Campers Take Hands-on Approach to Learning about Co-ops

Campers Take Hands-on Approach to Learning about Co-ops

Roughly 200 campers spent a week immersed in what it takes to form and run cooperatives during Montana Farmers Union summer camps program at Arrowpeak Lodge.

“What excites me is they’re learning not just what a cooperative is, but what it takes to make a business plan and get a business started,” MFU Education Coordinator Violet Green said. 

One of Montana Farmers Union three priorities is focusing on cooperatives and learning about co-ops has always been part of the Arrowpeak camp experience. 

This year, the lesson became more intensive, with the groups working each day on different steps of forming their own co-ops. Thanks to the curriculum that was revamped with help from Tracy McIntyre, who runs the Montana Cooperative Development Center, they learned what it takes to start a co-op, what it takes to run one, and what it takes to market one.

“They’re really creative with their ideas, which is really cool to see,” said Green, who runs the camp programs.

In between hiking, games and crafts, other lessons during camp circle back to the importance of cooperatives in supporting rural communities. For example, campers get to run a camp store as a cooperative.

“We try to keep cooperatives on their minds at all times,” Green said. 

Campers participated in a panel discussion focused on cooperatives to compliment the curriculum. Mountain View Cooperative, Embark, and Montana Premium Processing Co-op sent panelists to discuss their organizations and help the campers learn about real-world cooperatives.

“You can teach them all day long, but until you hear it from the people who are actually doing it, it doesn’t hit home. It’s just different,” Green said. 

“It always starts from a need of your community,” said Matt Rains, who serves as Montana Farmers Union’s chief of staff and as such as been instrumental in the formation of Montana Premium Processing Cooperative. 

In MPPC’s case, ranchers needed a place to process meat, Rains said, adding that the co-op currently has roughly 40 members, and is growing.

“This camp helps to provide the tools for them to build friendships from across the state, learn about ways to interact in their communities, and the value of cooperatives in rural Montana.”

Matt Rains, MFU-Chief of Staff

“You can have a small co-op or a big co-op, and they all pretty much run the same,” said Brent Grassman, who serves as marketing manager at Mountain View, which has 17,000 members. 

Although Mountain View has grown significantly in services and members since its original formation more than 100 years ago in Brady as a grain elevator, the co-op remains true to its roots. 

“Everything we do is for the benefit of our patrons. Through the years the success and growth of our patrons has led to our growth, and we are now Montana’s largest independently-owned agricultural co-op,” Grassman said. 

“It’s important for kids to learn about co-ops. Co-op values are, simply put, good human values. We believe in working together, in being honest, in being safe, and being dedicated and respectful to our communities, our environment, and to each other,” Grassman said. “At Mountain View Co-op, our motto is ‘Together Equals Results That Matter’, and we live up to it every day.”

James Van Spyk now serves as camp advisor and has spent a decade of summers at Arrowpeak learning and hearing about cooperatives. 

“But now as a staff member teaching this, I’m starting to see how big cooperatives are in solving problems in our community and just how broad the impacts are,” he said. 

“I love it when campers ask questions and want to learn, what is a cooperative, how do you start one,” he added.

Camper Jackson O’Leary was spending his second summer at camp and said he was excited to work at the camp cooperative store. 

“It’s a good opportunity to get what it’s like to work in a normal environment with people, and it teaches you responsibility,” he said. 

He enjoys getting to know his fellow camp store workers and helping other campers. Cooperatives appeal to him because of the core tenant of helping people solve a problem.

“It’s not really a selfish business,” he said, adding that thinking of others first is in line with what’s important to him.

Rains said MFU wants campers to leave better understanding the impact cooperatives already have and can play in their communities. 

“And hopefully they grow up and create co-ops themselves,” he said. 

“Montana Farmers Union is adamant about providing our next generation with a foundation in agriculture,” Rains said. “This camp helps to provide the tools for them to build friendships from across the state, learn about ways to interact in their communities, and the value of cooperatives in rural Montana.”

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Press Information: montanafarmersunion.com/media-press-kit/

MFU Chief of Staff Matt Rains: 406-899-2644

Montana Premium Processing Cooperative is a member-owned cooperative providing USDA certified live-to-package processing for cattle, hog, sheep, and bison to meet the needs of Montana producers and bolster food security by supporting a hoof-to-plate business model for local ranchers. For more information, visit www.mtpremiumprocessing.com.

Montana Farmers Union has worked more than 100 years for family farms, ranches, and rural communities. MFU supports its members through: Strong education programs for both youth and adults, by advocating member-driven policies and legislation at the state and federal level, and cooperation through producer-owned co-ops. For more information, visit www.montanafarmersunion.com

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