The Benefits of Building More Diverse Cooperative Boards

Over the course of the last year, many businesses and organizations have recognized their lack of diversity. Harvard Business Review reported that “in a fall 2020 analysis of the 3,000 largest publicly traded U.S. companies found that just 12.5% of board directors were from underrepresented ethnic and racial groups, up from 10% in 2015. The report also found that only 4% of directors were Black, while female directors held 21% of board seats.”

As directors, management, and employees address the lack of diversity on their board, the co-op community has developed more and more research about the benefits of board diversity. From individual cooperatives sharing their success with building diverse boards to development organizations researching the impact of diversity on cooperative boards, the response has led to more diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives hoping to create more representative cooperative boards.

The growing need for more diverse cooperative boards has led to new research analyzing issues, needs, and benefits to creating a diverse board. Below, I will explore recent research revealing the benefits of diversity on boards.

Better Understand and Represent the Co-op Community

Diverse boards bring together more backgrounds, experiences, and ages to engage in the  decision-making process. When directors better represent their member-owners, their decision-making can better reflect the cooperative members, emphasizing democratic member participation, the second cooperative principle. By bringing together directors with different geographic backgrounds, sexual orientations and genders,  and/or races or ethnicities, among many other characteristics, boards that foster diversity better represent their community and make better-informed decisions for the cooperative and its member-owners.

Oklahoma State University’s Dr. Phil Kinkel found in “The Need for Board Diversity in Agricultural Cooperatives” that board diversity can help a board “relate to its internal and external stakeholders.” For example, women are an important part of the employee teams at cooperatives and “female representation on the board gives those employees a greater sense of connection with the cooperative and improves the perception of a career path.” Board diversity allows cooperatives to understand and serve both their member-owners and employees.

Better Change Styles 

Another benefit of building a diverse board of directors is the advantage that the diversity of experiences and knowledge brings to change management. The unique perspectives that each director brings to the board room can help guide the cooperative through both low risk change and high risk change that may threaten the sustainability of the business.

Dr. Phil Kinkel has found that cooperative diversity led to better change management. In his study of gender diversity on agricultural boards, Kinkel stated, “[b]oards with greater gender and age diversity appear to make better decisions, particularly when dealing with strategic issues or organizational change.” This research pushes boards to think about how diversity of ideas and experiences can benefit the entire cooperative.

In a recent blog about the value of board diversity, Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business shared research findings indicating that by having more diverse human capital, companies can better navigate “disruptive change.” The study conducted in 2018 by Bernie, Bhagwat, and Yonkers found that the “aggregate skillset” and diverse experience on more diverse boards changed the outcome of more volatile changes in the company. By including individuals with a diversity of experiences, boards can lead better together through economic, business, and social change.

As recent research has shown, cooperatives have both a social interest and a business interest in building diverse, equitable, and inclusive boards and many cooperatives are approaching board recruitment and development with renewed focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion to build more representative and sustainable enterprises. Harkening back to the seven guiding cooperative principles, diverse boards better serve their members by staying true to the democratic foundations of cooperation.

 

For more inormation:

https://fisher.osu.edu/blogs/leadreadtoday/navigating-disruption-why-board-diversity-leads-better-outcomes

https://hbr.org/2021/03/you-say-you-want-a-more-diverse-board-heres-how-to-make-it-happen

https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/the-need-for-board-diversity-in-agricultural-cooperatives.html

Youth Cooperative Leadership Experience goes online thanks to Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation grant

The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) Center for Cooperatives has rolled out a new online platform for youth education about cooperatives and agricultural careers. Youth Cooperative Leadership Experience Online (YCLE Online) is the result of a collaboration between the Center for Cooperatives and the Hocking County Farm Bureau, who were awarded an Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation Youth Pathways Grant in 2019. The grant funds would provide Appalachian high school students an opportunity to discover and explore careers in agricultural cooperatives and build leadership skills in an immersive, in-person two-day experience. Students would visit Ohio State’s Columbus campus to experience college-style learning, discover educational and career paths in agriculture, connect with leaders and engage in hands-on leadership and team-building activities. The trip would also include tours of agricultural cooperative businesses in the state. When Covid-19 lockdowns made the in-person experience impossible, the Youth Cooperative Leadership Experience was transformed to a bigger, better and more impactful virtual experience!

 

The virtual experience website features innovative and exciting ag co-op career content that teachers can easily build into their classrooms to help inspire students to discover and explore careers in agricultural cooperatives. The virtual program materials target students in middle school through high school and can be incorporated into agriculture classrooms, 4-H or other youth activities, or accessed by individual students.

“I’m happy that we were able to collaborate with Ivory Harlow and the Hocking County Farm Bureau to move the YCLE to an online platform,” said Joy Bauman, Program Specialist for the CFAES Center for Cooperatives. “The Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation grant gives us the opportunity to reach even more students with cooperative education and information about agricultural careers.”

“The YCLE Online seeks to help youth see the many career paths available to them in Ohio’s food and agricultural sector, understand the opportunities for educational pathways to those careers, and begin building a network of leaders and educators to help them along those paths,” said Hannah Scott, Program Manager CFAES Center for Cooperatives.

Many will be the first generation in their family to pursue higher education. While the Youth Cooperative Leadership Experience Online aims to remove physical and psychological barriers to continuing education​, it also helps students to see that there are many careers and leadership roles in the agriculture industry that do not require post-secondary coursework.

The YCLE Online will be available broadly to any young person interested in exploring agricultural careers through the open access website where materials are housed. The project partners will also recruit teachers, youth agriculture advisors, and other educators to incorporate the learning materials into their classrooms and activities. The Youth Cooperative Leadership Experience will be provided free of charge because of the generosity of the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation.

The virtual experience is available at go.osu.edu/YCLE. Educators can incorporate the videos, hands-on activities, and learning materials from YCLE Online directly into their classrooms or youth activities. Through the generosity of the OFBF Youth Pathways grant, educators can both access the free online materials and request hard copy workbooks and supplies for hands-on activities at no cost while supplies last.

The Youth Cooperative Leadership Experience encourages students to discover and explore careers in agricultural cooperatives and support industries. The goal of the program is to ignite career ideas, reveal pathways, and inspire student action.

Participants will have virtual Co-op tours and hear from leaders at Heritage Cooperative, Nationwide Insurance, and Casa Nueva – a worker-owned restaurant and cantina, as well as farmer co-op leaders.

There are hands-on Activities in STEM with OSU experts including tomato grafting and fruit DNA extraction, career exploration activities, and leadership activities.  Additionally, there is opportunity for virtual tours of Ohio State’s CFAES Campuses and the Ohio State University South Centers.

The Youth Cooperative Leadership Experience program is available now at go.osu.edu/YCLE. Educators can both access the free online materials and request hard copy workbooks and supplies for hands-on activities at no cost while supplies last.  Ag teachers can learn about the program and visit with Center for Cooperatives staff at the trade show during the Ohio Agriculture Educators summer conference.

Counting Ohio’s Cooperatives: Mapping Cooperatives across the Buckeye State

Over the last year, team members with the CFAES Center for Cooperatives have collected, reviewed, and verified information from industry trade organizations, the Ohio Secretary of State, and other public sources to develop a census of almost 1,100 cooperative locations across the Buckeye state. From credit unions to food co-ops, Ohio is covered in new and established cooperatives that contribute to the state’s economy.  

In partnership with the CFAES Knowledge Exchange team at Ohio State, the data was built into an interactive map that will be available to the public. The Center is releasing a self-guided exploration of the cooperative economy that highlights the interactive map and the diversity of Ohio’s co-ops. The map will allow co-op leaders, community ownership advocates, policymakers, cooperative developers, and entrepreneurs to find cooperatives in their area and locate cooperative models to learn from as they develop new co-ops. The data will also create opportunities for the team at the Center for Cooperatives to conduct comparative historical analyses and other applied research on Ohio’s cooperative economy. 

Explore the map of Ohio’s Cooperatives here.

 

To build the cooperative database, Center staff gathered data from numerous public sources, including industry trade associations such as the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, the Ohio Credit Union League, and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, as well as federal and state sources including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Farm Credit Administration, and the Ohio Secretary of State, among others. Center staff verified each cooperative in the database by assessing whether the entity was mutually owned by multiple members, operated on a non-profit cooperative basis, or provided bulk purchasing on a cooperative basis. Center staff also verified whether each cooperative was still active, using public sources like websites, social media, and news articles.   

The project revealed the true diversity of cooperatives in Ohio. From breweries and laundries to financial services, agriculture, and housing, each cooperative plays an important role in the state’s cooperative community and economy.

Out of the 452 cooperatives headquartered in Ohio, 228 are credit unions. The figure below shows a breakdown of cooperatives headquartered in Ohio by sector. The 1,088 physical co-op locations included in the map of Ohio’s cooperatives include cooperatives headquartered in Ohio, branches of co-ops that are headquartered in Ohio, and branch locations in Ohio of co-ops not headquartered in Ohio. 

According to the National Cooperative Bank, of the largest 100 cooperatives in the U.S. in 2019, three were headquartered in Ohio, including United Producers, Inc. (#80) headquartered in Columbus, Heritage Cooperative (#83) headquartered in Delaware, and Buckeye Power, Inc. (#84) headquartered in Columbus. 

Cooperating for Connectivity: Cooperative Approaches to Rural Broadband

Almost one year ago, as we were still in the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic and the many changes the public health emergency created in our work, home, and social lives, I wrote an article highlighting the cooperative community’s attention to the lack of reliable broadband in rural America. In that article, “Broad Thinking: Why the co-op model could be a key to closing the broadband gap,” I highlighted the work of rural electric cooperatives who are expanding their services to include broadband. These same co-ops were vital to bringing electricity to rural Americans in the 1930’s. I also highlighted new, grassroots community groups who are pooling their resources and time to bring broadband access to their community, like the Southeast Ohio Broadband Cooperative in Washington County, Ohio.

Recently, the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences Center for Cooperatives hosted a webinar with guests Mike Keyser, CEO of BARC Electric Cooperative, and David Brown, co-founder of Southeast Ohio Broadband Cooperative, who shared their experiences bringing connectivity to rural, Appalachian communities using cooperative approaches. Although the two are approaching broadband access using different infrastructure, at different scales, and with different histories, their mutual-ownership, cooperative model is similar. Brown shared, “The dedication of a cooperative to the community, rather than to making a profit and that representation of the membership in the decision-making process – those were all elements that led us to adopting a cooperative model.” Southeast Ohio Broadband Cooperative formed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic after realizing that many community members could not effectively participate in remote schooling, work, and other opportunities and has since started providing broadband to members using a mixed-technology approach.

While BARC Electric Cooperative has a longer history – the co-op formed to provide electricity services in the 1930’s – and connects over 12,500 meters to the electric grid, the co-op model is also vital to their efforts to bring broadband services to their community.  Keyser shared, “We’re all about service to the membership, and as long as we’re recovering our cost of services, we don’t have shareholders that have to have a return [so] we can live with a longer payback on this investment…” The co-op has installed almost 800 miles of fiber in a project that will eventually bring broadband access to their entire customer-membership base.

To learn more about these cooperative approaches to building rural broadband access, you can watch a recording of the webinar, “Cooperating for Connectivity” here.

MEATing a Need – Resource kit available for those exploring meat processing business

By Joy Bauman

beef carcasses

A team of Ohio State business and meat science specialists have compiled a Meat Processing Business Tool Kit for people who are exploring the meat processing business. Designed as a decision-making aid for people exploring investing in or expanding a meat processing facility, this online tool kit can help entrepreneurs evaluate the business and navigate business planning. The Meat Processing Business Tool Kit is available in the Business section at the OSU South Centers webpage and at the OSU Extension Meat Science webpage.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers saw shortages of meat in large supermarkets caused by disruptions in large packing plant operations. “As a result, consumers started shopping at smaller, local meat shops, that didn’t have shortages of meat,” explained Lynn Knipe, PhD, associate professor of food science and technology at Ohio State who worked with the team to develop the meat processing business tool kit. “This, in turn, increased business for the smaller meat processors to a point that people who were used to taking animals to their local slaughterhouse, had to schedule their animals much farther out than normal,” Knipe said.

Knipe explained that entrepreneurial people who either raised livestock or had some past experience with slaughter or cutting of meat, have decided to consider opening their own meat businesses. Knipe and his colleague, Lyda Garcia, PhD, assistant professor of animal science began receiving more calls than usual, with people finding them either through their Extension Meat Science website or by referral from meat inspection people they had contacted.

Likewise, many of the same people were reaching out for guidance from the business development specialists at OSU South Centers and the specialists at the CFAES Center for Cooperatives, which is also based at the OSU South Centers. While gathering information to assist clients in summer 2020, the Center for Cooperatives team members reached out to OSU Extension meat science specialists Knipe and

Garcia. Soon, a working group was formed with team members from the CFAES Center for Cooperatives, the Small Business Development Center at OSU South Centers, the Extension Meat Science Program, and the OSU Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics.  Together, the group developed and compiled resources to help guide entrepreneurs interested in the meat processing business.

“It only made sense that we work together as Ohio State colleagues to better serve our clientele,” said Garcia. “Instead of individuals contacting one OSU source and getting a bit of information and then needing to contact another OSU source for more information, we can all point them toward this fantastic online resource that will help answer their questions and guide them in the decision-making process,” Garcia explained.

On the webpage housing the tool kit, users will find information to help get started, including understanding the capacity for such a business, maps of federal and state inspection facilities and auction sites, as well as livestock inventory. To aid in decision making regarding business models, there are samples of cooperative and corporate business models, with business planning templates, financial worksheets, and information about funding sources. Contacts are also listed for those using the tool kit and seeking additional assistance with their business planning.

“The materials lead entrepreneurs to investigate critical considerations during the planning process, including collecting livestock data, gathering financial information, financial modeling, and business planning. That means that the tools are adaptable and intended to be changed to the user’s unique circumstance,” said Ryan Kline, Cooperative Program Specialist for the CFAES Center for Cooperatives.

A business plan is helpful as a decision-making tool for entrepreneurs and it becomes a tool they can use when talking to potential lenders, investors, or future key employees. CFAES Center for Cooperatives program manager Hannah Scott explained, “In our experience, entrepreneurs don’t usually look forward to business planning, but many of them are already going through the business planning process mentally as they consider a new business or ways to expand their current operation. We encourage entrepreneurs to write down their plans – and to use tools and coaching that can help them approach the process in a systematic way without being overwhelming – because it can help them identify potential issues and consider topics they might not have before.”

“There is lots of assistance for entrepreneurs going through the business planning process, from templates like the ones in this tool kit to assistance from business development specialists like our team at the CFAES Center for Cooperatives or the OSU South Centers Business Development Network, which houses a multi-county Small Business Development Center (SBDC),” Scott said. The SBDC program is a nationwide network of business development specialists who provide no-cost business consulting for entrepreneurs. Readers can locate their nearest SBDC here.

“We hope that the tool will be intuitive as entrepreneurs move through the planning process,” Kline said. “When visiting the website, people will find a self-guided and self-paced exploration of Meat Processing that we hope will help anyone interested in starting a meat processing facility.”

To find the Meat Processing Business Tool Kit online, visit: southcenters.osu.edu/meat-processing-business-toolkit or meatsci.osu.edu/programs/meat-processing-business-toolkit.

Appalachia Cooperates Tours the Region’s Cooperative Economy

On January 27, the Appalachia Cooperates Initiative (ACI) hosted the “Exploring Appalachia’s Cooperative Economy” webinar. Our center manager, Hannah Scott, and cooperative program specialist Ryan Kline prepared a presentation on the region’s cooperative efforts. Together they explored the co-op model’s foundations, cooperatives as economic development agents, and collaborative efforts in Appalachia today during the webinar. According to the program organizers, the virtual event was a success, with the webinar having almost 100 attendees. That number does not include additional people who registered but could not attend and requested the recorded webinar.

Central Appalachia fosters a network of cooperatives as diverse as the people who call the region home. ACI is a learning network connecting cooperative, community, business, and economic developers and advocates in Central Appalachia interested in expanding cooperative efforts in the region. The CFAES Center for Cooperatives works with cooperators across the region to coordinate speakers and promote regional cooperative development.

Though you may not have been able to participate in the webinar, it is not too late! Because of increased interest, we have recorded the entire webinar for anyone interested in exploring cooperatives throughout Central Appalachia. You can contact the staff for a recording of the whole webinar!

For more information, or to learn more about what our Center offers, email us or check out our website.

Center for Co-ops Collaborating to Assess the Impact of COVID-19 on Ohio’s Ag Co-ops

The Center for Cooperatives in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University is collaborating with the Center for Economic Development in the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University to understand the economic impacts of COVID-19 on the state’s agricultural co-ops and to estimate the economic contribution of cooperatives to Ohio’s economy. The project will gather data from public sources and interviews of agricultural co-op leaders.

Hannah Scott, Program Manager of the CFAES Center for Cooperatives, explained the goals for the project. “The COVID-19 public health emergency has had far-reaching impacts across so many aspects of our economy. We’re looking forward to better understanding how the state’s cooperatives have weathered the changes brought about by the pandemic — from temporary closures to supply chain shifts. At the same time, we’re collecting information to reliably estimate the economic contribution of co-ops to our state’s overall economy. Ohio is home to some of the largest co-ops in the country and while we know that co-ops are important, we do not currently have a reliable estimate of their economic impact.”

The project work is funded, in part, by a U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) University Center CARES Act Award received by the Center for Economic Development at Cleveland State University. Dr. Iryna Demko, Research Associate with the Center for Economic Development, shared that cooperatives play a unique role in the agri-food supply chain. “The purpose of the agricultural supply chain is the fast and efficient delivery of agricultural products from farmers to consumers. Each cooperative acts as an intermediary in the supply chain by connecting its members to wholesalers,” Demko said. “Cooperatives also purchase products and materials needed for their business to function. We want to quantify the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cooperatives’ supply chain and on their role in the supply chain.”

For more information, contact Hannah Scott, Program Manager of the CFAES Center for Cooperatives at Ohio State, at scott.1220@osu.edu.

Christmas Morning Co-op Cinnamon Rolls

For Christmas morning, why not make a cinnamon roll recipe using some of our favorite co-op products, like King Arthur Flour, Land o’ Lakes Butter, and Pioneer Sugar.  Our staff member Joy makes this recipe she adapted from a King Arthur Baking Company recipe.  These soft cinnamon rolls can be made fresh or prepped ahead* and baked on Christmas morning.

Cinnamon Rolls

Ingredients

Starter

5 tablespoons water

5 tablespoons whole milk

3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon King Arthur bread flour

 

Dough

All of the starter (above)

4 cups + 2 tablespoons King Arthur Bread Flour

3 tablespoons nonfat dry milk

1 ¾ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon instant yeast

¾ cup lukewarm whole milk

2 large eggs

5 tablespoons unsalted Land O’ Lakes butter, melted

 

Filling

½ cup Pioneer white Sugar

¾ cup brown sugar, packed

4 teaspoons cinnamon

½ cup Land O’ Lakes unsalted butter, softened

 

Icing

3 cups confectioner’s sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons Land O’ Lakes unsalted butter, melted (or use salted butter and omit the ¼ teaspoon of salt)

¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

3-4 tablespoons whole milk or cream, enough to make a thick but spreadable frosting

 

Instructions

To make the starter: Combine all of the starter ingredients in a small saucepan, and whisk until no lumps remain.

Place the saucepan over medium heat, and cook the mixture, whisking constantly, until thick and the whisk leaves lines on the bottom of the pan. This will probably take only a minute or so. Remove from the heat and set it aside for several minutes.

To make the dough: Mix the slightly cooled starter with the remaining dough ingredients until everything comes together. Let the dough rest, covered, for 20 minutes; this will give the flour a chance to absorb the liquid, making it easier to knead.

After 20 minutes, knead the dough — by hand, mixer, or bread machine — to make a smooth, elastic, somewhat sticky dough.

Shape the dough into a ball, and let it rest in a lightly greased covered bowl for 60 to 90 minutes, until puffy but not necessarily doubled in bulk.

To make the filling: Combine the white sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon, mixing until the cinnamon is thoroughly distributed.

Gently deflate the risen dough, divide it in half, and working with one piece at a time, shape each piece into a rough 18” X 8” rectangle and spread with ¼ cup of the softened butter.

Sprinkle half the filling onto the rolled-out dough.

Starting with a long edge, roll the dough into a log. With the seam underneath, cut the log into 12 slices, 1 1/2″ each.

Repeat with the second piece of dough and the remaining filling.

Lightly grease a 9″ x 13″ pan. Space the rolls in the pan.  *If prepping the cinnamon rolls to bake later, at this point, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until 90 minutes before baking to allow the dough to come to room temperature and rise.

If planning to bake immediately, cover the pan and let the rolls rise for 45 to 60 minutes, until they’re crowding one another and are quite puffy.

While the rolls are rising, preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the bottom third of the oven.

Uncover the rolls, and bake them for 22 to 25 minutes, until they feel set. They might be just barely browned.  It’s better to under-bake these rolls than bake them too long. Their interior temperature at the center should be about 188°F.

While the rolls are baking, stir together the icing ingredients, adding enough of the milk to make a thick spreadable icing. The icing should be quite stiff, about the consistency of softened cream cheese.

Remove the rolls from the oven, and turn them out of the pan onto a rack. Spread them with the icing; it will partially melt into the rolls.

Serve the rolls warm. If you have any left over (you probably won’t) you can store completely cooled rolls for a couple of days at room temperature in a sealed container.

Sustainability through Cooperation

While the concept of sustainability can mean different things to different audiences, the cooperative business model builds sustainable practices into the fabric of businesses from agriculture to food cooperatives to credit providers. The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) organization include concepts of productivity, environmental stewardship, profitability, and quality of life in the way they think about sustainability. The examples shared here from cooperatives across industries, geographies, and growth stages demonstrate how sustainability is a part of being a co-op.

Environmental Stewardship

In early 2020, Ocean Spray, a farmer-owned cooperative of cranberry growers across the United States, Canada, and Chile, announced that 100% of the cranberries it used in products from juices to snacks to fresh fruit were sustainably grown, according to the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform’s (SAI Platform) Farm Sustainability Assessment. The SAI Platform defines sustainable agriculture as the “efficient production of safe, high- quality agricultural products in a way that protects and improves the natural environment, the social and economic conditions of farmers and their communities, and safeguards the health and welfare of all farmed species.”

Practices like water efficiency technologies, nutrient management practices, and more help ensure that cranberry production enhances the quality of natural resources. Ocean Spray shared that, on average, every acre of cranberry bog conserves 5.5 acres of natural lands for native plants and wildlife.

Concern for Community

Social aspects of sustainability focus on promoting resilience and well-being for individuals and communities. The National Council of Farm Cooperatives (NCFC) adopted an approach to sustainability that includes community well-being, including “conducting our businesses responsibly, maintaining safe, healthy and respectful workplaces for our employees, and fostering vibrant rural communities.” Co-op regulars will recognize in these concepts one of the principles of the cooperative model – concern for community. The concept of community engagement is an internationally recognized and celebrated principle of the cooperative model. Not only are co-ops rooted in community through their member-owned structure, but they also support their communities in ways that are as diverse as the co-op community across the U.S. For example, in Ohio, three cooperatives founded Fueling the Cure, an effort to promote cancer research and prevention. By donating $1 for every delivery stop of bulk propane purchased through their cooperatives, the group has now donated over $1.5 million to help find a cure for cancer.

Economic Viability

For an enterprise to be sustainable, it must be economically viable over the long term. Cooperatives are no exception. But cooperatives also have characteristics that ensure that their economic viability spreads beyond the co-op itself to its member-owners. One of the hallmarks of the cooperative business model is that member-owners share in the benefits of the business, including the profits or surplus. Cooperatives share profits based on member-owners’ use of the business rather than their investment in the enterprise. This is known as patronage. Patronage refunds that are returned to member-owners can be reinvested in their farms, businesses, or homes. For example, in early 2020, Farm Credit Mid-America, a lender in the Farm Credit system serving Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee, announced that it would return $186 million in patronage to customer-members. In 2019, the co-op returned $146 million to customer members.

Watch “Cooperating for Sustainable Development”

In November 2020, the CFAES Center for Cooperatives teamed up with the OSU School of Environment and Natural Resources Environmental Professionals Network and the OSU Sustainability Institute to host “Cooperating for Sustainable Development.” The webinar was a conversation with Dr. Kip Curtis and founding members of the Richland Gro-Op cooperative (RGO), Matthew Stanfield, and Walt Bonham. RGO is a marketing co-op supporting new growers in Richland County, Ohio, in their goals to grow new farmers and build a more sustainable and just food system in their community. The CFAES Center for Cooperatives team has supported the development of RGO since 2018. You can view the video of the conversation below with introductory comments from special guests Dr. Ryan Schmiesing, Vice Provost for Outreach and Engagement at The Ohio State University, Dr. Cathann Kress, Vice President for Agricultural Administration and Dean of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, and Doug O’Brien, President, and CEO of the National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International.

Cooperatives interested in developing a comprehensive sustainability program, or refreshing an existing program, can use the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives’ Field Guild for Farmer Cooperative Sustainability Programs for guidance.

Forming a More Inclusive Cooperative History

Coop Month Theme this year is Cooperative Commit: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion https://www.coopmonth.coop/

October is National Co-op Month, a celebration of cooperatives that started in 1964. The month is a time for allied organizations and co-ops to promote cooperative values and advantages. This year’s theme is “Co-ops Commit: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,” which supports an important conversation about change and action in the cooperative community.

One step toward making diversity and racial equity not just an intention, but a reality, is forming an inclusive cooperative history. Including African American, Latinx, and Appalachian co-ops in U.S. cooperative history highlights the long tradition of cooperation among Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC)and socioeconomically disadvantaged communities and creates an accurate understanding of the movement.

Highlighting the importance of including these histories, I selected three case studies from Appalachia, African American, and Latinx cooperatives, each of which show just the fraction of the communities’ cooperative impact.

Appalachian Cooperative Networks Before Rural Electrification

The growth of rural electric cooperatives in the 1930s and 40s brought electricity and technological advancements, such as water pumps and agricultural machines, to much of rural America. Though these coops created an electrical transformation, cooperation was familiar to many rural areas, including Appalachia. From community care to unions, Appalachians had utilized community networks to cooperate for generations.

Before the rural electrification efforts, community members and farmers in the South and Appalachia, according to the Southern Oral History Program, kept telephone networks up and running for rural areas, which was only possible through cooperation. Dema Lyall, a native Appalachian from North Carolina, born in 1918, said, “I don’t remember when we just didn’t have a telephone.” Farmers and residents worked together to provide telephones to local communities, typically working in networks of 8-10 families. In some cases, telephone lines were widely available to areas that would not see any electrification efforts until the early 1940s. The community networks that supported these local telephone lines may have supported cooperatives’ growth over corporations during the Rural Electric Administration’s campaign the 30s and 40s. The cooperative networks established before rural electric coops highlight a much longer history of cooperation in the Appalachia.

 

The Freedom Quilting Bee, Alabama 1960s

By 1967, generations of Black men and women struggled under the sharecropping economic system, where white plantation owners often bonded people to the land through debt and labor. With the Civil Rights Movement, a group of Black craftswomen in Alabama sought to leave sharecropping and generate independent income with an increasingly popular commodity: quilts.

Started by a group of Black women near Selma, Alabama, the Freedom Quilting Bee collectively quilted cloth scraps into usable blankets. They hoped to generate individual income for their sharecropper spouses, families, and themselves. However, as Dr. Jessica Gordon Nembhard found, these women not only supported their families, but also promoted community economic stability. The Freedom Quilting Bee bought 23 acres of land, provided housing for evicted farmers, formed childcare cooperatives, and supported community solidarity, fostering growing support from within the cooperative and the community.

The Freedom Quilting Bee Coop highlights how Black women regained economic control through cooperation. When the traditional socioeconomic parameters oppressed these craftswomen, they mobilized collective power for themselves and the community. By including the quilting bee cooperative in the American cooperative movement’s history, the real economic advantage and community stability that cooperation offers to members becomes clearer.

Exploring Latinx Cooperatives

In a recent study, the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives explored the growing cooperative movement in Latinx communities. In Latinx Co-op Power in the U.S.Dr. Jessica Gordon Nembhard and Esther West reveal a rich and expansive network of 180 Latinx cooperatives. Though Latinx cooperative history has not been studied in the American movement, Latin American communities across North America have a strong tradition of cooperation.

In their sample survey, Nembhard and West uncovered that most Latinx coops are urban and suburban, with nearly 89% located in urban areas. From credit unions to agriculture and food co-ops, there were Latinx cooperatives in every sector. The results also revealed that most coops were younger businesses, with only two Latinx co-ops formed before 2000. Between 2004 and 2020, Latinx cooperative numbers skyrocketed, with 14 developing within the last five years. Though the 180 cooperatives surveyed does not depict the entire Latinx co-op community, the study makes important strides in Latinx co-op development and efforts to integrate them into the national cooperative movement history.

 

The diversity of cooperatives in the United States has expanded tenfold with recent studies; however, these cooperators are often overlooked in history. Though many are familiar with the Rochdale pioneers, perhaps a more inclusive history of American cooperation should begin with indigenous networks of cooperation, such as John Curl’s For All The People. With the addition of BIPOC and underserved communities, the history of the U.S. cooperative movement becomes both more inclusive and accurate.