Farm Foundation’s future is rooted in 83 years of leaders who believe nonpartisan efforts are needed to address critical issues shaping agriculture, the food system and rural communities. Objectivity is—and always has been—at the heart of day-to-day operations of the Foundation.
Alexander Legge, then president of International Harvester, sought to create a non-partisan group, independent of federal or state government, to focus on improving the economic conditions of agriculture and the people of rural America. He enlisted former Illinois Gov. Frank Lowden to aid him in the effort. After seven years of work, the two men brought divergent interest groups together in Farm Foundation, which is believed to be the first foundation created specifically to serve agriculture and rural communities. In February 1933, Farm Foundation became a reality.
The leadership of the new foundation came from across the economic spectrum of the United States at that time. Among the members of Farm Foundation’s first Board of Trustees were:
• Bernard M. Baruch, a self-made millionaire, legendary stock trader and economic advisor to U.S. presidents for 20 years;
• Ralph Budd, president of the Great Northern Railroad and the Burlington Railroad;
• Chris L. Christensen, dean of the College of Agriculture at the University of Wisconsin;
• F.D. (Dave) Farrell, president of Kansas State University;
• Clifford V. Gregory, editor of Prairie Farmer magazine;
• Roy Johnson, North Dakota farmer and speaker of the North Dakota House of Representatives;
• Robert Lambert, an Alabama seed and livestock farmer;
• George MacDonald, a New York construction and utilities magnate;
• Albert R. Mann, dean of the College of Agriculture and the first provost of Cornell University;
• Frank E. Mullen, farm broadcaster and vice president and general manager of NBC;
• Clarence Poe, editor and publisher of The Progressive Farmer;
• William E. Riegel of Tolono, Ill., a pioneer of the U.S. soybean industry;
• Arch W. Shaw, founder of Shaw-Walker Business Machines and Business Week;
• John Stuart, president of Quaker Oats;
• Charles C. Teague, California farmer who founded Diamond Walnut;
• Robert E. Wood, president of Sears; and
• Owen D. Young, chairman of the board of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and General Electric, and one of the founders of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC).
After Legge’s unexpected death in December 1933, Lowden led the Foundation Board in developing the potential of Farm Foundation. Henry C. Taylor, widely regarded as the father of the agricultural economics profession, was hired as the Foundation’s first managing director. He led the Foundation in developing work in land ownership and tenancy; land utilization and conservation, cooperation in marketing and services; and national and international policies affecting agricultural production, marketing and income.
The founders did not envision Farm Foundation as a large grant-making organization. They sought to build a private agency that could supplement and coordinate the work of other agencies; an organization that could build partnerships, initiate and demonstrate the value of a project or idea that could be picked up and carried on by institutions with greater resources.
Over the decades, the Foundation’s specific program work has responded to the varying needs of agriculture, food systems and rural regions, with projects as diverse as public policy education and international trade implications to farm bill education, health care and rural church networks. There has been no variance, however, in the mission to provide the people of agriculture, food systems and rural communities with practical comprehensive, objective information they can use in taking on the issues that will shape the future.
One of the ongoing programs of Farm Foundation, NFP is the Farm Foundation® Round Table, an invitational group of 150 leaders from across the food and agriculture system. Farm Foundation has administered the Round Table since the 1983 retirement of its founders, Charles Dana and Edith Thoman Bennett. The Bennetts original brought together a diverse group of agricultural leader to advise the Eisenhower Administration on agricultural policy development. Recognizing the value of exchanging ideas and discussing timely policy issues, the leaders continue to meet on an informal basis. Those meetings evolved into the Round Table.
At its inception, Farm Foundation’s legal status was as a private trust. In May 2009, a not-for-profit corporation, Farm Foundation, NFP, assumed all programming and operational functions. The Farm Foundation Board of Trustees continues to have responsibility for overseeing the mission of the organization, the endowment and for naming members of the Farm Foundation, NFP Board of Directors.
Today, Legge’s dream is still vibrant, pertinent, valued and challenging leaders to look to the future with constructive dialogue, objective analysis and innovative ideas.
The history of Farm Foundation’s first 75 years is chronicled in the book, Farm Foundation, 75 Years as a Catalyst to Agriculture and Rural America. A limited number of print copies are available free of charge by emailing Farm Foundation, NFP. Or you can download an electronic version.