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Rural towns too tough to die

Three small towns navigate economic turmoil

When you fly over Missouri and other Midwestern states, you see a patchwork of green, stitched together by roads leading to small towns. Towns like Slater, Mo., population 2,100, just south of the Missouri River in the heart of the state.  
"Rural communities are the lifeblood of Missouri," said Ron Monnig, a Slater city councilman.

A sign welcomes Slater visitors with the theme, "A great place for growing," a bow to the fields of corn and soybeans surrounding town, but also a promotion of Slater as a good place to nurture families and businesses. Many rural places want to grow, but Monnig feels pretty good that Slater's population remains steady.

{gallery}Oct10/towns:200:260:1:2{/gallery}The town also calls itself the "City of Festivals," drawing in visitors to a blues fest, a model airplane fly-in and Steve McQueen Days, named for the actor who grew up there. Folks in Slater display a can-do attitude. Monnig for example, who's retired and disabled, volunteers to maintain the town website. Locals contributed their own dollars to build a youth center operated by civic groups and churches. Now they're raising money to build a nonprofit health clinic and a biomass plant that would use agricultural waste and paper residue to make fuel for industrial heating systems.

"We're lucky we have strong leadership, with our council, mayor and city administrator all on the same page," Monnig said. "We've built up some reserves over the years-you have to have matching funds to get grants for some of these projects."

Monnig's proud that the city does more with less. The town electric company increased rates for the first time in 15 years three years ago. In recent years, he said, "Every street in the city has been repaired and paved. We replaced pipe from our water processing plant to town, built a new water tower and upgraded our storm and sewer systems."
It's not all rosy in Saline County. A rehab center for the disabled in nearby Marshall recently laid off workers, reduced employee health insurance and cut services.
"Slater's a struggling little city, but they haven't taken it lying down," said Richard Sheets, executive director of the Missouri Municipal League.

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I lost a small battle in a big war

A foxhole view in the debate between organic and conventional agriculture

This spring I was in a debate in New York City.  The topic of the debate was: "Is Organic Food Marketing Hype." I was arguing the affirmative. That's the way we debaters talk. 
The venue was about two blocks off Broadway. Yes, I've been booed off-Broadway. My debating career closed after opening night. I knew I was in trouble before the debate started, when they led me from the "green room" (that's the way we TV personalities talk) to makeup. I've never worn makeup before. They spray it on with a little applicator. I refused to wipe it off after the debate-I wanted the experience to last as long as it could. Anyway, the two makeup women proceeded to tell me why they purchased organic food. According to my makeup sprayer, it just made her body feel better. One of my opponents, Charles Benbrook, who works for something called the Organic Center,  was in the neighboring chair during this conversation. He seemed pleased. The evening went downhill from there.

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Delivering value to members and communities

Editor's note: Raines won the 2010 Missouri Institute of Cooperatives FFA speaking contest. Here we print the speech he delivered for the contest, and as winner, to the institute's member banquet. Raines is the son of Wanda Spence Rains and Kevin Raines. He is a member of the Troy, Mo., FFA chapter.

We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." Winston Churchill's message behind this quote is that a person's actions define their legacy. For 12 years, the majority of my actions were devoted to preparing my legacy as a star soccer player. My attention changed, however, in July 2009, when I suffered a severe knee injury that kept me out of the season and severely hurt my chances of playing college soccer. I turned my attention to FFA and preparing my future as a leader in agriculture. Because of this new ambition, I seized the opportunity to participate in the Missouri Institute of Cooperatives public speaking contest and fuse my past experiences with an explanation of how cooperatives deliver value to members and communities.

Picture this: a soccer coach is holding a tryout in attempts of creating the perfect team. During the tryout, the coach analyzes each player individually to see who possesses the necessary skills needed to achieve success. At the end of the day, the coach selects who he wants to be a part of his team. Those who did not make the team question, "Why was I cut?" The coach explains that they do not possess the qualities he desired. Having players with different backgrounds, abilities and roles create diversity among the team. This variety allows the team to have multiple ideas about how to function and gives each player their own unique contribution to success. The combination of diverse qualities on the soccer field leads to success just as they do in a cooperative. Both start with an idea or goal and then the members take action. Members of cooperatives then use their unique traits and the seven principles of a cooperative to create success for their members and communities.

For a cooperative to be successful it needs support from the community and the members it serves. Without these members and their financial contribution, a cooperative cannot get started, let alone be a thriving organization. The first principle of cooperatives states that membership is voluntary. If people are not eager to cooperate as clients or members, a cooperative has nothing. In addition, cooperatives are democratic organizations led by members. Members are a necessity in this case, because no members equal no control. Also cooperative companies are non-profit as stated in the third principle. Without member investments and payments from clients, a cooperative couldn't pay for the necessary resources it needs to function.

As a member of a cooperative, a member can receive multiple benefits. In a cooperative, members collect a rebate depending on how much of a contribution they have put forth. This rebate is known as a patronage dividend. In relation to soccer, this dividend is like being rewarded for working hard at practice by getting more playing time in the game. Along with this, another appealing bonus for members is that although the cooperative is nonprofit, it is possible for the members to gain income. By investing in a cooperative, the opportunity to gain a return with little risk presents itself. This risk-averse situation is because once one invests in a cooperative, even if it was to go bankrupt, the members would not lose more than their initial investment.

A cooperative is a member-owned association, which allows them the authority to make decisions. A soccer team does not even present their players with this benefit. Can you imagine what it would be like if the players could control decisions made on the field? In soccer, that would be chaos.
However, in a democratic system such as a cooperative, it grants equal voting opportunity to each member. This ensures their opinion can be stated.

It is now evident how cooperatives and their members can benefit through cooperatives, but how can the community benefit? The answer is simple; insurance provided by the Farmer's Union, the marketing of livestock feed and crop seed by the MFA, and much more. Everyone benefits from the vast number of services cooperatives perform. My local Cuivre River Electric Cooperative is a prime example. This cooperative provides electricity to numerous local residents, and not only do they provide the electricity, they also maintain, replace, and tend to electric service issues that may occur. Members in the community own cooperatives. This allows residents who have seen problems first hand to express their opinions in order to resolve conflicts that may arise. Finally, cooperatives strive to inform the public of their nature and benefits. Picture a soccer game scheduled for tomorrow, but no coaches, players, referees or spectators were informed. This would obviously result in an empty field. This is similar for cooperatives. Without promotion of their services, membership capabilities, and scheduled meetings it would be impossible for a cooperative to exist. Thus, the public can be confident that a cooperative will have frequent updates informing them about important items that they may be concerned with.

Cooperatives grant many benefits that they, their members and the community can all enjoy. If a cooperative were a soccer team it would be an undefeated team. Its offense toward getting tasks done is stacked with its democratic control, independence, open membership and cooperation among cooperatives. At the same time its member and community defense is solid due to its consumer education, concern for the community, non-profit nature and limited liability for members. When you put all of this together, you can obviously see cooperatives have quite an arsenal when it comes to pleasing individual members and communities. As long as cooperatives continue moving forward to deliver value to members and the community, I believe they will shutout all who oppose their purpose and score a goal for those who believe in the full potential a cooperative can bring to a community.

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Estate doc

A few words about the importance of estate planning

Here are two short clips from an interview with Dr. Cynthia Crawford, family financial education specialist for Saline County and the Central Missouri Region for the Extension Service. Dr. Crawford also talks about her personal experience with inheriting an estate from her mother. Interview by James Fashing/Today's Farmer magazine.



 You can begin with baby steps. "First you set goals," said Cynthia Crawford, family financial education specialist for Saline County and the Central Missouri Region for the Extension Service. "If families aren't clear about what they want, you can't honor their goals."

Crawford, who works from Marshall, Mo., suggests you start by filling out a few forms. In Missouri and many other states, you can make bank accounts and other investments such as stocks and bonds payable upon death to your spouse or another beneficiary. For assets with titles, you can make the asset titled on death to the beneficiary of your choice. Crawford suggests you only include the spouses' names, not children's, so the surviving spouse maintains control of the asset.

Read related story about estate planning here.





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