Experience Our Heritage

Let’s Get Cooperative!

Let’s Get Cooperative!


The Co-op in Goodland is place to get gas, food, coffee and of course deposit your grain.  You hear people say Co-op but do you know what it stands for or how it came about?

High Plains Museum | PM399FARM Co-op elevator in Kanorado KS with freight train in background.
High Plains Museum |
PM399FARM
Co-op elevator in Kanorado KS with freight train in background.

Co-op stands for cooperatives, which just as the name implies means people working together.  In early times the Greeks, Egyptians, and Native Americans would work together to increase their success in fishing, hunting, gathering food, building shelters and other needs the society might have.  As society developed, farmers would rely on one another to help harvest their crops, build storage buildings, share equipment and even defend their land.  Without the help of other farmers, agriculture would have been almost impossible early on.

The first cooperatives were started in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries during the Industrial Revolution.  During this time

High Plains Museum | PM221BUILD Aerial view of Goodland looking Northwest from the Rock Island Railroad yards.  Mueller Grain & Co-op elevators in photograph.  Circa 1950.
High Plains Museum |
PM221BUILD
Aerial view of Goodland looking Northwest from the Rock Island Railroad yards. Mueller Grain & Co-op elevators in photograph. Circa 1950.

people started to move from the country to the cities where they no longer grew their own food.  Instead they were dependent on stores for their food and the working class soon started to lose control over their own living conditions.  To take control of their situations, working class people would band together to purchase their groceries.  They discovered that by purchasing groceries from a wholesale dealer and dividing them amongst themselves they saved money and were able to buy higher quality products.  The first cooperatives, or co-ops, were set up to help protect the working class people from those that could and would control their living situations.  Co-ops not only protected the workers, but consumers, farmers and producers as well.

The first successful co-op was the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society, which opened their doors in December of 1844.  In order to help other co-ops get started they wrote a list of operating principles on how they ran their organization.  These principles are what would form the basis for today’s cooperative principles and it is Rochdale that is known as the birthplace for co-ops.

Co-ops in the United States have been around since the colonial times.  The oldest continuing co-op in the U.S., the Philadelphia Contributorship for the Insurance of Homes from Loss by Fire, was started by Benjamin Franklin in 1752.  Co-ops in the U.S. were formed mainly for farmers and they helped keep costs low with joint purchases of supplies that included equipment, tools, feed and seed.  Some co-ops would help the farmer get the best price for his/her goods by combining crops and selling it in large quantities while others would provide storage services in grain elevators.

Co-ops have seen their share of growth and decline.  It was not until the early 1900’s that co-ops began to really grow in the U.S.  By 1920 there were 2,600 consumer co-ops where 80% were located in towns with populations of 2,500 or less.  The rapid growth of these co-ops soon led to decline and by 1930 most had closed down.  The Great Depression was another time of growth for co-ops in both rural and urban areas.  Co-ops were a way for people to pull together and help one another out during the hard times.  In the 1960’s and 1970’s new ideas about co-ops started to come in and while some of these new ideas thrived others did not.

High Plains Museum | PM472MISC June 1977, ribbon cutting ceremony for the newly built Frontier Equity Co-op
High Plains Museum |
PM472MISC
June 1977, ribbon cutting ceremony for the newly built Frontier Equity Co-op

The United States Department of Agriculture has a department on cooperative programs.  They help promote the understanding and use of cooperatives in rural areas.  Co-ops come in many different forms but the co-ops we see in Sherman County are that of food and agricultural co-ops.  Frontier Ag Inc. is our local co-op and is member owned.  It offers services in grain, feed, agronomy, petroleum, shop, and transportation products.  Several photographs from our collection show Frontier Ag Inc. and their buildings throughout the county.  The photograph on the left shows the ribbon cutting ceremony in June of 1977 for the newly built Frontier Equity Co-op at 1202 W. Hwy 24.  In 2007 Frontier Equity Exchange located in Goodland, and Cooperative Agricultural Services Inc. located in Oakley, merged together to from Frontier Ag.  Along with Goodland and Oakley, Frontier Ag has locations in Bird City, Atwood, Rexford, Quinter and Kanorado among 25 others.  The photograph on the right shows the inside of the Kanorado Co-op elevator in 1957.

High Plains Museum | PM333MISC 1957, inside Kanorado Co-op elevator
High Plains Museum |
PM333MISC
1957, inside Kanorado Co-op elevator

Co-ops started as a way to protect the worker from the unfair prices and people who would try to control their living situations.  This meant that people would come together to buy groceries or in the U.S. farmers would work together to get the harvest in and build necessary buildings.  Throughout the history of the U.S. co-ops have grown and declined but always manage to stay.  Here in Goodland we have Frontier Ag which helps our local farmers with a number of different needs they might have.  While it might seem that co-ops only benefit the farmers they actually benefit those of the whole town, by providing services and jobs for our community.  Another type of co-op in town is the community garden, where members of the community come together to grow food.  For more information on the community garden in Goodland click here.

What other ways are you seeing co-ops in town?

Look for more posts in this series about our wonderful collection of Sherman County history.

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