CFAES Center for Cooperatives Launches Co-op Mastery

(Shared by Ivory Harlow, Program Specialist, CFAES Center for Cooperatives)

The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences Center for Cooperatives launched Co-op Mastery: Beyond Cooperatives 101, a new and innovative online training course designed to educate cooperative members, boards, management, employees, and students.

Co-op Mastery: Beyond Cooperatives 101 is made possible by a grant from the CHS Foundation 2017 Cooperative Education Grants Program. The training is housed in The Ohio State University’s public-facing online education platform. It is free and can be accessed online at

Caption: Co-op Mastery is a new online learning tool launched by The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences Center for Cooperatives.

“Co-op Mastery curriculum focuses on mid-level knowledge about the cooperative business model,” said Center for Cooperatives Program Manager, Hannah Scott.  “Training modules build on existing fundamental materials by providing an in-depth look at governance, finance, taxation and other areas not typically covered by courses in fundamentals, yet challenging topics for stakeholders.”

The training features eight modules which include video interviews with numerous leaders in the cooperative movement:

  • Logan County Electric Cooperative General Manager Rick Petty discusses cooperative principles and various functions of cooperatives.
  • Dennis Bolling retired President and CEO of United Producers Cooperative shares the benefits cooperatives provide members.
  • Mid-America Cooperative Counsel Executive Director Rod Kelsay discusses effective education and training the Board of Directors.
  • Ohio State Univerisity Extension Educator Dr. Chris Bruynis gives insight to key factors that contribute to a cooperative’s success.
  • Nationwide’s VP of Sponsor Relations Devin Fuhrman shares the story of Nationwide’s history as a mutual cooperative company.
  • Agricultural attorney Carolyn Eselgroth of Barrett, Easterday, Cunningham and Eselgroth, LLP addresses legal considerations when forming a cooperative business.
  • Co-Bank Senior Relationship Manager Gary Weidenborner leads users through an interactive financial document exercise.
  • David Hahn, Professor Emeritus the Ohio State University, explains cooperative taxation.

“We invite folks to ask questions and receive answers from our Center staff in the online Co-op Forum,” said Joy Bauman, Program Coordinator.  “They can also browse an extensive collection of online resources in the Cooperative Library.”

The CFAES Center for Cooperatives offers customized in-person workshops to complement the online training. Workshops are designed to serve the requesting cooperative’s needs. Examples include: new employee education, board of director education, strategic plan development, cooperative marketing and policy development. Workshop participants receive a companion workbook with activities to fortify learning. They gain on-going access to Co-op Mastery online training materials, which they may work through at their own pace or search for specific information to meet immediate needs. Users can return to the Co-op Mastery online materials at any time to troubleshoot cooperative issues and they can receive ongoing technical assistance from CFAES Center for Cooperatives staff. To request a workshop or more information, visit or contact the Center for Cooperatives at or 740-289-2071 ext. 111.


Why do local food businesses fail?

(Submitted by Ivory Harlow, Ohio Cooperative Development Center, OSU South Centers)

Farm and Dairy at
By Ivory Harlow – October 16, 2017

Consumer awareness of local food and appreciation for the farmers and food entrepreneurs that produce it is at an all-time high. As the market share of local foods increases, new business opportunities abound. In 2015 sales of local food topped $8.7 billion dollars according to a Local Food Marketing Practices Survey from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Successful sales, growing demand, and plentiful public interest seem to create the perfect conditions to start or grow a local food business. But many local foods businesses fail, while others struggle to cover the basic costs of operation. Some rely heavily on loans and grants to keep the lights on and doors open. The failure of these businesses to thrive affects farmers, business owners and employees, as well as the local economy and larger community.

Why local foods fail

James Matson is an agricultural economist and agribusiness advisor. He serves as a consultant with Matson Consulting LLC. Mr. Matson works with local foods businesses to learn the story behind their struggle. He helps foodprenuers regain their footing in the market and achieve profitability.

Matson is the author and co-author of several publications, including “Running a Food Hub: Lessons Learned from the Field” and “Running a Food Hub: A Business Operations Guide.” The two-volume series addresses nine problematic areas that cause many local food businesses to fail:
1. Customers. Know the target customer, and tailor products to fit customers’ needs.
2. Products. Achieve the right product mix based on a thorough understanding of what customers want and appropriate price points.
3. Food Safety. Understand the regulatory environment and food safety certifications.
4. Infrastructure. Purchase building and equipment to support the business’s long-term goals.
5. Profits. Plan for profitability.
6. Labor. Employ skilled labor.
7. Operations. Work with knowledgeable and capable partners.
8. Transportation. Anticipate high distribution costs and budget accordingly.
9. Software. Lack of suitable software creates operational inefficiencies.

Read more…

Ohio Cooperative Week Proclamation

(Shared by Ivory Harlow, Ohio Cooperative Development Center, OSU South Centers)

Rod Kelsay, the Executive Director of Mid America Cooperative Council (MACC), accepted a proclamation from the Office of Governor John Kasich to honor Ohio Cooperative Week October 15 – 21, 2017.

Is your farm MarketReady™?

(Submitted by Ivory Harlow, Ohio Cooperative Development Center, OSU South Centers)

Farm and Dairy at
By Ivory Harlow
Published October 6, 2017

MarketReady™ Producer Training will be held October 20, 2017, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Is your farm or food business market ready for 2018, or do you need help getting locally produced food products to market?

If you could use some assistance to expand your marketing channels, the MarketReady™ Producer Training is for you. MarketReady™ is an education program for farmers and individuals interested in starting or expanding a food business. Increasing demand for locally produced food provides an opportunity for local producers to sell their farm fresh products direct to restaurants, grocers, wholesalers and institutions. The program began as a University of Kentucky initiative, led by Dr. Tim Woods.

“[There is] tons and tons of opportunity in terms of a demand for local foods, but the challenge is just getting our producers up to speed to be able to bring the quality, consistency, and volume of product that these buyers are looking for,” Woods said in an interview with WalletHub.

MarketReady™ teaches farmers professional marketing skills. The curriculum covers market evaluation, packaging, pricing, relationship building, logistics, quality assurance and other key business functions.

MarketReady™ teaches farmers how to label and package products in a way that appeals to customers.

“I’m a farmer, not a marketer,” a local producer confessed. He underestimated the importance of product packaging when he started selling to grocers.

“Large corporations have entire teams dedicated to branding; my product packaging has to compete.”

Pricing products appropriately for various market channels is a challenge. On one hand, farmers need to price products at a rate that buyers are willing to pay; On the other hand, farmers must price products to support their business’s viability over the long-term. MarketReady™ helps producers develop a pricing strategy that meets buyers needs as well as their own.

Read more…

Create a culture of collaboration at work

(Submitted by Ivory Harlow, Ohio Cooperative Development Center, OSU South Centers)

By Ivory Harlow, Cooperative Development Specialist

“Great things in business are never done by one person; they’re done by a team of people.”
– Steve Jobs, founder of Apple

Team work makes the dream work, but how do business owners create a culture of collaboration for problem solving? By bringing people together, identifying strengths, and encouraging participation with discussion techniques and digital tools.

Bring people together

Invite potential team members to a meeting to propose collaboration. is an online scheduling solution that finds the best time for people to meet. Although videoconferencing can make meetings more convenient, especially for groups that are wide-spread, in-person meetings are recommended at the beginning of a new project. Body language, eye contact and tone can be lost on video, but are critical to establishing group dynamics. Videoconferencing and online meetings can be used to bring people together once collaborators are well-acquainted, have developed a project plan and have a good sense how they will work together as a team.

Identify individual strengths

Honing in on individual strengths may seem counterproductive to creating a collaborative culture, but identifying how each collaborator can best contribute utilizes personnel resources effectively. Honoring individual strengths empowers collaborators to do their best work in an area they thrive. A football coach does not play the quarterback in a linebacker position; the coach optimizes each player to do what they do best for team success.
Don’t assume a person’s job title is their only strength. Instead, ask each collaborator what he or she is good at or what kind of work they enjoy doing. You may discover the front desk clerk has a knack for numbers, and the tech guy has a gift for design!

Encourage participation

Collaborators are more likely to contribute when they feel their voices are heard and their ideas are valued. Using discussion techniques like stop-watch brainstorming is fast-paced and fun. Collaborators are given a time limit to blurt out as many ideas as possible. A scribe records the ideas to return to after brainstorming is complete. This discussion technique inspires creative problem solving.

Sometimes it is necessary to tease ideas out of introverts or new team members who may not feel comfortable speaking up in the group. The around-the-room discussion technique gives every collaborator an equal opportunity to share ideas.

The digital age of business offers a ton of tools to create a culture of collaboration at work. Office 365, Google Hangouts and Google Docs, Dropbox, instant messaging and apps like Evernote and Slack are examples. These tools can be used to supplement in-person meetings, host working documents or track progress on a project.

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Meet Aubrey and Adam Bolender

(Submitted by Ivory Harlow, Ohio Cooperative Development Center, OSU South Centers)

YouTube – Published on Sep 22, 2017
Ohio Cooperative Development Center client spotlight:

Meet Aubrey and Adam Bolender, two beef producers in southern Ohio. Learn more about how strong partnerships with their co-op members and each other help their operation grow.

Worker-owned Cooperatives Create Jobs in Rural America

(Submitted by Ivory Harlow, Program Assistant, Ohio Cooperative Development Center, OSU South Centers)

Job growth in rural America lags behind growth in urban areas, according to USDA publication Rural America at a Glance. Rural areas have difficulty attracting firms, especially businesses that provide living-wage jobs to residents. Limited infrastructure and workforce challenges are two reasons firms chose urban cities over rural towns (2016).

The worker-owned cooperative model empowers rural Americans to create viable jobs close to home. A worker cooperative is a business that is owned and operated by its employees. Member equity contribution, voting rights and the sharing of profits among members are three characteristics of cooperatives. In a worker-owned cooperative, workers typically make an initial capital investment in order to become a member of the co-op. Membership entitles each worker a vote in company decision-making. Members receive a share of the company’s profits, typically in proportion to the amount of labor he or she contributes to the business.

Worker-owned cooperatives can be viewed as grassroots business organizations because decisions are made from the bottom-up, rather than top-down. Members manage operations, policies, procedures and finances based on the co-op’s Articles of Incorporation, bylaws and operating agreement.

A publication from the Department of Economics at Iowa State University found members of worker-owned cooperatives receive better pay and benefits, greater job security and overall job satisfaction (2011).

Worker-ownership can provide a transition opportunity for business owners seeking to retire. This is especially important in rural America with a large aging population. Half of American business owners retiring within five years have no succession plan for their business (2014).

The value of worker-owned cooperative business extends beyond workers to the larger community. Keeping dollars close to home strengthens the local economy. Businesses that are governed by their workers are more likely to stay in business and provide economic stability to rural areas (2011). As a result, the quality of life in rural America improves over time.


Artz, G. & Younjun, K. 2011. Business Ownership by Workers: Are Worker Cooperatives a Viable Option? (p.20- p.22). Iowa State University. Working Paper No. 11020.

Project Equity. 2014. Case Studies: Business Conversions to Worker Cooperatives. (p.7). Retrieved May 22, 2017 from

USDA Rural Development. 2016. Rural America at a Glance. Retrieved May 22, 2017 from

What does it take to move 35 million pounds of produce? The Food Hub Network finds out.

(Submitted by Ivory Harlow, Program Assistant, Ohio Cooperative Development Center, OSU South Centers)

When you think ‘food hub’, a foodbank may not be the first place that comes to mind, but the Mid-Ohio Foodbank engages in several hub activities including the aggregation, distribution and marketing of food products, as part of its mission to feed hungry families and create sustainable communities. Like many food hubs, the Mid-Ohio Foodbank aims to increase consumption of fresh food, improve access and strengthen the local and regional food system.

The Ohio and West Virginia Food Hub Network recently visited the Mid-Ohio Foodbank to experience firsthand how the Foodbank efficiently and effectively aggregates and redistributes fresh food. Director of Food Resource Development Mike Frank shared how his team will distribute 35 million pounds of fresh food in 2017. The Mid-Ohio Foodbank sources food from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), food manufacturers, local produce growers, community organizations and Ohio food businesses. They work with 650 agency partners to distribute food in 20 Ohio counties.

Mike guided Food Hub Network members through the 205,000 square foot facility which includes a gigantic dry storage warehouse, expansive cooler and drive-through freezer!

Volunteers were hard at work in an area designated for sorting food. Like many food hubs and local food co-ops in Ohio and West Virginia, the Mid-Ohio Foodbank relies on volunteers for daily operations. Volunteers check the integrity of each food item to ensure safety was not compromised during donation and transit.

The Foodbank adheres to the same food safety standards and implements similar safety precautions as food hub businesses. All 650 partner agencies must be trained in proper food storage and safe food handling.

To learn more about the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, including how to volunteer or become a partner agency visit

The Ohio Cooperative Development Center and OSU Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Developmental Economics prepare the next generation of cooperative leaders

(Submitted by Ivory Harlow, Program Assistant, Ohio Cooperative Development Center, OSU South Centers)

Agricultural cooperatives have demonstrated steady growth and stable financial performance in recent years. They make strong contributions to the U.S. economy and create new employment opportunities for college graduates with degrees in agriculture. In 2015 there were 2,047 agricultural cooperatives in the United States, with a net income of $7 billion dollars and 136,300 full-time employees (USDA, SR79 Agricultural Cooperative Statistics).

The Ohio State University has a long history of supporting cooperative education, including a long-offered undergraduate agricultural economics course that focuses specifically on the cooperative model. The Ohio Cooperative Development Center (OCDC) collaborates with Dr. Tom Worley and Dr. David Hahn of The Ohio State University Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Developmental Economics (AEDE) to facilitate components of the course. AEDE 3141 develops students’ understanding of the cooperative business model and cooperative principles as they relate to the organization and management of agribusinesses.

OCDC works with teams of students to develop cooperative leadership multi-media projects. First, students choose a cooperative topic of interest on which to focus their project. Students may choose topics like the unique aspects of managing a co-op compared to investor-owned firms; the concept of the patronage refund and its role in the cooperative business model; or the roles and responsibilities of co-op members in the success of their business. Next, OCDC and course instructors are available to connect students with current cooperative managers, directors, or officers who share operational knowledge and real-world experience of the topic. Students interview the cooperative leader and compile interviews and background materials to create a 3-5 minute multimedia presentation.

Students complete AEDE 3141 with a comprehensive understanding of agricultural cooperatives from coursework, lectures, and face-to-face discussions with cooperative leaders. The multimedia project helps students build skills in digital production and fosters meaningful connections with industry leaders.

“Access to engaging cooperative education materials for developers of new cooperatives, stakeholders of existing cooperatives, and students of cooperatives is one of the major challenges OCDC faces when providing education and technical assistance to the public and start-up cooperatives,” said Program Manager Hannah Scott. The benefit of the student multi-media projects reaches far beyond their personal learning, providing public education in an accessible and engaging format.

The Center showcases students’ multimedia projects on the Ohio Cooperative Development Center’s website and utilizes students’ videos in OCDC’s cooperative education and outreach efforts. Past student projects can be viewed at

The center also plans to feature student projects in OCDC’s upcoming online training, Co-op Mastery: Beyond Cooperatives 101. The training will be housed in the public access version of Canvas, The Ohio State University’s online learning management system. The course will be available to the public in 2018.

Reference: Agricultural Cooperative Statistics SR79, 2015, USDA Rural Development. Retrieved April 10, 2017 from

Muddy boots and big dreams: Students at Ohio Valley work cooperatively

(Submitted by Ivory Harlow, Program Assistant, Ohio Cooperative Development Center, OSU South Centers)

Before the bell rings, students at the Ohio Valley Career and Technical Center in Adams County, Ohio check the aquaculture tanks, unload greenhouse bedding plants and discuss a recent livestock trailer purchase they will use to haul cattle, goats and hogs to market.

The hardworking high school juniors and seniors operate eight farm enterprises: cattle, hogs, small ruminants, aquaculture, soybeans, corn, tobacco, and greenhouse production. The students are involved in every aspect of farm operation: business planning, financials, production, decision-making and day-to-day management, all of which is carried out with guidance from agriculture business instructor Mr. Luke Rhonemus.

Mr. Rhonemus has more than 15 years of experience teaching agriculture. He believes cultivating real-world Ag skills in young people will benefit them outside the classroom, as they continue their education and start careers.

Staff from the Ohio Cooperative Development Center visited Ohio Valley to share the cooperative business model with students. Students learned how member-ownership and control makes co-ops different from other business structures. They studied current agricultural cooperatives, and identified agricultural co-op products and services they use on the farm; products like Purina feed and services like Farm Credit Mid-America.

Students learned about the benefits of cooperation: increased volume, reduced costs, spread risk, market access and greater bargaining power. They appreciated how working together helps individual farms achieve big goals, but also debated how to ensure that everyone benefits equitably.

The students were asked to consider how organizing their school farm enterprises as an agricultural cooperative(s) could expand business, create opportunities and increase farm income. FFA groups in other parts of the state have leveraged the co-op model to boost student engagement and agricultural education. “These kids work hard during the school year and summer months. I think a cooperative could offer them a chance to see the pay-off of their hard work,” Mr. Rhonemus said.
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