Farmers Electric strives to adhere to the seven basic principles observed by all true cooperatives. These principles are the guideposts of doing business that elevates the consumer/member to the level of owner and places the cooperative at service to the local community instead of faraway investors. Interestingly, the seven core principles have their origins in the 1844 Industrial Revolution in England, and includes voluntary and open membership; democratic member control; member's economic participation; autonomy and independence; education, training and information; cooperation among cooperatives; and concern for community.
1. Voluntary and Open Membership
Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, race, political, or religious discrimination. Lance's mother-in-law, Glenda Dosher-Carpenter recalls growing up in the Oklahoma Lane community, just east of Farwell, and doing "chores" and homework by the light of the coal-oil lamp. She also remembers the day the "REA" brought electricity to their home, and the light from the electric bulb was so bright, it was almost blinding! An electric cooperative was organized to bring electricity to their farm and others because the utility in town would not string line into the rural areas - they thought there would not be enough "profit".
2. Democratic Member Control
Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. Each member has equal voting rights (one member, one vote) regardless of how many meters they have or how much electricity they use. On the front page of this month’s publication is a vivid reminder of that democratic control, as nominating committees are meeting to select Trustee candidates from two of the Cooperative’s seven Trustee Districts.
3. Members’ Economic Participation
Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control the capital of their cooperative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the cooperative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surplus capital for any or all of the following purposes: Developing the cooperative – possibly setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the cooperative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership. Each member of Farmers’ Electric receives an annual notice “Allocation Notice” stating the amount of patronage capital each member has with the Cooperative. In addition, the Board of Trustees determines how much of the excess margin generated in the prior year will be returned to the membership. Over the past five years Farmers’ has returned over $4.1 million to its members through patronage capital refunds.
4. Autonomy and Independence
Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their membership and maintain their cooperative autonomy. As we enter the legislative session in New Mexico, and as we participate in the legislative process in Washington, legislators recognize that when your Trustees are speaking to them, they are hearing from the very folks they were elected to represent, and it makes a difference when they are speaking to someone from home rather than a highly-paid Washington Lobbyist who is not sure New Mexico is part of the United States.
5. Education, Training and Information
Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperative. They inform the general public, particularly young people and opinion leaders, about the nature and benefits of cooperation. Through this publication and enchantment magazine, we inform the membership about changes in the electric utility industry, ways to get the most efficient use out of their energy dollar, and suggestions for the safe use of electricity around the home and business. In addition, Farmers’ Electric provides educational opportunities through the Youth Tour and Scholarship programs. Trustees sacrifice their time to attend monthly Board meetings and seek other training opportunities in an effort to better serve the membership.
6. Cooperation among Cooperatives
Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional, and international structures. Farmers’ Electric is a member of the New Mexico Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NMRECA), and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). Each of these organizations allow electric cooperatives to join together and effectively participate in the legislative and regulatory process.
7. Concern for Community
While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies accepted by their membership. Farmers’ Electric, and the employees who work here, seeks to be an active participant in community activities through direct involvement and volunteerism. Cooperative employees are your friends and neighbors, serving on volunteer fire departments, school boards, and coaching little-league ball teams. No one knows what changes and opportunities tomorrow will bring, but our commitment is to stay true to the principles we were founded on – service to you!