Looking backward, I can see a little table, two cane-bottom chairs, and a secondhand typewriter in one corner of the county agent's office in the basement of the courthouse in Columbia. A little sign on the table read 'The Tennessee Farm Bureau'. It was a good thing the sign was there, else we might have been overlooked. - Joe Frank Porter, First President of the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation (1921-1946)
Maury County native and the first president of the Tennessee Farm Bureau, Joe Frank Porter, wrote that paragraph. The Williamsport farmer was reminiscing about the humble beginnings of the nation's largest state Farm Bureau in the 25th annual report of the organization in 1946. The Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation had its start because of farmers like Joe Frank Porter, wanting something better for the farming communities across our state.
Today's Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation has a membership of more than 600,000 family members and is the largest state Farm Bureau in the nation. However, when it began in June of 1921, the membership was small and the services it offered were few. The agricultural leaders that 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 due to the fact that he lived in Maury County, it was only natural for the first office to be located here. Travel was difficult in those early days and locating the office near the organization's president was the most logical and economical thing to do. Mr. Porter served as president for twenty-five years, retiring in 1946. The state office remained in Maury County due to Mr. Porter's leadership and the excellent location for travel of the state.
Because of his efforts on behalf of Tennessee agriculture, he was inducted into the Tennessee Agricultural Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame requires that three bronze plaques be cast with one located in the home county of the recipient, one hangs at the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, and the third at Morgan Hall at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. The bronze plaque honoring Mr. Porter in his home county is located in the lobby of the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation building.
For the first 17 years, TFB did not own any real estate. It moved around the town, renting buildings as growth required additional room. In 1925, offices were rented in the upstairs of the Polk Memorial Association building on West 7th Street and continued there for 12 years. This building is known today as the ancestral home of the 11th President of the United States, James K. Polk.
In 1937, TFB purchased a home on North High Street. It is no longer standing, but was located across the street from the First Methodist Church's educational building. The organization moved again to a house on West Seventh, located across the street from West Seventh Street Church of Christ. In 1952, a new office building was built on the Nashville Highway.
In 1968, with continued growth in services and membership, the Tennessee Farm Bureau built a new modern office building with 58,000 square feet of office space on Bear Creek Pike. A north wing was added to the building in 1975, a fourth floor was added in 1983, and an additional 58,000 sq. ft. was added again in 1997. The current building has over 144,000 square feet of office space, meeting rooms, cafeteria, and printing/mailing facilities.
The Tennessee Farm Bureau is unique in the fact that an organization of this size and operated by volunteer leadership has only had seven state presidents. There 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; and Lacy Upchurch, 2006 - present. The president of the Tennessee Farm Bureau is elected by the membership and serves as the organizations administrator in a full-time capacity. Each has resided in Columbia and made their home here.
Over the many years of its existence, the Tennessee Farm Bureau has provided many services for the membership of the organization. It began as an organization lobbying for the betterment of its members. Much of the legislation we have today is because of the Farm Bureau and its early efforts. The organization continues to work with agricultural legislation and has full-time lobbyists working in Nashville. The Public Affairs Department works daily providing help for members in areas such as private property rights, taxation, regulations, and other legislative issues facing the membership.
The organization also provides many services for the membership. In 1948, the Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Company was founded to provide affordable insurance for rural Tennessee. Tennessee Farmers Life Insurance Company was begun in 1973 adding another outstanding member service to the Tennessee Farmers Insurance Companies operation. Today these companies are recognized as the leading writer of insurance for rural property, the number two writer of auto insurance in the state, and the number one life insurance provider. The companies insure nearly one million automobiles, 600,000 properties and have $17.9 billion of total life insurance coverage on the books.
Access to adequate health insurance was a problem for rural Tennesseans for many years. 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. Today, TRH is the largest private health coverage group in Tennessee providing affordable, quality health care coverage, offering a wide range of health care plans.
The organization also provides tax services for its membership, recording keeping, property protection reward programs, satellite marketing services, livestock marketing services through its Tennessee Livestock Producers organization, youth programs, women's activities, and many other farm related activities.
One of the state's largest and oldest circulated farm publication, The Tennessee Farm Bureau News, is published by the organization six times a year and goes to the organization's farmer members with the latest ag news on farming and ag issues. In 2002, Tennessee Home & Farm magazine was added to the organization's publication list and goes to all of the 600,000-plus members of Tennessee Farm Bureau. It is mailed four times a year and includes interesting human interest stories, travel information, recipes and much more in a full color, national honor winning magazine There is also a weekly TV program, Farm Digest, produced at the headquarters office, shown across the state as well as a daily radio program aired on the Tennessee Radio Network (TRN).
As of January 2006, the number of Tennessee Farm Bureau and affiliate service companies' employees has risen from just one (Mr. Porter) in the early 1920's to over 1300. More than 750 employees currently work at the TFBF home office in Columbia and across the state there are approximately 420 full-time insurance agents, and 101 income tax practitioners. Currently, there are 150 Farm Bureau offices located across the state with more locations being considered.