In Mississippi, dinners tend to be less about the food and more about the conversation and hospitality. The Lincoln County Legislative Dinner, held every August at Mitchell’s Steak & Seafood in Brookhaven, proves to be no different.
To Lincoln County Farm Bureau members, the dinner serves as an opportunity to discuss key issues with state and federal legislators.
“When you sit down for a meal, there is just something meaningful about that,” Lincoln County Farm Bureau board member Scott Smith says. “When you sit down for a meal and enjoy it together, you have the opportunity to create a relationship and talk about what’s important.”
Each year, this dinner brings county Farm Bureau members together with their local, state and national representatives. The idea formed from a single conversation.
“I was in Washington D.C. several years ago with Congressman Gregg Harper,” Lincoln County Farm Bureau President Robert Earl McGehee says. “As we visited he said, ‘I sure would love to come and have a meal in Lincoln County.’ From that conversation we decided to start hosting a legislative dinner. It’s been successful.”
Since then, a simple invitation has allowed relationships to be formed benefiting Farm Bureau at the county level, state and national levels.
“Nights like this allow us to hear about everything they’ve got going on,” says Vince Mangold, Mississippi State Representative and Lincoln County Farm Bureau member. “As a farmer and lawmaker, I can look at both sides of the fence, so gatherings like this are always beneficial.”
The relationships Farm Bureau members and legislators form by attending events like the Lincoln County Legislative Dinner have been beneficial in the past in helping farmers and ranchers across the state, according to McGehee.
Robert Earl: “I know we’ve had the Right to Farm Bill that came out and we were struggling if we were going to get it passed two years ago. Several years ago, farmers were struggling to get the Right-to-Farm Bill passed in the state legislature,” McGehee says. “We got with our senators and representatives we’ve formed relationships with, and got that bill passed. It has been an asset to the farmers throughout Mississippi.”
Forming relationships has always been the Farm Bureau model.
Mike: “There is an old saying that says, ‘All politics are local,’” Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation President Mike McCormick says. “The success of Farm Bureau is built around our grassroots efforts where our counties people develop relationships with their elected officials and give back to them. These kind of events are a way to say thank you to them for what they do for our communities.”
The goal of the Lincoln County Farm Bureau Legislative Dinner is not to persuade a lawmaker to vote one way or the other, but to increase their knowledge of agriculture and the needs of farmers and ranchers.
“Educating the public, including our legislators, is very important to Farm Bureau,” Smith says. “We’re not trying sway somebody one way or the other, we’re trying to make sure everybody has the correct knowledge.”
“I would strongly encourage our county Farm Bureaus to look into doing events like this,” McCormick says. “The legislators like it. They like hearing the issues of their constituents, and there is no finer place to meet the people that are the salt of the communities than going to a Farm Bureau meeting.”