By Joy Bauman
Co-ops Program Specialist
The CFAES Center for Cooperatives is pleased to announce that prior to the sunsetting of the Southern Ohio Agricultural and Community Development Foundation (SOACDF) at the end of 2021, the Foundation awarded the Center for Cooperatives a $75,000 grant to fund five iterations of the Youth Cooperative Leadership Experience (YCLE), with one Experience per academic year from 2022 through 2026. As part of the CFAES Center for Cooperatives mission to integrate teaching, research, and Extension programs to create and extend knowledge relevant to the cooperative business model, Center staff conduct public education about cooperative business throughout Ohio and West Virginia, including high school students.
The Youth Cooperative Leadership Experience is an immersive learning program for Appalachian high school students in the primary counties served by SOACDF. The goal of the YCLE is to help students learn about agricultural careers and achievable paths to higher education through the cooperative business model. YCLE participants engage in classroom and hands-on learning, business, lab and farm tours, professional networking opportunities, and team building. These opportunities are particularly vital in Ohio’s Appalachian region, where educational attainment is lower than other regions and where residents have historically experienced economic challenges.
Since FY 2010, the Foundation’s grant programs and operating expenses were supported by an endowment fund that was not subject to the General Assembly’s appropriation process. Until then, the Foundation had been appropriated funding based on the stream of revenue derived from the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) between the states and major tobacco manufacturers. Most of Ohio’s share of those proceeds was set aside for public school and higher education facilities construction. Since SOACDF was formed in 2002, the Foundation has awarded more than $120.7 million to farm families and rural communities in the form of grants distributed to farmers, businesses, and youth in the 22 burley tobacco-producing counties in southern Ohio.
Grants were distributed for agricultural diversification, economic development, young farmer assistance, research and development, livestock systems, livestock genetic improvement, grain handling, general ag improvement, and education. In the later years, the Foundation also funded grants for capital improvements for numerous county fairgrounds.
During the Foundation’s timespan, Business Development Network team members also provided consulting and guidance to hundreds of farmers and businesses throughout the region at no cost to the client.
“These projects not only put money in the pockets of farmers and businesses who were grant awardees, but those recipients, in turn, spent most of their grant dollars locally to build infrastructure and make purchases of equipment and livestock, keeping those dollars circulating in Southern Ohio for years to come,” said Joy Bauman, program specialist for the CFAES Center for Cooperatives, “Not forgetting the increased farm and business productivity and revenue that grew as a result of the SOACDF-funded projects.”
Bauman spent countless hours providing assistance to SOACDF applicants over the phone and through email in her previous role at the South Centers, before beginning work full-time with the Center for Cooperatives. For the final round of SOACDF funding before the Foundation’s closure at the end of 2021, the board of directors chose to offer grants to Youth Development programs in the nine primary tobacco producing counties that were most impacted by the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. For this final grant opportunity, Bauman assisted the Ohio Valley CTC FFA and the Peebles FFA with their successful grant applications which will benefit the schools’ student-led cooperatives that the Center has helped to start or are in the process of starting.
“We have always emphasized the importance of youth in our industry and communities,” said Eric Wolfer, chair of the SOACDF board of directors, “beginning with college scholarships and progressing into multiple successful programs over the years.”
Bauman and Hannah Scott, program manager for the Center for Cooperatives, also developed a $75,000 proposal for the Foundation to fund the successful Youth Cooperative Leadership Program for five years. “We are grateful that the SOACDF board selected our YCLE project as one of the benefactors of this final round of funding,” said Scott.
The YCLE is expected to engage approximately 50 high school agriculture students and 5 adult chaperones annually. The goal of the YCLE is to help students learn about agricultural careers and achievable paths to higher education from a cooperative perspective. Cooperative Program Specialist Joy Bauman explained that students will be educated on the cooperative business model as a sustainable marketing and management model for agricultural enterprises, including farms and agribusinesses. “They will be introduced to agricultural careers through tours of cooperative businesses and co-op member farms, as well as have the opportunity to engage and make connections with individuals in the agriculture industry, as well as participate in college-style learning experiences,” Bauman said.
Plans for the autumn 2022 Youth Cooperative Leadership Experience are underway. Watch for details soon about the participant selection process.