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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri Farmers Union has filed with the state to charter a credit union “to offer an alternative to conventional or consolidated banking systems,” the group said. The Missouri Farmers Credit Union will help alleviate lending barriers to young, new or entrepreneurial farmers who are being denied loans for conventional or alternative agriculture methods, the farmers’ organization said. “The task will be huge, but the potential of a statewide community development credit union cannot be understated,” said Tony Barnicle, the Union’s credit union project coordinator. “The MFUCU’s goal is to build an organization that has the potential to take back our economy from the banks and large corporations and return it to the control of household economies in our neighborhoods across the entire state.” Once chartered, MFUCU will be the third new credit union chartered in Missouri since 2003, according to the Missouri Credit Union Association. The two other recently chartered credit unions, one state chartered and one federally chartered, serve either a single sponsor’s employees or the members of a local Missouri community. But MFUCU will aim from the beginning to serve farmers and all rural residents through an associational field of membership. “If you join the MFU you can be a member of the credit union,” said Russ Kremer, MFU’s president. Kremer said that MFU members had been thinking about starting a credit union for over a year, ever since he and other farmers had begun to compare notes about their increasing difficulty obtaining agricultural finance loans, either because lenders stopped offering farm loans or because increasing numbers were leaving the rural sector altogether. “We noticed that there were more and more farm communities across the state that didn’t have a bank anymore,” Kremer said. “We wanted to find a way to let people get loans and have financial services that keep their money at home,” he added. The effort had mostly moved through the organization as a topic for discussion until Barnicle, a farmer and former credit union organizer, happened to attend one of the MFU’s annual meetings. “I was talking to a woman about my background at the meeting and when I described my work with credit unions she just about jumped out of her skin,” Barnicle said, chuckling at the memory. “I have been involved ever since.” In the mid to late 1960′s Barnicle, now 72, had been one of the key organizers behind the Cooperative Credit Union League of Cameroon, a West African country where he was serving as a missionary. Barnicle had been involved in every step of the credit union league’s organization, from the initial discussions with local residents about how a credit union could help them meet their financial needs for school and farm supplies through finding officers, researching organizational structures, finding deposits and making loans. Sometimes his efforts had included visiting American officials so he could gain their support for his credit union effort, an approach he has not considered for this organizing effort but one which might tempt him. “It’s a lot harder to organize a credit union now and in the United States than it was in Cameroon,” Barnicle said, “a lot harder.” Even with the offers of support from other Missouri credit unions and the MCUA, Barnicle said that the new group has still had to work hard to get the 525 supporters it has gained so far; often through direct mail surveys the state requires in order to prove that there would be support for a credit union. The credit union is asking for a minimum deposit of $25 from each of its founding members, but many supporters have pledged much more. Other credit unions have also pledged deposits and the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions has offered technical assistance, Barnicle explained. His most recent headache has centered around getting the credit union’s first 11 officers approved by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, a measure he concedes probably always had to be done but which he feared “these crazy times” might make more difficult. “We don’t know if they are going to just put these applications on a shelf and not look at them for weeks or if they are going to go over them with a fine comb and question everything,” Barnicle said. “We really want to move forward but this part is out of our control.” Barnicle explained that he and MFU were committed to the credit union because they strongly felt that as many of a community’s financial resources as possible should be in that community’s hands. “A credit union just made the most sense,” Barnicle said, “and I figured if it did for people in Cameroon, it would for people across Missouri too,” he added. -

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