More than 150 attendees from 25 states and Puerto Rico, including three members of New England Farmers Union, participated in the 2015 National Farmers Union (NFU) College Conference on Co-operatives in Minneapolis, MN, earlier this month. The participants learned how co-operative businesses are adapting to changing environments and heard from co-operative experts from across the nation on why member-owned businesses are thriving.
“This is an opportunity for the co-operative community to teach young people about co-operative business principles and to show them that there are great careers in these dynamic, ethical and community-minded businesses,” said NFU President Roger Johnson.
To bring co-operative education to life, students toured housing, retail, and marketing co-operatives in Minneapolis and St. Paul. They also visited the headquarters of CHS Inc., the nation’s largest agricultural co-operative, and the Mill City Museum, built into the ruins of what was once the world’s largest flour mill. Students heard from co-operative leaders, farmers and government experts who explained current challenges they face.
Jon Shina, a Massachusetts-based student in Greenfield Community College’s Farm and Food Systems program and an employee at member Franklin Community Co-operative, said the gathering was an eye-opener.
“The conference was an immense learning experience, and all of the speakers were poignant and they all really drove home the benefits of the co-operative business model,” Shina said.
Member Hanover Food Co-op sent two participants, Dylan Gelineau and Zach Webber. Gelineau said he is eager to apply what he learned at the conference to his work at the co-op.
“Farmers Union remains true to its roots of both being an advocate for cooperative businesses and offering education programs,” said Johnson. “Our own history is very closely tied with the cooperative movement. Co-operatives were made possible by legislative activity and organized by farmers and ranchers to strengthen the economic opportunities in rural and urban communities. Farmers Union has a strong commitment to providing co-operative education not only to our own members, but also to the general public, and especially to young people, many of whom are just learning about the co-operative way of doing business.”
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