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Producers, consumers urged to “Think Co-ops”

DENVER, COLO—From suppliers of electricity to credit unions to consumer advocacy groups to suppliers of high-quality foods, cooperatives are an integral part of U.S. society. Rocky Mountain Farmers Union’s (RMFU) Cooperative Development Center in celebration of October as Co-op Month, wants producers and consumers to “think cooperatives” as they ponder how they want to do business in the future.

“Enron and other such corporate scandals have been a wake-up call for Americans,” said Robert Mailander, director of the RMFU Cooperative Development Center. “While corporate miscarriages of justice, such as those that have hit the news media in recent years, need to be addressed legislatively, we also need to consider business structures that are good alternatives to corporations.”

Mailander is not alone in his thinking. In the United States, cooperatives continue to thrive. Nearly half of all Americans belong to at least one cooperative. When it comes to trustworthiness, more than 75 percent of consumers interviewed in a recent National Cooperative Business Association survey agreed that co-ops operate their business in a “trustworthy” manner, as compared with just 53 percent who said the same about investor-owned companies. More than two-thirds felt co-ops are ethically governed, while just 45 percent said the same of investor-owned corporations.

The RMFU Cooperative Development Center provides know-how and other resources to producer groups throughout the Rocky Mountain Region who wish to explore the formation of producer-owned cooperatives. Examples of groups that have formed cooperatives or which are exploring the idea include a sewing cooperative comprised of indigenous members in Utah, a specialty supermarket offering direct-from-the-farm products, an organic meat and vegetable cooperative that delivers product direct to Denver Metro consumers, and formation of the American Grassfed Association last month.

“The Rocky Mountain Farmers Union Cooperative Development Center has provided invaluable information, staff support and some funding to help producers of grassfed products throughout the country launch an association that will educate consumers and promote grassfed products, as well as to serve as a certifying authority for consumers,” said Marlene Groves, a Kiowa, Colo., bison producer and president of the newly-formed American Grassfed Association.

A large part of the funding for these and other cooperative products comes from U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Cooperative Development grants administered by RMFU.

“With 73 percent of consumers saying they are more likely to buy food from a cooperative than from a supermarket, I believe that producers of high-quality and specialty products, such as organic or grassfed foods, have a wonderful opportunity to develop a niche market,” Mailander said. “We are glad to work with producer groups who have already determined that they want to make a better life for themselves by providing these in-demand products to consumers.”

For more information on the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union Cooperative Development Center contact Mailander at 303-752-5800 or center.director@co-ops.org