Cooperatives: Restoring Control for Farmers and Communities

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GUEST AUTHOR: Jim Dula | Intern, National Farmers Union | He is also President of Glassier Gardens, a 14-acre shared land use cooperative in Basalt, CO and Project Manager for the Heritage Fruit Tree Project. | @jim_dula

This piece previously appeared on the NFU Beginning Farmer Column as part of the organization’s Beginning Farmer Forum. It appears here under agreement with the NFU.


University of Wisconsin – Madison – Center for Cooperatives

Although you might not know it, cooperatives are woven throughout every industry in the United States, including housing, banking, agriculture, food retail, and healthcare, providing people with basic goods and services through collectively owned and democratically organized businesses and organizations. Opportunities for cooperatives exist when a group of people or organizations share a common goal or interest and are willing to share profits and benefits of a joint enterprise.

Founded in 1844, the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers was the first cooperative business both to be formally recognized and to pay dividends to its member-owners. 28 individuals came together with the common desire to provide themselves with food and provisions at an affordable price during a time of economic hardship. They raised £28 and opened a small cooperative, initially selling only flour, sugar, oatmeal, and butter. 10 years later, there were nearly 1,000 operating cooperatives in Britain.

In 1844 the Rochdale Pioneers founded the modern Co-operative Movement in Lancashire, England, to provide an affordable alternative to poor-quality and adulterated food and provisions, using any surplus to benefit the community.

The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers’ governing principles, known as the Rochdale Principles, have persisted, and now act as the basis of cooperative management today. Those principles have been adopted by the International Cooperative Alliance and are recognized and supported in National Farmers Union policy. Voluntary and open membership, democratic control, and concern for community are among the seven foundations of cooperative operations.

University of Wisconsin – Madison – Center for Cooperatives

Cooperatives allow for individuals to collectively take back and maintain control of the goods and services they depend on. Each year, National Farmers Union hosts the College Conference on Cooperatives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where over 100 students participate in cooperative education and tours. As an NFU intern, I had the pleasure of attending and helping with this event. My favorite cooperative we toured was the Becketwood Housing Cooperative for an active, independent, 55+ community of owners. Not only did everyone have spacious accommodations, but they also had access to a library, a salon, arts and crafts, cultural outings, and 12 acres of open space. However, what was most palpable was the sense of community and belonging, a feeling that all business environments could benefit from through cooperative engagement.


Further reading:
How Neighbors Turned Unused Buildings into a Thriving Community Hub
From Grocery Stores to Labor Unions, Cooperatives Were the Answer

One of the Dairyland Power Cooperative arrays at. Taylor Electric Cooperative in Medford, WI.

 [Please consider supporting Food and Farm Discussion Lab with an  ongoing contribution of $1, $2, $3, $5 or $10 a month on Patreon. All contributors receive a subscription to our email newsletter the FAFDL Dispatch. ]

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