The Cooperative Difference: Farms, families and values


Every month, I try to highlight what makes our Electric Cooperatives great and unique; we refer to that as “The Cooperative Difference.” This month’s magazine focuses on farm families, and I can’t think of anything that truly sets cooperatives apart from other business models than our focus on family.

The Electric Cooperatives’ mission is simple, and that is to provide reliable, affordable electricity and services safely and responsibly to our members. Our core values form the foundation on which we perform work and conduct ourselves to achieve that mission. Core values are so important to us that we continue to abide by them, even with changes in society, government, politics and technology. In an ever-changing world, core values remain constant. They are our North Star to guide us. Our Core Values are member-owners, employees, family, safety, integrity and financial responsibility.

I want to focus on family this month.

I grew up on a family farm in Iowa and left that farm to join the Navy. Every year, thousands of young men and women leave home to join the Navy just like I did. They are sent to naval bases in the United States and all over the world to protect our great nation. They also deploy on ships, submarines and aviation squadrons, leaving home for six months at a time and leaving their families behind. The military taught me that if you take care of your troops, they will take care of you, hence the cooperative’s focus on employees.

It also taught me that if you want sailors, soldiers, airmen or Marines to take care of business, they must know that their families are safe and cared for back home. The commanding officer of every Navy command appoints a volunteer spouse as the Navy Ombudsman to act as a liaison between the commanding officer and the command families. I truly saw the power of how taking care of family helps the military perform its mission. The same is true for the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas.

Growing up in a farm family, I am very aware of the dedication and hard work required to keep a farm in the family. For example, my family never took a vacation while I was growing up. Farm work required constant attention to livestock and crops, and there was also a little thing called lack of disposable income that generally got in the way. If we were ever to escape for a fun trip, it was usually with our church youth group or a school activity.

One article this month highlights the Arkansas Goat Festival in Perryville (page 18), and I couldn’t resist sharing a goat story that explains it all. When I was 12, my mom decided to get into the goat milk business. She wanted to transition our family to goat milk and sell the excess — a plan that was set in motion with the purchase of her first goat, Nutmeg. Nutmeg was a brown Nubian goat purchased on a Friday evening, and milking was to commence bright and early Saturday morning. I was the designated milker even though I had no training. My dad’s method of training consisted of, “Here is a bucket and a can of Dr. Naylor’s Udder Balm; you’ll figure it out.” Adding pressure to the situation, my church youth group was set to leave for a much-anticipated trip to Six Flags St. Louis at 6:30 the next morning. These trips were few and far between, and I didn’t want to mess it up. So, I got up very early and took my bucket and udder balm to the barn and commenced to figuring it out.

I quickly learned that while Nutmeg was used to being milked, she was not used to being milked by a clueless 12-year-old. The first 30 minutes consisted of me tugging and pulling with no milk and getting on Nutmeg’s bad side. As the minutes ticked by, my stress level grew. I called Nutmeg every name in the book; she grew anxious and kicked repeatedly, getting her hind leg in the bucket. Eventually I figured it out, sort of. With a bucket of goat milk full of straw and everything else that had been on Nutmeg’s hind hooves, I ran to the house to strain the milk so I could go to town to meet the bus. My dad informed me on the ride to town that he would do the evening milking, but it was my job after that. After many days and more goats added to the herd, I got pretty good at milking goats. The real point of the story is to recognize that farming is an everyday occupation, and that farm families sacrifice a lot to put food on our tables.

Focusing on family, I am blessed to have an amazing father-in-law, Dwayne Bonser. I was a young sailor who stood on his back deck 34 years ago and asked to marry his daughter, Tracy. Dwayne was in the Navy, too, and he knew what that meant: marriage to a young man with little income and his daughter being whisked away to a naval base far from home. He said “yes” and has supported our marriage every day since. In all these years, Dwayne and I have never had an argument or a cross word for each other. Anyone who knows me also knows that this is not a testament to my amazing qualities as a son-in-law but rather a true testament to the patience and understanding of a great father-in-law.

Dwayne never puts any demands on us and has only one ask every year — that we come spend the weekend with him in Knoxville, Iowa, to attend the World of Outlaws 410 Sprint Car Knoxville Nationals. Knoxville is a nine-hour drive from Little Rock and, given my busy life and travel schedule, the easiest thing would be to say, “Sorry, I can’t make it this year.” To make it each year usually involves moving many calendar commitments to fit it all in.

This year, we stayed at Wallashuck Campground in Pella, Iowa, and enjoyed two nights of great sprint car racing and family time. We even got to see a native Arkansan race. Derek Hagar from Marion drove the 9JR car, and we cheered him on Friday and Saturday nights. The nine-hour ride home Sunday was full of thoughts about next year and all the fun we had this year. Being part of a family can be complicated and often requires some sacrifice, but the payoff is worth it. As we drove home, Cody Johnson’s country hit, “’Til You Can’t,” came on the radio and reminded me why the trip was worth every hour on the road.

I hope that you spent some time with family this summer. If you didn’t, Labor Day weekend is the last chance of summer to focus on the family and spend some quality time together. We are never guaranteed tomorrow, next summer or next year, so if you’ve got a chance, take it.

Buddy “Vernon” Hasten is President and CEO of Arkansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc., and Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation.