Now that the calendar has officially flipped from September to October, we are reminded of what this month typically brings with it.
The leaves change colors, revealing the beautiful fall foliage. Farmers spending long hours harvesting their crops and tending their fields. The popular pumpkin spice flavored items line the shelves of supermarkets and coffee shops.
If you have kids, you know that they are slowly counting down the days until Halloween when they get to dress up as their favorite sports star, Disney princess or some type of monster, all while enjoying the sweet treats that are given out during trick-or-treating.
But what you may not know is that October is also Cooperative Month in the U.S. This is a time when we celebrate all the great benefits co-ops provide for their member-owners and the communities they serve!
Before we get too far into the history and importance of co-ops, it might be helpful to give a refresher for those who may not be all that familiar with how a cooperative works.
The Small Business Administration defines a cooperative as a “business or organization owned by and operated for the benefit of those using its services. Profits and earnings generated by the cooperative are distributed among the members.”
The practice of celebrating Co-op Month actually dates back to 1948 when the State of Minnesota became the first to recognize this special time. Although it has been recognized for nearly 70 years, the idea of forming a cooperative dates back much further.
In 1752, the Philadelphia Contributorship for the Insurance of Homes from Loss by Fire was started by none other than American Founding Father Benjamin Franklin. This marked the first official co-op in the American colonies. The Philadelphia Contributorship was designed as a mutual insurance company for its members. According to the Cooperative Development Institute, the Philadelphia Contributorship is also the oldest continuing co-op in the U.S., still going strong after 263 years!
Much has changed, though, since Franklin’s time. Cooperatives now come in all sizes, and represent a diverse number of industries.
One of the largest industries is agriculture. It will not take you long to find a co-op representing nearly every commodity or livestock type. In fact, Minnesota-based CHS Inc. and Land O’Lakes, Inc. are the two largest cooperatives in the U.S.
Several agricultural co-ops date back to the 1800s. The dairy industry is a prime example of having a rich history of being member-owned. Dairy co-ops have grown so much over time that they now account for more than 78 percent of marketed U.S. milk, according to the Cooperative Network.
But production agriculture needs financing in order to operate. That is where we come in!
After passing through Congress, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Farm Loan Act of 1916, which eventually gave birth to the Farm Credit System. Since then, member-owned associations formed in order to help meet the changing financial demands of rural agriculture communities.
The Farm Credit System and United FCS will be celebrating our 100th anniversary in 2016. We will certainly bring you more information about that as 2016 draws closer.
So what do cooperatives mean for Minnesota and Wisconsin? The short answer is that they play a vital role for these two upper Midwestern states. Minnesota is home to the largest number of co-ops in the nation, totaling more than 800. Beyond that, co-ops in Minnesota serve 3.4 million member-owners.
Over 700 co-ops call the state of Wisconsin home, serving an impressive 3 million people.
We hope you will join us in celebrating all the amazing work cooperatives do. With the support of more than 6,000 members, our association continues to make a difference in the lives of those living in rural Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Happy Co-op Month!