Student Cooperative Start-up Toolkit

A Guide to Creating Your Own Student-Led Agricultural Co-op

Student Cooperative Start-up Toolkit cover photo

A student-led cooperative, where young people in an agricultural class, 4-H club, FFA chapter, or other group, operate an enterprise using cooperative principles, may be an opportunity to teach young people entrepreneurial skills and the unique aspects of the cooperative business model, which is an important part of American agriculture.

Cooperatives are an important part of American agriculture. As of 2019, over 1.8 million farmers, ranchers, and fishermen were members of agricultural cooperatives. Cooperatives market a wide range of commodities like fruits and vegetables, cotton, grains and oilseeds, dairy, nuts, livestock, wool, and more. They provide financing for agribusinesses and farmers and they help producers access inputs and new technologies. The user-owned and controlled business model is not new – the first documented farmer cooperatives in the United States were initiated around 1810. In the Buckeye state, farmers started a cooperative effort to market hogs in 1820. If you’re involved in agriculture in the United States, chances are you interact with the cooperative business model.

At the student-led cooperative farm at the Ohio Valley Career & Technical Center’s Agribusiness Management program in West Union, Ohio, students gain real-world experience as they manage their school’s 300-acre farm where they raise row crops, livestock, and more. Since 2016, students have used a student-led cooperative model in their program, an approach initiated by their instructor, Mr. Luke Rhonemus.

Students can become a ‘member’ of the co-op and are eligible to serve on the student-elected board of directors, which helps make decisions about the farm alongside Mr. Rhonemus. Eventually, the students and Mr. Rhonemus hope alumni of the program can join the cooperative to market their locally produced farm products.

As part of a project funded by the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) program of USDA focused on enhancing the student-led cooperative model, the CFAES Center for Cooperatives at Ohio State has collaborated with Mr. Rhonemus and others to provide education and training for students on the cooperative model, agribusiness marketing, and production-related areas like meat butchery. Specialists with the CFAES Center for Cooperatives and the OSU Extension Direct Food and Agricultural Marketing program helped the students and instructor develop a marketing plan and conservation plan for their farm and to implement parts of the plan to enhance their student-led school farm co-op.

Educators, advisors, and community leaders interested in developing a similar student-led cooperative learning experience in agriculture can explore a recently developed toolkit to explore, understand, and develop the model. The toolkit includes ideas for activities, links to resources and videos, and templates that educators can make their own. Users will need to consider their specific circumstances, consult with advisors, and tailor their approach.

Student Cooperative Start-up Toolkit: A Guide to Creating Your Own Student-Led Agricultural Co-op

 

This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under agreement number 2019-38640-29879 through the North Central Region SARE program under project number LNC19-428. USDA is an equal opportunity employer and service provider. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Learn more about SARE at: https://northcentral.sare.org/.

Student Led Cooperatives: Sharing the Co-op Model with Future Ag Leaders

A student-led cooperative, where young people in an agricultural class, 4-H club, FFA chapter, or other group, operate an enterprise using cooperative principles, may be an opportunity to teach young people entrepreneurial skills and the unique aspects of the cooperative business model, which is an important part of American agriculture. Learn about the student-led cooperative model and ideas for activities to help young people learn about the co-op model in this video with Hannah Scott, CFAES Center for Cooperatives Program Director.

Here are a few quick ideas for helping young people learn about cooperatives in agriculture:

 

Explore the variety of agricultural careers at cooperatives: Find a cooperative in your community. If you’re not sure whether there is a co-op in your area, check out the interactive map of Ohio cooperative locations from the CFAES Center for Cooperatives at Ohio State at go.osu.edu/ohiocooperatives. Visit the co-op’s website to explore job postings and career information. What kinds of jobs do they have? What skills or education might those jobs require?

Connect with a local cooperative leader – Reach out to a local cooperative leader or member to invite them to talk about their co-op or their own job and career path or visit a local cooperative for a tour. Don’t have an opportunity for in-person activities? Find video tours of Ohio cooperatives like Heritage Cooperative and talks with farmer cooperative leaders online at go.osu.edu/ycle.

If students currently or want to operate an enterprise like a greenhouse, flower operation, or small livestock operation, help them learn about cooperative marketing or group decision-making. Invite a local producer to talk with students about their experience selling at a farmer’s market or through a cooperative. Help students brainstorm a brand identity for their enterprise. Talk with students about how to run a board meeting.

Learning from the Student-Led Cooperative at Ohio Valley Career & Technical Center

At the student-led cooperative farm at the Ohio Valley Career & Technical Center’s Agribusiness Management program in West Union, Ohio, students gain real-world experience as they manage their school’s 300-acre farm where they raise row crops, livestock, and more. Since 2016, students have used a student-led cooperative model in their program, an approach initiated by their instructor, Mr. Luke Rhonemus.

Students in the program can become a ‘member’ of the co-op and are eligible to serve on the student-elected board of directors, which helps make decisions about the farm alongside Mr. Rhonemus. Eventually, the students and Mr. Rhonemus hope alumni of the program can join the cooperative to market their locally produced farm products.

As part of a project funded by the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) program of USDA focused on enhancing the student-led cooperative model, the CFAES Center for Cooperatives at Ohio State has collaborated with Mr. Rhonemus and others to provide education and training for students on the cooperative model, agribusiness marketing, and production-related areas like meat butchery.

Specialists with the CFAES Center for Cooperatives and the OSU Extension Direct Food and Agricultural Marketing program helped the students and instructor develop a marketing plan to help them market the pork, beef, hay, and other products “Raised by students, enjoyed by you” (a tagline students developed for their marketing efforts as part of the project). To implement the plan, the project provided services from a branding consultant, who helped create new brand assets, from logos to color schemes, fonts, and more that students can use as they grow their marketing efforts. The program’s student board then selected promotional items that use the new brand assets to help them spread the word about their farm and reach customers.

One goal of the project is the development of a toolkit for other programs to develop similar student-led cooperative learning experiences in agriculture. If you are interested in learning more about student-led cooperative models, contact the CFAES Center for Cooperatives!

This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under agreement number 2019-38640-29879 through the North Central Region SARE program under project number LNC19-428. USDA is an equal opportunity employer and service provider. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Learn more about SARE at: https://northcentral.sare.org/.

Marketing Collaborations for Farmers

Marketing is “creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value,” according to the definition adopted by the American Marketing Association. As is clear from the definition, marketing is broad! It encompasses concepts around product, price, place, and promotion.

At the 2023 Farm Science Review (FSR), CFAES Center for Cooperatives program director, Hannah Scott, shared collaborative approaches to marketing that may help fruit and vegetable farmers grow their businesses. From cooperative efforts to reach customers to group buys for marketing supplies, the key question for collaborative approaches is whether a group can do something better together than they can individually.

Colorful pattern of lettuce, tomatoes, eggplants, and carrots on tan background.

Collaborative Promotion

To help reach customers and promote their farms and products, farmers might consider taking advantage of collaborative programs like Ohio Proud, a program of the Ohio Department of Agriculture to promote Ohio grown, raised, or processed food and agriculture products. Other community-led efforts to promote local food, like the Pike County Local Foods Directory, led by Pike County OSU Extension, may be opportunities for farmers to reach new customers and raise awareness.

Interested in Collaborative Promotion Strategies? Here are some things to consider:

  • Are there existing programs your farm could engage simply and efficiently?
  • How can your farm share promotional items from these collaborative programs? Using social media or placing materials around your community?
  • If you help create new materials, who will “own” keeping them updated?

Controlling Costs through Joint Purchasing

Does your farm use marketing supplies that others also often use? Think of items like bags, boxes, cartons, crates, stickers, signage, and more. Sometimes purchasing supplies as a group may help farmers access bulk discounts while reducing the inventory they need to hold themselves. Group buys might also help control shipping costs and reduce administrative burdens.

Interested in Collaborative Purchasing? Here are some things to consider:

  • Will group purchasing save costs on goods and/or shipping?
  • Do the logistics work for the group?
  • Be aware of potential risks and plan for them, including potential risks around payments for goods, the quantity purchased, storage and timing considerations, and more.
  • Ensure that communications around the what, when, where, and how, for group purchases are clear and consistent.

Collaborative Marketing Approaches to Enhance Product Diversity

Sometimes offering a diverse array of products might help a business attract more customers. For example, farmer’s markets often work to recruit a diverse group of vendors so they can offer customers everything from fruits and veggies to meat and proteins, dairy, baked goods, and more. In some instances, business-to-business (B2B) sales, including approaches like multi-farm CSA’s, may help farmers or markets increase their product offerings or extend their marketing season.

Interested in Collaborative Approaches to Enhance Product Diversity? Here are some things to consider:

  • How can you manage for the quality and safety of products you do not produce?
  • Does product diversity actually help sales in the market channel you are in?
  • What strategies might you need to help manage risk and set clear expectations around terms of B2B sales?
  • Does the market channel where you sell products allow for B2B sales? For example, some farmer’s market rules may not allow for sales of items a vendor did not produce themselves.

An illustration of a laptop with retail store awning and paper airplane next to brick buildings to represent online business marketing.

Cooperation to Reach New Market Channels

Some market channels require higher volumes of product more consistently than others – think k-12 institutions or wholesale buyers – and these markets might be challenging for some farmers to enter. Producer-owned cooperatives that market products on behalf of their members may offer opportunities for farmers to pool products to reach higher volumes more consistently. Some farmer’s markets may be producer-led cooperatives (like the Chillicothe Farmers Market in Ross County, Ohio). Cooperatives may be a useful approach where pooling product or resources helps solve a challenge, but they can also be complex.

Interested in the Producer-Owned Cooperative Model? Here are some things to consider:

  • Who will be involved as members and what will be their role?
  • How will the group make decisions?
  • How can the group manage risk?
  • Will working together create the intended benefit? Can that benefit be clearly identified and communicated to members?

Access the slides for the presentation, “Marketing Collaborations to Improve your Farm’s Bottom Line” here!

 

To learn more about cooperative and collaborative approaches in agriculture, reach out to the CFAES Center for Cooperatives at Ohio State at go.osu.edu/cooperatives or 740-289-2071. The publication, “Cooperative Farming: Frameworks for Farming Together” published by Northeast SARE is also a great place to start learning about cooperative and collaborative approaches in agriculture.

Farm Science Review is a three-day, annual outdoor event hosted by Ohio State University featuring commercial exhibits, educational programs, and field demonstrations showcasing the future of agriculture. The presentation was part of 15 different learning sessions at the OSU Extension Fruits & Vegetables exhibit at FSR. The OSU Extension Fruit & Vegetable team posts educational resources and updates at https://u.osu.edu/vegnetnews/

Get Ready for Co-Op Month- Celebrate the History!

You may be aware that Co-Op Month is celebrated in October, but are you aware of some of the history behind the holiday? Several states across the United States began celebrating the holiday in the mid-1930’s, but it wasn’t until Minnesota declared the month ‘official,’ with a proclamation in 1948, that Co-Op Month was designated in that state.  It would take 16 years to gain national recognition, but in 1964 U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Orville Freeman, also a former Minnesota governor, proclaimed October Co-op Month for the entire country.  The first theme of the national celebration of Co-op Month was “Cooperatives: USDA Helps Build a Better America.”

Since that time, co-ops have been excitedly celebrating Co-Op Month each October across the country working together to build, grow and be more resilient in their respective communities.  Many also use it as an opportunity to tell their stories and share the collective impact co-ops have throughout the country.

According to the Cooperative Network, “It is a time for cooperative businesses to reflect on their shared principles and to educate others about the value of belonging to a cooperative.”  Today, we continue to celebrate the over 40,000 cooperatives, that provide more than $25 billion in wages in the United States alone.  It is also estimated that there are 350 million members of cooperatives nationwide, including those members that belong to more than one cooperative.

According to a 2021 report from the USDA, “the largest number of farmer cooperatives are in Minnesota, followed by Texas, North Dakota, California and Wisconsin.  Farm cooperatives did the most business in Iowa ($18.3 billion) followed by Minnesota ($16.2 billion), California, Illinois and Wisconsin.”

This year’s theme, ‘Co-Ops Build Economic Power’ brings to light the power of cooperative business to strengthen the economy.  According to the National Cooperative Business Association, “As businesses face inflation and supply chain challenges, cooperatives provide stability and opportunity. As employees question their role in the economy, cooperatives are creating dignified, empowering jobs with paths to ownership and wealth-building. As communities tire of rhetoric, cooperatives are creating the meaningful diversity and equity at the heart of an inclusive economy.”

Here at The Ohio State University South Centers, Center for Cooperatives, we plan to celebrate Co-Op Month all October long with informative articles and podcasts, information from our partners and much more.  Be sure and follow our Facebook page, as well as our Twitter account so you don’t miss out on how we celebrate!

Cooperative “Difference” Creates Opportunity for Shared Management Approach

Chris Sigurdson has worked in the dairy and beef industries for over 30 years. Today, he jokes that he has more than 20 bosses, literally. Sigurdson is the general manager/CEO of both COBA/Select Sires Inc. and Minnesota Select Sires Co-op, Inc. In late 2021, Sigurdson began leading the two farmer-owned cooperatives in a shared role meant to help the companies boost members’ value and continue meeting the changing needs of dairy and beef producers across the United States  and in Mexico.

Context Lays Groundwork for Shared Management Approach

As bovine genetics companies, Minnesota Select Sires Co-op, Inc., and COBA/Select Sires Inc. have faced evolving marketplaces in their decades of operation, including substantial consolidation of dairy farms, technological and genetic innovations, and increases in operating costs. In particular, changes in the dairy industry have had important impacts on the two cooperatives –  a high proportion of production dairies in the United States use artificial insemination for breeding.

COBA/Select Sires Inc. and Minnesota/Select Sires Co-op, Inc. are both members of the federated cooperative, Select Sires, Inc. headquartered in Plain City, Ohio, and owned by six farmer-owned cooperatives. In 2021, Select Sires, Inc. members considered a proposal to unify the federation into a single cooperative that did not ultimately move forward. However, having a shared background as members in a cooperative federation, being similarly structured as farmer-owned cooperatives, sharing a desire to continue serving farmer-owners, and with COBA/Select Sires planning for the retirement of their general manager, the two boards decided to move forward with a shared general manager/CEO position in late 2021. COBA/Select Sires, Inc. is governed by a 15-member board, while Minnesota Select Sires Co-op, Inc. is governed by a nine-member board.

Shared Resource Opportunities May Create Efficiencies

COBA/Select Sires serves farmers in Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Mexico, and portions of Indiana, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, while Minnesota/Select Sires’ service territory includes Minnesota and North Dakota. The two companies have a combined portfolio of $53 million in business and more than 170 employees. In addition to his own leadership position, Sigurdson cites shared resource opportunities like leveraging marketing communications across companies, creating career pipelines and potential connections to new talent, and potential operational opportunities in shipping, storage, and business systems, among others, that might help the two cooperatives reach their goal of effectively serving farmer-members while lowering expenses per unit sold.

Multiple blue gears with various business related graphics inside, such as a light bulb, people, and target.

Sigurdson Shares Approach at Online Cooperative Roundtable

Sigurdson spoke about the reasons for the shared management approach, his role, and opportunities for additional resource sharing among the two companies to cooperative stakeholders during a recent online “Cooperative Roundtable” hosted by the CFAES Center for Cooperatives at Ohio State in partnership with the Mid America Cooperative Council (MACC).

Cooperative Roundtables are online learning opportunities hosted by the CFAES Center for Cooperatives and MACC as opportunities to learn from industry experts about current issues facing the cooperative community. Past roundtable topics have included strategic talent planning, cybersecurity in agribusiness, and recognizing diversity and inclusion among co-op members, among other topics. Sign up for the CFAES Center for Cooperatives email list to receive information about future Cooperative Roundtables.

Exploring Cooperative Leadership

Cooperatives, as member-owned and controlled enterprises, are led by a board of directors who are integral to the operation’s success. If you’re considering joining your co-op’s board of directors – or even if you have served as a director for many years – it is important to recognize the responsibilities inherent in board leadership.

Basic Responsibilities of Co-op Directors

A cooperative board of directors is generally responsible for the affairs of the co-op. For example, under Ohio’s cooperative business statute, “all of the authority of an association shall be exercised by or under the direction of the board.” In a cooperative, the board is generally elected from and by the membership, meaning that directors are also co-op members although some cooperatives may have non-member directors.

A specialist from the U.S. Department of Agriculture conceptualized the responsibilities of cooperative directors as “seven circles,” including:

  1. Representing members, including understanding members’ needs and assessing whether the cooperative is meeting those needs.
  2. Establishing policies that guide the operation of the co-op, including both long-range and specific policies.
  3. Hiring and supervising management, often with direct involvement in hiring and supervising top management such as a general manager or chief executive officer.
  4. Acquiring and preserving assets, including establishing policies relating to assets such as oversight and accounting systems as well as monitoring financial performance.
  5. Preserving cooperative character by ensuring the fundamental character of the enterprise follows co-op principles.
  6. Assessing the cooperative’s performance, including financial performance, but also performance related to fundamental objectives like member benefit.
  7. Informing members with a recognition that members are the owners of the cooperative and accurate and complete information helps ensure they make informed decisions.

As directors carry out these important functions, or delegate responsibility to the co-op’s officers and managers, they are expected to uphold basic legal standards because they are considered fiduciaries who have legal duties to the cooperative, the co-op’s members, and the co-op’s other directors. While the concept of fiduciary duties is broad, at the most basic these duties generally require that directors act in good faith, with the care that an ordinarily prudent person in a like position would exercise under similar circumstances, and in a manner they reasonably believe is in the best interests of the co-op. As two co-op attorneys summarized, these duties require that directors:

  • show up,
  • be prepared,
  • protect the board’s process,
  • disclose conflicts,
  • don’t compete with the cooperative, and
  • don’t breach confidentiality.

Exploring Board Leadership Opportunities  

If you are contemplating joining a co-op board, whether through the encouragement of a neighbor, an invitation from a colleague, or after exploring ways to give back to your community, you likely have multiple questions.

As we learned above, directors play a vital role in leading their cooperatives, taking on various legal duties and other responsibilities. As you explore the opportunity to serve on a co-op board, it is important to consider whether you can effectively uphold these duties and responsibilities.

The following questions, based on recommendations for individuals considering corporate board leadership from the American Bar Association’s Corporate Director’s Guidebook, may help as you think about the opportunity.

  • Do I have sufficient time to diligently perform the duties required of a director? For example, do I have scheduling conflicts with the board’s regular meeting schedule? Do I have sufficient scheduling flexibility to respond to unexpected needs?
  • Do I have skills and experiences that allow me to meaningfully participate as a board member?  Are there special skills I should develop to participate in board activities more fully?
  • Do I have a sufficient understanding of the cooperative’s business to be effective as a director? How can I further develop this understanding?
  • Do I have confidence in the cooperative’s current senior management and directors?
  • Do I have a compelling interest in engaging in board leadership?

The Importance of Co-op Principle 5: Education and Training in Co-op Governance

Co-op members exploring future board leadership, and directors who have led their board for many years, can benefit from ongoing education and skill-building. In fact, as cooperative directors face increasing public and legal scrutiny, there is an increasing awareness of the important role of ongoing education and training for directors. Two legal scholars explained, “Directors are now expected to have more than a passing understanding of financial statements, their fiduciary responsibilities to the cooperative, and other essential items.”[1]

Whether you prefer to learn through reading, in-person teaching, or connecting with peers, there are many resources for co-op members and directors to build their governance knowledge and skills. You can ask your co-op leadership what type of training programs they provide for directors, whether they are members of organizations that provide cooperative education, or whether they partner with co-op educators. You can also explore publicly available resources on your own. Below are a few great places to start!

Join the CFAES Center for Cooperatives and Mid America Cooperative Council for the online training, “Welcome to the Board” on Thursday, September 30 from 10a-12p Eastern time. The interactive training will introduce participants to the roles and responsibilities of cooperative directors and the crucial skills directors use in leading cooperatives. Registration for the training is available at https://go.osu.edu/maccwelcometotheboard.

Explore Co-op Mastery: Beyond Cooperatives 101 online at your own pace. The self-directed platform helps learners explore cooperative governance, taxation, finances, and more using videos, narrated presentations, infographics and more! Explore the platform at https://go.osu.edu/coopmastery

Read Navigating Your Legal Duties: A Guide for Agricultural Cooperative Directors from the National Agricultural Law Center. The guide includes five chapters and reviews topics like fiduciary duties, antitrust laws, securities issues, and risk management tools. Chapters are written to stand alone so readers who want to explore a single topic can skip to the chapter or section of interest. Use the self-assessment at the end of each chapter to explore how the concepts apply in your own cooperative.

 

References

Charles T. Autry & Roland F. Hall, American Bar Association Business Law Section, The Law of Cooperatives 60 (2009).

Corporate Laws Committee, American Bar Association Business Law Section, Corporate Director’s Guidebook 5-6 (6th ed. 2011).

James Baarda, U.S. Dep’t of Agric. Rural Bus. Coop. Serv. Cooperative Information Report 61, The Circle of Responsibilities for Co-op Boards 3-5 (2014).

Hannah Scott & Michael E. Traxinger, National Agricultural Law Center, Navigating Your Legal Duties: A Guide for Agricultural Cooperative Directors 11-26 (2021 https://nationalaglawcenter.org/center-publications/busorg/).

Michael W. Droke, Dorsey & Whitney LLP, Cooperative Business Law A Practical Guide to the Special Laws Governing Cooperatives 57-28 (3d. ed. 2020).

Thane Joyal & Dave Swanson, Precautions and Protections: Summarizing legal responsibilities of cooperative boards, Cooperative Grocer (Mar. – Apr. 2011 https://www.grocer.coop/system/files/legacy_files/precautions.pdf)  

[1] Charles T. Autry & Roland F. Hall, American Bar Association Business Law Section, The Law of Cooperatives 60 (2009).

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.

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.

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.