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.

Kline joins the Center for Cooperative Team

 

Ryan Kline will be the new Cooperative Development Specialist for the CFAES Center for Cooperatives.  Kline will be collaborating with staff at OSU South Centers, Ohio State University Extension, West Virginia University Extension Services, USDA Rural Development, and other rural economic development organizations to create and deploy programming to support the mission, goals, and priorities of the Center. Kline’s previous experience working with county extension offices, private foundations, and museums, helped him to develop a passion for collaboration, youth, and economic development, and forming new programs to educate leaders in agriculture. Ryan is excited to join a dynamic team that strives for the development and support of cooperatives across the region.

Kline has been active in agriculture, including 4-H and FFA his entire life. Born and raised on a fifth-generation family farm in Ross County, Ohio, and Appalachian agriculture deeply impacted his personal and professional life. In college, his passion for agriculture and history joined. In the Spring of 2020, Kline received his Master’s degree in History at Auburn University, focusing on the history of Agriculture and Labor.  He also received his BA in History at Ohio University.

You can reach Ryan at kline.375@osu.edu or at 740.289.2071.

 

Foodpreneur Coaching: Crafting a Blueprint to Grow Your Food and Farm Business

The CFAES Center for Cooperatives is working to help businesses keep things moving forward in these difficult times. Marketing is a key aspect to maintaining or growing any business, including food and farm businesses.

The CFAES Center for Cooperatives, OSU Extension Direct Food & Agricultural Marketing Team, and Ohio Farm Bureau in Ross, Hocking, Fairfield, and Pickaway counties are hosting a virtual interactive experience for small and medium food entrepreneurs who are eager to grow their businesses. Foodpreneur School Coaching will give attendees an opportunity to engage with experts in marketing and promoting their local food and farm products, and more, to help them learn strategies to meet their growth goals. This educational opportunity will cover marketing locally raised meat, increasing produce sales, and promoting local food and farm retail products.

Foodpreneur School Coaching will be offered over a three-week span, in three sessions, and will focus on ways to grow food and farm businesses. Entrepreneurs can attend one session that best fits their needs or all three sessions. Each live Foodpreneur Business Coaching virtual session will offer small group coaching from industry and university experts.

The first session, Marketing Local Meat, will be offered on Tuesday, September 15th.  This LIVE Foodpreneur Business Coaching virtual session is for farmers and ranchers seeking to increase local and regional meat sales or explore new market channels for farm-raised proteins and local meat products.

Buckeye Valley Beef Cooperative, a southwest Ohio co-op that markets member-farmers’ beef to retailers and consumers, will share results from a recent research project to assess multiple marketing channels to grow sales. Co-op members will share their experiences marketing local meat throughout the region. Additionally, Dr. Lyda Garcia, Animal Science professor at The Ohio State University, will be available to offer insights and answer participant questions.  Garcia specializes in meat science and manages the OSU Meat Lab.  Through her background in meat industry internships, livestock production, training and research in graduate school, and many other meat related experiences, she seeks to bring product value to the meat industry, producers, and consumers.

The second session, Increase Produce Sales, will be offered on Tuesday, September 22nd.  This session will offer insights and best practices for produce growers looking to increase produce sales or explore new market channels such as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), farmers markets, farm stands, or specialty stores.

Brad Bergefurd, Ohio State University Extension Horticulture Specialist, and owner of Bergefurd’s Farm Market, will share his expertise built over 30 years of experience in produce education, production, and marketing.  Bergefurd’s education and research at OSU has focused on a variety of produce crops, including strawberries, pumpkins, hops, pawpaws, and more, in addition to research and education on marketing innovations like produce auctions.  Bergefurd’s Farm has specialized in growing a variety of produce that is sold through CSA’s, farmers markets, and an agritourism operation.  In the planning of this session Bergefurd stated that, “Produce farmers have many channels of marketing opportunities available today more than ever. Marketing is less expensive, and online options now allow farmers to reach customers in areas they never were able to reach before these marketing channels became available.  It’s all in how you market yourself, so it’s important to get it right”, said Bergefurd.

The third session, Promoting your Local Food, will be offered on Tuesday, September 29th.In this session, educators and industry experts, will discuss how farm and food producers making products such as cheese, salsa, honey, baked goods, and body items, can expand a farm’s offerings  or serve as a standalone business. During the live Foodpreneur Business Coaching session attendees will learn how to expand their sales and build their brand.

A large part of growing any business is effective marketing to keep customers engaged. Christie Welch, Ohio State University Extension Direct Food and Agricultural Marketing Specialist, and owner/operator of Welch Farms LLC, explains that marketing is key to keeping customers engaged with your business, especially in the current environment of the pandemic. Welch shared that, “Customers are craving experiences and seeking the locally produced foods they have come to love.  Because of the rapid changes in how business is conducted while maintaining social distancing, communicating with your customers is more important now than ever.  They want to know what you are doing to keep them safe while still purchasing the local foods they love. Sharing this information in a manner that reflects your brand is key.”

Christie Welch is the owner/operator of Welch Farms, LLC, a third-generation family farm in southern Ohio.  Christie has been involved in the operation since 1992 and during that time, the farm has diversified.  The farm, which began as a dairy operation, has diversified over the years and currently focuses on u-pick plasticulture strawberries.  The farm also sold at several farmers’ markets and Christie served on the board of the Chillicothe Farmers Market Association for seven years.  Direct marketing to consumers is vital to Welch Farms and provides many opportunities to share experiences with other local food producers.

Foodpreneur School Coaching sessions will all be held online and will be offered over a span of three weeks with each session held on a Tuesday evening.  The cost to attend the Foodpreneur School Coaching is $20 per session for Farm Bureau members, and $25 per session for non-Farm Bureau members. There is a separate registration for each session.  We encourage early registration; each session will have a limited number of seats available. To learn more, go to https://cooperatives.cfaes.ohio-state.edu/events or to register for the Foodpreneur School Coaching you can go to go.osu.edu/foodschool2020.  For additional information you may contact Charissa Gardner at gardner.1148@osu.edu.

Community-owned co-op grocery stores key in revitalizing food deserts

Community-owned Grocery in Detroit

Detroit People’s Food Co-op, opening later this year in a food desert, is an example of a community-driven project.

Food insecurity and lack of area grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods hold much blame for hunger in America. Local and state governments, along with national leaders have prioritized the elimination of “food deserts,” with large retailers promising to open or expand stores in underserved areas.  Some got past the planning stage or closed shortly after opening. The article “Why community-owned grocery stores like co-ops are the best recipe for revitalizing food deserts” looks at 71 supermarkets that had plans to open in a food desert since 2000, and explores why some groceries succeeded while others failed.

The supermarkets driven by government or commercial interests had a mixed track record, but nonprofits and those driven by community involvement tended to succeed.

Author Catherine Brinkley, Assistant Professor of Community and Regional Development at the University of California – Davis noted, “Importantly, 16 of the 18 community-driven cases were structured as cooperatives, which are rooted in their communities through customer ownership, democratic governance and shared social values.”

Policymakers and officials interested in improving wellness in food deserts should consider community ownership and involvement. If you are involved in efforts to bring a supermarket to an underserved community and want to consider cooperative business options, contact the OSU CFAES Center for Cooperatives by calling 740-289-2071 ext. 111.

Ready to Grow your Food & Farm Business?

The CFAES Center for Cooperatives, OSU Extension Direct Food & Agricultural Marketing Team, and Ohio Farm Bureau are teaming up to host an interactive experience for small-to-medium food entrepreneurs who are poised to grow their businesses. Foodpreneurs will engage with experts in branding, sales, marketing, and more to learn strategies to meet their growth goals.

Date: Two-part workshop on September 23rd and 30th, 2019

Time: 2 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.

Location: Keller Market House, 134 S. Columbus Street, Lancaster, Ohio 43130

Participation is limited to 30 foodpreneurs. Interested foodpreneurs must apply by 5 p.m. on August 20, 2019. Foodpreneurs will be notified of their selection and scholarship availability by August 22, 2019.

Apply to participate in Foodpreneur School!

 

The cost to participate in Foodpreneur School is $125 per person due by September 9, 2019. Ohio Farm Bureau member price is $75. A limited number of full scholarships are also available.

Questions about Foodpreneur School? Reach out to the CFAES Center for Cooperatives at osucooperatives@osu.edu or 740-289-2071 ext. 111.

Bauman moves to Cooperative Development Specialist position

Joy Bauman has worked at the Ohio State University South Centers since 2006 and has been involved with the cooperative development efforts at the South Centers since that time, most recently serving as the Program Coordinator for the Center for Cooperatives. Joy recently transitioned to the Cooperative Development Specialist role, officially starting in her new position on June 3.

Joy has facilitated the planning, organization, and delivery of cooperative development trainings and disseminating information about the Center throughout Ohio, West Virginia. She helped to form the successful Southern Ohio Grower’s Cooperative in 2016. Joy is currently leading a North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (NCR-SARE) project–the Cooperative Student Leadership Experience–an immersive cooperative educational program for high school students in the Appalachian region.

She holds a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from the Ohio State University, majoring in Agricultural Communication and Animal Science. Currently, she is pursuing a Master of Science in Agriculture and Extension Education. She is well-experienced in farm and agricultural business planning. Raised on a family farm and owning and operating Turkey Run Farms with her husband and family in Adams County, Joy has a lifetime of experience in agriculture. She is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Agriculture and Extension Education.

Outside of work, Joy likes working with youth and is very involved with the Adams County 4-H program, advising a local 4-H club as well as the Adams County 4-H Junior Leaders, and also serves as the chair of the Adams County 4-H Advisory Committee. As an FFA Alumni member, she enjoys teaching and coaching local FFA members as they prepare for FFA Career Development Events. Joy also serves on the Adams County Farm Bureau Board of Trustees.

The Center for Cooperatives has a job posting online at http://www.jobsatosu.com/postings/95501 to fill the Program Coordinator vacancy.

Converting small business to employee ownership

Employee ownership can be a business retention strategy in under-invested communities.  These co-ops retain jobs and anchor businesses in communities.  Read more about worker-owned co-op conversions in the Winter Issue of the Cooperative Business Journal.

Worker-ownership is one of the topics we will explore at our upcoming Appalachia Cooperates Initiative meeting on Friday, March 22 at the West Virginia State University Economic Development Center, 1506 Kanawha Blvd. West, Charleston, WV.   Registration is $25 and includes lunch.

Learn from practitioners growing co-op culture in Appalachia.

  • Dr. J. Todd Nesbitt, Lock Haven University, will share “A Case for Economic Distributism in West Virginia.”
  • Leslie Schaller, Casa Nueva, will discuss “Building a Worker-Owned Business in Central Appalachia.”
  • Ursulette Huntley and Gail Patton, Unlimited Future, will share “Catalyzing a Community Owned Business.”
  • Join discussions about growing co-ops in our region and creating the Appalachia Cooperates Initiative.
  • Learn about worker-owned co-ops across the globe with a lunchtime showing of the film Shift Change.

Register at go.osu.edu/appalachiacooperates

 

 

 

Appalachia Cooperates Grows Co-op Culture

Q: How can Extension professionals, business and community developers build a brighter future, robust local economies, and living wage job opportunities in Appalachia?​

A: Worker-ownership.​

Worker-owned cooperatives, defined by two advocates of the model as, “values-driven businesses that put worker and community benefit at the core of their purpose . . . [in which] workers participate in the profits, oversight, and, to varying degrees, the management of the organization, using democratic practices,” (Hoover & Abell 2016).​

The Center for Cooperatives and partners are growing co-op culture in Appalachia! Join us on March 22, 2019 at West Virginia State University Economic Development Center in Charleston.

Check back soon for registration details!

References

Hoover, M. & Abell, H. (2016). The Cooperative Growth Ecosystem: Inclusive Economic Development in Action. Project Equity and the Democracy at Work Institute.

5 Food-trend Opportunities for Farmers in 2019

In January the Mid-America Restaurant Expo dominated downtown Columbus. The annual restaurant and foodservice industry trade show featured the latest food trends and topics creating new marketing opportunities for farmers. I sampled more than my fair share to discover the following five trends for farmers in 2019.

Greenhouse trend: Indoor herb gardens
Indoor herb gardens give consumers the satisfaction of growing something they can use in the kitchen. Herb gardens appeal to consumers because they are easy to grow with little space, time and effort. PanAmerican Seed suggests consumers are willing to invest in potted herbs plants that offer earlier and prolonged harvests. ¹ Greenhouse growers can increase sales by offering multiple herb plants in culinary collections. Popular herb collections include a pizza garden of chives, oregano and parsley, and a tea garden of chamomile and mints.

Value-added product trend: Fermented foods
Health conscious consumers seek fermented food to improve gut health. An article in the New York Times notes several grocery store chains are packing shelves with pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi and other canned ferments. ² Fermented vegetables and fruits are an opportunity for farmers to create value-added products that complement their produce operations. Value-added products can also provide an outlet for imperfect produce and help farmers reduce food waste.

Meat trend: Oxtail and organs
Cuts consumers used to consider undesirable are trending in 2019. Pintrest searches for oxtail recipes have increased by 209 percent. ³ Organ meats: heart, liver and kidney are popular with paleo and carnivore dieters. Ground meat blends including organ meats provide the health benefits without the strong flavor. Farmers can work with meat processors to create ground meat blends or packaged organ meats for direct to consumer sales.

Bread trend: Sourdough, designer doughnuts and specialty grains
The spotlight on fermented foods has spiked consumer demand for sourdough bread. Designer donuts are the new cupcakes. Breads baked with alternative flours such as rice, spelt and einkorn, are gaining ground according to a Facebook trends report. ⁴ Farmers can partner artisan bakeries to offer specialty breads at the farm stand or as an add-on to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscriptions.

Farm to table trend: Buyer-seller partnerships
Chefs and retail buyers are sourcing local and regional food to meet customer demand. Buyers need a consistent supply of high-quality food and food products. Nation’s Restaurant News suggests buyers partner with farmers to plan production and delivery. Buyers benefit from priority access to the supply they need, while farmers gain a dependable market for their products. ⁵

References

  1. Josephson, C. “Looking Forward to 2019.” Jan 2019. PanAmerican Seed. Retrieved from https://www.panamseed.com/Blog/2019/01/02/looking-forward-to-2019.html
  2. Severson, K., “A Peek at Your New Plate: How You’ll Be Eating in 2019.” Dec 2018. New York Times. Retrieved from  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/21/dining/food-trends-predictions-2019.html
  3. Wahlgren, E., “100 Pintrest Trends for 2019.” Dec 2018. Retrieved from https://business.pinterest.com/en/blog/100-pinterest-trends-for-2019?utm_medium=2023&utm_source=31&utm_campaign=5fbf16#Food
  4. “The 2019 Topics & Trends Report.” Dec 2018. Facebook IQ. Retrieved from https://scontent.fdet1-2.fna.fbcdn.net/v/t39.8562-6/48606515_2199769090237778_5979666736092282880_n.pdf?_nc_cat=111&_nc_ht=scontent.fdet1-2.fna&oh=99550e34ded1d6d28d998b2a27e706b4&oe=5CD9B039
  5. Luna, N., “15 Trends to Expect in 2019.” Dec 2018. Nation’s Restaurant News. Retrieved from https://www.nrn.com/place-table/15-trends-expect-2019/gallery?slide=6

*Article originally published in Farm and Dairy Newspaper