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work and to purchase food.”


The producers come from all parts of the state and serve as a net- work and support system to each other.


“One of our producers had a tornado completely destroy their crop of elephant garlic,” Lyons said. “We had a crop mob. A hundred people, volunteers and other producers, came and helped pick fi elds and fi elds of garlic in a day. If not for that help, they would have lost about 90 percent of their crop.” For more information about membership, pickup locations or products, visit www.oklahomafood.coop or call 405-605-8088.


Education


For some Oklahomans in the southeastern part of the state, cooperation and cooperatives are intertwined with education. For Tracy Mussett, executive di- rector of the Southeastern Oklahoma Interlocal Cooperative (SOIC), and other members, cooperative means helping children through education. The SOIC provides services that smaller schools and school districts could not otherwise afford. These services include special education teachers, speech pathologists, occupational therapists and psychologists, to name a few. Because most of the schools that are a part of the cooperative are located in rural Okla- homa, many face challenges in meeting the needs of their students who have special circumstances.


“It was very challenging for the rural areas to attract professional, certifi ed pro- viders like speech pathologists or occupational therapists,” Mussett said. “Unless they were from this area we had a hard time attracting them here.” By forming a cooperative, SOIC has made a hard decision for special educa- tors into an easy one. The cooperative provides stable employment and benefi ts therapists and special educators need, while making sure the schools that can’t afford or don’t need a full-time therapist can still get one. This allows students in rural southeastern Oklahoma access to the same quality of education as stu- dents in urban areas. It also prevents schools from spending more money or failing to give every child the best opportunity to learn.


“We’re always looking for ways to serve and help schools,” Mussett said. “We have two goals: to fi nd more cost effective and better services and to provide services that schools otherwise wouldn’t get.”


The SOIC is accredited by the State Department of Education and serves 12 counties in southeast Oklahoma. The cooperative includes 72 school districts and nearly 3,000 certifi ed staff. Together they serve approximately 35,000 stu- dents. Along with providing education services, SOIC also provides drug preven- tion services and education to McCurtain, Choctaw, Pushmataha and LeFlore counties, where they partner with local law enforcement and medical personnel to educate residents about drug, alcohol and tobacco prevention. For more information about SOIC, call 580-286-3344.


Farm Credit System


Farm Credit of Enid is part of the Farm Credit System that was established in 1917. It serves farmers and ranchers primarily in northwestern and north-central Oklahoma. Believing in Oklahoma’s farmers and ranchers has helped the busi- ness grow. Farm Credit of Enid is staffed by people who come from agricultural or rural backgrounds and desire to help Oklahomans. “Our board is comprised of farmers and ranchers who are members,” said Kyle Hohmann, president and CEO of Farm Credit of Enid. “Farm Credit is com- pletely responsive to the needs of farmers and ranchers; that is our only focus.” Potential farm credit members who are seeking loans are required to purchase stock when the loan is given. After the loan is paid off, stock can be cashed back in. Farm Credit of Enid makes funding available for farmers looking to purchase real estate, cattle and machinery; however they also offer leasing for buildings, grain bins and machinery for farmers and ranchers.


By allowing farmers and ranchers access to low-cost, dependable funds, the Farm Credit System helps local and state economies. Through Farm Credit, farmers and ranchers survive hardships like drought and are able to pass Amer- ica’s oldest profession on to the next generation.


“Most of our employees are from rural or agricultural backgrounds,” Hohm- ann said. “They know how to relate to ranchers and farmers. Their careers are very satisfying and they get to deal with people they have a bond with.” True to cooperative sprit, Farm Credit of Enid also gives back to communities. They sponsor agricultural happenings and donate to charities to keep a presence and support the communities.


Oklahoma Food Cooperative Courtesy Photo


Oklahoma Indian Arts and Crafts Cooperative Photo by Sondra Boykin


For more information visit www.fcenid.com or call 580-233-3489. Communications


Following in his grandfather’s footsteps, Richard Ruhl, general manager for Pioneer Telephone Cooperative, Inc., has strong roots in the cooperative struc- ture and its purpose.


“The board and my grandfather, Senator Boecher, had a vision,” Ruhl said. “If we’re bringing rural electrifi cation, why not rural telephone? It started with four employees and a loan of $50,000.”


Despite its humble beginnings, Pioneer, which is headquartered in Kingfi sher, Okla., has expanded and diversifi ed to meet the growing needs of people in west- ern Oklahoma.


“We serve predominately the rural areas west of I-35,” Ruhl said. “We provide service to 37 counties in western Oklahoma and 14 counties in southern Kan- sas. In Oklahoma, that’s about 11,000 square miles. We’ve diversifi ed from just telephone to broadband and wireless. “


The cooperative serves mostly rural areas in order to make it possible for the families in rural Oklahoma to have the same services residents in metropolitan areas have. According to Ruhl, the communications services provided by Pioneer keep rural Oklahoma thriving.


“We believe in supporting our local communities,” Ruhl said. “It keeps them there and keeps the local economies viable.”


Pioneer supports local communities by doing safety programs in schools, sponsoring community events and sometimes even the local cheer squad. The co- operative has awarded over $700,000 in scholarships to students seeking higher education.


Currently, Pioneer has returned over $44 million to its members, and is operat- ing with 560 employees. Next year, Pioneer will celebrate its 60th anniversary as a cooperative. Embracing his grandfather’s legacy, Ruhl said Pionner Cooperative remains proud to serve rural Oklahoma. Ruhl’s grandfather was instrumental in the establishment of Oklahoma’s fi rst rural electric cooperative, now Cimarron Electric Cooperative (then Consumers Rural Electric Company), incorporated on December 23, 1936.


Pioneer Cooperative, and all of the other diverse cooperatives in Oklahoma, carry out the legacy of hard work, dedication and cooperation. Whether it’s Peru or Lebanon, Australia or Oklahoma, millions of people are impacted by coop- erative values while local economies fl ourish and individuals remain connected by helping each other. Whether it is in our own backyard or overseas—as the motto of the International Year of Cooperatives goes—cooperatives build a bet- ter world. OL


OCTOBER 2012 29


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