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!

Join Peer Learning Sessions to Grow the Cooperative Ecosystem in Appalachia

Each month the CFAES Center for Cooperatives team hosts Zoom “peer networking calls” as part of the Appalachia Cooperates Initiative. If you’re a community, business, or economic developer, or simply have an interest in supporting cooperative development, you’re invited to join the sessions. Read on to learn more about the Appalachia Cooperates Initiative and peer networking calls and register for calls on Friday, August 19, 2022 from 1 p.m.- 2 p.m. Eastern and Friday, September 16, 2022 from 1 p.m.- 2 p.m. Eastern.

A view of mountains and blue sky backdrop of a green meadow in Moorfield, West Virginia area.

Appalachia has a diverse and long-established cooperative community. For example, Casa Nueva, has been operating as worker-owned cooperative restaurant in uptown Athens since the mid-1980’s (check out this ‘virtual tour’ of Casa Nueva as part of the Youth Cooperative Leadership Experience online platform) while Unity Café is a newer worker-owned café and eatery in Parkersburg, West Virginia. Cooperatives are providing vital services to their communities across Appalachia. Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative provides electricity to over 18,000 consumer member-owners in Southeast Ohio and has since the late 1930’s. Today, some communities in Appalachia are leveraging the cooperative model to bring broadband to their rural areas – a topic we explored in the 2021 webinar, “Cooperating for Connectivity: An Appalachian Broadband Webinar” hosted by the CFAES Center for Cooperatives. To learn more about Central Appalachia’s cooperative community, check out “Exploring Appalachia’s Cooperative Economy,” a webinar where experts from our Center explored the region’s cooperative foundations and modern co-op efforts.

An Ecosystem Approach to Co-op Development

Since 2019, the CFAES Center for Cooperatives has led the Appalachia Cooperates Initiative (ACI), a learning network connecting cooperative, community, business, and economic developers and advocates in Central Appalachia. The goal of the ACI is to contribute to the development of a thriving co-op ecosystem in Central Appalachia by building awareness of the co-op model, equipping practitioners with knowledge and skills, and facilitating a connected network of co-op and community developers. The initiative was born out of collaborative dialogue of partners in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

In a 2016 report, lead authors Hillary Abell and Melissa Hoover advocated for an ecosystem approach to building worker cooperative communities, pointing out elements in thriving cooperative ecosystems like access to quality and affordable technical assistance providers and cooperative developers, business advisory services and industry peer networks, cooperative awareness, and integration of cooperatives into entrepreneurship education. Learn more in the report, “The Cooperative Growth Ecosystem: Inclusive Economic Development in Action.”

Learning and Peer Networking Opportunities

As part of the ACI, our team at the CFAES Center for Cooperatives has hosted learning sessions like community workshops, film screenings, and educational webinars where experts and developers from across the region have shared their knowledge on topics like the Mondragon cooperative model, conversion of existing businesses to cooperatives, and more. You can find recordings of selected past ACI learning sessions and learn how to sign up for emails to receive details about future events on our Center’s website.

Graphics of people connected in network graph styleIn 2020, we started hosting monthly Zoom sessions for community, business, economic and other developers interested in the co-op business model. The idea was to build connections among people spread across a wide geography, and potentially working in distinct spaces. Each month, our team hosts a Zoom meeting where practitioners from across the region gather as their schedules allow in an informal but dedicated space.

All participants are encouraged to share updates, ask questions, and engage with the group. Peers can meet one another, share their current projects or expertise, ask for resources, or best practices, and identify opportunities for potential collaboration.

Those who are interested can register for sessions as their schedules allow. Registration details for upcoming calls in August and September 2022 are below. To receive emails with details of future ACI events and peer networking calls, sign up for the Center’s email list here. There is no cost to attend, and sessions will NOT be recorded.

Upcoming ACI Peer Learning Calls

Friday, August 19, 2022, 1-2 p.m. (EST)

To register for this event, click here.

Friday, September 16, 2022, 1-2 p.m. (EST)

To register for this event, click here.

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.

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.

CFAES Center for Cooperatives kicks off Appalachia Cooperates Initiative

A group of individuals interested in growing co-op culture in central Appalachia filled the meeting room March 22 at the West Virginia State University Economic Development Center in Charleston, WV when the Ohio State University CFAES Center for Cooperatives hosted the inaugural meeting of the Appalachia Cooperates Initiative.  The group ranged from farmers and small business owners, to attorneys, credit unions, and cooperative business development agencies.

Featured speakers included Dr. J. Todd Nesbitt, Professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Geography at Pennsylvania’s Lock Haven University and Leslie Schaller, one of the founding members of Casa Nueva, a successful worker-owned restaurant cooperative and also the Director of Programs at the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet) in Athens, Ohio.  Nesbitt, who has studied and developed a course on sustainability in Appalachia, shared “A Case for Economic Distributism in West Virginia.”  Schaller shared the history and development of Casa Nueva and insights on the success of the cooperative business.

Participants also heard from Gail Patton, Executive Director and Ursulette Huntley, Program Director at Unlimited Future, Inc., a non-for-profit microenterprise development center and business incubator, who shared their experience with the development of one of West Virginia’s first non-agriculture cooperatives.

During lunchtime, attendees viewed the film, Shift Change, and learned about worker-owned co-ops not far from the Appalachian region and around the world.  “Seeing how a worker-owned co-op can empower members of a community and provide jobs and economic growth for an area helped to spark some ideas among those in attendance,” said Joy Bauman, program coordinator at the OSU CFAES Center for Cooperatives.

Daniel Eades, West Virginia University Rural Economics Extension Specialist and Michael Dougherty, West Virginia University Community Resources and Economic Development Extension Specialist led a discussion about challenges with developing businesses in Central Appalachia, ways Appalachian communities are uniquely positioned to develop businesses, and what resources and tools work well in Central Appalachia’s environment.  This activity led to much discussion and discovery of ways those interested in growing the cooperative culture in Central Appalachia can network to assist each other and share solutions.

OSU CFAES Center for Cooperatives program manager Hannah Scott spoke about resources and technical assistance offered by the Center and encouraged participants to stay connected and consider becoming involved on a regular basis with the Appalachia Cooperates Initiative group.  “Getting cooperative-minded people together to connect and learn from each other’s experiences will help them build a network that fosters cooperative business,” Scott explained.

Scott said that the CFAES Center for Cooperatives will soon be planning another activity for those interested in the Appalachia Cooperates Initiative, and that she hopes to hold quarterly events for the group over the coming year.  If you are interested in developing co-op culture in Central Appalachia, for more information, or to be added to the Appalachia Cooperates Initiative email list to be notified about upcoming events, contact Joy Bauman at 740-289-2071 ext. 111 or email bauman.67@osu.edu.