Lake Area Technical College Students Learn About Diversity of Cooperatives

Posted on: March 2, 2023   |   Category: News Releases

Lake Area Technical College (LATC) agriculture students joined students from 10 other post-secondary schools in Minneapolis for the College Conference on Cooperatives.

An annual conference hosted by National Farmers Union (NFU) to educate, motivate, and inspire the next generation of leaders in cooperatives, South Dakota Farmers Union sponsored the opportunity for the LATC students.

“Cooperative education is a focus of our organization because for more than a century cooperatives have provided essential services to family farmers, ranchers and rural communities,” explained Doug Sombke, President of South Dakota Farmers Union.

During the conference, students toured several cooperatives and heard from leaders of traditional and non-traditional cooperatives alike.

“I always figured that when people talked about co-ops, it was the local elevator. But during this conference, I realized there are so many more cooperatives: breweries, senior living, retailers – basically any business can be organized through the cooperative model,” said LATC student, Paige Sandbulte.

Sandbulte is studying agriculture business, commodity merchandizing and agriculture finance. Growing up in a rural community, she spent many fall days sitting in a tractor beside her dad or grandpa as they helped friends or neighbors with harvest. Sandbulte said these experiences are the reason she decided to pursue agriculture-based degrees.

“I realize cooperatives offer many employment opportunities, so having an understanding of cooperatives and the cooperative business model could help me get a job,” Sandbulte said.

In addition to tours and panel discussions with cooperative leaders, over the course of this three-day conference, Sandbulte and the other students participated in interactive learning activities and workshops.

“The experience gave me a wider understanding of cooperatives and what they stand for,” LATC student, Keegan Hamann added. “I learned that cooperatives are not just another business, they do a lot for the community and make community improvement the focus over profits.”

Hamann grew up on his family’s grain farm and plans to return home to the farm after graduation this May with degrees in agriculture business and commodity merchandizing.

Hamann was so impressed by the member-led co-op model where profits are returned to their members that joining a cooperative board is now something he plans to look in to when he returns home to farm. “I never thought about it until this trip,” Hamann said.

Carter Verheist was also impressed by cooperatives member-focus. He referenced a tour of a college housing cooperative.

“The cooperative is focused on providing affordable housing to college students,” Verheist explained. “So, it works to keep rent low and its members can park for $75 a month, versus those who are not members have to pay $225 a month to park.”

A precision agriculture major, Verheist said because he plans to return to his rural community later on in life, he could see himself doing business with a cooperative one day.

During the College Conference on Cooperatives students also learned more about Farmers Union’s history with cooperatives. Sandbulte said after she learned about the more than a century of work the organization has done to support cooperatives, it makes sense that the organization hosts this event each year.

“It shows Farmers Union is dedicated to cooperative education and the future of cooperatives,” Sandbulte said.

In addition to South Dakota Farmers Union, the College Conference on Cooperatives is also sponsored by CHS Foundation, SPIRE Credit Union, and the National Farmers Union Foundation.

To learn more about the educational opportunities South Dakota Farmers Union provides to South Dakotans of all ages, visit www.sdfu.org.