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Under Secretary Tonsager visits Laramie food co-op AgriFuture conference

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Laramie – On Oct. 13 USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager took time to visit Laramie’s Big Hollow Food Co-op in celebration of National Cooperatives Month and joined participants for the 2011 AgriFuture Conference.

Big Hollow Food Co-op marked Tonsager’s first stop in Laramie, where manager Marla Peterson explained that the store offers only local or organic produce.

Peterson said the co-op in in its fifth year and features products such as locally produced milk, sold in glass bottles, local beef and buffalo, as well as a wide variety of produce. The store also has health and beauty products, pet foods and household supplies, as well as a variety of snacks.

“We offer lots of local foods and produce,” emphasized Peterson.

At Big Hollow Food Co-op, Tonsager spent time exploring the aisles and chatting with Peterson, saying, “Co-ops with small consumers and local foods are really growing. It’s a neat model that will continue to grow, I think.”

Tonsager also joined participants at the AgriFuture Conference for lunch. During his address, Tonsager highlighted that agriculture provides many opportunities for those who are willing to explore them.

“Rural America is shrinking, and that is not good,” said Tonsager. “We need to have a thriving population that is always looking forward.”

“Agriculture is doing great, and production is doing great, with the exception of a few places experiencing drought and other issues,” noted Tonsager. “We just sold $140 billion worth of agriculture products, and we are seeing remarkable prices. Crops are generally looking pretty good, and we have a great exchange rate.”

“Agriculture is huge, but it the coming decades, it can grow,” said Tonsager. “We have great scientific evidence that says American agriculture has more than the capacity to grow.”

“For us to have a future, I advocate for growing the agriculture economy so that it becomes dominant – where I believe it should be,” said Tonsager.
Tonsager referenced the Rural Electric Association’s success, saying, “It is a great rural institution with 45 million customers. In 70 years they built an electric system that keeps the power on in rural America. With a long-term commitment from all parties, they built a national system that is second to none. It was because of their commitment.”

Tonsager posed the idea that the farm credit system and supply co-ops should be the next to take the step, make a long-term commitment and continue to develop.

Beyond the successes that have been seen in rural America, Tonsager mentioned to students the importance of taking an active role in agriculture.

“I spend my time going out and advocating for ag. I think that’s my part,” noted Tonsager.

“Be part of the fray. Get in the game. Be involved with the organizations in your community,” continued Tonsager, motivating students to play an active role in the industry. “Any number of circumstances can happen. The argument I am making today is that we really need to be challenging ourselves here. How many of us have had to take on the extreme challenges that our grandparents did?”

Tonsager added that the challenges facing agriculture are still there, and they offer young people in the industry the opportunity to be very successful.

Saige Albert is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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