As supporters of cooperative businesses and young professionals, the nation’s second largest general farm organization hosted more than 110 students from 15 colleges and universities in Minneapolis, MN, in late February. The 2016 National Farmers Union (NFU) College Conference on Cooperatives (CCOC) provided a three-day interactive learning experience designed to help shape the next generation of agriculture. New England Farmers Union, a regional chapter of NFU, sent five members to the event:

  • Mikaela Allen from the Littleton (NH) Food Co-op
  • Tyler (Riv) Gallagher from Greenfield (MA) Community College
  • Avery Gratton from the Willimantic (CT) Food Co-op
  • Paula Scharpf from the Willimantic (CT) Food Co-op
  • Marcus Smith from the University of Massachusetts

“Cooperatives organized by farmers and ranchers play an important role in strengthening rural and urban economies across the country. CCOC engages tomorrow’s leaders through a unique platform that teaches them about cooperative business principles and the opportunities available through the cooperative model,” said NFU President Roger Johnson.

Representatives from traditional and value-added agricultural cooperatives, housing and worker-owned co-ops, and consumer cooperatives such as grocery co-ops offered participants insights on cooperative development. Students also heard about the challenges facing the industry from current cooperative leaders, farmers and members.

In addition, participants 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.

This year’s conference was made possible by the generous support of the CHS Foundation, CHS Inc., CoBank, Farmers Union Industries Foundation, NFU Foundation, Minnesota Cooperative Education Foundation, and Organic Valley.

New England participants’ attendance was supported in part by grants from USDA Rural Development and the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

By becoming a member of New England Farmers Union, you can support programs such as the CCOC. Please consider joining at www.newenglandfarmersunion.org.

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