4-H Co-op conference teaches leadership, teamwork

Karol B. Osborne  |  4/20/2017 5:45:05 PM

(04/20/17) POLLOCK, La – Caroline Whisonant, a Winn Parish 4-H member and high school freshman, has looked forward to attending the 4-H Co-op Youth Leadership Conference all year. “Even if I don’t win anything at all, it’s still a great learning experience each year,” she said.

Held April 7-9 at the LSU AgCenter’s Grant Walker 4-H Educational Center in Pollock, the conference brought together 73 youth from 24 parishes to experience first-hand how to set up and run a cooperative business.

The conference is aimed at encouraging students to explore a cooperative way of doing business while learning about how cooperatives provide essential services that otherwise may not be affordable or available in certain areas.

“We want them to learn how to form a cooperative and build leadership and teamwork skills,” Lenny Waguespack, vice president of the Louisiana Division of First South Farm Credit and conference chairman, said.

“Every camp takes on its own life, and we try to make sure everyone gets involved,” Waguespack said.

Terri Crawford, AgCenter 4-H regional coordinator and conference coordinator, said it takes a team of people to operate a cooperative, so students work in groups to develop a mock cooperative, select a board of directors, elect a president, hire a manager and employees, and form the co-op leadership.

Campers learn what it means to be a patron by making an investment, purchasing shares and being a part of a team, she said.

While everyone cannot be on the board of directors, all conference delegates are a part of the business as a member of the co-op, and become more aware about their hometown cooperatives that operate the same way, Crawford said.

Other conference activities include taking part in teamwork challenges, exploring ways to sell themselves, and creating commercials to market the camp cooperative, she said.

Matt Fannin, a professor in the AgCenter’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, opened the conference with an in-depth review of the purpose and principles of cooperative business strategy.

Beyond being a business structure, Fannin said cooperatives at their heart speak to the values of education and investment that spill into how people live their lives on a daily basis.

“It gets their feet wet about the ways of doing business in the world,” Fannin said.

Fannin said the conference delegates are exposed to basic tools about business structure that are taught in first semester college courses, and many students may have internship opportunities with cooperatives.

Gabriel LoCoco, a senior 4-H member from St. Charles parish who is planning to study plant and soil systems at LSU College of Agriculture in the fall, said he learned about the types of cooperatives - marketing, farm supply, and financial and utility services – and liked the hands-on, focused curriculum offered at the conference.

“It gave me a chance to branch out from basic agriculture,” he said.

Edward Beall and Stacey Carraway of Northeast Louisiana Power Cooperative, Inc. from Winnsboro thrilled conference delegates with rides in a utility man-lift, or bucket truck.

“It’s not something you get to do every day; few people can say they have been up in a bucket,” Beall said.

Beall and Carraway also spoke with delegates about safety and staying away from trucks and low-lying power lines.

Waguespack said seeing how much students learn about cooperatives, the appreciation they have for the camp opportunity, and how many want to come back again next year are the most rewarding aspects of the conference.

“If we can help youth become more productive adults and more educated about cooperatives, that’s our purpose,” he said.

Billy Gibson, president of the Louisiana Council of Farmer Cooperatives (LCFC), said the conference planners strive to keep the camp fresh and relevant. He said he personally benefits from playing a part in the growth and development of youth leadership each year.

The camp is an annual touch point and verifies that youth are still involved and not lost in cyberspace, he said. “I get refreshed each year interacting with the youth face-to-face as they drop all their electronics for the weekend and essentially engage old school,” Gibson said.

Each year the top performing students at the camp are selected to participate in an interview process for a chance to win the state 4-H Educational Trip, sponsored by the LCFC.

Taking the top prize this year were Jenna White from St. James parish and Eugenia Williams from St. Landry parish.

The following blue ribbon award winners received a $50 award: Domenic Mesa, Jefferson Parish; Gabriel LoCoco, St. Charles Parish; James Pesson, Tangipahoa Parish; Shaylee Puls, Tangipahoa Parish; James Maricle, Vernon Parish; Caroline Whisonant, Winn Parish.

Top scorers on the knowledge quiz were: Jesse White, St. James Parish; Tristan Mansfield, St. Landry Parish; Serena Mills, St. Landry Parish; Alex Meche, St. Martin Parish; James Pesson, Tangipahoa Parish; James Maricle, Vernon Parish; Leigh Anne Cook, West Carroll Parish.

The LSU AgCenter and the LCFC have sponsored the conference since it was first held 36 years ago, said Waguespack. A national move in recent years to provide more public education on cooperatives has led to increased sponsorship of the conference. Several grants from Cenex Harvest States (CHS), CoBank and Association of Louisiana Electric Co-ops (ALEC) have contributed to the expansion of the camp program, Waguespack said. Other conference sponsors include First South Farm Credit and Louisiana Land Bank.

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Delegates attending a 4-H Co-op Conference learned how to market themselves by identifying personal talents and abilities and working together to write and present a team résumé. Photo by Karol Osborne/LSU AgCenter

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The Northeast Louisiana Power Cooperative, Inc. from Winnsboro provided an uplifting experience for campers attending the 4-H Co-op Conference by offering rides in their utility man-lift, or bucket truck. Photo by Karol Osborne/LSU AgCenter

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