Ag co–op idea gaining momentum
Local farmers want local market for home–grown product
By Jessica Blomquist
School may be out for the summer, but for the group of farmers who met last Thursday for the second meeting concerning a potential cooperative in Morgan County, there was a lot of learning to be done.
“I’m going to do Co-ops 101 tonight,” said Dr. Tommie Shepherd, an agribusiness economist with the University of Georgia’s Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development who attended the meeting to deliver a PowerPoint presentation on cooperatives.
Shepherd attended the first meeting regarding the possibility of forming a cooperative and agreed to help with the process as long as there continues to be an interest. “What I’ll do as we sort-of wade through this is lay out the options and then it will be up to the co-op members to decide which of these is really going to work for us,” Shepherd said at the meeting.
Shepherd began the meeting by defining the term cooperative.
“A cooperative is a business like any other,” Shepherd said. “And it is intended to make money like a business, a corporation or a partnership. It is user owned. So if this group does the research and they decide to form a co-op, each of the members will be the owner of that business and they will control that business. They will also be the ones who benefit from it in the end.”
With attendees representing the multiple commodities of sheep, goats, beef, blueberries, dairy and more, there was discussion of the co-op including all interested farmers in Morgan County regardless of the specific products they sell.
“Generally, I would say most co-ops are product specific,” said Shepherd. “Though I am aware of some that do reach across groups of commodities.”
Shepherd also shared a list of steps the group could expect to take while creating a co-op.
“It’s an ongoing process that takes from months to sometimes years to really fully develop,” Shepherd said.
The list, called the “Roadmap to a Co-op,” included 10 steps starting with recognition of a need. For Morgan County, this need may include the desire to preserve the agricultural nature of Morgan County by allowing farmers enough income to keep them in business.
“This could help keep farmers here, farming on the land, not selling it to build subdivisions,” said Allison Moon, senior planner of Morgan County Planning and Development.
Following the recognition of a need, the rest of the steps to form a cooperative would include: exploratory meetings, member surveys, feasibility studies, creation of a business plan, financing, recruiting members, hiring management, acquiring capital and facilities, and the start of operations.
“This would be the cycle you would expect to go through with a few twists and turns here and there in order to really build a co-op and get it off the ground,” Shepherd said of the list. The group also discussed looking at the Organic Valley cooperative as a possible template for designing the Morgan County cooperative, though Morgan County would focus more on locally grown than organic.
“Ya’ll are interested in local foods and that really is a really hot area right now,” Shepherd said. “We talked about the need to develop some kind of locally recognized brand that would pick up on and play off of the rural character of Morgan County.”
Organic Valley is a cooperative founded by farmers that consists of 1,266 farm families across the United States. According to Organic Valley’s website, its “cooperative was founded to nurture local communities by keeping farmers on the land, farming.”
The next step in the process for the agricultural cooperative will be a third meeting with Shepherd for those who are committed to starting the process of creating a Morgan County cooperative. To form a cooperative in Georgia, at least five producers must be involved in the co-op.
The meeting will take place on July 31 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the conference room of the Planning and Development office in the Administration Building on East Washington Street.
“If you come to that, you’re part of the steering committee,” said Moon.