The Cooperative Way Works

Every October, we celebrate Cooperative Month, and I know I’m late to the party. Snow is on the ground and it’s almost November. But I guess I want to say that a lot of us celebrate cooperatives every day—or should.

I’m not going to pretend to be impartial here, because for the past 14-plus years, ag cooperatives have enabled me to bring home a paycheck. And I don’t even work for a cooperative—I work for a marketing communication company with many outstanding cooperative clients. That’s a good illustration of just how far the positive ripples generated by the cooperative system extend across the American economic pond.

It’s no secret our economy is struggling, and agriculture continues to be a bright spot in that fight. Cooperatives are essential players in the transfer of ag industry good fortune into small-town success. A recent USDA report notes that farmer, rancher, and fishery cooperatives posted record sales and income in 2011, surpassing the previous record sales year of 2008 by $10 billion. The 2,285 surveyed cooperatives had sales of $213 billion.

That’s great for the cooperatives, but even better for the communities they serve, because the cooperative system returns a large measure of their profits back to their owners. Those owners live in rural communities, and patronize the cafes, stores, and other small businesses. Add to that impact the fact that in many small towns, the coop is one of the primary employers, a lead contributor to community organizations, and often one of the primary sources of volunteers.

At a time when corporations continue to make headlines for the wrong reasons, the cooperative way of doing business looks more attractive than ever. This unique business model puts ownership in the hands of the customers and enables them to contribute to, and share in, the success of the organization.

That truly is something to celebrate.