Exploring the Ways Cooperatives Support Sustainable Development at the 2023 Appalachia Studies Conference

The 46th Annual Appalachian Studies Conference, hosted on the Athens, Ohio, campus of Ohio University in the heart of the Buckeye state’s Appalachian region, celebrated the region’s resilience. From scholarly presentations to practitioner panels, arts performances, poster presentations, and more, the conference explored issues like diversity, equity, and inclusion, environmental challenges and reclamation, combating food deserts, honoring and sharing the region’s history, traditions, and culture, and much more via the theme “AppalachiaFest: From Surviving the Thriving.”

Picture of "AppalachiaFest: From Surviving to Thriving" button on green background with black font "Visit Athens County, Ohio."

The theme of the 2023 Appalachian Studies Conference was “AppalachiaFest: From Surviving the Thriving.”

Hannah Scott, CFAES Center for Cooperatives Program Director, joined a panel with colleagues from Pennsylvania and Kentucky around the theme, “Cooperatives and Sustainable Development in Appalachia.”

Dr. J. Todd Nesbitt, Professor of Geography at Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania studies economic geography, including the history of economic development in Appalachia. Defining sustainable development simply as “growth that must be accomplished with respect for nature and humankind,” Dr. Nesbitt posited that “most cooperative enterprises achieve sustainable development by default,” through their commitment to globally recognized principles including democratic member control and concern for community, as well as values of self-help, democracy, and equity.

In 2020, Hannah Scott explored how sustainability is a part of being a cooperative in this article.

From farmers marketing their products to consumers accessing new or affordable goods and services to workers democratically owning their workplace, Hannah Scott shared how the cooperative model is being applied across Appalachia and how the CFAES Center for Cooperatives’ Appalachia Cooperates Initiative (ACI) is working to support a cooperative ecosystem in the region. ACI is a peer learning network. The main idea is to connect cooperative, community, business, and economic developers and advocates in Central Appalachia. By helping build these connections and providing learning opportunities, the CFAES Center for Cooperatives’ goals are to build awareness and understanding of the co-op model, equip practitioners with knowledge and skills, and facilitate a connected network of co-op and community developers. ACI was born out of a collaborative dialogue between partners in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

The Center regularly hosts peer networking calls and learning sessions as part of the ACI. Find learning session recordings and sign-up to receive emails about the Appalachia Cooperates Initiative at: go.osu.edu/appalachiacooperates.

A slide sharing the goals of the Appalachia Cooperates Initiative: Develop practitioners’ awareness and understanding of the cooperative model and of cooperative development resources to better recognize and act on cooperative opportunities in their communities 
Foster relationships among practitioners that will facilitate joint cooperative development activities in Central Appalachia and allow practitioners to better utilize existing resources 
Raise awareness of the cooperative business model as an opportunity for economic development and justice in the region.

The goals of the Center’s Appalachia Cooperates Initiative include developing practitioners’ awareness, fostering relationships, and raising awareness about cooperatives as an economic development opportunity.

Myrisa Christy, Project & Development Specialist with the Kentucky Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (KCARD) shared how KCARD’s team, along with partners like Kentucky Farm Bureau and others, were part of an effort to activate networks of cooperative farm supply stores to support post-tornado recovery in 2022. With financial support from community partners, cooperatively owned farm supply stores were able to pivot to help community members procure needed supplies like fencing and small equipment to recover from devastating tornadoes in the state. Christy also shared multiple examples of cooperative or cooperative-like efforts to respond to community needs in Appalachia, highlighting that cooperatives are focused on serving members’ needs in a way that builds equity and provides members with control over the enterprise, but recognizing that there are various barriers to cooperative development in the Appalachian region.

For more information about the Appalachia Studies Association (ASA), visit: https://www.appalachianstudies.org/.

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.