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Cooperative Enterprises

Building a Better World

The congressman enters Room 260 of the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. and settles in at his desk. He peruses his daily agenda, prepared the previous evening by his staff. The day’s events include committee hearings, legislative luncheons, and a meeting with a group of “principled” individuals—constituent members of the Missouri Institute of Cooperatives. These individuals, believers in the uncommon power that springs from the common purpose of cooperation, promote education and involvement in cooperative business amongst their elected officials. Members of cooperative enterprises realize that a better tomorrow begins today—by collaborating with politicians and providing insights into legislative decisions. Voicing the concerns of the cornfield on Capitol Hill, ensuring the decisions of the White House are in keeping with those of the white farmhouse, rural cooperatives—from the Central Missouri Poultry Producers to the West Central Electric Cooperative—play a particularly important role in advocating for the interests of their members. Cooperatives promote progress through principle and advancement through education.

A thousand miles from the Washington, D.C. Beltway, back in the Corn Belt, seated behind students, not senators, desks, are more examples of cooperative enterprises building a better world. Financing futures is an equally important aspect of cooperative business as financing farms or factories; cooperatives recognize the potential in supporting tomorrow’s leaders. Scholarships provided by cooperative organizations enable education—an investment which pays the greatest dividends. Leadership programs developed by cooperatives, aimed at instilling civic responsibility and an understanding of cooperative business practices in youth showcase the cooperative concern for community. The principles of cooperative enterprise, with their focus on education and individual responsibility, are tools for school principals, teachers and students. Utility cooperatives brighten not only hallways and classrooms, but the minds of exceptional students; farm cooperatives not only feed people, but fuel potential.

In Massachusetts cranberry bogs and Missouri cornfields, cooperative enterprise allows farmers to market and produce agricultural commodities more efficiently and cost-effectively. From the grain bin or fruit grove to the grocery aisle, from the farm field to the family fridge, agricultural marketing cooperatives provide an affordable outlet for farmers and consumers alike. Blue Diamond, Florida’s Natural and Sunkist, Ocean Spray, Sun-Maid, and Land O’ Lakes are examples of the brand-name benefits of cooperative enterprise. Customers recognize these companies as producers of high-quality food products, giving participating farmers a marketing edge over their competitors. In addition to providing marketing incentives, cooperative business practices allow farmers to pool capital and resources to increase available machinery, collective purchasing power and processing capabilities. In a world of over 7 billion mouths to feed and stomachs to satisfy, cooperative enterprises aid farmers in their goal to grow more and grow it better.

Although cooperatives are prevalent in the agriculture industry, cooperative business extends from Main Street to Wall Street and from the stockyards to the stock markets. Today, more than 21,000 cooperatives serve nearly 130 million members across the United States, in a range of industries as varied as the individual wants, needs and backgrounds of those members. Cooperatives employ more than half a million individuals and produce total annual revenues exceeding $200 billion. Even in a struggling economy, cooperatives continue to contribute. They work directly for their members (their owners) to maintain accountability, and strive to satisfy their collective financial or production goals.

Providing services from child care to cable TV, health care to housing, and legal counsel to life insurance, cooperatives benefit great numbers of people through great business practices.
Cooperatives harness initiative and integrate the ideas of individual members. One Missouri native, James Cash (J. C.) Penney, summarized the cooperative spirit when he said, “The best teamwork comes from those who are working independently toward one goal in unison.” Cooperatives connect people and places—students and senators, farmers and families. Building a better world, a stronger economy, brighter futures—all of these can be accomplished by America’s cooperatives, which strengthen our society by putting human need before human greed.

Editor’s note:
Each year Today’s Farmer prints the winning speech from the Missouri Institute of Cooperative’s annual meeting. This year’s winner was Nora Faris of the Concordia, Mo., FFA chapter. Nora is the daughter of Paul and Betty Faris. She is a freshman at the University of Missouri-Columbia where she is majoring in agricultural journalism and public policy. She plans to attend law school upon graduation.

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