On a rainy fall night, the scent of mulling spices fills the cozy farmhouse kitchen. Old friends gather around the table and settle in for the evening.
The Taneytown Farm Bureau and Planning Group comes to order.
Over the next few hours, members catch up on the latest gossip, plan the group Christmas party and talk a little farm business.
It's a rural ritual that began in 1951 when a group of young farm couples from around Taneytown got together to talk over the farming issues of the day. Over the years, the meetings have become much more than a forum for farm policy discussion.
In 46 years, over many kitchen tables, members have forged lasting connections rarely found outside of family. They've shared life's milestones: births, deaths and weddings. They've endured droughts and the sale of farms, and have celebrated the good times, too.
"They're old friends, and that's about the only thing I do now," said Genevieve Feeser, 78, who joined the group about 30 years ago. "We talk, we have a discussion sheet, but sometimes we bring other things into the meeting -- what's going on in the community, this and that."
Monthly meetings usually draw most of the group's 13 members, but only six showed up for November's meeting at the home of Taneytown dairy farmers Carl and Grace Weant, group members for 26 years.
President Elwood Myers, 80, got things started.
Secretary Sarah Brower read the minutes from the October meeting. She reported that "the ladies of Farm Bureau are planning a dinner where a farm person will invite a nonfarmer to create a better understanding between rural and urban residents."
Treasurer Grace Weant counted $88.57 in the group account and collected the monthly $1 dues from each member.
Because the discussion leader was absent, nobody knew the topic for the evening and the meeting took on an improvisational quality.
The group tossed around ideas about what to get another couple in the group for their 50th wedding anniversary. Maybe a clock, or a plaque?
"If we got a clock we'd be treating everybody alike," 81-year-old Ruth Myers reasoned. "There must be one room where they don't have a clock."
"That's settled then, I guess," said her husband, Elwood Myers, who sold his Union Bridge dairy farm in 1980 and raised heifers for the next 10 years, until his knees gave out.
The Taneytown group meets on the fourth Friday of each month, except June and July, traditionally busy months for farmers, although only one couple in the mostly elderly group is still farming. Catherine Dickinson is the only original member still attending meetings. Some participants are children of founding members.
Their bond is a deep commitment to farming, family and friendship.
The Maryland Farm Bureau promoted the formation of rural discussion groups about 50 years ago as a way to involve more members in the development of bureau initiatives and policy.
Each month, the bureau sends discussion topics to the groups and reviews the minutes of their meetings to get a better understanding of members' concerns.
"You have a lot of people who won't come to official meetings with 300 people and make a speech," said John F. Butler, field services director of the Maryland Farm Bureau. "But in a meeting with their neighbors, they'll speak out and you'll get a lot of good ideas."
Farm discussion groups can be found throughout the country, especially in the Midwest. It's a tradition that dates back to Colonial times, according to Patrick Mooney, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Kentucky at Lexington.
"These early groups tended to be elite, educated farmers," said Mooney, "and their meetings were one way in which new ideas about agriculture were diffused."
About 35 farm bureau discussion groups meet in Maryland, but only a few have been around as long as the Taneytown group. Its members are rather blase about the group's longevity.
"We just stayed with it," said Sarah Brower, 76, who joined the group with her husband, Paul, in 1952, a year after its founding.
Although the group was formed to discuss farm-related matters, participants do more than just talk.
The group regularly contributes to 4-H clubs and members help out at community and school events to promote agriculture. A 1994 handwritten history notes that in its early years, members "helped to kill and dress turkeys" for Carroll County's annual farm bureau dinner.
"People in the communities like to get together and talk to each other, at least in the rural communities," Butler said. "When we don't get out a discussion guide on time, we hear about it."
Even with no discussion topic at the last meeting, members got around to talking farm business, after the question of the anniversary gift had been resolved.
"The price of milk was supposed to be better this month," said Elwood Myers.
"It was a little better this month, that's true," said Carl Weant, 64, who, with his son Todd, runs a dairy operation on the family's 100-year-old farm. "But we're still $1.30 under a year ago."
He said that the low milk prices and last summer's drought that destroyed much of the area's feed crop have forced many dairy farmers out of business.
"Back in 1966, we went through that," said Elwood Myers. "I bought silage from neighbors, government corn and had two tractor-trailer loads of hay out of Canada. That's how I got through that."
"But the price of milk was better in 1966 than it was now," said Sarah Brower.
Farming brought the group together, but it's the common life experiences that have cemented the relationships among its members.
Three women have become widows during the group's lifetime. At least two couples were forced to sell their farms because of poor health and economics. The mothers of two members were killed in a Florida car accident in 1958.
They're not exactly family, but they're more than friends. Farms have been lost to development and children have chosen other careers, but the Taneytown Farm Bureau and Planning Group has survived.
Now, members are planning the annual Christmas party. About 100 people will likely attend the festivities. As usual, Carl Weant will play Santa Claus.
"It's something to look forward to," Sarah Brower said of the group meetings. "But I guess someday we won't have a group. We don't have any youngsters to take over. They're all doing something else."
Pub Date: 12/10/97