The Federation of Southern Cooperatives held its 52nd. Annual Meeting this past weekend in Birmingham and Epes, Alabama. The meeting was attended by 400 or more cooperative members, government officials and other guests.
The 52nd celebration began with the Estelle Witherspoon Lifetime Achievement Award Dinner at the BJCC in Birmingham. The award is named for Mrs. Witherspoon, a founding member of the Federation, who served for many years as Manager of the Freedom Quilting Bee in Alberta, Alabama (Wilcox County) and promoted the civil rights and economic justice movements among Black and poor people in her community.
The Federation’s Board of Directors designated Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson, President of PUSH/Rainbow Coalition, who has a long history of working with the Federation, as this year’s award recipient. Due to health concerns, Rev. Jackson was unable to attend the dinner but sent his son Jonathan Jackson to represent him at the dinner.
Jonathan Jackson, who is an officer of PUSH in Chicago, accepted the award for his father and praised the work of the Federation in raising issues connected by Black farmers and the loss of Black land ownership over the years.
Jonathan told a story about his son in elementary school telling other students that a photo on the wall was his grandfather. The other students did not believe him but he came back the next day and asked them where was their grandfather’s picture because he knew his grandfather was on the wall.
Jackson used this story to ask the banquet audience, “What have you done to advance the society; what have you done to make this a more peaceful and harmonious world.”
The meeting continued on Friday and Saturday at the Federation’s Rural Training and Research Center, near Epes, Alabama. Friday morning included a workshop on the resources available from USDA agencies, available to Black farmers and other historically disadvantaged and underserved farmers and landowners, across the nation and in communities around the South in the Federation’s membership territory.
Among the USDA agencies represented on the panel were the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Farm Service Agency (FSC), Forest Service, Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Office of Public and Faith Partnerships (Section 2501 Program), Risk Management Agency (RMA) and others. The panel was followed by almost an hour of questions from farmers and rural advocates in the audience.
Friday afternoon was filled with concurrent workshops on Land Retention, Heirs Property, Cooperative Development, joint agricultural marketing, safe handling of agricultural produce and Credit Union Development. A forestry tour of the timber resources on the land surrounding the Rural Training Center was also held. These workshops were followed by a delicious fish fry and an active auction of co-op products and contributed items, including a one-year subscription to the Greene County Democrat provided by the Co-Publishers of this newspaper.
Saturday morning began with a spirited and spiritual prayer breakfast featuring a special sermon on “God is able” by Rev. Wendell H. Paris of the New Hope Baptist Church of Jackson, Mississippi and a former staff member of the Federation.
The remainder of Saturday was a business meeting of the Federation’s cooperative membership who heard reports of the programmatic and financial status of the Federation. Cornelius Blanding, Executive Director gave his Management and Stewardship Report suggesting the need for some by-law changes. The membership, divided into state caucuses to discuss by-law changes and updates. The membership voted to increase cooperative dues from $250 to $300 per year and individual membership fees from $25 to $50 per year.
For more information on the Federation or to purchase an individual membership or to make a general contribution to support the work of the Federation, go to the organization’s website at: www.federation.coop.