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.

Beef Co-op’s Marketing Efforts Offer Insights for Local Food Entrepreneurs

For every business, getting marketing right is key. For food entrepreneurs selling directly to consumers at farmer’s markets, farm stands, online, in grocery stores, and via subscriptions, telling their story through marketing is vital to reaching their target customer demographic to enhance sales. But how do food entrepreneurs — especially those selling locally produced products through local supply chains –know which marketing channels to use?

The farmer-owners of Buckeye Valley Beef Cooperative, a young co-op marketing locally raised beef in southwest Ohio, set out to answer that question. They wanted to know how they could maximize their marketing efforts to generate new customers and sales for their farmer-owners. In 2019, the co-op proposed and was awarded a project to the 2019 Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) Farmer/Rancher grant program. Their project would help the co-op develop, implement, and then measure the effectiveness of four new advertising channels: Google ads, billboards, radio advertisements, and Facebook ads. The co-op placed their ads, some of which were created in consultation with marketing professionals at the companies they purchased advertising through, and then tracked whether their efforts translated into new customer orders. What they learned can offer insights to other local food producers, particularly those selling meat.

Readers can learn more about the project, the co-op’s experiences, and the results in a presentation by a founding member of the co-op available above as a part of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences online Farm Science Review.

What Did the Co-op Learn?

  • Facebook ads and radio ads on the local public radio channel were the most effective new advertising channels the co-op tested. Facebooks ads resulted in an astounding 10900% return on the dollars invested in the channel. Also, co-op members were surprised to learn that radio ads resulted in an 85% return on their investment.
  • Some new advertising channels took a lot of time and energy to learn. The co-op relies on volunteer labor and they took a team approach to implementing the new advertising methods. Even so, learning the ins-and-outs of utilizing certain channels took a significant time investment.
  • Word of mouth is still the most effective marketing strategy for the co-op. Sales from customers who reported learning about the cooperative by word of mouth dwarfed sales generated from customers who reported finding out about the co-op through one of the new advertising channels. This reinforces the idea that food entrepreneurs should ensure they are paying close attention to customer experiences and creating ways for their customers to share their excitement about their products.

About Buckeye Valley Beef Cooperative

Buckeye Valley Beef Cooperative was formed in 2016 by southwest Ohio farmers who wanted to expand their markets for locally raised beef and to increase their farmer incomes. The co-op markets beef to retailers and directly to consumers. You can learn more about the cooperative via the video, Buckeye Valley Beef Cooperative: Our Story  The co-op’s farmer members were supported by the CFAES Center for Cooperatives in their start-up and the development of their SARE proposal.

2nd Bi-Annual Cooperative Law Conference Will Offer Professionals Opportunity to Learn About the Co-op Economy

Conference registration table.

The 2nd Bi-Annual Cooperative Law Conference convened by Advocates for Basic Legal Equity and co-sponsored by the CFAES Center for Cooperatives will be held online on June 5, 2020.

The CFAES Center for Cooperatives is pleased to be co-sponsoring the 2nd Bi-Annual Cooperative Law Conference in our region on June 5, 2020. The virtual conference will be organized around the theme, “The Legal Life of a Cooperative,” and will feature attorneys and developers sharing their expertise on worker co-op start-ups and transitions, cooperative financing, and regional cooperative development strategies. Attorneys, aspiring-attorneys, and others who are interested in learning more about cooperatives and collaborative enterprises will surely find value in the conference’s eight sessions featuring twelve speakers.

The CFAES Center for Cooperatives, along with the Sustainable Economies Law Center, Alliance of Ohio Legal Aids, and Legal Aid of Western Ohio, are sponsoring the event, which will focus on regional efforts in southwest Ohio, but will be applicable across geographies. Attorneys in Ohio will be able to receive up to five hours of CLE credit for the conference (application pending). Registration for the event is $60.

Co-sponsoring the event is another way the Center is helping to build the community of professionals who support cooperatives in our region. In 2019, the Center surveyed attorneys, accountants, and tax professionals who work with cooperative and collaborative enterprises, building a directory to help the cooperative community locate such expertise. Visit the Center’s Cooperative and Collaborative Enterprises Legal and Accounting Directory.

Broad Thinking: Why the co-op model could be a key to closing the broadband gap

An individual working at a computer.

The current public health crisis has moved many of life’s daily tasks online. Without reliable internet, some rural communities are at risk of being left behind.

The impacts of the COVID-19 public health emergency are vast and varied. While we recognize and thank the many people who continue to do the essential jobs of feeding, moving, and caring for America in person, many Americans are now working, learning, and connecting online. Everyday tasks like work meetings, classes, grocery shopping, religious services, doctor’s appointments, hangouts with friends, and more, have moved online. But what happens when you don’t have reliable internet access at home? Millions of rural Americans faced this question long before the current public health crisis and in our current context, the broadband divide between urban and rural America has become more pronounced than ever.

Connected Nation Ohio, an organization that studies and provides resources for rural broadband connection, estimates that approximately 710,000 Ohioans do not have internet access at home. That doesn’t include people who have internet access that is unreliable or prohibitively slow. The Federal Communications Commission estimates that almost 30 million Americans are “unable to reap the benefits of the digital age.” In 2017, the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity recognized the expansion of high-speed, high-capacity internet as a key infrastructure priority in rural America. Beth Ford, Chief Executive Officer of Land O’ Lakes, one of the nation’s largest farmer-owned cooperatives, has highlighted the far-reaching effects of the problem and called for significant infrastructure investments in broadband, reminding people that, “there is a shared destiny between urban and rural America.”

Cooperatives are not new to problem-solving on behalf of rural Americans. According to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, in the mid-1930’s as many as 90% of rural homes lacked electricity. By 1953, more than 90% of America’s farms had electricity. This transformation was the result of the rapid growth of rural electric cooperatives, which currently provide electricity to 56% of the nation’s landmass and over 20 million member-owners. Co-ops are owned and controlled by their users and provide services to member-owners at cost. Today, nearly 100 rural electric cooperatives are investing in infrastructure to bring high speed internet to their member-owners.

In some communities, the cooperative model is being explored anew to determine whether a community-owned enterprise can help close the broadband gap. Groups are coming together to assess whether they can form cooperatives to invest in the infrastructure to connect their homes and businesses to broadband service providers. The enterprises would be controlled by community members through an elected board of directors.

Community members in Washington County, Ohio have begun exploring options for a community-owned broadband enterprise. David Brown, who is leading the Southeast Ohio Broadband Cooperative Exploratory along with additional volunteers from the community, explains, “Most areas have no broadband access at all and rely on slow, expensive and unreliable technologies like cellular hotspots and satellite internet.” After conversations with elected leaders, local economic developers, and others, the group surveyed the community about their current broadband access and interest in joining a broadband co-op. They started engaging with community members via a Facebook group where they share updates and information. The group has over 925 members after just three weeks. While they have a lot of work ahead to develop their co-op, David Brown shares that the group’s vision is to, “bring affordable, reliable broadband access to rural areas in SE Ohio that will create economic opportunities, connect communities and encourage members to be a part of the solution to a problem that has long plagued the area.”

When exploring a cooperative model in any industry, it is vital to explore the feasibility of an enterprise and to develop robust business plans. At the same time, organizers should educate their potential members on the co-op model and help them understand their role in a newly formed business. The College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences Center for Cooperatives at Ohio State has been assisting new and emerging cooperatives since 2001, helping groups understand the co-op model, explore the feasibility of a new co-op, develop the business plans and structure for a new enterprise, and more.

If you would like to learn more about broadband cooperatives or to explore an opportunity for community-owned enterprises in your community, contact the CFAES Center for Cooperatives!

COVID-19 Resources for Small Businesses

OSU South Centers located in Piketon, Ohio.

The OSU South Centers’ Business Development Network is prepared to help small businesses virtually.

Remember We’re Here to Help

The OSU South Centers Business Development Network continues to be available to help your small business. Our development specialists are working remotely and are available to meet virtually to assist your business.

Small Business Development Center (SBDC)

Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP)

CFAES Center for Cooperatives

Stay in Touch with Customers Remotely Using Online Tools

Businesses of all shapes and sizes can use technology to inform and stay in touch with customers. If you have had changes to your hours, location, contact information, or you simply want to communicate with your customers, consider updating your Google My Business profile or sharing updates or hosting events for your customer community online using Facebook, Instagram, or other online tools.

Utilize Free or Enhanced Capability Tech for Remote Working

If you or members of your team are shifting to remote work, a number of technology providers are expanding capabilities for their current customers for free or are making their platforms available at no cost for a limited time. GoToMeeting has released Emergency Remote Work Kits for current LogMeIn customers and other eligible institutions and organizations,  Google is granting free access to expanded capabilities for G Suite customersMicrosoft offers a free version of their Teams collaboration platform and is expanding free access to Teams, and Cisco has expanded the capabilities on their free Webex offer and is providing free 90-day licenses to businesses who are not Webex customers.

Get some tips on ensuring a successful transition to remote work:

For more information about collaboration tools offered in response to the public health situation, check out this article from ZDNet.

Small Business Administration (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL)

The SBA EIDL program can provide loans of up to $2 million to small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, and most private nonprofits that are unable to meet obligations and pay ordinary and necessary operating expenses due to a recognized economic disaster. Loan amounts are based on actual economic injury and financial need. Please note that EIDLs require repayment and that EIDL is not a grant program. Terms will be determined on a case by case basis.

Ohio was declared a disaster zone under the EIDL program on Thursday, March 19, 2020 effective beginning January 31, 2020.  Businesses can learn about the process for applying for EIDL assistance, gather loan application materials, and apply online if they think they will qualify for and require EIDL assistance. Required application materials will include:

  • Completed SBA Business Loan Application
  • Tax information authorization form for the applicant, principals, and affiliates
  • Copies of the most recently filed federal income tax return, including all schedules
  • Personal financial statements for the applicant, each principal, or general partner
  • Schedule of liabilities listing all fixed debt

Assistance for Exporters

The Small Business Administration (SBA) Export Express loan program is available for U.S. small businesses that export directly overseas or indirectly by selling to a customer that then exports their product. The Export Express loan program can provide up to $500,000 of financing for businesses prior to finalizing an export sale or while pursuing opportunities overseas, such as identifying a new overseas customer if an export sale is lost due to the coronavirus pandemic. Explore information on SBA’s COVID-19 small business loan resources.

IRS Federal Income Tax Payment Relief

The IRS has announced payment relief measures for individuals and businesses that owe federal income tax. Note that this payment relief applies only to federal income tax payments and does not apply to payments of state taxes or other federal taxes.

The income tax payment deadline for individuals, including self-employed income, is being automatically extended to July 15, 2020 for up to $1 million of a taxpayer’s 2019 tax due.

The income tax payment deadline for C Corporations is being automatically extended until July 15, 2020 for up to $10 million of the corporation’s 2019 tax due.

Also, note that recent reports indicate that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has announced that the federal income tax filing deadline will be delayed to July 15, 2020.

Unemployment Benefits and Employee Leave

An executive order issued by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has expanded flexibility for Ohioans to receive unemployment benefits during the state’s emergency declaration period. Learn more about coronavirus and unemployment insurance benefits from the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services.

On March 18, 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) became law with provisions for paid sick leave for employees affected by COVID-19, expanded coverage of the Family and Medical Leave Act for absences related to COVID-19, and certain tax credits to help offset the costs of paid leave requirements, among other provisions. Learn more about the Families First Coronavirus Response Act in, “Time to Hit Pause: What Employers Need to Know About Yesterday’s Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” from Forbes.

Please note that if you have questions about your legal requirements as an employer, you should consult a human resources or legal professional.

Keeping Your Workplace Safe

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has information to help employers address the coronavirus pandemic, including guidance on preparing various workplaces for COVID-19, preventing worker exposure to the virus, and more. To see all of the COVID-19 information from OSHA, click here.

Guidance for Businesses and Employers from the CDC

In response to COVID-19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that employers and businesses:

  • Actively encourage sick employees to stay home
  • Separate and send home sick employees
  • Emphasize staying home when sick, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees
  • Perform routine environmental cleaning
  • Advise employees before traveling to take certain steps

Note that if an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has requested that Ohio employers ask their employees to check their temperature before coming to work. Stay up to date on Ohio’s Public Health Orders and COVID-19 response at coronavirus.ohio.gov.

Other Helpful Resources for Small Businesses

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.

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.

Join the CFAES Center for Cooperatives at the West Virginia Small Farm Conference in Charleston on Saturday, February 16th.

The Center for Cooperatives presents United We Farm: Cooperative Solutions for WV Ag Producers.

Learn more and register at https://extension.wvu.edu/conferences/small-farm-conference

Session description: West Virginians across the state are exploring the cooperative businesses model as a solution to the challenges that many farmers face – access to markets, aggregating larger volumes of products, and saving time and resources. Do you think a cooperative might offer a solution for your farm or community? Learn about how West Virginia farmers are using the co-op model and how to explore a co-op for your community. Service providers – Extension educators, community developers, and agvocates – may also find this session a great opportunity to learn about the model and about resources that they can integrate into their work.

OSU Professional Services for Collaborative Enterprises Survey

The Center for Cooperatives in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University is working on a project to assess the professional legal, accounting, and tax services available to cooperative and collaborative businesses in Ohio and West Virginia.

The goals of the project are twofold.

  • First, using information collected from an online survey, the Center will create a directory of professionals who provide services to cooperatives and collaborative enterprises.
  • Second, the Center will use online survey responses to better understand professionals’ experience levels, continuing education practices, and interests in network building to help develop programming and resources for professionals in our region’s cooperative community.

How can you help with this project?

If you are an attorney, accountant, or tax professional who works with cooperatives and collaborative enterprises, we invite you to take the short survey at the link below. The survey will gather information for a directory of professionals and ask about your experience with cooperatives as well as continuing education and networking interests. We anticipate that the survey will take approximately 5-10 minutes of your time.

If you know legal, financial, or tax professionals working with cooperatives, please forward this invitation to participate to them! Gathering robust information will help us create valuable resources for the cooperative community.

Professional Services for Collaborative Enterprises Survey

If you have questions about his project, please contact Hannah Scott at scott.1220@osu.edu or 740-289-2071 ext. 227. This survey is for a study being conducted by The Ohio State University.