Rural Missouri Magazine

Let's Celebrate in October

by Barry Hart

by Barry Hart

The date was March 14, 1910 when seven farmers from the Brunswick area met to discuss an article written by farm editor William Hirth. Those seven were among the first in Missouri to launch a new breed of business, the cooperative.

By pooling their orders for baling twine, the seven saved $400. Word spread from farm to farm about the promise of cooperation. Farmers already knew things could be bought cheaper by the dozen. They just needed someone like Hirth to get things organized. Hirth’s encouragement led to the formation of MFA, Inc.

Today MFA is one of the state’s most successful agricultural businesses — and still a cooperative.

This month people all across the nation will celebrate the achievements brought on by the formation of cooperatives. Cooperative Month truly is a cause worth celebrating because cooperatives have made a profound impact on the lives of their members.

If there’s a connection between the many cooperatives founded in Missouri it’s that all had a need that could not or would not be met by private enterprise. About 25 years after Hirth’s words became reality similar meetings between small groups of farmers led to the creation of the first electric cooperatives.

In the case of those 1930s farmers, it was the desire for electricity that brought them together. No one would bring electricity to rural areas. There was no profit to be made from wiring the countryside.

But service, not profit, is the motivation for the cooperative business model. No strangers to hard work, farmers across Missouri began organizing their own cooperatives to turn on the lights. Like MFA, Inc., those cooperatives remain in service today, stronger and more committed to their ideals than anyone who formed them could have imagined.

Lest you think cooperatives are a footnote to history, they remain as vital to the economy and the American way of life as they were in the beginning. In fact, so called “new generation” cooperatives are offering farmers the opportunity to once again control their destiny by adding value to their crops.

Never has the formation of a cooperative been easy. They have succeeded because the movement came with determined leaders like MFA’s Hirth, Bob Partridge, a Missourian who headed the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and fought tirelessly for electric cooperatives, my predecessor Frank Stork, who unified our state’s rural electric cooperative family and John Eggleston, a Missouri farmer and co-op director who tirelessly promoted the concept of cooperative ethanol plants to all who would listen.

These are just a few of the hundreds who made the cooperative movement happen and remain vital in this century. The new leaders coming into the cooperative program share the early leaders’ vision for the role of the cooperative. As a result the cooperative business model looks strong for the future.

To those who made the cooperative movement possible and keep it strong today, we extend our heartfelt thanks during this cooperative month celebration.

Hart is executive vice president of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.

E-mail Barry Hart


Rural Missouri | June 2020 Issue

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