• Four people and the words, Extension Matters.

Electrifying Co-op Connections

Zion Johnson.

Lowndes county 4-H’er plans entrepreneurial career

Story by Leah Barbour • Photo by Kevin Hudson

He may be only 15 years old, but one Columbus High School sophomore is developing financial skills for his entrepreneurial future, thanks to his experiences at the 2019 Mississippi 4-H Cooperative and Leadership Conference.

“Co-op taught me how to invest money to get more money,” says Zion Johnson, a Lowndes County 4-H’er. “I’m an entrepreneur already, with a lawn business, and Co-op was very positive. A co-op is an entrepreneurship joining up with other people, and being in 4-H Co-op has given me real business insight,” he explains.

4-H’ers who win top honors at 4-H Congress competitions, apply and interview for ambassadorships, or are elected to state 4-H office are invited to attend the 4-day trip in mid-July. At 2019 4-H Congress, Zion was elected songleader. He was excited to participate in Co-op, he shares.

Co-op participants, who stay on the Mississippi State University campus, visit a range of cooperative businesses, Zion explains. MSU Extension Service administrators and agents, as well as 4-H volunteers, oversee the activities. At an energy cooperative, 4-H’ers discover how energy impacts food and water sources and how those, in turn, affect Mississippi and the surrounding states.

Zion describes one of his big lightbulb moments: At one activity, he invested $1 and received $4 in return. All the 4-H’ers who invested profited. By being a voting member of a co-op’s board, Zion reflects, he can help ensure that everyone who invests receives at least what they put in.

Another significant experience for Zion at Co-op was the Washington County visit to an agricultural cooperative.

“In Greenville, the farmers bring their harvest goods to the big metal bins. They direct goods to different bins; they figure out the value; it goes through the office; and then, it goes out to the nation,” he says. “I didn’t know how it worked before, but now I know, and I get to tell someone else.”

Sharing what he’s learned with others is one of Zion’s favorite aspects of 4-H. Active in 4-H career pursuit and visual presentation programs, he uses what he calls “connective energy” to step outside his comfort zone.

“I get nervous, but the connective energy helps in the end. The best moments at Co-op were the activity hours when I got to communicate with other 4-H’ers,” he remembers. “I like to talk once I warm up. I like to see new perspectives about new people from all over Mississippi. It makes me a better person.”

He is ready to apply the ideas he learned at Co-op, he emphasizes. Already planning a law practice after college, Zion was inspired by 4-H Co-op to aim for a cooperative approach in his own business. He’s also now considering pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business before attending law school

“Co-op gave me the opportunity to better myself as a person, and it gives me the opportunity to influence others to do great things,” he affirms. “I want to do a business degree to make sure I really learn how to maintain a business and come up with a collective goal to make the business better.

“I’m just really thankful I got to go. 4-H just gives so many opportunities: you get to travel and eat, and you get the opportunity to better yourself. It’s like a family.”

Zion continues encouraging his peers to join 4-H, and he looks forward to all the opportunities he will continue to have as he goes through high school.

“4-H has just so many opportunities to learn things you didn’t know, and it’s free. Mississippi 4-H is very positive and shows us our community and world is great. 4-H is teaching me to do great things,” he says.

MSU Extension Service
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