Tennessee Farm Bureau celebrates 100 years of serving as the Voice of Agriculture
July 30, 1921 marks 100 years exactly since a group of farmers formed the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. When the organization began, the membership was small and the services it offered were few. The agricultural leaders who formed it operated mostly on faith that someday they would have the opportunity to provide a better way of life for rural Tennessee.
Joe Frank Porter was selected as the organization’s first state president and because he lived in Maury County, it was only natural for the first office to be located in Columbia. Porter served as president for 25 years, retiring in 1946.
He wrote these words in the annual report on the 25th anniversary of the organization: “Looking backward, I can see a little table, two cane-bottom chairs and a second-hand typewriter in one corner of the county agent’s office in the basement of the courthouse in Columbia, and a little sign on the table that read, ‘The Tennessee Farm Bureau.’ It was a good thing the sign was there, else we might have been overlooked.”
Tennessee Farm Bureau began as a grassroots organization speaking and advocating for the betterment of their members. Much of the legislation Tennessee has today is because of the Farm Bureau and its early efforts, and the organization continues to have a strong voice in legislation in Nashville and Washington, D.C.
Over its many years of existence, the Tennessee Farm Bureau has provided many services for the membership of the organization. Access to adequate health insurance was a problem for rural Tennesseans for many years, so in 1947, the Tennessee Farm Bureau addressed this issue by founding Tennessee Rural Health to promote health and safety awareness and to make health coverage available to its members. Undergoing a name change in 2015 to be better identified as part of the Farm Bureau family, TRH now goes by Farm Bureau Health Plans. They are now the largest private health coverage group in Tennessee providing affordable, quality health care coverage, offering a wide range of health care plans. In 1948, the Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Company was founded to provide affordable insurance for rural Tennessee. Tennessee Farmers Life Insurance Company started in 1973 adding another outstanding member service to the Tennessee Farmers Insurance Companies operation. Today these companies insure more home and automobiles than any other insurer in Tennessee.
The organization also provides tax services for its membership, recording keeping, property protection reward programs, youth programs, women’s activities and many other farm related activities. As of 2020, the number of Tennessee Farm Bureau and affiliate service companies’ employees has risen from just one (Mr. Porter) in the early 1920s to more than 750 employees currently work at the TFBF home office in Columbia. There are also more than 500 full-time insurance agents, 300 claims representatives and 84 income tax practitioners located across the state that work out of close to 200 Farm Bureau offices.
The Tennessee Farm Bureau is unique in the fact that an organization of this size and operated by volunteer leadership has only had eight state presidents. They are Joe Frank Porter, 1921-1946; Tom J. Hitch, 1946- 1961; Clyde M. York, 1961- 1973; James S. Putman, 1973-1986; Joe W. Hawkins, 1986-1995; Flavius A. Barker, 1995-2005; Lacy, 2005-2015; and Jeff Aiken 2015-present. The president of the Tennessee Farm Bureau is elected by the membership and serves as the organization’s administrator in a full-time capacity. Each has resided in Columbia and made their home in Maury County.
Over the past 100 years, Tennessee Farm Bureau has grown from just a few agricultural members to more than 680,000 family members from various backgrounds and locations across the state. The organization stands strong today as the largest Farm Bureau in the nation, and with the same purpose a century later — “to develop, foster, promote and protect programs for the general welfare, including economic, social, educational and political well-being of farm people of the great state of Tennessee.” Agriculture and rural Tennessee needed a voice in 1921 and still need a voice today, therefore Tennessee Farm Bureau remains committed to ensuring the voice of agriculture is heard for many years to come.