The Winston County Self Help Cooperative (Louisville, MS) organized in 1985 under the auspices of Mississippi Association and Federation of Southern Cooperatives. The co-op received charter status from Mississippi’s Secretary of State Office in October of 1988. Larry Miller of Beat-Four Cooperative (Macon, MS) and Ben Burkett State Director of Mississippi Association of Cooperatives worked fervently to help establish Winston County Self Help Cooperative (WCSHC). According to one of the founding members, Omerio Dotson, “We organized the WCSHC to assist small farmers and landowners to sell and buy in bulk. Small family farmers were under-seize due to un-favorable financial conditions and USDA’s lack of interest to serve black farmers. We needed an outlet to earn more income from our natural resources and increase sustainability in rural Winston County. Therefore, Winston County Self Help Cooperative designed a vehicle for small farmers and landowners to work collectively and overcome agriculture’s adversities.” Columbus McReynolds served as president from 1985-1992 and created a formidable team of farmers and landowners. WCSHC’s membership consisted of 12 members from Winston, Choctaw and Oktibbeha Counties and convened on the first Thursday at East Central Federal Union Building on highway 397. WCSHC members received animals through Heifers International to enhance and improve cattle genetics and pigs to start swine operations. Additionally, WCSHC received funds through Self-Development of People (a ministry Of the Presbyterian Church, USA) to erect a feed grinding meal. Under Columbus McReynolds leadership, he engineered a launching pad for small farmers and landowners in a mist of uncertainties. Therefore, the WCSHC members appreciate Columbus’ efforts and time to help save small family farms.
The WCSHC’s membership had dwindled to four members, but Omerio and Dee Dotson, Mary Hannah and Bobby Hardin’s founding members’ commitment to rejuvenate WCSHC’s mission of assisting small farmers and landowners remained. In 1997 the WCSHC experienced a reincarnation with Frank Taylor, as president and Gus Townes as mentor. The mantra of “Help Save Rural America” to empower members with inspiration and motivation to become better stewards of their natural resources was adopted. Members focused their energies on accessing services from the USDA and non-profit organizations to stimulate growth in farm incomes and strengthen family relationships. Mary Hannah founding members stated, “We needed an innovated strategy of attracting energetic members and incite thought provoking ideals to broaden WCSHC’s community image. We formulated a four-point plan of action…finance, health, housing, and youth. This plan of action-ignited discourse among some members because they only wanted to focus on agriculture related issues; and not embraces the holistic approach of surviving in rural America. However, the leadership galvanized and steamed forward on housing, health, finance, and developed a youth component to personify WCSHC’s efforts of progressing in a new direction.”
According to Frank Taylor, “We collaborate with USDA agency and non-profit organizations and deliver relevant information in a timely manner to generate revenue for small farmers. We believe Winston County Self Help Cooperative and Youth Group will exist into perpetuity with its mission of helping save rural America.” Today, WCSHC’s membership consists of 56 vibrant members from three surrounding counties.
Finance: The co-op sponsored several financial workshops in conjunction with FDIC and the co-op assisted several members and individuals with major land purchases.
Health: The co-op sponsored multiple health seminars to raise awareness of hypertension, diabetes and other related health issues with assistance from the local health department, private nurses, and Wal-Mart.
Housing: The co-op sponsored several homebuyers and foreclosure workshops. We also assisted 25 families with home-ownership and provided post purchase education information such as taxes, insurance and un-expected expenses.
Youth Component: The youth group was organized in 2004 with 25 young people are making a difference in Winston County. The youth are involved in various activities connecting with the natural resources. In addition, their garden project is a crown jewel of numerous activities, which provides fresh vegetables and stimulates interest, reducing man’s environmental footprint.