Co-op developments, coast to coast

USDA announces
funding for co-ops

Agriculture Under Secretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager in October announced support to help rural cooperatives expand economic activity in their communities. Tonsager made the announcement on behalf of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack during a speech in Washington marking October as National Cooperative Month.

“President Obama and Secretary Vilsack have recognized the importance of America’s rural cooperatives during Cooperative Month. Rural cooperatives not only provide thousands of jobs, they invigorate local communities and businesses,” Tonsager said. “The grants I am announcing today will help these recipients continue their work. Their success underscores the importance of the cooperative system as a successful business model.”

The funding is being provided through USDA’s Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) program. Tonsager highlighted several cooperative projects and acknowledged the efforts of co-op officials from across the country. One of the cooperatives, Farm to Table, plans to use a $142,000 grant to improve economic conditions in rural New Mexico. It will collaborate with New Mexico’s oldest memberowned cooperative — La Montanita — on a best-practices curriculum for food system cooperative development, and on a new loan investment initiative for food systems businesses.

The Mississippi Association of Cooperatives will use its grant funds to provide small and minority farmers with development assistance. The Center focuses the vast majority of its efforts on the most distressed rural areas of the state. The group helps minority farmers establish financially sound businesses.

The California Center for Cooperative Development will receive a $225,000 grant to develop new cooperatives, promote communitysupported agriculture, strengthen the marketing of small farm production, and develop systems to link growers with regional consumers. The Center also plans to improve the economic condition of local farmers by helping them form cooperatives to enhance their marketplace position.

For a full list of the fund recipients, visit the newsroom at: www.rurdev.

DFA issues $26 million
in patronage

Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) has allocated $26.4 million in 2009 patronage earnings to its members, with $7.6 million distributed in cash and the balance allocated to members’ equity accounts. The amount of patronage a member receives each year is based on the amount of member milk marketed through the cooperative. This allocation equals 7 cents per hundredweight of milk marketed in 2009.

In keeping with DFA’s base capital plan, members who have achieved the established base capital level will receive 100 percent of their share of earnings in cash. Those who have not will receive a portion of their earnings in cash, with the balance added to their capital accounts.

In other DFA news, members, management and staff took a break from an annual training conference in September to help launch the development of two community gardens in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. The activity was coordinated and managed by HandsOn New Orleans through a partnership with NOLA Green Roots, a greenspace development organization.

“With the help of 250 volunteers, we were able to transform two lots into community gardens in the matter of a few hours,” said Kertrina Watson Lewis, executive director for HandsOn New Orleans. The community gardens will supply Ninth Ward residents with a variety of fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables, as well as serve as a positive social hub.

Vilsack announces renewable
energy initiatives

As part of the Obama Administration's effort to promote production of fuel from renewable sources, create jobs and mitigate the effects of climate change, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a series of measures in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. “Domestic production of renewable energy, including biofuels, is a national imperative and that’s why USDA is working to assist in developing a biofuels industry in every corner of the nation,” Vilsack said. “By producing more biofuels in America, we will create jobs, combat global warming, replace our dependence on foreign oil and build a stronger foundation for the 21st century economy.”

Vilsack announced several measures, including the publication of a final rule to implement the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). Under the BCAP final rule, USDA will resume making payments to eligible producers.

The program had operated as a pilot, pending publication of the final rule. Authorized in the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, BCAP is designed to ensure that a sufficiently large base of new, non-food, non-feed biomass crops is established in anticipation of future demand for renewable energy consumption. The BCAP final regulation reflects policies developed as a result of more than 24,000 comments received on previous Federal Register notices and a proposed rule, and knowledge gained by implementing a portion of the program in 2009.

BCAP uses a dual approach to support the production of renewable energy. First, BCAP provides assistance for the establishment and production of eligible renewable biomass crops within specified project areas. Producers who enter into BCAP contracts may receive payments of up to 75 percent of the cost of establishing eligible perennial crops. Further, they can receive payments for up to five years for annual or non-woody perennial crops and up to 15 years for woody perennial crops. USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) is accepting project area proposals and, after project area proposals have been approved, eligible producers may participate by enrolling at their FSA county office.

In addition, BCAP also assists agricultural and forest landowners and operators by providing matching payments for the transportation of certain eligible materials that are sold to qualified biomass conversion facilities. The facilities convert the materials into heat, power, biobased products or advanced biofuels.

The Secretary also announced jointly with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) a five-year agreement to develop aviation fuel from forest and crop residues and other “green” feedstocks in order to decrease dependence on foreign oil and stabilize aviation fuel costs.

Information about state contacts for USDA energy programs is available at: nergy_Resources.xlsx.

AMPI returning
$12.9 million to owners

The dairy farmer-owners of Associated Milk Producers Inc. (AMPI) will share $12.9 million this year as a result of the cooperative’s consistent earnings. The cash will be paid to individuals based on the amount of milk they marketed through AMPI. Members who are age 65 and retired from dairying can receive their cooperative equity through an accelerated, five-year distribution.

“Once again, AMPI is delivering on its mission of maximizing the return on milk marketed and equity invested for its dairy farmer-owners,” said AMPI President and CEO Ed Welch. “These payments are one more way AMPI’s farmer-owners should measure their dairy marketing cooperative’s performance.”

Revenue for NCB Co-op 100
tops $175 billion

The nation’s 100 largest cooperatives — including co-ops from all business sectors — had revenue of $175.6 billion for 2009, according to NCB (formerly National Cooperative Bank). The NCB Co-op 100 debuted in 1991, when the revenue for the top 100 co-ops was $81.4 billion.

“The dollar amount, even though slightly lower than last year, highlights the benefits of a cooperative’s adaptable structure, ultimately enabling these organizations to prosper and serve their members even in the most difficult of [economic] climates,” says Charles E. Snyder, president and CEO of NCB. “As a bank created and focused on providing financing to the cooperative community, we’re proud to have been instrumental in the expansion of these businesses over the past 30 years.”

The top two revenue producers (and their 2009 revenue) for each of the business sectors tracked by the NCB Co-op 100 were: Cooperatives and their members often fair better in challenging times than investor-owned firms, due to their adaptable structure and governing body, according to NCB. Since cooperatives are controlled by their members, the individuals who use and benefit from the goods and services provided, the cooperative can more readily readjust to market conditions than many of its investor-backed counterparts, it notes.

The entire NCB Co-op 100 report is available under the publications section at:

Prairie Farms launches
‘Farmer-Owned’ campaign

Prairie Farms, owned by a cooperative of more than 700 dairy farm families, has introduced the “Farmer Owned” campaign at a time when food miles — the distance between where a food originates and the consumer — are becoming increasingly relevant to consumers. “Reducing food miles benefits both the environment and local economies; consumer support for locally produced products has doubled in the past five years,” the co-op said in announcing the program.

In an effort to raise consumer awareness of the company’s local, farmer-owned heritage, Prairie Farms says it updated its logo and packaging to identify its products as coming from local, farmer-owned dairy producers. “The new direction emphasizes the values of our farm families and our commitment to being good citizens in the community,” says Ed Mullins, CEO of Prairie Farms Dairy. “The packaging artwork has a distinctive personality and will clearly stand out on retailers' shelves from competing national and private-label brands.”

The new logo maintains the traditional red lettering for the company name, and a gold "Farmer Owned" banner above the logo builds on brand strength. A farm scene reinforces the farmer-owned brand messaging.

Prairie Farms timed an integrated advertising campaign with the release of the updated packaging. The messaging includes a new tag line: “Farm fresh quality, from our family to yours,” as well as lifestyle imagery of farm families.

Prairie Farms has also introduced two new flavors of 16-ounce sour cream dips: Jalapeño Fiesta and Bacon Cheddar. The packaging for these products reflects the “Farmer-Owned” campaign.

NMPF animal care program
accepting farm signup

The National Dairy FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) program, created by the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), is now accepting enrollment in the Animal Care Program. This is a voluntary, nationwide program designed to bring consistency and uniformity to animal care through education, on-farm evaluations and objective third-party verification.

The second phase of the implementation process has now been launched, which includes the start of on-farm evaluations for participating producers. A participation fee is a shared responsibility for all participants of the National Dairy FARM Animal Care Program to fund the enrollment of on-farm data in a private database, as well as to pay for third-party verification of the program. While support for the development of educational training materials has been available from the national dairy checkoff, such funding sources cannot be drawn upon for third-party verification, according to NMPF.

“Producers can participate independently or through their cooperative or processor. Producers who are affiliated with a cooperative or proprietary processor should contact their representative to see if their milk marketing organization is participating in the program or to encourage them to join in,” said Betsy Flores, NMPF director of regulatory affairs. Participation information can be found at

Ocean Spray, Disney alliance
will promote Craisins

Ocean Spray has announced a partnership with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts that will bring the Ocean Spray cranberry to a number of retail points at Disney parks. Disney will now offer Craisins dried cranberries at various retail locations, including theme parks, cruise ships, meeting rooms and hotels. The product will also be used in new signature salads and cranberry muffins and sold at fruit cart stands and kiosks inside the theme parks.

The companies are also joining together to launch a special, co-branded version of Craisins packaging featuring Chip ‘n Dale, Disney’s cartoon chipmunks, that will be used on Ocean Spray products sold on Disney properties.

“Ocean Spray is proud to form one of the largest partnerships of its kind in our history, with such a world class organization as Disney, that shares our wholesome, good-for-you focus,” said Randy Papadellis, CEO of Ocean Spray. The company will build cranberry bog displays during Disney’s California Food & Wine Festival, held April 29 to June 12, 2011, and the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival in fall 2011. Third-, fourth- and fifthgeneration cranberry growers will travel with 2,000 pounds of fresh cranberries from rural areas around the country to share their passion and personal farming histories while recreating the wonders of the harvest for families visiting the parks.

Eastland now chair,
Allen new CEO at Staplcotn

After 24 years in the post, Woods E. Eastland has retired as president and CEO of Staple Cotton Cooperative Association (Staplcotn) and Staple Cotton Discount Corporation (Stapldiscount). He will, however, remain in the co-op’s leadership, assuming the board chairmanship, the same position he had held before being named CEO.

Eastland succeeds Chairman Ben Lamensdorf, who had held the post since 2003. The board has selected Meredith Allen as the new president and CEO. Allen had been serving as executive vice president of Staplcotn and Stapldiscount. Allen joined Staplcotn in 1985 as the head of the domestic sales department., where he was responsible for directing all marketing activities in domestic and foreign markets, as well as developing new markets.

Founded in 1921, Staplcotn, in Greenwood, Miss., is the oldest cotton marketing cooperative in the United States. It currently has more than 13,000 farm accounts in an 11-state area in the mid-South and Southeast, as well as a warehousing operation with 14 locations in four states.

2011 Co-op Hall of Fame
inductees named

Five outstanding cooperative leaders are being inducted into the Cooperative Hall of Fame. The 2011 inductees include: agri-business leader Noel Estenson; international cooperative developers Gloria and Stanley Kuehn; former congressman and credit union leader Daniel A. Mica; and civil rights leader and cooperative developer Shirley Sherrod.

These cooperative leaders will be recognized at the annual Cooperative Hall of Fame dinner and induction ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., May 4. In addition to the event, a public forum will be held in conjunction with the dinner on the afternoon of May 4, also at the National Press Club. The forum will feature current and future Hall of Fame inductees in moderated panel discussions about the role of cooperatives in the U.S. and world economies.

“The roster of the Cooperative Hall of Fame tells the story of the U.S. cooperative community through the lives and accomplishments of extraordinary individuals. Induction to the Hall of Fame is reserved for those who have made genuinely heroic contributions to the cooperative community,” says Gasper Kovach, Jr., board chair of the Cooperative Development Foundation (CDF), which administers the Hall of Fame. Kovach pointed out that only 147 individuals have been inducted since the Hall of Fame was established in 1974.

Those selected for induction in 2011 include: The Cooperative Hall of Fame gallery is on display in NCBA’s offices in Washington, D.C.; it also can be visited on the Web at: For dinner attendance or sponsorship information, contact CDF at (703) 302-8097 or

Audrey Malan
among ACE honorees

Audrey Malan — a cooperative developer with more than 20 years experience working with start-up and established producer, consumer and worker cooperatives and related organizations — is the 2010 recipient of the Association of Cooperative Educators (ACE) Outstanding Contribution to Cooperative Education and Training Award. She received the honor during the ACE 2010 Institute in Cleveland, Ohio.

Malan served as executive director of CooperationWorks!, a national organization of cooperative development centers and practitioners, from the early 2000s to late 2007. She remains involved with co-ops as a developer, trainer and consultant based in Dayton, Wyo.

She was instrumental in the development of “The Art & Science of Developing a New Cooperative Business” program for co-op developers in Canada and the United States. She continues as the program marketer and as an instructor. She is also co-author of two publications that have contributed to successful co-op development and education: “Steps to Starting a Marketing Cooperative” and “Steps to Starting a Worker Cooperative.” Both were published by the University of California Center for Cooperatives.

“Audrey is dedicated to social change through the cooperative model,” says ACE Executive Director Bill Patrie. He also commended her for leadership in communicating to varied audiences, including government officials, about the impact of cooperatives in rural America.

Other ACE award winners included:
— The Ohio Employee Ownership Center (OEOC), received the ACE Contribution Award to recognize its work in organizing tours and speakers for the ACE Institute, and for sharing its experience creating the groundbreaking Evergreen Cooperative business model for worker-owner co-ops.
— Jen Heneberry of the Ontario Cooperative Association, a co-op development manager who has used many media to reach different target audiences, earned the William Hlushko Award for Young Cooperative Educators.
— Bob Cohen, CEO of the Braintree Business Development Center — a nonprofit serving business start-ups and emerging companies in North Central Ohio — as well as program coordinator of the new Cooperative Development Center at Kent State University, received the Reginald J. Cressman ACE Award for his work to educate employees and help to create new worker-owner cooperatives.
More information on the 2010 ACE Institute (in English, French and Spanish) is posted on: ACE links educators, researchers, cooperative members and cooperative developers across cooperative sectors and national borders to enhance cooperative development, strengthen cooperatives, promote professionalism and improve public understanding.

Nebraska’s Open Harvest co-op
celebrates 35 years

Claude and Prudence Coccodrilli remember packaging cheese, nut butters, and dried fruit in the tiny basement of the original Open Harvest in Lincoln, Neb. “We affectionately referred to it as ‘the hole,’” Claude recalls, with a laugh. The couple has been members of the co-op since they moved to Lincoln from Philadelphia in 1980.

Back then, the natural foods grocery occupied a 500-square-foot space at 27th and Randolph Streets. Rent was $50 a month. The place ran on nearly 50 hours of volunteer work a day. “It was a labor of love,” says Claude.

This summer, Open Harvest celebrated 35 years of business. A veteran of the co-op movement that sprouted in the 1960s, it is one of the oldest natural foods co-ops in the country. Everyone is welcome to shop at Open Harvest, which boasts 3,300 members, employs 70 people, and carries the products of 80 local farmers and suppliers. The co-op generates $4 million in annual sales. During the past 35 years, more than 10,000 people have been co-op members. The grocery carries one of the largest selections of natural and organic food, produce, meats and supplements in Lincoln.

The store expanded to nearly 10,000 square feet at its South Street Plaza location in 2009. This “green” renovation project used local firms to do the work. Nearly 90 members loaned more than $200,000 to supplement the Union Bank loan that financed the expansion.

Open Harvest kicked off anniversary festivities July 13 with a store-wide Local Foods Sale. Local farmers and vendors showcased their goods and did in-store demos later in the month. Shoppers could register to win a free bag of groceries and other prizes. Nostalgia buffs watched a continuous PowerPoint slideshow of the early days at the Randolph Street store, the 1990 grand opening at South Street and the Grand Expansion Opening last October. Open Harvest got its start in 1971 in a garage when a dozen or so households started a buying club to purchase bulk from page 2 and natural foods. They called their venture “People’s Food Co-op.” (“Starseed Food Conspiracy” was also considered as a name.) Three years later, the name was changed to “Our Store” and the location moved to the basement of Trinity Methodist Church. The co-op then had about 250 members.

In 1975, the co-op was renamed Open Harvest and moved to 27th & Randolph. KZUM Community Radio began broadcasting from the basement in 1978. Co-op membership grew by the hundreds. By the late 1980s the store was bursting at the seams.

In 1990, Open Harvest moved to its current location at 1618 South Street, with 5,000 square feet of space (the rent was $4,000 per month). Staff and members hauled everything over in their pickups and cars.

But Open Harvest has been much more than a grocery store to the Coccodrillis. “It’s not only our lifeline for food and nutrition and vitamins and supplements, but we’ve met people through Open Harvest who have become lifelong friends,” says Claude. “For us, it’s been a lifetime experience. We couldn’t pigeonhole our Open Harvest experience because it’s had a ripple effect in so many aspects of our lives.”

The co-op board and staff are working on a 25-year strategic plan, and a new crop of young, energetic managers are up and coming. General Manager Jim Nelson, who steered the co-op through its expansion process, is retiring at year’s end. Merchandising Manager Kelsi Swanson, 28, who has been with the co-op for close to four years, will step up as new general manager. Swanson’s parents are longtime co-op members. In fact, Kelsi’s mother, Terri Swanson, remembers stopping by the co-op when she was pregnant with Kelsi and new to town. She quickly befriended Margot, who was cashiering at the time, and became a member and volunteer at the co-op. Kelsi says that it is now a family joke that she worked at the co-op before she was even born.

“I like the fact that over the years we’ve been able to accomplish what none of us could have done alone,” Conrad reflects. “It’s definitely been a group effort. A labor of love.”

November/December Table of Contents