Co-op Month celebrated at USDA

o-op Month was celebrated at USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C., in early October with a program and reception attended by about 100 co-op leaders and government officials, during which a special Co-op Month proclamation, signed by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (see sidebar), was released.

President Barack Obama also sent a special message saluting cooperatives, read by Rural Business-Cooperative Programs Administrator Judy Canales. President Obama’s letter said: “When Americans work together for a common purpose, we can change lives of others in sustainable ways. Thousands of cooperatives across our country work towards this fundamental goal, delivering goods and services that impact countless individuals and communities. As you celebrate this successful, diverse business model during National Cooperative Month, I hope you take pride in your work to support and build local economies and strengthen our nation.”

Featured speakers included Dr. Brent Heuth, from the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives, who provided a snapshot of the nation’s cooperative sector, which includes 29,000 cooperatives that have a $650 billion annual impact on the U.S. economy. Gary Stooksbury, CEO of Aiken Electric cooperative, spoke on behalf of the South Carolina Power Team/Palmetto Economic Development Corporation, which is a consortium of utility co-ops that are pooling their efforts to attract new business to the state and to create jobs.

Rick Beckler, director of hospitality at Sacred Heart Hospital of Eau Claire, Wis., told the story of the Producers and Buyers Cooperative, which is helping small farmers tap the local food market with contracts to supply homegrown foods to area health care facilities. Steve Flick, board president of Missouri’s Show Me Energy Cooperative, described how this biomass energy co-op is taking wood and crop waste and turning it into fuel pellets. Madeline Schultz, of the Iowa Co-op Extension Service, provided an overview of a new website ( designed to spread understanding of the cooperative model of business.

Under Secretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager and Canales also met with a smaller group of co-op leaders to better focus the attention of USDA on key issues facing cooperatives. Tonsager stressed USDA’s commitment to: Andrew Jermolowicz, USDA’s acting deputy administrator for Cooperative Programs, provided in-depth information about the Value-Added Producer Grant program and the expansion of the program to include local farming initiatives. He indicated that there has been an upsurge in applications. Available funding for the program was greatly expanded this year.

Office of the Secretary
Washington, D.C.
October 2010
By the Secretary of Agriculture of the United States of America


WHEREAS the Nation’s 29,000 cooperatives have an impact of more than $650 billion annually on the U.S. economy and are operated for the benefit of their members, rather than outside investors, in the spirit of member ownership and member control; and

WHEREAS cooperatives are a highly flexible, self-help business model that enable producers and consumers to engage in activities as diverse as processing and marketing crops and obtaining farm supplies; developing renewable energy projects, food stores and childcare centers; and providing credit and financial services, insurance, electricity and telecommunications services to their member owners; and

WHEREAS cooperatives own more than $3 trillion in assets and employ more than 850,000 people, and are especially effective at helping to add value to the goods and services produced in rural America, helping to keep more dollars “at home”; and

WHEREAS one of the key guiding principles of the cooperative movement is service to community, and thus cooperatives operate in a manner that strengthens the communities in which their members live and work; and WHEREAS the U.S. Department of Agriculture supports the Nation's agricultural and utility cooperatives with financial programs, educational materials, statistical information, research, technical, and development assistance;

NOW, THEREFORE, in recognition of the vital role cooperatives play in the Nation’s economy and the impact they have on improving economic opportunity and the quality of life in rural America, I, Thomas J. Vilsack, Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture, do hereby proclaim October 2010 as National Cooperative Month. I encourage people everywhere to learn more about cooperatives and celebrate their accomplishments with appropriate ceremonies and activities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this 5th day of October 2010, the two-hundred thirty-fifth year of the Independence of the United States of America.


November/December Table of Contents