KDC: What is your background?
LY: I grew up on a farm in Chautauqua County, New York. I didn’t think I could afford to go to college, but since I was president of our little 4-H Club, I spent time with our county summer 4-H assistant. He convinced me that I could work while at college and he would help me find a job there. I attended Cornell University, but after three semesters I took a leave to work on the home farm as my father was very ill. Uncle Sam wanted me to assist with the Korean Conflict so I enlisted in the US Air Force and became a flight engineer on B-26s, C-119s and C-130s with about 2200 hours in the air. My service from 1952 to 1956 was enjoyable and I almost made it a career, but my goal of getting a college education was stronger.
When I got back to Cornell, I switched my major to agricultural engineering along with agricultural economics. I went on to Penn State in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology for an MS degree. In 1962 I had a temporary faculty assignment as an Extension Farm Management Specialist for two years, filling in for a faculty member that was on a USAID assignment. Upon his return in 1964, I accepted the position of Area Marketing Agent for South-central Pennsylvania. It was a very fulfilling career for 38 years working with many wonderful people and organizations, retiring as professor emeritus in December, 2000.
KDC: What attracted you to the cooperative model?
LY: While at the University, I was well aware of the co-op program in the Ag Econ Department. The director of the program taught courses and worked closely with the Pennsylvania Association of Farmer Cooperatives. In fact, some former and present KDC Executive Directors were heads of the program. I had worked with a number of cooperatives in my responsibilities as an Area Marketing Agent and have been a member of a number of them. I have been impressed that this form of business is owned and governed by the members. It operates at least cost and if there is a profit, it is distributed back to the members.
My involvement with co-ops goes back from almost my beginning in Extension. One of my first real involvements was working with Charles Cathcart in lamb marketing. I surveyed a number of lamb producers when the prices were very low and they were losing money as part of a feasibility study for organizing a cooperative. The following year, prices rebounded and the producers were no longer interested. However, the steering committee made up of larger producers met once a month under Cathcart’s leadership. He did a number of phone calls to leading buyers and notified the group of prices and demand. Charlie and I, along with Russell Redding and others felt there was a real need for a "one stop shop of information and assistance for cooperative development." That is when the process started. That eventually became KDC.
In 1974, when the Bahamas received their independence from Great Britain, the US wanted to give them a gift. When asked what they would like in the way of expertise and materials, they indicated they would like to be more self-sufficient in food production since they imported about 85 percent of their food. Penn State was awarded a USAID contract to develop the Bahamas Agricultural Research, Training, and Development (BARTAD Project.) I was asked to serve as the agricultural economist for the project, then the Chief-of-Party and Research Director and for the last year of the four year project as cooperative manager.
The Bahamas Government leased five acres of newly cleared land to the graduates of the three month Farmer Training Course conducted at BARTAD. Since feed, seed, fertilizer, spray materials and farm supplies were not available on Andros Island and the small farm units could not justify owning farm machinery, we decided a farm and machinery supply cooperative would be a good solution. William Bradford had recently retired from USDA’s Rural Cooperative Development Service and worked with me to develop the Andros Island Agricultural Supply Cooperative. We held an exploratory meeting with the new farmers from the training program along with other farmers on the island to explain what a supply co-op is and asked for their suggestions. Then they elected a steering committee, we conducted a feasibility study, presented the analysis at another meeting, they voted to continue, we developed a business plan, mainly from the feasibility study. The business plan was explained to the potential members and they voted to proceed.
Mr. Bradford helped to draw up the necessary legal papers and develop the bylaws. Then a meeting was held to adopt the bylaws and elect a Board of Directors. One of the items in the bylaws stated that the co-op would sell products and lease farm equipment only to members. A meeting of the Board was held to elect officers and assign responsibilities.
In 1998 USAID in conjunction with USDA asked me to go to Armenia to establish a model farmers market. That was accomplished in three months. Near the end of that project, I raised the question of why we were training extension agents to educate the 330,000 new farmers as a result of recent privatization to produce more agricultural products when there were no pathways to the markets.
This was a result of Armenia gaining their independence from the USSR and shifting from a planned economy to a market economy. My suggestion was that I could conduct a survey of 500 farmers to determine what they felt were the barriers to marketing their products and what is needed to open the pathways to the markets. The results indicated that they needed accumulation centers (which we interpreted to mean cooperatives), agricultural finance and transportation. In 1999 the project was changed from an Extension Agent Training Project to a Marketing Assistance Project. I was invited back in 2000 to head up the Cooperative Development portion of the Project. I retired from Penn State at the end of 2000 and returned to Armenia, finished training my Armenian counterpart and staff and finished our part of the Project in 2004. We organized about 35 cooperatives during that time, most of them dairy cooperatives, but 4 were fruits and vegetables cooperatives. I have returned to Armenia as an ACDI/VOCA volunteer three times to do impact studies and consulting. The first milk marketing co-op now has 650 members involving farmers from four villages.
KDC: Role and responsibility as a member of the Board of Directors:
LY: My major role along with other Board members is to hire and supervise our Executive Director, help to set policy, approve budgets and sources of funding. As Treasurer of KDC, I co-sign the checks and see that expenditures are accurate and serve on the Finance Committee. My responsibility involves making sure that all finances are accurately accounted for and reflect the true financial condition of KDC. I also monitor and review progress of clients, evaluate KDC success and fulfill assignments, and participate in strategic planning.
KDC: What do you see as the biggest challenges?
LY: Probably the biggest challenge is funding since KDC relies heavily on grants. There is a saying that “If you live by grants, you will die by grants”. That is why our Board is constantly looking for other sources of funding such as “fees for service”. In our economic recession, we have seen recently that the Penna. Dept. of Ag has cut out their funding to KDC and we have witnessed the decrease in USDA grants. Demand for KDC assistance is increasing, but lack of funds will restrict expansion of services.
There is a need for training for folks interested in starting a cooperative, to educate them in the value of cooperatives, the realization that members are owners of the co-op. Many of them don’t understand that. They don’t realize that they have an obligation to serve on the board, to volunteer to serve in other roles and patronize the cooperative. It’s not only in the beginning, it is an ongoing thing. Financing, stock co-op, like the lamb co-op when prices were bad they needed the co-op but when the prices rebounded, they went on their own and did their own dealing with the buyers the co-op had established. Sadly the trend is that in good times they don’t need it, it bad times, it can save the farm. There is also the attitude that if it is going to cost them something, they are not interested.
KDC: What do you see as future opportunities and trends?
LY: There continues to be increasing interest in purchasing, such as food cooperatives and the trend to buy locally with the increased desire for consumers and small farmers to get together. Small farmers are sensing a need to work together to better obtain and supply specific markets. There appears to be a demand for urban and specialty cooperatives such as physicians, housing, seafood producers, etc.
KDC: What is the view from your doorstep?
LY: I am very busy in my retirement with volunteering, gardening, genealogy, church responsibly and a little consulting. I am so grateful for having been very blessed in my life with so many great experiences and wonderful people.
KDC: Larry, we are grateful for you and your wealth of experience. Thank you for sharing your story with us.
By: Peggy Fogarty