C magazine

Better together: Co-op partnerships support local communities

Students arranging flowers in greenhouse

Ellsworth (Wis.) High School FFA Advisor Katie Christenson, second from left, helps students explore potential horticultural careers in a greenhouse updated with funds provided by Chippewa Valley Energy and CHS Seeds for Stewardship.

Feb 28, 2020

Cooperative partnerships support local communities. 

On a chilly day in January, students are keeping warm in a greenhouse learning about agriculture firsthand. Nearly 700 miles away, firefighters are practicing grain bin rescues in a state-of-the-art facility. These projects are two of the more than 225 projects partnering CHS Community Giving and local cooperatives through the CHS Seeds for Stewardship (SFS) program. The SFS program matches cooperative contributions up to $5,000 to support local ag safety or ag education projects.

Training Tools

In Ohio, when Jason Nowakowski, safety director of Centerra Cooperative, became aware of local Farm Bureau efforts to build a grain bin training facility, he was excited to get his cooperative involved.

“Many rural fire departments receive grain bin rescue tubes,” he says, “but without targeted training, they can’t use the equipment as effectively as possible. This facility gives them the opportunity to do that.”

Grain bin rescue training

Local cooperatives and CHS Community Giving partnered with the local Farm Bureau to help develop this Ohio grain bin rescue training facility.

Housed at the Wayne County Regional Training Facility in Apple Creek, Ohio, the grain rescue area is one of several training spaces available for rural fire departments. The training options include confined space rescue, trench rescue, oil and gas rescue, and multiple burning buildings. The grain bin training setup consists of a 60-foot grain leg with augers, a 7,500-bushel grain bin and a 15-foot hopper bin. 

“Sometimes, there’s a bit of disconnect between how firefighters train and what they experience in real rescue situations,” says Nowakowski. “When they train here, they’re training in facilities they would likely encounter on a farm or at a cooperative facility.”

When Centerra Cooperative received information on the SFS program, Nowakowski and his team saw a perfect opportunity to amplify support for the project. Another local cooperative, Loudonville Farmers Equity, also applied for matching funds from the CHS program to support fundraising efforts. The three cooperatives, in partnership with CHS, helped raise more than $30,000 for the training facility.

“This project exemplifies the multiplier effect of the CHS Seeds for Stewardship program,” says Jessie Headrick, director, CHS Community Giving. “By working together on community projects, we’re able to accomplish more and increase our overall impact.”

For Nowakowski, having a training location near the cooperatives and their owners is key.

“The agriculture community has rallied around this project,” says Nowakowski. “There’s a sense of pride knowing that one of the premier training facilities in the state of Ohio is right in our backyard.”

Advancing Ag Education

In addition to ag safety, another key focus of SFS is ag education. The Ellsworth, Wis., FFA program benefited from the program’s support when FFA Advisor Katie Christenson approached Eau Claire (Wis.) Co-op Oil, which does business as Chippewa Valley Energy, with an idea. Christenson’s familiarity and shared values with the cooperative system made it her first choice when she began fundraising to upgrade the Ellsworth High School greenhouse.

“I grew up in a farm family and we were part of several cooperatives,” says Christenson. “I love the cooperative model and how cooperatives are huge supporters of their communities. When looking for ways to help fund improvements to the greenhouse, I thought the local cooperative would be a great fit.” 

CHS matched the cooperative’s support and the combined $6,000 helped fund improvements to the high school greenhouse, including new doors to increase energy efficiency, installing storage shelves and adding space for student projects. More than 300 students enrolled in plant science, floral design and landscaping classes have benefited from the support.

“Students use the greenhouse as a place to conduct experiments and grow plants,” says Christenson. “In plant science, they start seeds and plant plugs. The greenhouse class transplants seedlings, starts hanging baskets and monitors growing conditions.”

The floral design class helps students engage in an avenue of agriculture they may not traditionally think of, she says. In the class, they design arrangements with real and artificial flowers, create business plans and keep portfolios of their work. They also donate their time to create arrangements for community events like Veterans Day celebrations.

“When businesses call on you for projects and support those projects with funds, it is an incredible thing,” says Christenson. “Having the community and two cooperatives believe in my program and what my students are doing is one of the best compliments I can get as an ag teacher.” 

LEARN MORE: Find out how Seeds for Stewardship matching grants can support projects in your community at chsinc.com/stewardship.

Check out the full C magazine with this article and more.