"..They started from the grassroots.."
Rebecca and I met up in Osborne, Kansas, in Osborne County last Tuesday, June 4. Osborne's Midway Co-op is one of the oldest Co-ops in Kansas, having reached the 100 year mark like Stockton, only its charter was passed four years earlier in 1907. We met with Mr. Dell Princ, the General Manager of Midway. He explained to us how mergers with surrounding co-ops helped them create a strong bond with surrounding communities (13 including Osborne) and patrons. We spent time going through many years worth of minutes, and were very pleased to find bits and pieces of how WWI and WWII affected the different commodities going in and out of the system, including steel for new machinery and produce for the co-op owned grocery story. As a military buff, Rebecca certainly enjoyed finding that type of information! Pretty sweet stuff!
Becky stayed at the Chesney Farm with my family again that week, only to find that my middle sister and her two children had taken over! London, age 5, was a show off and gave Becky show after show entitled, "Watch This!" Halle, age 18 months, gave Becky mean mug after mean mug. Strangers aren't exactly her thing, but we all still had fun anyway! It made for a good brain break.
Our next trip was to Beloit's Farmway Co-op headquarters a few days later. Beloit is also on our 100 year list, launched by a Mr. Weinmeister. After beginning Beloit, he took off to "carry the cause" to other counties. Like a traveling preacher, he was out to spread the word of farmer's unions. We we'ren't able to speak with the general manager, but we got the next best thing. Miss Mallory Wittstruck works in communications at Farmway and was able to share so much with us about co-ops in general. She is the former advisee of K-State's own Dr. Jason Ellis. Small world, huh! We are looking for historical information, but it's super helpful to learn about how co-ops are currently run. I figure, when you understand the current systems, questions rise about how they came to be that way. What led to mergers? Why did you use concrete instead of wood? How have government policies affected your business? Mallory helped us shed a little light on these questions, and gave us access to shelves upon shelves of info, including actual papers from 1915, and telegrams!
One thing I found so interesting, being a Master of Beef Advocacy graduate and an Ag student, was how the perception of agriculture has not changed much since the early 20th century. I read an article in a Farmway newsletter from 1970 about how the consumer needs to be informed. They don't always know how their dinner, as well as many other products they use daily, came to be. Groups were striving to let them know how little farmers made for how hard they had to work. The consumer's needs and the methods of agriculture have changed over the years, and it is absolutely interesting to see how these co-ops have addressed the needs of farmers and ranchers to help them have a solid relationship with their consumers.
Third week in, and Becky and I are hopeful that we can create something informational that will better help others understand rural cooperatives. We really enjoyed our week in Osborne and Mitchell Counties, and it was nice to get some cool goodies from Farmway. Thanks Mallory! It was also nice to stop and have dinner with our good friend Kathy, who we met in our lost Kansas Communities class Fall 2012. Thanks to you as well, Kathy!
So, Thank you to Midway and Mr. Prince, and Farmway and Mallory. We truly appreciate your help and can't wait to share our results with you. :)
We'll see you next week after our next trip!
--Go State! (And Go Big Red!...For Mallory!) :)