USU Digital Library - Extension, Enterprise, and Education: the Legacy of Co-operatives and Cooperation in Utah

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Co-operatives and USU

PhotoThe co-operative spirit in Utah was exemplified early in the state's history by early Mormon villages and continues today in Utah State University's Co-operative Extension programs. Since the University's establishment in 1888 as Agricultural College of Utah, its faculty have written about and helped build co-operative enterprises in Utah. Faculty member and rural sociologist Lowry Nelson emphasized the uniqueness of the Utah experience through his study of the Mormon village in 1952. Long considered a model for research on small communities and community life, his research provides rich insight on social and cultural conditions of villages and communities. He wrote The Mormon Village and American Farm Life and served as editor for the American Journal of Rural Sociology and Utah Farmer.

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The Mormon Village

PhotoMormon villages are a cluster of homes surrounded by farming lands. The home lots were arranged on blocks separated by wide streets, laid out north-south and east-west. Public buildings were located in the center of town. Farmers lived in the town and drove out to their farming plots for work. The concept was originally envisioned by Latter-day Saint Church founder Joseph Smith to facilitate co-operative efficiency, and to maintain religious education and practice.

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Economic Equality

Joseph Smith's conception of the Mormon Village was based on a co-operative economic system and a communal society; some of these idealistic practices were implemented in Utah by the Mormon pioneers in the mid-1800s.

PhotoIn Salt Lake City, Mormon Church members formed multiple co-operative enterprises, one in each ward (local church district). Other smaller settlements such as Brigham City (Utah), Hyrum (Utah), and Paris (Idaho) established community-wide co-operative enterprises that employed all the local settlers and were managed by a central board. In other communities such as Orderville (Utah) and Bunkerville (Nev.), this collectivization was carried one step further, with church members living communally. Everyone ate in a dining hall, wore similar clothes made from the same fabric, and shared equally in the community's resources.

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United Order

Commonly referred to as the United Order, some aspects of this communal society were promoted by Joseph A. Geddes, another USU faculty member, in his quest to revitalize rural Utah communities.

PhotoJoseph A. Geddes was influential in Utah's co-operative movement and helped establish the Utah Co-operative Association. Dr. Geddes' academic interest in co-operatives, social organization and community building stemmed from his experiences as a youth in Plain City, Utah. He continued his interest as he investigated the United Order as the subject for his doctoral dissertation at Columbia University.

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USU Extension

PhotoTo support the Agricultural College of Utah's land-grant mission, its faculty visited rural communities to encourage adoption of better farming practices. Extension work included instruction at schools, exhibition at local, regional and national fairs, and conducting Farmer Institutes throughout the State. The College also partnered with the Union Pacific and Denver & Rio Grande Railroads to sponsor agricultural exhibit trains: the railroad companies provided the train cars, while college faculty furnished equipment and livestock to demonstrate new farming and housekeeping practices. These special trains, variously called "industrial" or "educational" trains, stopped at railroad stations throughout Utah and eastern Nevada, lecturing and demonstrating to groups of farmers along the way.

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Farmers and Housekeepers Conferences

Not only did the College bring the campus to the communities, but beginning in 1896, it began sponsoring Farmers and Housekeeper Conferences on it's campus in Logan, Utah.

Photo"The summer encampments under the direction of the extension division, replaced the Farmer's Roundups and Housekeepers Conference held in towns over the state during the winter months. These summer encampments combined profitable learning and family outings. Hundreds would gather on the south lawn; county agents, college faculty members, and imported specialists would be ready with their latest information in the areas called for at that convention.
Such problems as crops, dairying, marketing or account keeping were possibilities to be included for men; child care, nutrition, home management, interior decoration, sewing, tailoring, and remodeling for the women. Dancing- folk or ballroom, swimming lessons, and supervised games were planned for the children as well as the adults. Coach J.R. Jensen directed games during a play hour out in the quadrangle in the evening." (Remembering E.G. Peterson, p 100).

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Smith-Lever Act

Passage of the Smith-Lever Act in 1914 solidified the College's mandate for Co-operative Extension through establishment of Co-operative Extension offices with agents established at the county level.

PhotoCounty agents organized yearly programs demonstrating new agricultural techniques to Utah's farmers. While the Extension Service's county agents helped the State's farmers, its home demonstration agents advised rural women about nutrition, homemaking, and sanitation. All agents prepared annual federal reports of the year's accomplishments and plans for the coming year. These reports contained a wealth of information on rural life in Utah: crop production, livestock, dairying, wool marketing, irrigation, weed and pest control, home economics, clubs and community events, etc.

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Farm Bureau

W. Preston Thomas worked as Weber County's first agricultural agent from 1915 to 1925. Thomas was a leading proponent of Agricultural Co-operatives.

PhotoIn 1915, Thomas collaborated with farmers to establish the Weber County Farm Bureau. A year later, he joined with representatives from other counties to officially establish the organization state wide. The state and county bureaus assumed the responsibility of representing the farmers in their efforts to collectively market sugar beets, canning goods and dairy products. The bureaus also enabled members to collectively purchase farm products at wholesale cost. In Weber county Thomas conducted educational programs to teach farmers about co-operative marketing, rural credit, and purchasing. Thomas was instrumental in organizing the Weber Central Dairy a seminal example of a co-operative enterprise.

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Agricultural Co-operative Act

PhotoBy 1920, co-operative marketing had proven to be very popular throughout Utah. In 1923, Representative Lawrence Atwood of Utah County sponsored a bill in the State Legislature to provide farmers a means of organizing co-operative associations. Following the passing of the Utah Co-operative Act, the Farm Bureau actively supported and organized co-operatives. Between 1923 and 1953, 308 co-operative associations were incorporated under the Utah Co-operative Act.

List of Agricultural Co-operatives in Utah 1937-1941

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Utah Self-Help Co-operative Board

PhotoIn response to the deepening 1930s economic depression, the State Legislature created the Self-help Co-operative Board in March 1935. The state Self-help Co-operative Board consisted of one member named by the State Engineer, one by the chairman of the Public Utilities Commission, three members named by the Self-Help Co-operatives, and two named by the Presidents of the University of Utah and Utah State Agricultural College (i.e. USU). Joseph Geddes served as the USU appointee.

The Self-Help Board's goal was to fight unemployment through Self-Help Co-operatives, but it found that the economic problems could not be solved just by putting people to work. In fact, Geddes reflected in later years that "During the first year, the Board's efforts increased imbalance rather than curing it." "Economic health," he said, "could come only as consumer power was increased to absorb the additional productive power we were adding."* In other words, it was necessary also to boost the demand side of the supply and demand equation. Strategies to boost demand included creating a wholesale co-operative and purchasing a gasoline co-operative which could sell products from some of the other Utah Self-Help Co-operatives (for example, coal from the Coalville producers' Self Help). -- *"I Remember the Utah Self-Help Co-operative Board," by Joseph A. Geddes.

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Utah Co-operative Association (UCA)

The State Self-Help Co-operative Board helped pave the way for organizing the Utah Co-operative Association in 1936.

PhotoTo centralize the existing system of Self-Help Co-operatives, the Self-Help Board created the Utah Co-operative Association (UCA) by merging in August 1936 the Consumers' Co-operative Association and the Farm Bureau Supply Co-operative. The UCA helped market farm produce, buy farm supplies, and assist farm families with persistent credit problems made worse by the Great Depression.

While for its first five years UCA was financially unstable, its fortunes improved after 1942 when it separated from the Self Help Co-operative Board and affiliated with the National Co-operatives, Inc. UCA began supplying farmers with barbed wire, paint, and milking machines. In 1945, it increased its buying power by purchasing its own warehouse and then affiliating with the Co-operative League of the United States of America.

In the early 1950s, the National Farmers Union invested substantially in UCA enabling it to expand by acquiring the Kelly-Western Seed Company and an oil refinery in the Uintah Basin. In 1976, UCA merged with the western regional Farmer's Union Central Exchange (CENEX) which brought even greater buying power to its store affiliates, but also ended a chapter in the history of co-operatives in Utah.

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USU Department of Agricultural Economics

The USU Department of Agricultural Economics taught students to become articulate and effective in uniting and achieving objectives necessary for implementing successful co-operative farm enterprises.

PhotoIn 1921, USU began offering courses in a newly-created program called Agricultural Economics, jointly administered by the School of Agriculture and the School of Commerce (predecessors to the College of Agriculture and the Huntsman School of Business). By the early 1930s, the College taught courses on the co-operative marketing of agricultural products. Co-operative marketing increasingly became a focus for graduate work; five Masters of Science degrees on this subject were awarded in 1948.

The same year that Utah State Agricultural College became Utah State University (1957), Agricultural Economics moved wholly under Agriculture's administration. The program remained there until 1976 when it once again became jointly administered by Agriculture and Business. The curriculum expanded in the 1980s to include courses on consumer and worker co-operatives. These were taught by two former Aggies who returned to Logan as Economics professors: DeeVon Bailey, an extension specialist in agricultural markets and rural industry and Gary B. Hansen, who specialized in worker co-operatives. In May 2008, Agricultural Economics moved back to the College of Agriculture where it now functions as part of the Department of Applied Economics.

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Continuing Co-operative Education

In 1977, former President of the UCA, W.B. Robins, donated the Association's records to the Special Collections Department at USU. Simultaneously, he endowed a fund within the College of Business for a curriculum to study and teach the principles of co-operatives.

PhotoContributors to the development of USU's Co-operative Education curriculum included W. B. Robins and Gary Hansen, among others. Robins contributed monetarily by endowing the College of Business to study and teach the principles of co-operatives. Economics Professor Hansen contributed not only by teaching new classes in international and worker co-operatives, but also by donating materials on co-operatives to USU Library's Special Collections and Archives and funding development of a Co-operatives Archives, including this digital collection.

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PhotoUtah's celebrated legacy of cooperation began with the first vanguard of Mormon settlers, and extended through much of the Twentieth Century. The same spirit of cooperation that characterized Utah's early settlers also came to distinguish Utah State University following its founding as the Utah Agricultural College in 1888.

As early faculty members disseminated agricultural information to the State's farmers they created models of extension that were later embodied within the College's Co-operative Extension Service. Concurrent with the Extension Service, county farm bureaus were established to organized farmers. The Utah Farm Bureau became important in the promotion and formation of farmer co-operatives during the 1920s.

During the depths of the 1930s depression, the State Legislature created the Self-Help Co-operative Board to allow for a greater diversity of co-operative enterprises. In 1936, the Board formed the Utah Co-operative Association to develop and administer these co-operatives.

The Utah Co-operative Association played an important role in sustaining and developing rural Utah through 1976, when it merged and was absorbed by the Farmers Union Central Exchange (CENEX).

While Utah's halcyon days may have passed, co-operatives remain an integral part of the national economy, where four in ten Americans, according to the National Co-operative Business Association, have some affiliation with a co-operative.

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