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CCFB News» July 2019

Downwind" A Historical Connection"

07/01/2019 @ 7:30 am | By Bob Rohrer, CAE,FBCM,Manager

I recently received a question from a Cook County young farmer inquiring about the history and relationship between the Extension Service and Cook County Farm Bureau. It is complicated, but I will try to simplify 150 years in 1,000 words or less!


When I was a kid, I did not realize that there was a difference between Extension and Farm Bureau. My mom frequently attended Homemaker Extension programs at the Farm Bureau office. My father frequently attended Extension Advisor crop and livestock programs at the Farm Bureau office. Many times, they would drag me along. I can only imagine what a pain I was during those meetings, “Mom, I’m bored” …” Dad, when can we go?” I’m sure they were no more pleased in those moments than me.


50 years ago, there was not a lot of differentiation between the local Extension Service and the local County Farm Bureau. They felt like one in the same. The offices were many times in the same building and seemed to serve the same people and purpose. Would the average rural family be able to explain the difference between the Extension Service and the Farm Bureau in those days? I would guess not.


When I was hired as a manager trainee by the Illinois Farm Bureau, I began to learn of the close historical relationship between the Extension Service and the Farm Bureau system and the eventual separation between the two. (And thus, the confusion)


However, until I read the first forty years of historical records of the Cook County Farm Bureau, I did not truly appreciate how “married” our two organizations were! Here is some very abbreviated historical perspective…


Remember back in 1862 when President Lincoln signed the Morrill Land Grant College Act? It helped pave the way in providing advanced education to America’s Farmers. The Act helped create land-grant universities including Kansas State, Iowa State, Michigan State, Rutgers, Cornell and University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.  From that beginning, a system was created utilizing the research and knowledge from land-grant colleges to provide farmers with the newest techniques along with farm advisers to teach them.


Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act in 1914 to establish the Extension Service nationwide. Extension was designed to take the knowledge and research from the land-grant universities and provide a method and means to share it with the general public through farm advisers followed later by 4-H and home economic advisers.


When the farm advisers came out to rural areas, farmers not only gained new farm information and techniques but began to learn the power of cooperation, working together to strengthen farming as a profession and lifestyle. It was this interest in cooperation that led to the formation of local County Farm Bureau’s in the early 1900s. After forming an organization, County Farm Bureaus would immediately hire a soil scientist/farm adviser (also called County agent or Extension Adviser) to work locally with farmers, sharing the knowledge, data, information and techniques gained by land-grant universities.


The first Cook County Farm Adviser, Mr. C.E. Durst, not only helped local farmers in farming knowledge but also helped in the formation of the Cook County Farm Bureau in 1920. According to the records, for the first 40+ years of the Cook County Farm Bureau’s existence, the farm adviser and the manager worked out of the same Farm Bureau office side-by-side. The local Extension farm advisers attended the Board of Directors meetings, worked with members, wrote articles and columns in The Co-Operator publication and helped the Farm Bureau conduct its mission of serving farmers and improving farm income. (And for good reason as the Farm Bureau budgets show that CCFB was paying them!)


In the 1950s, there were some farm organizations that felt it was unfair that Extension and Farm Bureau were so closely tied. In 1954, U. S. Secretary of Agriculture Ezra, Taft Benson, directed that all Extension employees would be under USDA. This essentially separated Extension from the non-for-profit Farm Bureau. However, that separation in Cook County came slowly as the farm advisers, organizational director/staff and Farm Bureau leaders enjoyed the connection and valued the ability to work together.


I found a motion in the 1954 board minutes calling for an agreement to continue the relationship on the same basis as the past.  While there was a whole lot of foot dragging to slow the separation, I can see a gradual shift in the Farm Bureau/Extension relationship as I read through the archives. However, the farm advisers continued to play a key role in Cook County Farm Bureau for many decades.


Over the years, I have been mistakenly referred to as a Farm Adviser as people sought information about soil fertility, pest management control, weed identification, farming growing techniques, etc. I pretend to “know stuff”, but in those cases, I reach out to the “real” Farm Advisers from the University in order to help out and respond to questions.


Today, Cook County is fortunate to have a quality U of I Extension System and we are pleased to partner with Extension on projects and programs of mutual interest. The Extension Educators (as they are called now) have a great deal of expertise (including in the “farm adviser” specialty) that can be brought to Cook County Farm Bureau members and we continue to seek opportunities to work with these local experts. We are also very fortunate to have a number of past and present Extension Educators that participate as a part of the Cook County Farm Bureau’s volunteer structure… A big thank you to these leaders!


Thanks for reading and check out the next decade of Cook County Farm Bureau 1960-69 history below.


1960-69 Side bar



  • Secretary of Organization, G. W. Blanchard, submitted his resignation and Melvin Hayenga was hired to succeed him.
  • The topic of migrant labor headlined a policy development meeting held in La Grange by the Cook County Farm Bureau.
  • The University of Illinois reported that a farmer needed $12,500 of gross income and $5000 of net income to earn a quality living, up substantially from the previous decade.
  • The USDA announced a research project to create a fuel additive, ethanol, using surplus corn.
  • Lake Cook Farm Supply announced it would start selling lawnmowers to members and friends.
  • Samuelson was named farm director for WGN radio



  • The Board of Directors began meeting at various locations within Cook County including the buildings as the IAA offices moved to from Chicago to Bloomington.
  • Cook County Farm Bureau farmers and staff met with area legislators on farm issues.



  • The Co-Operator ran a guest editorial by Ronald Reagan entitled “Encroaching Government Control”.
  • The Illinois Sports Festival (bowling, softball, trapshoot, etc.) gained tremendous popularity amongst Cook
  • County Farm Bureau members. Pictured is a CCFB bowling team that won state!



The Farm Bureau held a petition drive to show that vegetable stands were a necessary business to serve the public as the Cook County Zoning Board considered a proposal to amend the zoning ordinance to put vegetable stands out of business.



  • The Slow-Moving-Vehicle emblem was adopted and began being sold through Lake-Cook Service.
  • A property appeal and tax assessment meeting was held for members in regards to the rising property taxes for farmers in the county.
  • It was reported that the Illinois Tollway Authority broke all records for revenue, profit and volume of passenger cars and that the Tollway would begin the retirement of bonds in accordance with Gov. Kerner’s directive to return the roads to the public as a freeway as soon as possible.
  • The Cook County Farm Bureau sponsored a meeting of 180 farm men and women and representatives of food processing and distributing firms to help individuals get acquainted and to learn more about the industry.



  • Farm Bureau president, Henry Eichholz, announced the resignation of Melvin Hayenga to become manager of the Quality Vegetable Growers Association. Larry Miller was selected as the new Secretary of Organization for the Cook County Farm Bureau, coming over from the DuPage County Farm Bureau.
  • FB members attended a Senate hearing supporting a bill that would protect members of a producers’ co-operative association from discriminatory practices solely because he is a member of such association.


  • Farm Bureau manager, Larry Miller, began writing a column entitled “Looking Up” in The Co-Operator to keep members up-to-date.
  • The Farm Bureau lobbied support for Illinois Revenue Reform on the November ballot to amend the state constitution to enact an income tax and force elimination of the personal property tax.



  • County Farm Bureau leaders were fighting state legislation that would create more financial authority within Cook County including allowing a county to shift funds from motor fuel tax receipts and allowing the county to create a wheel tax (defeated in this go around).
  • The Cook County Farm Bureau Softball Team led by pitcher Harry Stuenkel finished 3rd in the state!
  • A column pointed out the concern of imitation milk products, wheat flour replacement, plant-based meat products and soybean oil substitutes.



  • CCFB Board member, Leonard Schultz, joined other farmers from across the country in Washington, D.C. to advocate for the Farm Bureau’s national policy positions.
  • Larry Miller announced his resignation as Executive Secretary of Organization to become part of the field staff for the American Medical Association. IAA District Fieldman, Gordon Fox, was selected to replace Miller.



  • The Cook County Farm Bureau Marketing Committee held a Roadside Stand Marketing Conference attended by 127 members.
  • The Women’s Committee planned a Defensive Driving Course through Country Companies and the National Safety Council.
  • Gov. Ogilvie announced that the State of Illinois was on the brink of bankruptcy.
  • Cook County Farm Bureau hosted 49 State Representatives and Senators in Springfield at a reception to get better acquainted and to discuss farm issues.
  • The CCFB sent correspondence to all candidates for the Con Con (Constitutional Convention) and provided information to members, encouraging them to vote.



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