Branding Morgan County
‘Morgan–Made’ wave of local ag marketing effort?
Story by Tara Derock Mahoney • photo by Angelina Bellebuono
Local farmers and landowners have been meeting with county planning and zoning officials in recent weeks to discuss the future of agricultural land in Morgan County. And out of these discussions has come the idea for a local farmers’ cooperative.
“It’s a really timely suggestion,” said Senior Planner Allison Moon. “Food prices are rising, gas prices are rising…lots of corn is being taken out of the food chain for use in bio-diesel fuels. There could be a real, regional market for locally-produced goods.”
In fact, said Jennifer Dean, Morgan County resident and owner of “Hunkerdowns” produce stand in downtown Madison, her customers say local is all-important.
“Organic is good, but local is better,” said Dean at last week’s meeting of the county-sponsored Agricultural Land-Use Discussion Group.
“It’s about bringing the retail dollar to the farmer,” said Russell Johnston of Johnston’s Dairy Farm. “I just think we’re sitting on a gold mine.”
Cooperatives—or co-ops, as they are often called—can take many forms, said Moon, but basically a Morgan County co-op would be a coalition of local producers who work to promote common goals, such as the development of a “Morgan-Made” brand. The co-op could include dairy and crop farmers as well as cattle and possibly poultry producers; a co-op might sell to customers such as individuals, restaurants, grocery stores and the like who pay to support the co-op and its production values on an annual basis.
Moon said the potential co-op will continue to be one topic of discussion at the final three Agricultural Land-Use meetings, currently scheduled for 6 p.m. on April 17, May 1, and May 15 in the Planning & Zoning Conference room at the old Creamery (at the corner of West Washington and Hancock Streets in downtown Madison).
If it is the will of the community, plans for a co-op could begin moving forward this summer.
“We’ve not yet had any discussions with the Department of Agriculture about what might be required by a co-op, and that’s probably going to be an important discussion,” said Moon. “There are probably some regulatory hoops to jump through.”
Still, said Moon, county officials are likely to support any reasonable ideas aimed at keeping farmers in farming.
“We’re committed to helping the agricultural community stay agricultural,” said Moon. “If there’s a will on the part of the community, there’s probably a way to make it happen.”
For more information about the Agricultural Land-Use meetings or proposed co-op, contact Senior Planner Allison Moon at 706.342.4373.