Cooperative Farmers Markets

An abundance of fresh vegetables stacked on a table at an outdoor market.

Here in Ohio, the growing season is ramping up quickly! In some communities, farmers markets have already kicked off their season and in others, local food enthusiasts won’t have to wait long to enjoy the market. The estimated 8,000+ farmers markets across the United States[1] are an important way farmers sell to customers directly.

Based on the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Census of Agriculture, in Ohio an estimated 8% of farms sell approximately $90 million worth of products directly to consumers.[2]

Advocates of farmers markets, like the Farmers Market Coalition, cite benefits like:

  • Helping farm businesses succeed – Farmers with direct-to-consumer sales are more likely to remain in business than other farms, according to USDA data.[3] Producers with farms that sell food through direct channels, like farmers markets, were more likely than all U.S. farms to be female and aged 34 or younger.[4]
  • Creating community food access points – 99% of farmers markets responding to a 2019 USDA survey sell fruits and vegetables and about half of responding markets accepted Federal Nutrition Programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP)[5]
  • Positive community impact – About half of farmers markets responding to a 2019 USDA survey had a paid market manager and just over 5,000 markets across the U.S. engaged over 31,000 volunteers.[6]

A stall of vibrant, fresh vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers, at an outdoor farmers market.

Farmers Markets and Business Structures

Starting and growing a successful farmers market involves many moving parts – building a community of farmers, engaging with local community leaders and patrons, effective marketing, and strong operational plans. Among the important aspects for new and established markets to consider is their business structure – like whether the market is an independent legal entity like a corporation or part of a larger umbrella organization. A market’s business structure can impact how decisions are made for a market, the extent of personal liability for market leaders, eligibility for certain types of funding like grants or charitable donations, how the market is taxed, and more.[7]

The Farmers Market Legal Toolkit from the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School provides helpful information about business structures for farmers markets, along with information about accepting public benefits and managing risks at markets.

Cooperatives as a Business Structure for Farmers Markets

An illustration of raised hands in rainbow colors.Cooperatives are one of various business structure choices for farmers markets. Cooperatives are member owned and controlled businesses that distribute benefits based on use and grounded in principles like democratic member control and concern for community.[8] Cooperatives operate across sectors from insurance and financial services to housing, purchasing, and utilities. In agriculture, cooperatives market various food and agriculture products, procure supplies and inputs, and provide services, like financial services.[9]

Farmers markets structured as cooperatives might be owned and governed by farmers who sell at the market, by community members who shop at the market, or by both groups in a “multistakeholder” cooperative.

Cooperative markets owned and governed by farmers are one form of marketing collaborations for farmers. Learn more about “Marketing Collaborations for Farmers” in our blog post here.

Some of the potential benefits of structuring a farmers market as a cooperative might include:

  • Member engagement and decision-making – Many decisions for a cooperative are made by a board of directors elected from and by the members. Members elect the board and can cast their vote on certain major issues for the cooperative. Democratic control is a defining principle of cooperatives and members generally vote using a “one member, one vote” set up. Cooperatives generally distribute their profit to members based on their use of the business.[10]
  • Community focus – As a business, the focus of a cooperative is on providing benefits to its members.[11] The internationally recognized cooperative principles highlight that “[c]ooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities.”[12] This member and community orientation might create opportunities for cooperative farmers markets to develop a community-orientation and focus.
  • Existence of the market beyond current leaders – Operating a farmers market can be a lot of work. To ensure the successful operation of a market well into the future, it may be important to consider how to effectively share or transfer responsibilities for leadership and how to create a stable structure. As independent legal entities that are governed by a board, cooperatives may have opportunities to share leadership responsibilities and generally can exist perpetually as long as appropriate formalities are met.[13]
  • Limitation of liability and easily updated membership – Generally, cooperatives are legal entities created by filing appropriate forms with a state agency. As independent legal entities, generally the personal liability of each member in a cooperative is limited to the equity the member holds in the cooperative. Cooperatives set up as separate legal entities can add and remove members.[14]

However, cooperatives may have disadvantages compared to other potential business structures for farmers markets. For example, cooperative markets may be limited in their ability to legally use volunteers and unpaid staff compared to nonprofits, they may be limited in raising certain kinds of capital compared to corporations, and they rely on strong engagement and participation from members compared to structures that rely on just one or a few members like limited liability companies.[15]

People in business professional dress standing in a circle holding wooden gears together.


Like any decisions for a business with varied and far-reaching consequences, those interested in exploring the right business structure in their specific situation should consult knowledgeable competent professionals, like attorneys, accountants, and others. This information is provided for educational purposes only. It is not legal advice. It is not a substitute for the potential need to consult with a competent attorney in the appropriate jurisdiction.

Take a deeper dive into the cooperative business model, including cooperative legal frameworks, governance, financial concepts, and more with Co-op Mastery: Beyond Cooperatives 101 at



[1] 2019 National Farmers Market Managers 2019 Summary. (Aug. 2020). U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service.

[2] Data from the 2022 Census of Agriculture “Ohio: Market Value of Agricultural Products Sold Including Landlord’s Share, Food Marketing Practices, and Value Added Products: 2022 and 2017” and “Ohio Historical highlights: 2022 and Earlier Census Years,” U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service.

[3] Key, N. (2016). “Local Foods and Farm Business Survival and Growth.” U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service.

[4] Direct Farm Sales of Food: Results from the 2020 Local Food Marketing Practices Survey. U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service.

[5] National Farmers Market Managers. (Aug. 2020). U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service.

[6] National Farmers Market Managers. (Aug. 2020). U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service.

[7] “Why does the market’s business structure matter?” Farmers Market Legal Toolkit. Center for Agriculture and Food Systems, Vermont Law School.

[8] (2014). Co-op Essentials: What They Are and the Role of Members, Directors, Managers, and Employees. USDA Rural Development Cooperative Programs.

[9] Wadsworth, J., Lapp, K., & Rivera, J. (2021). Agricultural Cooperative Statistics 2019. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Service Report 83.

[10] “Co-ops 101: An Introduction to Cooperatives.” (2012). U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, Cooperative Information Report 55. Retrieved from

[11] Zueli, K. & Cropp, R. (2014). “Cooperatives: Principles and practices in the 21st century.” UW Extension.

[12] “Cooperative identity, values & principles.” (n.d.). International Cooperative Alliance. Retrieved from

[13] “Legal Foundations of a Cooperative.” (1995). U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Business – Cooperative Service, Cooperative Information Report 45, Section 9. Retrieved from

[14] “Legal Foundations of a Cooperative.” (1995). U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Business – Cooperative Service, Cooperative Information Report 45, Section 9. Retrieved from

[15] “Cooperatives.” Farmers Market Legal Toolkit. Center for Agriculture and Food Systems, Vermont Law School.

Cooperating for Childcare

Rural Ohioans are more than two times as likely to live in an area without enough licensed childcare providers than their fellow citizens in urban areas of the state.[1] In West Virginia, 78% of rural families live in areas considered a “childcare desert.” A “childcare desert” is any census tract with more than 50 children younger than age 5 where there are either no childcare providers or where there are more than three times as many children as licensed childcare slots.[2]

Childcare providers in Appalachia may face challenges with profitability, even when they receive available public support, along with challenges around regulatory compliance and insurance.[3] The childcare sector across the county is projected to experience a decline in employment over the next eight years, despite estimates that there are projected to be approximately 153,000 openings for childcare workers each year, on average.[4]

Colorful children's toys like letter blocks, legos, and shapes on a multi-colored background.

Some communities, providers, and employers have turned to the cooperative model to help meet their childcare needs.[5] Cooperatives are businesses owned, controlled, and used by people with mutual needs using a democratic approach. Childcare cooperatives can take various forms, including:

  • Childcare worker cooperatives where providers jointly own and operate a childcare center, like Shine Nurture Center in or Beyond Care Childcare Cooperative.
  • Parent-led childcare cooperatives where parents cooperate to meet their childcare needs while jointly setting policies and democratically governing the group.
  • Early childcare providers working together to jointly purchase goods, provide resources like curriculum, and create leave programs, like CoRise Cooperative.
  • Employer-assisted cooperatives where employers help develop a cooperatively owned and operated childcare program to enhance the benefits available to their employees, like Energy Capital Cooperative Child Care.

For more information about and resource for cooperatives in the childcare sector, visit:

On Tuesday, April 30, 2024, from 10am-11am Eastern, the CFAES Center for Cooperatives at Ohio State will host a virtual roundtable focused on childcare in West Virginia. Kristy Ritz, Executive Director of the West Virginia Association for Young Children, will speak about the association’s work and challenges faced by childcare providers in the region. Staff from the CFAES Center for Cooperatives will share resources to explore cooperative models in the industry.

Register for the free, online event on March 25, 2024, at:


This virtual learning program is part of the Center’s Appalachia Cooperates Initiative, a learning and peer-exchange network connecting cooperative, community, business, and economic developers and advocates in Central Appalachia to resources about the cooperative business model. Find more information about the Initiative and recordings of past learning programs at:


Data Sources:

[1] “Expanding Child Care in Rural Ohio,” Groundwork Ohio. Accessed March 19, 2024.

[2] “Childcare Access in the United States,” Center for American Progress. Accessed March 19, 2024.,enough%20licensed%20child%20care%20providers.

[3] “Appalachian Early Childhood Network,” (July 21, 2021). Mountain Association.

[4] “Childcare Workers,” Occupational Outlook Handbook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed March 19, 2024.,Pay,was%20%2413.22%20in%20May%202021.

[5] “Childcare,” University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives. Accessed March 19, 2024.; “Early childcare and education cooperatives can help build economic power.” (December 13, 2022). U.S. Department of Agriculture and NCBA CLUSA.

Cooperative Frameworks in Ohio

An enterprise’s legal structure informs who is in control and how they exercise their control, who is liable for losses by or actions of the organization, how the enterprise raises capital, and who receives income and suffers losses, among other characteristics of the enterprise.

Business entities are organized according to state law and there is great diversity in the cooperative laws across the United States.

For a deeper dive into the framework for cooperatives under the Ohio Cooperative Law, including the key roles of members, explore these educational resources.

Image of cover for "Key Roles of Members in Ohio Cooperatives" resource.  Image of cover for "12 Key Roles of Members in Ohio Cooperatives Infographic" resource.Image of cover for "Quick Summary: Ohio's Cooperative Law" resource.




This information is provided for educational purposes only. It is not legal advice. It is not a substitute for the potential need to consult with a competent attorney licensed to practice law in the appropriate jurisdiction.



O’Brien, D., Hamilton, N., & Luedeman, R. (2005). “The Farmer’s Legal Guide to Producer Marketing Associations.” Drake University Agricultural Law Center. Retrieved from

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:

Could Cooperation Help Your Small Business Market Better?

Product, price, place, and promotion. One of the keys to success for a small business is mastering marketing. Whether entrepreneurs are advertising their business, using promotional strategies to reach their target customers, or working to place their products into a new market channel, marketing encompasses many aspects of business. Are cooperative approaches to marketing opportunities a fit for your small business to save time and resources?

Does your business use supplies that many other businesses also use?

Purchasing supplies as a group, via a purchasing cooperative, for example, may help businesses lower per unit costs for supplies, improve market information across the supply chain, consolidate transactions to reduce administrative burdens, reduce inventories, coordinate shipping, or even control quality attributes.[1] For example, restaurants may use a purchasing cooperative to purchase food, packaging, equipment, and other commonly needed supplies together in bulk. The Wendy’s Quality Supply Chain Co-op works with suppliers to provide member restaurants with products and services, pooling billions of dollars in buying power.

For a more detailed look at the purchasing cooperative model, see the publication “A Guide for the Development of Purchasing Cooperatives,” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Golden french fries in white paper container. White toilet tissue rolls in a wire shopping cart. Yellow paper shopping bags with polka dots and stars.

Could your business advertise with businesses in the same industry or geography?

Marketing cooperatives and similar approaches may offer opportunities for small businesses to reach new market channels or audiences while reducing costs and administrative burden for individual businesses.

In Ohio, businesses in the tourism industry like convention and visitors bureaus, lodging, restaurants, attractions, festivals, and others, may be able to utilize TourismOhio’s “Ohio, The Heart of It All Co-op Advertising Program,” which provides members opportunities to purchase advertising like paid social, digital, and paid search, as well as opportunities for marketing contact creation offerings like photography, videography, storytelling, and influencer engagements, among other potential benefits.

Illustrated image of computer screen with various graphics, including play symbol, money symbol, text bubble, light bulb, and megaphone.

Does your business have the ability or opportunity to share physical space with other businesses?

In some instances, cooperative approaches to helping businesses access the physical space they need to operate or market their business might offer benefits. For example, shared-use space like business incubators or artist cooperatives might help create affordable opportunities for start-up businesses, help businesses attract new customers in spaces where customers who enter the space to shop at one business may also be encouraged to shop at others, and reduce administrative burdens by sharing maintenance and upkeep for the space and outdoor areas.

Learn more about artist cooperatives in this “Toolkits for the Arts: Toolkit 2: Form an Artist Cooperative” from the Tamarack Foundation for the Arts in West Virginia.

Open sign on inside of glass window.

Some Considerations for Working Cooperatively

Small businesses exploring how a collaborative approach might help them better market their products and businesses will need to consider various key questions. The questions below are a starting point but are by no means exhaustive. Entrepreneurs who are interested in exploring a cooperative approach further can reach out to the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences Center for Cooperatives at Ohio State.

  • Who will be engaged? What is their role?
  • How will the group make decisions?
  • How will the group be formally organized?
  • How can the group manage risk?
  • Will working together provide the intended benefit

Graphic of light colored light bulb and hands connecting colored puzzle pieces

Contact Us!

For more information about the CFAES Center for Cooperatives at The Ohio State University visit Contact the CFAES Center for Cooperatives at or 614-247-9705.

For assistance with registration or additional questions about events, please contact Samantha Black at or 614-247-9774.

CFAES provides research and related educational programs to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis. For more information, visit For an accessible format of this publication, visit

[1] Reynolds, B. & Wadsworth, J. (2009). “A Guide for the Development of Purchasing Cooperatives,” U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, Cooperative Information Report 64.