Our History

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

Maury County native and the first president of 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 679,000 family members and is the largest state Farm Bureau in the nation. However, when it began in July of 1921, the membership was small and the services it offered were few. The agricultural leaders who 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 because 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 across the state.

Over its many years of 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 policy 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 started in 1973 adding another outstanding member service to the Tennessee Farmers Insurance Companies operation. Today these companies insure more home and automobiles than any other insurer in Tennessee, are one of the largest writers of individual life policies in the state and have been recognized by J.D. Power multiple times as the highest in customer satisfaction among auto insurers in the Southeast Region.

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. Undergoing a name change in 2015 to be better identified as part of the Farm Bureau family, TRH services now go by Farm Bureau Health Plans. They are now 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, youth programs, women’s activities and many other farm related activities. As of 2020, the number of Tennessee Farm Bureau and affiliate service companies’ employees has risen from just one (Mr. Porter) in the early 1920s to more than 1300. 750+ employees currently work at the TFBF home office in Columbia and across the state there are more than 500 full-time insurance agents and 84 income tax practitioners located across the state that work out of more than 200 Farm Bureau offices.

The Tennessee Farm Bureau is unique in the fact that an organization of this size and operated by volunteer leadership has only had eight state presidents. They 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; Lacy Upchurch, 2006-2015; and Jeff Aiken 2016-present. The president of the Tennessee Farm Bureau is elected by the membership and serves as the organization’s administrator in a full-time capacity. Each has resided in Columbia and made their home here.

Needless to say, Tennessee Farm Bureau has changed drastically the past 100 years, but along the way, the organization’s core values, role in the agriculture industry, grassroots structure and driving purpose has remained the same. Why? Because agriculture and rural Tennessee needed a voice in 1921 and both still need a voice today. We look forward to serving as that voice for many, many years to come.