National Farmers Union College Conference on Cooperatives
Cora Carpenter, Women in Ag Student Assistant | February 19, 2020
The cooperatives business model has been an interest of mine for a few years now. I was raised on my family’s dairy farm in Southwest Wisconsin. Our farm is a member of a local milk cooperative, and my dad serves as the board president. This conference gave me an opportunity to learn more about the cooperative business model, gain a better understanding of the different types of cooperatives and build upon my network.
I learned that there are between 30,000 to 40,000 cooperatives in the United States. That number amazed me. On Friday morning we were able to visit CHS and hear from a panel about cooperatives in agriculture. One of the panel members, Justin Friesz, who does global grain marketing for CHS said that they move around 52 million metric tons of grain per year. He also discussed the importance of “creating connections to empower agriculture” with the group. Another panelist, Josh Fairfield, who is a member of CROPP Cooperative, and Public Relations Manager for Organic Valley shared with us that “A healthy cooperative is an active one.” Throughout the rest of the conference that statement really stuck with me, especially as we toured and learned about all different types of cooperatives. On Friday afternoon, Anne Reynolds who has retired from the UW-Center for Cooperatives shared a keynote message about “Cooperative Leadership in Uncertain Times.” My takeaway from her message was that cooperative values appeal to fundamental instincts and offer a way to transfer uncertainty and doubt into positive action.
On Saturday, I was able to tour a few different types of cooperatives in the Twin Cities area. In the morning, we visited a student housing co-op for students that attend the University of Minnesota. We also toured a natural foods co-op. In the afternoon we heard from three guests on a Consumer Co-ops panel. The CEO of FairState Brewing Cooperative, an owner of Valley View Senior Living Cooperative and a manager of REI Co-op. I really enjoyed hearing about the diversity of the types of co-ops and how each one was running similarly, yet very different. REI is the biggest Cooperative in the U.S. and has over 100 million members.
The conference wrapped up with a presentation from William Nelson, founding member of Ralph K. Morris Foundation. He shared with us the importance cooperatives play in our economy and how they provide career opportunities. He stated, “get involved in things you cannot do alone, and get involved in things that you cannot complete in your own lifetime” That is what I think is great about cooperatives! They allow for people to come together and accomplish something that would not be possible to do alone.
Aside from all the great speakers, the tours and the information given, I also was able to make connections and build my network There were about 70 students from 15 different states at the conference. I enjoyed getting to meet many of them and building relationships with them over the course of the weekend. Also, we had the opportunity to visit the Mall of America and see a show at the Old Log Dinner Theatre. I am thankful that the National Farmers Union sees the interest and potential in college students and is able to put this conference on each year.