Cooperative enterprises build a better world

Written by Mariah Fox on .

Editor’s note: Fox won the FFA speaking contest at the 2016 Missouri Institute of Cooperatives. Here we print the speech she delivered for the contest, and as winner, to the institute’s member banquet. Fox is the daughter of Phillip and Kristie Fox. She is currently a senior member of the Trenton, Mo., FFA chapter. Her advisors are Kabel Oaks and Brook Kreatz. Fox intends to purse a degree in agriculture.

“BEEP, BEEP, BEEP!” It’s six am and your alarm tells you it is time for you to start your day. You’re tired, but there is a lot to be done before you have to take off for the morning. You may start by turning on a light, going to the bathroom, brushing your teeth, washing your face and getting dressed to have breakfast. For me, before I eat my breakfast I have to go and feed my animals. Either way, you might end up in the kitchen for your first steaming cup of coffee and your breakfast. After this, you head out to begin your day. Many of these activities you just performed are supported by one common thing, an American cooperative. Whether for electricity, feed for livestock, or even having running water in your house, all of these different tasks could not be possible without American cooperatives, and if all of these various cooperatives weren’t working together, we couldn’t live as comfortably as we do.

Cooperatives began as a simple idea. It originally was defined as people working together for a common purpose. Today we all have cooperatives in our communities, but at one time, many did not. My grandpa, who was born in 1929, is a good example of that. My grandpa didn’t receive rural electricity at his home until he was six years old. Considering that he lived on a small Iowa farm, 10 miles out of town, how were any of those cooperatives supposed to get to him? Well, that’s the beauty of cooperatives. They are here to build a better world through their technology and different forms of ingenuity.

Cooperatives are not only our basic utilities; it’s also our fuel sources, feed and other agricultural products. Cooperatives such as the Trenton People’s Co-op gas station or MFA Agri Services provide these resources to everyone. Those few sectors make up one huge group in Missouri. This group is called the Missouri Institute of Cooperatives, commonly referred to as MIC. This institute brings cooperatives from all over Missouri together to achieve their goal of informing everyone on the impact cooperatives have on our community and state.

Cooperatives have seven guiding principles they abide by to be successful. These seven principles are what build a strong cooperative enterprise in a rural town and all around the world.

The first of the seven principles is voluntary and open membership. This means that anyone can join a cooperative. Anyone within the surrounding area has an opportunity to receive the service of a cooperative, such as electricity or water.

The next principle is democratic member control. Every member of that single cooperative has a chance to make decisions. Cooperatives give their members a chance to vote on policies that will affect all members.

The third principle is members’ economic participation. Members of that cooperative have democratic control and can receive an allocation. For instance, when Grundy Electric has surplus profits for that year, they offer their members a capital credit allocation for being a member of their cooperative.

The fourth principle is autonomy and independence. A cooperative is independent and controlled by its members. Members of a cooperative can be elected to their board and can be selected by other members. This gives equal representation to all members so that each person within their cooperative may help to make decisions. Cooperatives pride themselves in allowing members to make decisions.

The fifth principle is education, training and information. Cooperatives are here to contribute to our everyday lives. They perform this act through the training of members, informing their users and keeping the youth involved.

The sixth principle is cooperation among cooperatives. This means that cooperatives from all over Missouri and the United States work together to serve their members effectively and efficiently. On May 22, 2011, a massive tornado left Joplin, Mo., in ruins and without many utilities. They needed an extra hand to get the job done. This is where my friend and fellow FFA member Karli’s father came to help. He spent over two weeks in Joplin assisting the local cooperatives to help them restore electricity.

The seventh and final principle of cooperatives is the concern for community. While cooperatives are formed to serve their member’s needs, they are also there to serve the community’s needs. Members can set policies for the community to help in its development.

Out of the seven principles, the seventh is the most critical for each of our communities.

I thought to myself, does the People’s Co-op gas station have a concern for my school? Does Grundy Electric set money aside for my town’s parks and recreation areas? I knew that to get a better understanding of the impact cooperatives have in my town, I had to track down a representative of my local cooperative to speak with.

Cathy McKay, the head office manager at Grundy Electric, spoke about the benefits of cooperatives. She said, “A cooperative is the coming together to form a group for one common purpose,” and that “cooperatives don’t have to be for water or power or even gasoline, they simply provide a sense of community.” As she described the seven principles of a cooperative, I wanted to know more about the aspect of community development. I asked her if Grundy Electric has a concern for our parks and recreation centers in Trenton. She responded with, “At Grundy Electric they set funding aside for different projects and programs in our community.” She mentioned that “Grundy Electric cares about city parks and employee involvement in the community. They provide lights to keep parks lit at night, and they have employees of Grundy Electric serve on school boards or hold office in the city council.” She went on the record stating that, “We want to serve our community and volunteer for our members.” No matter if you are from a small community of 195 people or a large community of 195,000, cooperatives serve every person in many ways.

My hometown is Laredo, and we are a small community of 195 people. Even as small as we are, we still possess a cooperative. Although it only stands 4 feet tall, it serves a large purpose. That’s the MFA gas pump. This old pump is one of the last standing pumps that are only operated by a key, but as simple as that seems, MFA still provides us with the fuel that we need. Not only is MFA providing us with fuel, but with growing opportunities as well. From sponsoring softball shirts for the community softball teams to giving scholarships to seniors, MFA is lending a hand. They influence future opportunities for all of their members.

Cooperatives have impacted my family and my community in countless ways. I went from not knowing what MIC even stood for to realizing that the cooperatives in my community help make each of my mornings better. They may serve a town like Laredo or a place as large as Kansas City. Wherever they are, they are making an impact for us now and in the future. So next time that you hear the beep, beep, beep of your alarm, be sure to appreciate your local cooperatives. If we didn’t have them, we would be like my grandpa, who always said, “Running water is one of the greatest inventions ever!"

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