Wednesday, February 24, 2016

National Farmers Union College Conference on Cooperatives 2016 Recap

“Get involved in things you can’t do alone.” William Nelson, Vice President of Corporate Citizenship and President of CHS Foundation challenged us Sunday as a fantastic College Conference on Cooperatives wrapped up in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Guang, Catherine, and I had a great time in Minneapolis
at the National Farmers Union College Conference on
All weekend, about 100 college students, including myself and two other Cyclones (Guang and Catherine), experienced the cooperative business model. Thanks to the National Farmers Union and many other sponsors, we visited co-ops around the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. We listened to inspiring speakers and practiced the co-op principles through group activities. Here’s a recap of the highlights:

Day 1:

William Nelson offered students advice and inspiration
throughout the weekend.
CHS Headquarters- Our first bus ride of the conference was to CHS headquarters. CHS is the largest cooperative and works in 14 different areas serving its farmer owners. I learned so many things at this stop. Did you know Hidden Valley Ranch is 50% owned by farmers?

As a marketing enthusiast, it was really interesting to hear from Tom Murray in CHS’s marketing communications department. I was fascinated to learn how the national brand has transformed over the last 85 years while encouraging the local coops to actively brand themselves in their individual communities with tools like social media.

During our CHS visit, we also heard from Tina Dorner, the Talent Acquisition Specialist. I was impressed to learn CHS had 225 interns last summer. As a young professional, it was encouraging to hear a positive outlook for ag careers from A to Z.

There are activities for all ages at Mill City Museum.
I designed my own cereal box!
A handful of other speakers passionately explained their role, including William Nelson. Mr. Nelson started the College Conference on Cooperatives several years ago. I’ll tell you more about him when we get to his closing remarks.

Mill City Museum- After CHS, we headed back to the hotel for a quick lunch before we were off again to explore the Mill City Museum. It was my second trip to the museum, but I still learned new things about Minneapolis’ milling industry. It’s fascinating how the mill influenced the area along the river for many years. If you’re ever in the Minneapolis area, I encourage you to make it part of your trip.

It was so refreshing to see bright flowers and produce on a
chilly February day! The fruit samples were delicious!
Mall of America- After the museum, we were all free to enjoy the night as we wished. After a little refreshment at the hotel, Guang, Catherine, and I made the short trip to the Mall of America. I’ve been several times, but it always amazes me how many stores are in one place.

Day 2:

Our second day started bright and early with a delicious hot breakfast at the hotel. Then we loaded up the buses for co-op tours around the metro area. Each of the three charter busses visited three different co-ops.

The Hub has new and used bikes for all ages along with
many accessories.
Mississippi Market Co-op- Our bus stopped at a food co-op called Mississippi Market Co-op first. The store was filled with bright, beautiful, local produce and interesting specialty products. We had a great presentation from Katie Campbell about the needs the store meets in its low income neighborhood. Because education is part of the co-op principles, the store regularly hosts cooking classes and opportunities to meet the farmers that supply the store.

Pastures A Plenty shared their story and the impact
working with co-ops has had on their pork business.
The Hub Bike Co-op- The next place we stopped was a little different. Instead of being owned by its customers, The Hub is a worker owned coop. This means employees have the option of buying one share, giving them one vote at board meetings. Being an owner has several unique benefits and allows employees who are passionate about getting people on bikes to have a say in how the business proceeds. Some people believe worker owned coops are able to provide better working environments because the people who set the rules are the ones that have to live with them.

REI- Next, we made a stop at REI, an outdoor equipment and clothing store that uses the co-op business model. They have so many cool things it was hard not to buy up the whole store! I got out of there with just two items. Rumor has it they just opened a location in Des Moines, so I might have to check that out this weekend.

Gramercy Senior Housing Co-op- After our first three stops, we were all ready for a solid lunch. That’s exactly what we got at the VFW connected to Gramercy. After our meal, we walked over for a presentation and tour of the senior housing co-op. I was impressed with their beautifully decorated facilities and the enthusiasm of their residents. I hope I’m able to live in such a vibrant community after my retirement.

After our adventures around the city, we had a great presentation from Casey Thomas about a food co-op that will be coming to Greensboro, South Carolina. Renaissance Community Co-op has been in the works for four years, and they are excited to be opening within the next year. It was so inspiring to hear how the community has come together to bring food access to an underserved area that’s been struggling without a grocery store for 18 years.

To wrap up the evening we had great spontaneous discussion how co-ops can serve the needs of both inner city communities and rural areas. Then, I met up with my friends Adrienne and Evan for a wonderful dinner. I hadn’t seen them since last summer so it was great to catch up.

Day 3- 

Sunday morning we had a fantastic farmer panel, group activities, and short presentation from ladies at the National Farmers Union. They offer internships and many leadership opportunities for men and women in agriculture throughout the year. 

We also had an inspiring presentation from William Nelson. Like I said earlier, he works at CHS, but started the NFU CCOC event several years ago. His rule, “Get involved in things you can’t do alone” has really made me think these last few days. I’ll update you soon with my ideas and would like to challenge you to think of something you can get involved in. Let me know what you’re doing in the comments. Thanks for reading!

No comments:

Post a Comment