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USDA official visits local producer-owned co-op

DENVER—The recent visit by Tom Dorr, Senior Advisor to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Veneman, to the Mountain View Harvest (MVH) Cooperative in Longmont, Colo., is a testimony to the success of this and other recent cooperatives, according to the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) Cooperative Development Center.

“I think Mr. Dorr was impressed with what he saw while visiting our bakery,” said Jan Kochis, RMFU board chair and a member of the MVH board. “We agree with his view that it is important for USDA Rural Development personnel to see how public funding through their agency is being spent. In the case of MVH, we believe the cooperative has been a good investment for wheat producers, while adding factory, marketing and other jobs at the bakery.”

Gerard’s Bakery was purchased by the newly-formed MVH Cooperative in 1997, as a way for Colorado producers to add value to their wheat by marketing a finished product rather than a bulk commodity. MVH has expanded and grown, becoming a major supplier of bread to upper end fast food chains. Seed money for the cooperative was acquired through a USDA Rural Development grant, administered by RMFU’s Cooperative Development Center.

“This venture has been successful for a number of reasons, including the fact that we purchased an existing facility, rather than trying to build a business from the ground up,” Kochis said. “Due to the fast rate of expansion and upgrading at our Longmont factory, as well as the purchase of a facility in California to serve our West Coast customers, we had been unable until 2003 to pay member owners a dividend. I know there will be other bumps along the way, but MVH is positioning itself for a profitable future.”

According to RMFU Cooperative Development Center Director Bob Mailander, the MVH Cooperative is a good example of what producers can do when they have a good idea, adequate funding and the willingness to work hard together.

“Innovative marketing, niche marketing, and direct sales to the consumer are vital to producers wishing to receive prices above the raw commodity levels, but it is risky and takes a lot of work to market products like this,” Mailander said.

The center provides technical information, strategic thinking, marketing know-how and funding to groups of producers with viable ideas for cooperatives. RMFU over the past decade has partnered with USDA, receiving nearly $300,000 annually in grants to assist producers.