By, Morgan Ball, WIA Student Assistant
What will be your co-op story and how will you achieve success through the cooperatives model? This is what I sought to learn during the 2017 National Farmers Union College Conference on Cooperatives.
We have all grown up in and around co-ops, in fact they are ubiquitous! What companies come to mind when you think cooperatives? Probably your local grain elevators, credit unions, and well known businesses like CHS. But did you know Ace Hardware is also a co-op?
Take a stroll down Main Street in your town and you will notice electrical, energy, local food, and housing cooperatives.
Melissa Miller, Education Director for National Farmers Union, and Cathy Statz, Education Director for Wisconsin Farmers Union, welcomed us to the beautiful Twin Cities on Thursday, February 16, 2017.
We enjoyed a great speaker line-up, beginning with the president of Thrivent Church Solutions Group, Chris Kopka. Chris talked a lot about the WHY behind co-ops. A group of people come together to form a cooperative that is beneficial to all. Cooperatives try to avoid risk, build infrastructure, create respectful work, open markets, and/or create access. I gained a better understanding of the model through principle identification: (1) voluntary and open membership, (2) democratic member control, (3) member economic participation, (4) autonomy and independence, (5) education, training, and information, (6) cooperation among cooperatives, and (7) concern for community.
On Saturday, we had the opportunity to tour four Minnesota co-ops. I really enjoyed our stops at Becketwood and REI. Becketwood is a senior housing co-op that is located on the Mississippi River and is accessible to those in St. Paul and Minneapolis. The people made the trip memorable, but it was also their cooperative living style that made it special. It was neat to see the members excited to live, hike, dine, and grow together.
REI, Recreational Equipment, Inc., is a consumer cooperative that focuses on outdoor adventure. Their goal is to invest nearly 70% of their profits to the future of the great outdoors. It was interesting to see how a large-scale consumer co-op operates and maintains relationships with members and customers. They have stood the test of time and made it through many economic down turns.
Saturday night we were treated to the play, Rise Up, O Men, at Plymouth Playhouse and on Sunday we heard from two panels: (1) Co-ops Here and Now and (2) Global Issues, Co-op Solutions.
The cooperative model is one way to conduct business in a form that helps communities thrive. Rural America is enhanced by local co-ops. The conference was great and very informational! A big thank you to National Farmers Union for continuing to support student education and outreach.
Photo credit: NE Farmers Union