Muddy boots and big dreams: Students at Ohio Valley work cooperatively

(Submitted by Ivory Harlow, Program Assistant, Ohio Cooperative Development Center, OSU South Centers)

Before the bell rings, students at the Ohio Valley Career and Technical Center in Adams County, Ohio check the aquaculture tanks, unload greenhouse bedding plants and discuss a recent livestock trailer purchase they will use to haul cattle, goats and hogs to market.

The hardworking high school juniors and seniors operate eight farm enterprises: cattle, hogs, small ruminants, aquaculture, soybeans, corn, tobacco, and greenhouse production. The students are involved in every aspect of farm operation: business planning, financials, production, decision-making and day-to-day management, all of which is carried out with guidance from agriculture business instructor Mr. Luke Rhonemus.

Mr. Rhonemus has more than 15 years of experience teaching agriculture. He believes cultivating real-world Ag skills in young people will benefit them outside the classroom, as they continue their education and start careers.

Staff from the Ohio Cooperative Development Center visited Ohio Valley to share the cooperative business model with students. Students learned how member-ownership and control makes co-ops different from other business structures. They studied current agricultural cooperatives, and identified agricultural co-op products and services they use on the farm; products like Purina feed and services like Farm Credit Mid-America.

Students learned about the benefits of cooperation: increased volume, reduced costs, spread risk, market access and greater bargaining power. They appreciated how working together helps individual farms achieve big goals, but also debated how to ensure that everyone benefits equitably.

The students were asked to consider how organizing their school farm enterprises as an agricultural cooperative(s) could expand business, create opportunities and increase farm income. FFA groups in other parts of the state have leveraged the co-op model to boost student engagement and agricultural education. “These kids work hard during the school year and summer months. I think a cooperative could offer them a chance to see the pay-off of their hard work,” Mr. Rhonemus said.
Learn more at