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Constructing the system

Co-op chartered Sept. 27, 1945 with 33 member associations
Story by: Chris Villines 1/27/2020

In the same month World War II ended came the beginning of a new era for Tennessee’s farmers — the reality of a federated system of cooperatives owned by, and benefitting, the producers patronizing the business.

On Sept. 27, 1945, Tennessee Farmers Cooperative was officially launched with 33 member associations. The groundwork for this momentous occasion was laid by the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation (TFBF), which for several years had passed resolutions advocating that local cooperatives be organized to serve farmers.

But TFBF also recognized the need for a statewide cooperative. In April of 1944, the TFBF board of directors named a committee to study farm cooperatives across the nation. The committee was made up of N.C. Warren, chairman, a cotton and livestock farmer from Dyer County; Fred Bacon, a dairy farmer from Hamilton County; L.O. Upton, a livestock and grain farmer from Giles County; Tom J. Hitch, Blount County; O.R. Long,

executive secretary of TFBF; Clyde M. York, assistant county agent in Jefferson County; and Al Jerdan, marketing specialist with the University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service.

“If any one person can be singled out for credit in getting the Co-op movement in Tennessee off to a successful start, that person is the late A.L. (Al) Jerdan,” wrote Forrest W. Bradley in his book, “Tapestry of Success,” published in 1995 on the occasion of TFC’s 50th anniversary. “From the first, Jerdan preached the principles of a federated system of cooperatives to keep control of the Co-ops in the hands of the farmers.”

In September 1944, the seven-member committee hit the road, embarking on a three-week tour of cooperatives. The trip saw the group visit co-ops in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.

From “Tapestry of Success:”

“In their report to the TFBF board, the committee recommended a federated type of cooperative, similar to those in Ohio and Indiana, which they felt would best serve the interests of farmers in Tennessee. The board accepted this recommendation, and in November 1944, the delegate body approved the recommendations. Plans were quickly made to form a statewide organization to serve farmers.”

On Sept. 26-27 in Nashville, representatives from 45 of the state’s counties met to organize Tennessee Farmers Cooperative. Each of the 33 charter members had an incorporating director to serve until a permanent board could be elected to direct TFC. Several of the charter Co-ops originally were Farm Bureau supply associations that amended their charters to become federated members of TFC.

Those incorporating directors were:

• Tom J. Hitch, Blount Farmers Cooperative, Louisville

• T.D. Hudgens, Cheatham County Farmers Cooperative, Ashland City

• W.E. Seaton, Chester Farmers Cooperative, Pinson

• T.C. Mountain, Claiborne Producers Inc., New Tazewell

• Marvin Evans, Crockett Cooperative Inc., Alamo

• Thomas J. Walker, Dyer Farmers Cooperative, Dyersburg

• W.A. Strasser, Davidson County Cooperative Supplies Association, Nashville

• Hubert Taubert, Fentress Farmers Cooperative, Shirley

• Brown Langford, West Tennessee Truck Growers Association, Gibson

• L.O. Upton, Giles Farmers Cooperative, Pulaski

• A.M. Nance, Grainger Producers Inc., Rutledge

• F.H. Dearstone, Greene County Producers Inc., Greeneville

• H.B. Patton, Haywood Bureau Supply Association, Brownsville

• Irby K. Pope, Henderson County Supply Association, Lexington

• B.T. Lake, Hardeman Farmers Cooperative, Hickory Valley

• Hugh J. Moser Jr., Jefferson Producers Inc., Jefferson City

• W.B. Mount, Tri-State Growers Inc., Shouns

• A.K. Currie, Lauderdale Cooperative, Henning

• James T. Laten, Lincoln County Supplies Association, Fayetteville

• Robert P. Frow, Loudon Farmers Cooperative, Philadelphia

• Hugh Harvey, Madison Farmers Cooperative, Jackson

• Otis Plunk, McNairy County Supplies Association, Bethel Springs

• Paul S. Cecil, Maury Farmers Cooperative, Columbia

• C.C. Brooks, Cumberland Growers Inc., Rugby

• J. Howard Hornsby, Meigs Farmers Cooperative, Peakland

• Frank Willson, McMinn Farmers Cooperative, Sweetwater

• Edward G. Humphreys, Shelby County Cooperative Supply Association, Cordova

• W.V. Howard, Stewart Farmers Cooperative, Dover

• D.T. McCall, Smith County Farmers Cooperative, Carthage

• Alvin Barker, Sequatchie Farm Bureau Supply Association, Dunlap

• L.F. Burke, Weakley County Farmers Cooperative, Fulton, Ky.

• Hugh B. Johnson, Wilson County Supplies Association, Lebanon

• R.L. Hannabas, Washington Farmers Cooperative, Jonesborough

At the Sept. 27 meeting, a director was elected to represent each of Tennessee’s seven designated districts on the first-ever TFC board. Those elected were Thomas J. Walker, Dyersburg, president; W.B. Mount, Shouns, vice president; B.T. Lake, Hickory Valley; T.D. Hudgens, Ashland City; L.O. Upton, Pulaski; C.C. Brooks, Rugby; and Frank Willson, Sweetwater.

TFC’s headquarters were initially established in Columbia, and on July 1, 1946, the new federated cooperative opened for business there. The late J.B. Jones of College Grove, a native Kentuckian and University of Kentucky graduate, was hired by the board as TFC’s first general manager (now known as chief executive officer).

Jones recalled the early days of TFC in “Tapestry of Success.”

“I think the way we got people involved,” he explained, “was the fact that we had a very young and aggressive organization that was carrying the banner for high-analysis fertilizer and clean seed. That created a lot of activity and sales.”

Total sales volume in that first year was $126,191.79. The wheels were in motion, and those numbers would continue to rise exponentially in concert with the growth of the Co-op system.

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