Ralph Paige, former Executive Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund

Blog | April 13, 2015

Honoring Ralph Paige and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives

by Carolyn Mugar

Farm Aid honors the leadership of Ralph Paige and welcomes Cornelius Blanding as the new Executive Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund.

Farm Aid became acquainted with the Federation of Southern Cooperative’s tremendous work just a few weeks before the first Farm Aid concert in 1985, as Ralph Paige stepped into his role as Executive Director. Ralph has worked in that capacity for all thirty years of Farm Aid’s existence. While at the helm, he has been a steadfast friend to Farm Aid and an essential partner in our shared work to keep family farmers on the land and to promote a more just system of agriculture.

Under Ralph’s leadership, the Federation thrived for three decades in building socially- and economically-just models of cooperatives, credit unions and community development projects with family farmers and rural communities throughout the South. Over three decades, Farm Aid has had the honor of working with the Federation in the on-going, every day work of strengthening Black farmers and all farmers, and in numerous projects of note: the United Farmer and Rancher Congress in 1987, farmer-to-farmer haylifts in the face of natural disasters, relief and recovery efforts following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and a landmark settlement of the Pigford discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We are ever grateful for Ralph’s work on these and many other projects and know there is no replacing his leadership.

Ralph Paige, Ben Burkett, Willie Nelson and Shirley Sherrod, 1994

Ralph Paige, Ben Burkett, Willie Nelson and Shirley Sherrod, 1994

The Rev Jesse Jackson, Willie Nelson, Jim Hightower and Ralph Paige at a Farm Aid press conference.

The Rev Jesse Jackson, Willie Nelson, Jim Hightower and Ralph Paige at a Farm Aid press conference.

As Ralph retires, we are pleased to welcome Cornelius Blanding as the new Executive Director of the Federation. Knowing Cornelius and his dedicated work of 17 years at the Federation gives us real confidence in his leadership to move the organization forward.

Cornelius brings with him extensive experience not only within the Federation, but also in board and committee leadership and collaborations with several other rural and community development organizations, including the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA), Agricultural Safety & Health Council of America (ASHCA), Southeast Climate Consortium (SECC), Alabama Department of Agriculture’s Small Farmers’ Marketing & Education Association and the Presbyterian Committee on the Self Development of People (SDOP).

Farm Aid knows Cornelius as a humble, yet tenacious and dedicated leader and we look forward to working with him in his new capacity at the Federation as we honor the great legacy of Ralph Paige.

Cornelius Blanding (center) listens to Ralph Paige (foreground), with Baldemar Velasquez (left) at Farm Aid's Gathering leading up to Farm Aid 2014 in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Cornelius Blanding (center) listens to Ralph Paige (foreground), with Baldemar Velasquez (left) at Farm Aid’s Gathering leading up to Farm Aid 2014 in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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