Tricia McDonald joined Gratiot County Farm Bureau in 2017, first getting involved simply because she had friends to go to events with. Fast forward three short years and Tricia notched an outstanding achievement as the top membership writer statewide. In the 2019-20 membership year, she signed up 15 new regular members.

As Gratiot’s then-new Young Farmer chair, McDonald originally set out simply to share some of the value she’d found in the organization, starting with some friends who weren’t yet members. But she quickly encountered an obstacle that dogs membership writers everywhere: Many of her prospects had been members previously but lost sight of that membership’s value.

The question is legendary and worth a good think: What does Farm Bureau membership offer that’s valuable enough to attract prospective members?

Tricia started with her own Young Farmer group’s current events and how they might be enhanced to provide more value.

“That really lit a fire and led to our Young Farmer group committing to hosting events and facilitating programs that met members’ needs and showcased the value of membership,” McDonald said. “We did a Young Farmer barbecue, which was later paired with a membership ice cream social.

“It also led to us developing our Feed-a-Farmer program.”

Feed-a-Farmer was the brainchild of a previous Young Farmer chair who ran out of time to execute it. When COVID restrictions made traditional events difficult — or impossible — McDonald thought it warranted revisiting as a way to demonstrate membership value even within healthy safeguards.

The way Gratiot’s Young Farmers drew it up, Feed-a-Farmer eligibility only required the recipient farm’s primary contact to be a member — but the whole crew got fed a solid meal livened up with a generous sprinkle of Farm Bureau seasoning…

Back at the clubhouse, McDonald turned her attention to striking a better balance between new-member recruitment and existing-member retention.

She encouraged her Young Farmer peers to bring a non-member friend to the group’s annual chili cookoff and cornhole tournament — a fun networking opportunity already on the calendar. Each cornhole team was to have at least one current Farm Bureau member onboard to help ensure good interaction between existing and prospective members…

Next thing you know? Tricia’s the state’s top volunteer writer of new regular members.

“Farm Bureau impacts every individual in the ag industry in a different way, but it’s valuable to everyone in some way,” McDonald said. “Find someone in agriculture, whether a farmer or industry professional, and really listen to them.

“Learn what’s important to them, and it’ll help you find the value they’re looking for. Once you know their interests, talk about how the organization could benefit them through its various programs, discounts, or just the ability to network and meet others in the area and industry.

“Most importantly, remember it doesn’t hurt to just ask. Now might not be a good time for them to join, but at least you’ve planted a seed for the future.”

Planting seeds. That is how we grow.