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Rural Missouri Magazine

A month to honor cooperatives

by Barry Hart

by Barry Hart

When farmers in Missouri wanted to save money on supplies, they combined their orders for baler twine and saved $400. From that success emerged a cooperative now called MFA that has become one of the largest ag enterprises in the state.

Dismayed by the low price of corn, Missouri farmers joined together to form ethanol cooperatives. These homegrown businesses have succeeded in raising the price of corn for all farmers while moving us a step closer to energy independence.

When a mountain climber couldn’t find a source for equipment, he convened with 21 fellow climbers to start an outdoor equipment company called REI. Today that venture is the nation’s largest consumer cooperative.

Because private power companies would not run their power lines beyond the city limits, rural people did the job themselves. The electric cooperatives they built now bring the benefits of electricity to millions of rural people who, without their cooperative, would be second-class citizens.

October is the month set aside to honor the nation’s cooperatives. Co-op Month, celebrated every year since 1930, is the time to remind everyone of the benefits of cooperative membership and what makes these businesses different.

Cooperatives exist for only one reason: to provide goods or services that other businesses cannot or will not provide. They bring value to their members by not only providing goods and services members can’t get anywhere else, but by also providing better or lower-cost goods and services that other forms of business do not offer.

U.S. cooperatives serve more than 130 million members. They generate revenue in excess of $230 billion a year, employ more than half a million Americans and have total payrolls of more than $15 billion annually.

The nation’s 900-plus electric cooperatives own and maintain nearly half of the electric distribution lines in the United States, cover 75 percent of the land mass and provide electricity to 37 million people.

By taking the profit motive out of providing electricity, your electric cooperative can focus on the service aspect. In fact, there’s really no other reason for an electric cooperative to exist other than to provide services deemed important by its membership.

This focus on service made possible the recent dedication of the state’s first utility-scale wind farm, Bluegrass Ridge near King City. When the opportunity to buy the output of this and two other wind projects became available, the member-elected boards quickly recognized the value of wind energy and jumped at the chance to be part of the project.

In a time when Americans have lost faith in corporate America, cooperatives offer an alternative to the many people who belong to them. Cooperatives are businesses people can trust because they are businesses they own and control.

While cooperative membership has great value, it also comes with great responsibility. Members must pay attention to the cooperative business they own, attend the annual meeting, participate in the election of directors, hold their directors and management accountable for decisions that affect their cooperative and agree to serve on its committees or board if asked.

The mission of cooperatives everywhere is the same: Together, we can make the world a better place in which to live if we stick to the cooperative principles — voluntary and open membership; democratic member control; members’ economic participation; autonomy and independence; education, training, andinformation, cooperation among cooperatives and concern for community — and truly live by those principles.

Hart is executive vice president of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.

E-mail Barry Hart

 

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Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives

Rural Missouri
2722 E. McCarty Street
P.O. Box 1645 • Jefferson City, Mo. 65102
573-659-3423

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