Growing communities, growing a cooperative
In 1988, MFA began Leadership Corps, a program aimed at educating and informing future leaders in rural communities served by the cooperative. Formerly known as the MFA Cooperators Program, Leadership Corps seeks civic-minded couples interested in furthering their leadership expertise. Applications will soon be open for the 2017-18 session, which will begin in July 2017.
During the most recent Leadership Corps sessions, 20 couples from across MFA’s trade territory honed their leadership skills, learned about MFA and developed an approach to agricultural advocacy. Ultimately, the challenges MFA’s constituents face in their farming operations are the challenges of agriculture as a whole—challenges that lend opportunity for working together to find solutions, said Ernie Verslues, MFA Incorporated’s president and CEO.
“Through this program, participants gain better awareness of the need for leadership in their local communities,” Verslues said. “We want to help foster that leadership and provide a forum for future leaders to network, exchange ideas and join the conversation about production agriculture. If we form relationships with these leaders and make a positive impact, then we believe they will be both a positive voice for MFA and agriculture.”
In their evaluations, past Leadership Corps participants described the program as “a wonderful opportunity” and praised the quality of the speakers and topics. They also said they “enjoyed visiting with the other couples” and were “motivated to make changes in our farming practice.”
“This program is designed to give people the tools and opportunities they need to find a voice and become leaders in their communities and agriculture,” said Erin Teeple, corporate services and human resources supervisor for MFA Incorporated. “Past participants have gone on to serve in the legislature and other governance roles, MFA Board of Directors, organizational councils and school boards.”
Participants attend two weekend sessions in Columbia, Mo. The upcoming program starts July 21-22, with the second session scheduled in January 2018. Participants hear firsthand from speakers with expertise in leadership and agricultural advocacy, and topics are selected to benefit all types of agricultural enterprises. Industry leaders touch on the current agricultural climate and provide insights into new technology. The agenda also includes cooperative education, leadership development and technical workshops aimed to provide value to participants’ farming operations.
“The farm couple is MFA’s foundation,” said Teeple, who handles coordination and development of the program. “We recognize the value that each partner brings. One or the other may be the farmer. One or the other may have off-farm jobs, but both play integral roles in the operation.”
Leadership Corps isn’t all work, though, Teeple added.
“This program is designed for learning, but we also want it to be fun,” she said. “Dining, entertainment and lodging are provided, and previous participants have formed lasting friendships with their peers in the program.”
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