For 37 years, the Louisiana Council of Farmer Cooperatives and the LSU AgCenter have been partnering to teach youth the importance of cooperative businesses through their sponsorship of the Cooperative Youth Leadership Conference. In that time, an estimated $481,000 has been generated by the LCFC to support the leadership experience hosted at Camp Grant Walker.
As the conference chairman, Lenny Waguespack has played an instrumental role in organizing the conference for the past 25 years.
“Each year it amazes me what these kids can do, and it reinforces my confidence in the youth of today,” said Waguespack, who is the vice president of the Louisiana Division of First South Farm Credit.
During the 2018 Co-op Youth Leadership Conference, 90 teen 4-H members formed and operated two competing cooperative businesses. Through this simulated experience, participants experienced the economics of cooperative businesses, including financial management, strategic marketing and sales.
Both businesses sold candy and snacks throughout the conference. Kennedi Brown, an East Feliciana 4-H’er in the eighth grade, liked selling the snacks and said her co-op experimented with different marketing tactics and offered special sales to try to beat the competition.
Students experienced what it means to be a patron of a working cooperative by making an investment, purchasing shares and working together as a team to select a business name, elect a board of directors and president, and hire a manager and employees to form the co-op leadership.
In addition to learning more about the essential services provided by locally owned and operated cooperatives, the conference helped students sharpen their teamwork, communication and leadership skills.
“The promise that youth will not only learn about the cooperative business model but also apply it as they go through their lives and careers is always gratifying,” said Billy Gibson, the president of the Louisiana Council of Farmer Cooperatives.
Members of the council, AgCenter staff and other volunteers plan and organize the conference, serve as mentors and teach business and financial educational sessions.
AgCenter professor Matt Fannin told the group about the different types of cooperatives and the guiding principles that support the cooperative business structure. Fannin, a professor in the AgCenter Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, used examples of cooperative investment in broadband infrastructure and electric power. Fannin said he wanted students to gain a greater understanding of how rural communities benefit by making strategic investments through cooperatives.
“Cooperatives can come in and fill voids where there is demand for products and services that are not otherwise being met by other types of business structures,” Fannin said.
Clay Hebert, treasurer for the council and a loan officer for the Louisiana Land Bank, offered students tips on acquiring and managing credit and calculating interest rates.
During the conference, students also learned about safety practices that electrical cooperatives follow. Ed Beall, a master lineman with Northeast Louisiana Power Cooperatives Inc., talked with students about safety around power lines and in areas where workers are making repairs, and he also shared what crews do on the front lines to keep the lights on.
Other conference activities included breakout sessions on financial planning, marketing and supply of products and services, sharpening interview skills and teamwork challenges.
Top-performing students at camp are selected each year to participate in an interview process for a chance to win the state 4-H educational trip, which is sponsored by the council. The 2018 4-H educational trip winners were Nydia Cooper from St. James Parish and Katelyn Ross from Rapides Parish.
In addition, the Louisiana Council of Farmer Cooperatives has contributed an estimated $60,000 by sponsoring the 4-H University Cooperative Speaking Contest.
Grants from Cenex Harvest States, CoBank, the Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives, First South Farm Credit and Louisiana Land Bank provide additional funding to support the conference.
This article appears in the Louisiana 4-H 2019 Annual Report.
Participants experience the routine duties of electric cooperative crews in a bucket truck.
Northeast Louisiana Power Cooperatives representative Ed Beall speaks to students about electric safety.
Conference participants create a cooperative business.