Producer and Marketing Cooperatives

A marketing cooperative, sometimes known as a producer cooperative, allows its members, who produce the same or similar products, to cooperatively market and sell the products.  Producer/marketing cooperatives are most commonly found in the agriculture industry; 30 percent of total agricultural production is marketed by co-ops.  (See Marjorie Kelly and Shanna Ratner, “Keeping Wealth Local: Shared Ownership and Wealth Control For Rural Communities: A report for the Wealth Creation in Rural America project of the Ford Foundation.”)

Organic Valley in Wisconsin is a $528 million company owned by the 1,300 organic family farms that produce its milk, cheese, and meat.  The company’s mission is to save the family farm, which means paying as much as possible to farmers.  “We don’t have any need for profits much over 2 percent,” said CEO George Siemon.  “We’d just pay taxes on it.  We’d rather give it to the farmers.”  Even though it is a national brand, the company organizes producers into regional pools, which limits the need to truck products over long distances.  A customer buying milk in Boston is buying New England milk.  The company capitalizes itself, in part, by selling preferred shares directly to the public, paying a six percent return to the investors annually.

In Minnesota, farmers and community members came together to become energy producers by installing wind turbines on their land through the cooperatively owned MinWind.  Out of state developers had been flocking to Minnesota to lease farmland for wind farms.  The profits generated quickly left the state and landed in shareholders’ pockets.  MinWind allowed the community to keep wealth local.  Owners of the wind turbines include two grocers and a newspaper editor, as well as farmers in the area. (See also “MinWind: Farmer-Owned,” by Paul Gipe.)

Sample Documents and Policies

Employee Handbooks

Farmers Cooperative Company employee handbook (Iowa)

Belle Mead Co-op employee handbook (New Jersey)

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