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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Youth Conference Educates About Cooperatives, Leadership

Farm Business Management Update, April 1998

By Dixie Watts Reaves of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Virginia Tech

The Virginia Council of Farmer Cooperatives (VCFC) hosted its annual Youth Leadership Conference at Graves Mountain Lodge, Syria, Virginia, during the weekend of March 27-29. Sixty-five youth from across the Commonwealth came for a weekend of learning, fun, food, and fellowship. Eight youth left the conference with all-expense paid trips to the National Institute on Cooperative Education in Anaheim, California, in August.

One of the primary missions of VCFC is youth education. Member cooperatives throughout the state sponsor scholarships for local youth to attend the conference. While there, the 16 to 18 year olds learn about the history of cooperatives and hear from representatives of marketing, supply, electric, and financial cooperatives what makes cooperatives unique and how they serve farmers and rural communities. With this background knowledge about cooperatives, the youth then spend a day and a half managing their own cooperatives. The youth are placed in teams of eight to ten and given the opportunity to compete against each other for market share in a farm supply market. With the goal of achieving the highest net worth in the market area, the students make decisions on pricing, advertising, credit policy, borrowing, hiring/firing personnel, and inventory levels. One student is elected manager of each cooperative group, and the student cooperatives make business decisions for different quarters throughout the year. In addition to learning about the cooperative form of business, students also benefit from the leadership and teamwork experiences.

The weekend conference is not just about work: it includes a refreshing mix of fun and games also. Friday's ice breakers and Bunco game help participants get to know each other a little better before they get down to business in their cooperatives. Two hours of outdoor activity on a beautiful Saturday afternoon provide a nice break from the business environment, plus for another form of competition and team-building, as students either play softball, volleyball, basketball, or tennis, or go on a two-hour hike. The weekend is filled with educational and inspirational speakers, and each evening's activities conclude with a deejay and dance.

Based on their scores on two quizzes and their participation and behavior throughout the conference, the top eight students are chosen to represent Virginia at the national cooperative conference, where they will further their education about cooperatives and meet with top management people in the agribusiness field.

For the past few years, 100 percent of the participants in the youth conference say that they would recommend the conference to a friend. Agents who are aware of outstanding youth who would benefit from this fun and educational event can encourage their local cooperative to sponsor a student for next year's conference.

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