People Make Their Cooperatives Go and Grow: Reflections on a Timeless Idea

Read the foreword by Carolyn Eselgroth

By Hannah Scott and Bradford Sherman
CFAES Center for Cooperatives

“Cooperatives are people in action…”

The idea that it is people who make their cooperative go and grow is a timeless one. It rings as true today as it did 50 years ago when respected Ohio State University Extension Economist Dr. Charles H. Ingraham said so in a speech to the American Institute of Cooperation’s Graduate and Collegiate Seminar.

“Cooperatives are unique – they are people working together to obtain those goals they could not achieve individually,” Dr. Ingraham said. “For a cooperative to ‘go and grow’ members must: need it, want it, understand it, use it, finance it, and work at it.”

In recognition and celebration of this timeless idea 50 years later, the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences Center for Cooperatives has created a publication featuring Dr. Ingraham’s historic speech along with insights and reflections from members of the Ohio cooperative community.

People Make Their Cooperative Go & Grow

Click the image to view the full publication

Center staff began with an image of the original speech, then digitized the text (while careful to preserve the original font as it was typed in 1973) and created a clean, modern document that can be easily shared with a new generation of people interested or involved in the cooperative business model. The publication with Dr. Ingraham’s full speech can be found by tapping or clicking here or visit

“The messages [this speech] conveys were true then, have remained true throughout my lifetime and I am confident they will remain true long after I’ve retired,” commented Heather McCann, Chair of the Mid American Cooperative Council and Senior Director of Public Affairs, Governance and Administration for Dairy Farmers of America – Mideast Area. “This is a testament to the fact that, while the services and products offered to cooperative members may have changed over time, the value of banding together to procure those products and services remains essential.”

“‘Many businesses tout the reality that people are our most important asset.’ For cooperatives this is not only true but form a critical equation for longevity. The employees who serve the members; the Board who serves the members and leads the cooperative; and, the members who benefit,” added retired Ohio cooperative leader and Cooperative Hall of Fame member Dennis Bolling. “So, the critical factor for success and growth remains people working for mutual benefit. In today’s global economy and changes too numerous to mention this common denominator does in fact sustain the business.”

From breweries to laundries, Ohio is covered in diverse and unique cooperatives that play a significant role in the state’s economy. Based on a “cooperative census” completed by the CFAES Center for Cooperatives at Ohio State in 2020 and 2021, Ohio is home to an estimated 452 cooperatives headquartered across the state in sectors ranging from credit unions to rural electric utilities to farmer cooperatives and more. Using an interactive map of just over 1,000 physical locations where cooperatives operate, the public can explore Ohio’s cooperative community. According to a project conducted by the Center for Economic Development in the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University in collaboration with the CFAES Center for Cooperatives at Ohio State, Ohio’s food, agriculture, and rural electric cooperatives supported an estimated 12,910 full-time and part-time jobs and contributed an estimated $875 million in labor income and an estimated $4 billion to output in Ohio’s economy in 2019. Read “Cooperatives and Ohio’s Economy: Their Contribution and the Impact of Covid-19.”

As Dr. Ingraham’s speech reminds us, “education has always been a primary concern of cooperatives…[and] informed and involved people make their cooperative ‘go and grow’ because they recognize a need for their cooperative, they understand it enough to want it, they will finance it … and use it and work to make it ‘go and grow’.” Cooperative Principle 5 also helps cooperatives keep the importance of education, training, and information front and center.

“The legacy of cooperative education continues for today’s cooperatives across our region for employees and boards of directors as well as general awareness and understanding of the cooperative difference among the public,” said Dr. Tom Worley, Director of the CFAES Center for Cooperatives and OSU South Centers. “We continue to believe in the ‘duty to educate’ and plan to continue strong emphasis on education and training as we move forward to reach a new generation of students, employees, and members of both today’s and tomorrow’s cooperatives.”

The CFAES Center for Cooperatives is working to build resources and provide educational opportunities about and for cooperatives across the region.

  • The Center’s Youth Cooperative Leadership Experience program is designed to help Appalachian high school students learn about agricultural careers with an emphasis on the co-op business model because cooperatives play such important roles in agricultural supply chains. Learn about the 2023 YCLE hosted at OSU South Centers in a recent edition of South Centers Connections
  • Through a relationship with the Mid America Cooperative Council, since 2021 the Center has trained 195 new employees of cooperatives across the Midwest on the ‘co-op difference.’ Find upcoming trainings for cooperative employees and directors on the Council’s website at
  • The Center-led Appalachia Cooperates Initiative is a learning network connecting cooperative, community, business, and economic developers and advocates in Central Appalachia that has engaged more than 400 attendees in live learning sessions.

“Time is scarce, but co-op education pays dividends over and over,” said Carolyn Eselgroth, a former student of Dr. Ingraham who is now a partner at Barrett, Easterday, Cunningham and Eselgroth, LLP, in the foreword for the Center’s publication. “I hope Chuck’s speech given at the American Institute of Cooperation 50 years ago will inspire you to help your co-op “go and grow!”

The CFAES Center for Cooperatives at Ohio State assists entrepreneurs, educates the community, and generates knowledge about the cooperative business model with a special focus on food, agriculture, and rural communities.

For more information about the CFAES Center for Cooperatives at The Ohio State University visit Contact the CFAES Center for Cooperatives at or 614-247-9705. Follow the Center on social media on Twitter at @OSUCooperatives and Facebook @OhioStateCooperatives and on our blog Collaboration Nation.

Read reactions from members of the Ohio cooperative community

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