National Farmers Union College Conference on Cooperatives Introduces Students to Purpose & Diversity of Co-ops
When Lake Area Technical Institute Agriculture Business student, Alexa Olson, thinks about cooperatives, she immediately pictures the grain elevator in her hometown.
Today, the image in her mind is much more diverse. Olson just returned from the National Farmers Union College Conference on Cooperatives held Feb.19-21, 2016, in Minneapolis.
“During the conference we visited a grocery store that was a cooperative. I was impressed by the fact that cooperatives are much more than grain and agriculture focused,” she said.
Her classmate, Jeffrey York, agrees.
“Before this trip I never thought of a sporting goods store or grocery store as cooperatives. It really opened my mind to how the cooperative business model can be used to meet various needs,” says York, an Agriculture Business and Commodity Merchandising student. “This trip made what we learn in class applicable.”
Opening students’ minds to the diversity of cooperatives operating throughout the U.S. is one reason John Brennan, Agriculture Instructor at Lake Area Technical Institute, makes the trip to Minneapolis with his students each year.
“We receive a lot of information on cooperatives that you don’t get anywhere else. We get to see cooperatives that make you think outside the box and understand that the cooperative model can be a fit for a multitude of businesses,” Brennan explains.
More than 20 Lake Area Tech students attended the conference held in Minneapolis. They were sponsored by South Dakota Farmers Union.
“Getting young people excited about cooperatives and providing them with insights on how they work is important to the future of cooperatives,” says Doug Sombke, SDFU President. “Cooperative and cooperative education is part of what we do as a grassroots organization it’s the reason Farmers Union was established more than a century ago.”
Isaac Gosseling, an Agriculture Production student and third generation farmer, says that after attending the conference he is motivated to become more involved in his local cooperative. “My family has belonged to the local cooperative for generations. Serving on the board of directors of my cooperative when I return to the farm has crossed my mind a few times after this trip, it’s something I hope to do in the future,” Gosseling says.
“Cooperatives are a good way to have your voice heard.”
In addition to touring a sporting goods and grocery store cooperative, the college students learned about challenges facing the industry from current cooperative leaders, farmers and members. Participants also visited several area cooperatives, including the nation’s largest agricultural cooperative, CHS Inc., and the Mill City Museum, a river-front museum built into the ruins of what was once the world’s largest flour mill.
To learn more about how S.D. Farmers Union provides cooperative education to youth and the general public, visit http://www.sdfu.org.
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