Understanding the Business of Cooperatives

By Barb McBreen

When asked what she’s seen during the eight weeks she’s been in Iowa, Bridget Perry pulls out a stack of business cards from cooperatives and businesses she’s toured. Perry, a graduate student in agricultural economics at Tuskegee, is part of a George Washington Carver internship team gathering information on management practices used in Iowa’s cooperatives.

“Coops help a multitude of people in a community,” Perry said. “They offer competitive pricing for agricultural products and competitive costs when it comes to purchasing inputs.”

Bryant Moore, a senior in agricultural business and marketing, is also gathering information about Iowa’s cooperatives. He said the experience is something they will share when they return to Tuskegee.

“We get hands-on experience, which helps us get a better understanding of the management and structure of cooperatives,” Moore said.

Both students will be working as assistant teachers in a class about cooperatives at Tuskegee. The students will do a poster, paper and presentation here. When they return to Tuskegee they’ll present information about business models and tips they learned during the internship.

Angela Shaw, an Iowa State University assistant professor in food science and human nutrition, said Tuskegee has a cooperative that provides fruits and vegetables to Wal-Mart. She and others were asked to help find ways to improve that cooperative relationship.

“They came to Iowa to learn about other business structures they can incorporate into this partnership,” Shaw said. “For eight weeks this summer I’ve had the opportunity to take them around and show them different business models.”

The students also learned about business opportunities in agriculture. The students will finish up their internship with a paper and presentation outlining what they’ve learned during their visit in Iowa.

The Iowa Food Cooperative in Des Moines is one of many business visits for these George Washington Carver Intern students from Tuskegee University. Bridget Perry, a graduate student in agricultural economics; Bryant Moore, a senior in agricultural business and marketing, and Jason White, a senior in agricultural business are here to tour businesses and learn how to improve the cooperative business model.