[Market-farming] Growers Associations (Coop.)

Gary Scott twinspringsfarmva at gmail.com
Thu Mar 10 07:30:38 EST 2011

This is a very timely topic. I am one of six farms that has formed a coop.
called Firsthand Farmers Cooperative. Other producers were invited to be a
part of the effort, however, the founding partners wanted to limit the
number of farms so we could manage the development stage. We have read allot
about other cooperatives, as well as non-profits that are local distribution
hubs. There are successful farmer owned and run operations around the
country such as the Good Natured Family Farms in Kansas. The President,
Diana Endicott, spoke at the recent VABF Conference, her recommendation was
to start out as a cooperative.

I think this discussion has hit on an important issue, and that is that many
non-profits that were formed to "help the farmer" are run by NON farmers,
and are focused on grants and fund raising. They have a great feel good
story, and get much press. They ultimately have to broaden their
distribution to support the organization they have built. The staff get's
bigger and so does the payroll! Ultimately they begin to squeeze the margin
as they broaden the box store customer base.

There are all these non-profits out there involved in studies on developing
the "local food system" everyone wants to help the farmer distribute, or get
grants to "train the farmer". The problem for the producer is the same,
unless you sell DIRECT through CSA, farm markets, or direct wholesale the
margin get's squeezed!

Firsthand Farmers Cooperative was formed as a cooperative CSA, we have put
our own money in to fund it, and have no interest in government or
non-profit grants. We have rented a small building in Charlottesville, VA
and will distribute to CSA members at that location on Monday, Tuesday, and
Thursday. Our goal is to build the CSA model, keep our capitalization low,
and grow form there. We have four produce and berry farmers, one milk and
cheese producer, mushroom producer, egg producer. We will sell other farms
products at retail prices and taking a percentage. Each CSA member is paying
an upfront administrative fee to help with the costs. One of the farmers is
the manager, and her pay will come directly from CSA fees, shares and other
product sales.

It has not been without challenges. We hired an attorney and signed an
Agreement to Incorporate. We have also come up with an 2011 Operations
Agreement that was flushed out during several meetings. One of the
producers' father is a dean at a university, we used him as a facilitator
during one of our last meetings. We have also started using a conference
bridge for phone meetings, which are recorded. We are trying to minimize
travel time and travel costs as oil prices rise.

Pick the right partners, agree to a model, go slowly and hire an attorney
and a CPA. If it was easy everyone would be doing it!

Gary Scott
Gary Scott
Twin Springs Farm
Shipman, VA
twinspringsfarmva at gmail.com
<twinspringsfarmva at gmail.com>434-962-9475

Live like you will die tomorrow… farm like you will live forever !
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