“It’s not enough to have power, it’s how you use power that defines your character and legacy,” said the farmer’s wife. “If we don’t cooperate and solve our problems, our children and their children will suffer. They may survive but what kind of world will they inherit? They’ll be safe in a cold, gray bunker living out their days alone, without community, without knowing what it means to contribute to something greater than themselves.”
The farmer knew his wife to be compassionate and wise. And yes, he was scared of things he didn’t understand. He had grown up with very little: hungry and dirty, no running water, no heat or light. Together he and his wife had built a house and made it a home. He was scared to lose his independence; he didn’t want to depend on others because he was stubborn and admittedly selfish – he wanted what he wanted, and he wanted it when he wanted it. Now he was being asked to be part of a “power cooperative” that would include people from the next hollow over, and across the river, and farther out than that. He liked the idea of having electricity to run his sawmill, and heat his house in winter and cool it in summer, and give his wife the stove she could use without chopping wood. But he hated to compromise and he was stubborn, “They might disagree with what I want to do!”
“Since when have you always gotten your way?” insisted the farmer’s wife. “You can be so pig-headed sometimes!” She reminded him how they had run the county farm for the poor for a while, and how she had taught the children in the one room school house to get it started. “And when the flood wiped out our barn, the neighbors came over to help us rebuild.”
“But why do we need to depend on others more than we already do?” he asked. “Families keep food in cellars and after dark we have kerosene lamps to read the Bible. What else is there?”
“There is a time for everything,” the farmer’s wife reminded him. “There are places that don’t have cellars, and they could use machines to store food and keep it from spoiling. And electric lights give off better light than our lamps.”
The farmer and his wife talked out this dilemma and reached a decision, just like hundreds and thousands of others did in the 1930’s, and somehow they came to the conclusion that change was coming and they would embrace it and be a part of it.
The farmers who organized the coop voted to develop guidelines to keep the coops focused. The farmer told his wife about the seven guiding principles called Cooperative or Rochdale Principles. He said, “They are voluntary with open membership, democratic member control, economic participation of the capital, autonomy, education and training of members, cooperation with other cooperatives, and sustainable development of communities.” The farmer and his wife noticed drastic changes after becoming part of the coop. During their lifetime, they saw the growth of transportation, communication and industry. The farmer’s wife is proud to own a television and computer and call her grandchildren on her cell phone.
At family gatherings, the farmer and his wife like to tell their grandchildren about the history of electrification in America. “In the 1930’s, rural America was agriculture based,” he said. “During the depression, FDR signed the TVA act which gave light and much more to the entire region, not just Tennessee. Then, in 1935, the Rural Electrification Administration offered funding to rural areas to develop electric service and it was the local farmer and his neighbors who organized to form nonprofit electric cooperatives. From then, until 1948, Tennessee formed 23 coops which still exist today. In the post war boom, TVA became the largest energy supplier in the country. Today, there are over 1000 coops in the country, including the 23 in Tennessee, which make energy for over 30 million people across the nation. The coops use hydroelectric dams, nuclear plants, coal-fired plants and “green” energy sources like wind, solar and methane gas.”
The farmer’s grandson piped up, “You sure know a lot about electric coops!”
His grandfather replied, “I was one of the founding members of the local cooperative. Today, the electrical cooperative continues to benefit its members with geothermal energy, automated meter reading, compact fluorescent lamps, electric heat pumps, and electric car charging. Coops also offer loans to upgrade homes and schools. In fact, coops offer many programs to encourage and enable members to save energy and money, and also give directly to their communities with time, donations, education, counseling and safety demonstrations. The coop’s own Tennessee Magazine is one of the best sources of information and entertainment for the thousands of coop members in Tennessee, and it stands as an enduring legacy of how to use power.”
The farmer’s wife stood up and shouted, “I think we’ve heard enough on this topic. You must think you’re a teacher instead of a farmer. Give someone else a chance to talk. We are all hungry, so just hush and eat.” Grace was said and everybody chowed down on grandma’s home cooking.