and helping them secure funding to change with the times.
"They have kept up with all of the computerization, everything to keep us so we can be at the top of our game," said one person.
Although there are fewer farms in Broome County then there were one hundred years ago, agriculture still plays a vital role in the county's livelihood.
"People forget that almost a third of Broome County is in an agriculture district and that there is $35 to $40 million in direct sales, not counting indirect sales in Broome County," Bradstreet said.
Today, the farm bureau has more than six million members nationwide. They continue to help farmers not only here, but across the country, have a voice moving into the future.