HURON — Traditionally, when cooperatives come to mind most people think agriculture.
For Bailey Miles and other students attending the College Conference on Cooperatives (CCOC) in Minneapolis that is far from the case.
“This conference reminded me that cooperatives have so much variety and serve so many different purposes,” says Miles, who is pursuing a commodity merchandising degree from Lake Area Technical Institute.
Hosted by National Farmers Union, the three-day seminar works to accomplish just that.
“Cooperatives play an important role in strengthening rural and urban economies and communities across the country. NFU’s CCOC engages tomorrow’s agricultural leaders in applying cooperative business principles and learning about opportunities available to them through the cooperative model,” says NFU President Roger Johnson.
Throughout the conference, students toured a number of cooperatives and heard from representatives and farmers from traditional and value-added agricultural cooperatives, housing and worker-owned co-ops, and consumer cooperatives.
They also gained insight into cooperative development, as well as the challenges facing the industry from current cooperative leaders, farmers and members.
“This conference allowed me to network with people from all over the country and learn viewpoints of those involved in different aspects of agriculture, like organic farmers and how they provide local stores with produce,” says Kyle Smidt, a student who is pursuing an ag business degree from Lake Area Technical Institute.
Miles and Smidt were among a large group of Lake Area Technical Institute students who attended the College Conference on Cooperatives and were sponsored by South Dakota Farmers Union.
“Cooperative education is a foundation of South Dakota Farmers Union educational programing,” explains Rachel Haigh-Blume, S.D. Farmers Union Education Director. “It’s important to give post-secondary students a new view on cooperatives and how they serve urban environments.”
These are the reasons that Farmers Union continues to invest in CCOC.
“This conference gave students a cooperative experience they may have never seen and an extra tour for South Dakota by adding the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative tour on our way,” says Haigh-Blume. “They met with cooperative owners, learned how intensive the agronomy side of production is, learned how intensive and expensive harvest equipment and timing can be, and toured a beet sugar cooperative facility to see their byproducts and sugar first hand. There are students at the conference from all across the United States and other countries, giving them an opportunity to talk about various farming practices and cooperatives where they live.”
In addition to visiting several area cooperatives, they also toured 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 South Dakota Farmers Union educational programming, visit www.sdfu.org.