2016 inductees to Cooperative Hall of Fame announced

coop-HoF-logo-500 54395coop-HoF-logo-500 54395Three outstanding cooperative leaders will receive the cooperative community’s highest honor on May 4, 2016 when they are inducted into the Cooperative Hall of Fame.

The inductees are Dennis Bolling, outgoing president and CEO of United Producers, Inc.; Dennis A. Johnson, former president and CEO of the St. Paul Bank for Cooperatives; and Dr. Jessica Gordon Nembhard, author of “Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice.”

These cooperative leaders will be recognized at the annual Cooperative Hall of Fame dinner and induction ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on the evening of May 4, 2016. In conjunction with the ceremony, a public forum on cooperative development and leadership will be held in the afternoon.

“Induction into the Cooperative Hall of Fame is reserved for those who have made genuinely heroic contributions to the cooperative community. The 2016 inductees join a host of extraordinary Hall of Fame members who have contributed significantly to the advancement of the cooperative movement,” said Gasper Kovach, Jr., board chair of the Cooperative Development Foundation, which administers the Hall of Fame.


Dennis Bolling, outgoing president and CEO, United Producers, Inc. (UPI)

A champion of the co-op business model and visionary cooperative educator, Dennis Bolling has spent close to four decades serving the cooperative sector. He brings a legacy of service to and advocacy for farmer cooperatives to the 2016 Cooperative Hall of Fame.

Bolling’s cooperative career began in 1980, when he began working at the Louisville Bank of Cooperatives, a predecessor institution to CoBank. There, one of his accounts was Producers Livestock Association, the organization that later became United Producers, Inc. (UPI), an Ohio-based livestock marketing, finance and member services cooperative serving farmers in the Midwest.

When he joined the organization in 1989, Bolling helped then Producers Livestock Association emerge from the economic downturn that plagued the agriculture sector throughout much of the 80s. In 1999, he oversaw a series of mergers that doubled the co-op’s size and expanded its services to producers in ten states. In late 2001, Bolling steered UPI through a complex, eight-year legal and financial labyrinth in the wake of a Ponzi scheme that left it bankrupt and $80 million in debt. Under his leadership, UPI not only survived what was widely seen as a crippling setback, but its members emerged protected and its operations undamaged. Today, UPI is the largest livestock marketing cooperative in the U.S., serving 45,000 members, marketing 3 million head of livestock and recording annual sales of $1.2 billion last year.

Once UPI was stabilized, Bolling turned his attention to his lifelong passion—cooperative education and development. An advocate of strong board governance, he developed a board certification program and used the Farm Credit Services’ leadership modules to provide advanced governance training to co-op boards. At a time when the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives’ (NCFC) education program was on the brink of disappearing, Bolling helped reinvent it and ensure its broad support. To build a more engaged and efficient workforce, he created UPI University, which includes company orientation, sales and management training courses. At CoBank, Bolling led the committee that developed its director education program, writing and presenting much of it himself.

Bolling was instrumental in creating numerous cooperative education organizations, including the game-changing Center for Cooperatives, Business and Community Education and Development at Ohio State University and the Mid America Cooperative Council. Bolling serves on the Executive Committee and as chair of the Education Committee at NCFC, where his goal is to help cooperative directors understand the scope and complexity of their role, acquire the skills they need to apply around the board table, learn to conduct business with accountability and transparency and make informed decisions as part of a diverse group. Bolling also chairs the board of the NCFC Foundation, where he has set fundraising strategies and expanded the organization’s scope of work.

Bolling recently completed a term as chair of the LEAD Program, a two-year leadership program affiliated with Ohio State. In July, he received the Reginald J. Cressman Award from the Association of Cooperative Educators in recognition of his mentorship and profound impact on the development of cooperative leaders.


Dennis Johnson, former president & CEO of the St. Paul Bank for Cooperatives

An early investor behind a new generation of Midwestern co-ops in the 80s and 90s and a key figure in the development of senior housing co-ops, Dennis Johnson holds a pivotal place in cross-sector cooperative history.

His legendary career at the St. Paul Bank for Cooperatives saw him advance from credit analyst in 1973 to president and CEO in 1989, a position he held until the St. Paul Bank merged with CoBank in 1999. Early on, Johnson recognized the integral role the cooperative business model could play in improving life in rural America and, under his leadership, the St. Paul Bank became a leader in supporting new venture co-op formation and finance. He also oversaw the bank’s most significant change during its 55-year history when, in 1989, it transitioned from a lender with a four-state charter to one with a national charter under the Agriculture Credit Act of 1987. The expansion placed the St. Paul Bank in a unique position to influence, support and encourage the application of the co-op business model to spur rural economic development.

Working alongside Rod Nilsestuen in the mid-80s, Johnson was an early supporter of a new entity—a cooperative development center that would provide needed technical assistance to both existing co-ops and startups. He and the St. Paul Bank were a reliable source of funding for what is today known as Cooperative Development Services.

Starting with the Homestead Housing Cooperative program in the 1990s, Johnson has long played a leading role in the senior co-op housing sector. After retiring from the St. Paul Bank in 1999, Johnson devoted the next 15 years to finding a new approach to developing and financing senior housing co-ops. In 2002, he helped organize the Senior Cooperative Foundation. In 2006, Johnson joined Cooperative Housing Resources (CHR) as executive vice president, strengthening the organization as the nation’s only lender focused solely on financing senior housing co-ops. Johnson was the lead organizer of the annual Senior Cooperative Housing Conference, for which he continues to shape content. Recognizing the need for members to understand the cooperative model, Johnson created the Senior Co-op Housing Education Program, which has benefited more than 6,000 member-owners. In 2009, he incorporated a purchasing co-op to leverage the buying power of senior housing co-ops that procure flooring, phone/Internet/TV, appliances and other items. In 2013, he was a key part of the group that launched a successful grassroots network to convince the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development not to shutter its Minneapolis office. Instead, staff grew from 11 to 50 people, most of whom continue to provide services and resources to senior housing cooperatives both regionally and nationally.

During his years as board member and chair of the Cooperative Development Foundation, Johnson served as finance chair of the National Rural Development Task Force. In that role, he helped secure the congressional authorization and appropriations for the USDA Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) program. Today, this program remains the primary source of federal funding for cooperative development.


Dr. Jessica Gordon Nembhard, author of “Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice” (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2014)

A cooperative ambassador, economist and community economic development expert, Dr. Jessica Gordon Nembhard is author of the recently published book, “Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice” (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2014). The result of 15 years of careful research, the book solidifies Gordon Nembhard as a historian of cooperative empowerment and transformation within low-income and minority communities. Her book argues that co-ops not only should be, but have historically been a social justice tool within African American communities.

Gordon Nembhard is Professor of Community Justice and Social Economic Development in the Department of Africana Studies at John Jay College, of the City University of New York (CUNY). In the early 2000s she was an Assistant Professor in the African American Studies Department at the University of Maryland, College Park and a co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative at U MCP. She was also a founding board member of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. In 2008-09 she was a visiting scholar at the Centre for the Study of Co-operatives at the University of Saskatchewan (Canada) and continues to be an affiliate scholar with that center. Since 2007, Nembhard has served on the Association of Cooperative Educators (ACE) Board of Directors, where she contributes to research and education programs.

Gordon Nembhard’s groundbreaking research has profoundly impacted the worker co-op sector. Her vision and principled leadership have positioned worker co-ops as tools for economic and racial justice in the 21st century. She is an active participant in and advisor to both leading cooperative organizations and grassroots cooperative development. Gordon Nembhard co-founded the U.S. Federation of Worker Co-ops and helped that organization build lasting ties with prominent civil rights and cooperative organizations. She is also an active member of the Grassroots Economic Organizing newsletter collective and recently joined the board of directors of Green Worker Cooperatives. In 2001, she received the Cooperative Advocacy and Research Award from the Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy.

An integral supporter of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, Gordon Nembhard has provided critical historical information, training and staff mentorships to the organization. She is currently working with a committee of the Federation to draft a pilot co-op curriculum for Tuskegee University that the team hopes will prompt other universities to recognize the value of adding co-ops to their business curriculum. Gordon Nembhard also worked with the Coalition for a Prosperous Mississippi and is a member of the Southern Grassroots Economies Project (SGEP), a regional network dedicated to building a robust co-op economy in the U.S. South among marginalized communities. She is also instrumental in planning CoopEcon, an annual conference hosted by SGEP and held at the Federation’s Rural Training and Research Center in Epes, Alabama. In addition, Gordon Nembhard was a panelist at the 2014 Jackson Rising conference.

Gordon Nembhard is also a widely published author, and is president of the board of directors/shared leadership team of Organizing Neighborhood Equity (ONE) D.C. Her induction to the 2016 Cooperative Hall of Fame validates the ongoing work of cooperative leaders to reverse economic inequality within the U.S.


About the Cooperative Hall of Fame

The Cooperative Hall of Fame is housed in the offices of the National Cooperative Business Association in Washington, DC, where a permanent collection of commemorative plaques explains the contributions made by each inductee. The Cooperative Development Foundation administers the Cooperative Hall of Fame. Nominations are received annually and reviewed by a screenings and selection committee, each composed of current leaders from the various sectors of the U.S. cooperative movement.

The Cooperative Development Foundation promotes self-help and mutual aid in community, economic and social development through cooperative enterprise. CDF administers a family of funds that provide grants to promote cooperative development and innovation. The foundation also engages in educational programming that both enables networking among cooperative development practitioners and raises awareness about cooperatives in the public policy arena.

For more information about CDF and the Cooperative Hall of Fame, visit www.cdf.coop and www.heroes.coop.


NCBA CLUSA provides technical leadership on value chains in Malawi under CRS led UBALE program

malawi-500 a252amalawi-500 a252aProducer groups in Nsanje, Malawi, meet to assess which value chains are of local value.After one year of assessment and producer-led discussions, NCBA CLUSA is providing recommendations for value chain development in the pigeon pea, groundnut and sesame sectors in Malawi.

Providing technical leadership to UBALE, which means “partnership” in Chichewa, NCBA CLUSA is working to strengthen value chains, increase farmers’ access to market information and financial services, identify on and off farm employment opportunities for youth, women and vulnerable participants, and build the technical and institutional capacity of the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (NASFAM).

As a whole, the USAID Food for Peace (FFP)-funded UBALE program, implemented by Catholic Relief Services (CRS), works towards increasing the productivity of profitable and nutritious farm products for smallholder farming households, linking vulnerable rural households to successfully engage with markets, reducing stunting among children under five, increasing resiliency to shocks for households and communities in a cross-cutting manner, and supporting underlying systems and structures to sustainably contribute to reducing chronic malnutrition and food insecurity while building resilience.

NCBA CLUSA is responsible for the value chain and farmer association income generation portion of the project, which will target 29,000 farmers. NCBA CLUSA will work with NASFAM to organize farmer clubs into more robust marketing associations of about 1,500 farmers and provide them training in negotiation, quality and organized delivery. NCBA CLUSA, along with NASFAM, will create links between farmers associations and local, national and international buyers; commodity exchanges, agro-input suppliers; and financial service providers.

Linking to markets and key market information is an important piece for strengthening value chains, such as pigeon pea. In the past year pigeon peas from Malawi were highly valued by Indian markets because they are grown organically, but because the demand was not forecasted for farmers there was insufficient production. NCBA CLUSA will be exploring ways to build real-time market information infrastructure for pigeon pea markets in India and other countries in partnership with the Malawi Ministry of Trade and Industry.

While international markets are one piece of the assessment, to accurately assess which value chains were important to each community, UBALE staff worked with producer groups at the village level to assess crops using priority matrixes. Value chain assessments took into account the farmers’ interest, the markets, and buyer’s interests in addition to the ability of the crop to balance the needs of income and nutrition at the household level, promote the diversification of production systems, and promote equity of income for women. Meetings were held in nine intervention areas in the districts of Nsanje, Chikwawa and Blantyre Rural, which identified pigeon pea, groundnuts and sesame as three key value chains for intervention.

The CRS-led UBALE program, funded by USAID, marks NCBA CLUSA’s first time working in Malawi. The project will run through September 2019 and will benefit approximately 250,000 vulnerable households in the areas of health, nutrition and improved livelihoods. NCBA CLUSA is responsible for the value chain and farmer association income generation portion of the project.


In partnership with CRS, NCBA CLUSA builds food security, resiliency in Madagascar with USAID funded program

madagascar-500 63423madagascar-500 63423Meeting with producers in Madagascar during the assessment phase.A year into its role as technical partner for Catholic Relief Services’ (CRS) food security project in Madagascar, NCBA CLUSA is exploring market linkages and developing new value chains for local producers.

The project, called Fararano, means “harvest season” in Malagasy and aims to reduce food insecurity and chronic under nutrition and increase resilience in four USAID priority regions of Madagascar, including the country’s eastern coast, which endures frequent hurricanes.

According to CRS, more than half of all households in Madagascar are considered food insecure, with more than 80 percent of the country’s population living on less than USD$2 a day. By integrating agriculture, nutrition and resilience activities, Fararano will significantly improve nutrition and livelihoods.

As technical partner, NCBA CLUSA’s goal is to increase and diversify incomes by linking local producers to national and international markets. Specifically, NCBA CLUSA will impact 360 producer organizations and train more than 1,300 lead farmers. It will also work with private sector Community-Based Service Providers to provide training in improved production and post-harvest techniques.

In late 2015, NCBA CLUSA will organize a lima bean value chain workshop with 100 attendees representing the government, producer organizations, the private sector and financial institutions. NCBA CLUSA has already met with Madagascar’s top two lima bean exporters to confirm their participation. The workshop is expected to identify the challenges facing lima bean value chain expansion and develop a plan to move forward.

By the end of 2015, NCBA CLUSA will also complete a comprehensive assessment of the region’s pepper, vanilla and cinnamon value chains. U.S.-based Frontier Natural Foods Co-op is among companies that have expressed interest in buying black pepper and cinnamon from producers in Madagascar. NCBA CLUSA is also working to connect honey, maize and lychee producers with buyers and exporters.

NCBA CLUSA will provide technical support throughout the life of the Fararano project, which runs through 2019. Fararano is part of a $75 million, two-pronged USAID Food For Peace program in Madagascar expected to directly benefit more than 620,000 people in the country.


NCG’s Co+op Forest now supports more than 800,000 at-risk trees

coop-forest-wikimedia 9e13dcoop-forest-wikimedia 9e13dIn 2013, NCBA CLUSA member National Co+op Grocers partnered with international environmental organization Pur Projet to establish the Co+op Forest—a living forest in the Peruvian rainforest that has now offset 2,000 tons of CO2 since it was planted by local cooperative farmers. Last month, NCG announced an expansion of the project that includes beekeeping. Their press release follows:  

National Co+op Grocers (NCG) recently announced its Co+op Forest carbon offset program has expanded to now include an estimated 837,000 trees in an at-risk region of the Peruvian rainforest and, new this year, will also help support the reintroduction of beekeeping to the area.

Launched in 2013, the Co+op Forest initiative offsets greenhouse gas emissions associated with NCG’s business travel and utilities in each of its main offices. NCG partners with PUR Projet—an international organization preserving ecosystems in disadvantaged communities—to grow the Co+op Forest by working with local farmer cooperatives to plant and maintain native trees in the Peruvian Amazon. The Co+op Forest is part of a system of sustainable agroforestry in the region, where local farmers produce fair trade, organic products—some of which are sold in NCG’s retail food co-ops nationwide.

This year, NCG’s Co+op Forest will expand to the Alto Shamboyacu community, which is home to roughly 150 families—mostly organic, fair trade coffee and chocolate producers who belong to the Oro Verde Farmer Cooperative. The cooperative works to increase crop yields by training farmers in sustainable agroforestry techniques to complement and preserve the surrounding rainforest. As part of this year’s carbon offset purchase through PUR Projet, NCG is compensating the farmers to plant and maintain 1,458 native trees among their crops. These new additions to Co+op Forest will improve crop yields by providing needed shade, creating habitat for other native species, and eventually generating income for the community from FSC-certified timber—all the while sequestering tons of greenhouse gases as the trees mature.

"It requires a considerable amount of travel to serve all 148 NCG co-ops nationwide, and the Co+op Forest allows us to offset the resulting greenhouse emissions in a way that reflects not only our core value of sustainability, but also provides opportunities for cooperatives 3,000 miles away to thrive," said Robynn Shrader, CEO of NCG.

"This year, we chose to expand our support to the Alto Shamboyacu community because, in addition to slowing climate change by planting trees, the local farmer-owned Oro Verde Cooperative is addressing another critical sustainability issue—helping to protect the world’s pollinators," Shrader added.

Oro Verde Cooperative works with farmers to revitalize beekeeping, a tradition for the area’s indigenous culture that has been largely abandoned in modern times. "This project is important because honey bees will pollinate fruit trees and crops in the region. It is also very complementary to the reforestation project as the planted trees are of great diversity, which is very useful to bees," said Teofilo Beingolea, agricultural engineer at Oro Verde Cooperative. "This apiculture program is also important for farmers because it will allow them to diversify and spread their revenues over the year. Once the coffee production is completed, they can dedicate themselves to producing and selling honey."

NCG will also commit this year to conserving an additional 1,200 acres in the old growth forest of the San Martin BioCorridor—a lush, mountainous landscape in northwestern Peru that is highly biodiverse—and planting 729 native trees in the deforested Alto Huayabamba region. Both are areas that NCG has supported in past years, bringing the total number of trees that call Co+op Forest home to an estimated 837,000.

PUR Projet is an offspring of fair trade food company Alter Eco, born out of the deep relationships it has built with small-scale farmers over the years. "After seeing first-hand the effects of climate change and deforestation in the region, the need for reforestation and conservation programs was evident," said Mathieu Senard, Alter Eco co-founder and co-CEO.

"We’re very happy and honored that NCG has partnered with PUR Projet to create the Co+op Forest," Senard said. "By protecting roughly 837,000 trees in the Peruvian Amazon, NCG has mitigated 2,000 tons of CO2 since 2013, and is making a big impact in the lives of the farmers and on the environment."

The following NCG member co-ops have also made individual contributions to the Co+op Forest to meet their own sustainability goals:

The Common Market (Frederick, MD)
Los Alamos Cooperative Market (Los Alamos, NM)
Briar Patch Co-op Community Market (Grass Valley, CA)


NCBA CLUSA's SEEDS project brings high quality agro inputs to smallholder farmers in Mozambique

Seeds Fair Mozambique-web 92a13Seeds Fair Mozambique-web 92a13A Phoenix Seeds agro-dealer examines a sample of Phoenix seed used as a germination test at a seed fair in Maggie, Alto Molocue district, Mozambique.Bringing seeds and inputs to farmers in rural areas can be costly and difficult. In order to reach as many farmers as possible, NCBA CLUSA has developed local market seed fairs, which take advantage of farmers gathering at market to demonstrate the benefit of improved seeds and other planting improvements such as fertilizer sales and financial service opportunities.

NCBA CLUSA's SEEDS project, funded by USAID, raises private sector investments from two commercial seed companies—Phoenix Seeds in Zambézia province and Oruwera Seed Company in Nampula province—to provide expanded access to quality certified seeds, inputs and agricultural services for 10,000 smallholder farmers in Northern Mozambique.

One of the largest limiting factors to Mozambican agricultural productivity is the limited use of certified seeds. Of the 90,000 tons of seed planted in Mozambique every year, only 10 percent is certified seed. The remaining 90 percent is simply grain retained by farmers from one year to the next. NCBA CLUSA's 20 years' experience working in Mozambique has demonstrated that smallholder demand exists for certified seeds and inputs—the challenge is distribution and access.

On average, Mozambican farmers need to travel 50 miles (80 km) to the nearest seed store, yet when they arrive the store has likely sold out. If available, the seed is frequently old, a low-yielding variety or uncertified, and the product is not packaged in “smallholder friendly” small bags appropriate for smaller farm sizes. Farmers are unlikely to have enough funds to purchase the whole inputs “package” (fertilizers, etc.) alongside the seed, which are needed to optimize the effects of investing in certified seed.

The SEEDS project aims to bring certified seeds and inputs closer to smallholder farmers by establishing rural seed and inputs retail systems managed by networks of community based agro-dealers known as Community Based Service Providers (CBSPs)—a tried and tested model used by NCBA CLUSA throughout programs in Senegal, Zambia and Uganda. SEEDS identifies local dynamic entrepreneurs and supports them to operate as successful small businesses selling farmer-sized packets of seeds and inputs, training them in business management, marketing, advertising, branding (SEEDS agents' stores can be immediately identified in the communities by their distinctive green and SEEDS logo), retail strategies and customer service.

CBSPs are only one of many sales strategies SEEDS and its two private sector partners are implementing to reach as many farmers as possible. Distribution of any product in Mozambique is costly and logistically challenging, particularly for a rural, price-sensitive product aimed at clients accustomed to receiving government and NGO subsidized seeds. To compliment sales made directly from CBSP agent-owned stores, SEEDS supports Phoenix and Oruwera in developing complimentary and innovative sales and distribution strategies, including mobile community seeds and inputs fairs throughout Zambezia and Nampula provinces. The fairs are not stand-alone events but take place at existing rural market days (taking advantage of high visibility) or other strategic rural locations where significant farmer interest exists for seeds. Weekly markets at Murrimo can draw up to 1,000 people.

CBSP agro-dealer agents are responsible for stimulating smallholder demand in their communities prior to the fairs through their stores and demonstration plots, and are compensated for their efforts through a commission for every kilogram of seed sold to smallholder famers at the fairs. SEEDS has seen some dealers make as much as $15 in commission in one morning. Taking advantage of the high quality seed, other small and medium agribusinesses are also able to take the opportunity to associate with quality product.

With music, sound systems and attendance from project partners (such as Banco Oportunidade de Moçambique for financial services, input supplier MozFert for fertilizer and NCBA CLUSA PROMAC demonstrating conservation agriculture techniques and applying for land titles), the seed fairs are becoming a dynamic focal point for local communities during the inputs sales period, with each event attended by more than 600 smallholder farmers.

Currently, Phoenix seed fairs have generated over 10 tons of maize and pigeon pea sales in addition to 1 ton of fertilizer sales, enough to plant 500 hectares of land. The events are set to continue through the inputs season in March 2016. In the future, the fairs will respond to a wide range of community needs, providing a platform for other agriculture-related sales including water pumps and solar panels.

Through SEEDS activities, the names Phoenix and Oruwera Seed are becoming synonymous with quality seed. The word of mouth, referred to as “bush telegraph,” is quickly spreading the news that it is possible to access quality seeds and inputs in local communities at an affordable price.


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