NCBA CLUSA is dedicated to the continued growth and strengthening of cooperative businesses across the United States. Cooperatives at all levels provide a much needed and sought after alternative to other business models. Throughout the United States, NCBA CLUSA is working with local cooperatives to embed them as permanent fixtures in their local economy. Through the implementation of cooperative development grants, NCBA CLUSA is providing support and training to coops across all cooperative sectors, through case studies and economic impact research. Using that research and the power of the collective cooperative voice, NCBA CLUSA advocates on Capitol Hill on behalf of coops, fighting to maintain or increase government funding for cooperative programs and securing access to legislature that protects the cooperative business model.

Our domestic development work is grounded in our three-part mission:

• to raise the profile of cooperatives
• to promote and protect the cooperative business enterprise model
• to drive cross-sector collaboration among cooperatives in keeping with Principle 6 of the Cooperative Principles

We believe in collaboration, and in bringing value to the many efforts already underway through our cooperative development partners and intermediaries that are doing the necessary ‘boots on the ground’ cooperative development work.

In our role as facilitator, convener, and financing partner, we assist our partners in their work with strengthening the structure, reach and financial sustainability of existing cooperatives, and as well as their efforts to establish new cooperatives. In particular we are collaborating with Cooperation Works! and Cooperative Development Centers across the country to develop more diverse – and sustainable – funding for their important work.

We are responding to local and regional nationwide that are interested in establishing Cooperative Business Associations, with the intent of creating local cooperative ‘chambers of commerce’ to drive the financial success of cooperatives in these associations, raise the profile of cooperatives in their communities, and foster cross-collaboration among cooperatives.

Using the power of cooperative development work and our collective cooperative voice, NCBA CLUSA advocates on Capitol Hill on behalf of cooperatives, fighting to maintain or increase government funding for cooperative programs and securing access to legislation that protects the cooperative business enterprise model.

Throughout the United States, NCBA CLUSA is working with cooperatives and cooperative development organizations to embed cooperatives in their local and regional economies. With our partners NCBA CLUSA supports cooperative development, funds cooperative education, and promotes the need for research to continually strengthen the case for cooperatives in our economy.


Organic Valley's new "Generation Organic" program nurtures new family farmers

Generation-Organic-for-Young-Farmers-Organic-Valley 661f9Generation-Organic-for-Young-Farmers-Organic-Valley 661f9A new kind of farm crisis is looming. As farmers retire, there's a significant and growing chance that their land will not remain in the family—or even in farm production—for the next generation. NCBA CLUSA member Organic Valley is working with farmers to keep agriculture accessible to people who want to stay on the family farm and to attract more people onto land to begin farming., the consumer-facing website of National Co+op Grocers, published this story

Generation Organic—“Gen-O”—is Organic Valley’s program to nurture farmers under the age of 35, providing education and giving them tools to support their operations.

The parents of these young farmers lived through the farm mortgage crisis of the 1980s and a bottoming out of commodity markets. In 1988, one group of farmers in southwestern Wisconsin organized the Coulee Region Organic Produce Pool (CROPP)—the producer cooperative behind the Organic Valley name—in order to survive.

Organic Valley started for one reason: to save family farms. Now with more than 1,800 members from coast to coast, Organic Valley is the largest organic farmer-owned cooperative in North America. Farmers have an integral role in how the co-op is run; they serve on its board of directors and executive committees, determine fair and stable milk prices that cover their production costs, and give voice to issues and challenges facing farmers around the country. As demand increases for organic products, the cooperative is helping farmers to not simply survive, but to thrive.

“It’s a huge change from the 1980s, when farm parents were telling their kids to get off the farm and go elsewhere if they wanted to have a successful career,” explains Kristina Ralph, the Gen-O program coordinator at Organic Valley and one of its member farmers. “Now parents connected to Organic Valley are saying, ‘Farming is a viable option.’ It’s a huge change in agriculture.”

Young Organic Valley farmers and the children of farmers first came together in 2006 to network, share ideas and have conversations about the future of the CROPP co-op. By 2013, Gen-O had developed into a more formal group guided by a nine-member executive committee of farmers and a mission statement.

“Our mission is to build and inspire a community of engaged young farmers, safeguarding and shaping the future of CROPP Cooperative through education, support and leadership,” Kristina says. “Gen-O farmers support each other. We are learning to become leaders on our farms and within the co-op itself.

“The core of Gen-O is focused on future farmers and succession planning,” Kristina says. She explains that, among farms that have been operated by the same family for two or more generations, an estimated 70 percent will not pass on to a successor and will instead be sold.

To counteract that trend, Gen-O is embracing one of the seven cooperative principles: education, training and information for members. Leadership development, succession planning, ensuring a livelihood for young farmers, and ensuring that organic farming is sustainable are key topics. Gen-O is helping farmers develop new skills and giving them the tools to engage in their community as advocates for organics and farming. It’s also providing advocacy training on the best ways to approach elected officials on farming issues and agricultural policy.

The future viability of farming is intrinsic to Generation Organic, Organic Valley and the farmer-owners who are caring for the land and animals that provide their livelihood and nutritious, wholesome foods for consumers. “What excites me about Gen-O and young farmers is a general sense of reinvigoration of young people who want to farm,” Kristina says. “Not just at Organic Valley. Small organic farms across the nation are changing our agricultural landscape into more of a community, which is what family farming is all about.”

Delta Regional Market Cooperative grand opening revitalizes Mississippi Delta community

Marks delta SS mural 8c3b5Marks delta SS mural 8c3b5The 12 panel mural outside the market warehouse was revealed on opening weekend.

(October 14, 2015)

After more than a year of planning, the first annual Mules and Blues Festival kicked off the celebration of the grand opening of the Delta Regional Mule Train Cooperative Market in the small Delta town of Marks, Mississippi. The cooperative market, bringing in artisans, farmer co-ops and local entrepreneurs to a large warehouse, will provide access to fresh, nutritious, locally-sourced food to an area that officials have described as a “food desert.”

The town of Marks, which is most famously known for being the beginning of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign “Mule Train” to Washington, DC in 1968, saw hundreds of visitors on hand for the weekend celebration. Festivities were marked by a ceremony unveiling the twentieth marker of the Mississippi Freedom Trail, the commemoration of the Mule Train Museum, and the unveiling of a 12-panel, 96-foot long historical mural depicting various stages of the journey from Marks, MS to Washington, DC. Local officials, including the mayor of the city of Marks and Mississippi State Senator Robert Jackson were in attendance for the opening ceremonies.

Many of the residents on hand at the celebration were a part of the original Mule Train, some walking all the way to Washington, DC from Northern Mississippi.

With support from NCBA CLUSA, the Shreveport Federal Credit Union (SFCU) along with regional partners such as the USDA Development Authority, Federation of Southern Cooperatives, and the Quitman County Board of Supervisors established the Delta Regional Mule Train Market as a point of revitalization for this town of just over 1,600 residents. Seven years ago SFCU opened a branch in Marks, Mississippi to expand their services to the broader community in the Mississippi Delta region. The credit union’s leadership embraced their unique position as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) and began building alliances with other cooperative organizations with a focus on using their collective resources to address the many needs and opportunities of the region.

Led by Mrs. Helen Godfrey-Smith, CEO of SFCU and Dr. Birdex Copland, SFCU’s Chairman of the Board, the idea for the market came about through multiple meetings with community members, mayors of several towns, and farmers in which they addressed the challenges which have caused this region to be so economically deprived. It was decided that the establishment of the Delta Regional Mule Train Cooperative Market provided a means to overcome these challenges by offering the venue for farmers, artisans, and others to bring items to market inexpensively, allowing them to realize the financial benefits resulting from their labors and creativity. The Market Co-op is a food hub for the entire community providing reasonably priced, fresh, locally-grown foods; creating jobs for some and for others an entertainment and a gathering place.

In addition to being a food hub for the community, the market also features a Kidzone and a small food court.

This revitalization has also sparked a collaboration between the town of Marks and AmTrak, who has begun the work of establishing a train station in the heart of Marks, connecting the small town with large cities like New Orleans, LA and Memphis, TN opening the door for much needed tourism and commerce.

After the co-op market opening, the Mules and Blues Festival continued in a local park, with plenty of barbecue and local blues musicians performing, including local native Stephen Pride, brother of country music star Charley Pride.

Residents of Marks are excited to support the cooperative market as a showcase for the communities’ cultural roots and a commemoration of its place in the Civil Rights movement and American history.



Leveraging co-op buying power in employee benefit plans

iStock employee-benefits-500 225f2iStock employee-benefits-500 225f2Purchasing co-ops have it figured out: take a bunch of independent businesses, aggregate their purchasing power together and negotiate better deals with suppliers. This seemingly simple business model has proven extremely powerful and durable in the modern business landscape. Yet, for all of the ingenuity behind purchasing co-ops, most have yet to realize the full scope of their purchasing power.

It is true that the aggregate dollars of each co-op’s members drive down the cost of goods—but this same buying power can drive down the cost of other services. Some co-ops have begun to move in the direction of creating these back-office efficiencies through access to business partner programs. Services such as inventory management and credit card processing are now key tools in the co-op’s toolbox, but there are other programs that deserve attention. Most co-ops have yet to explore the area of financial services and group benefit plans that can be aggregated under the co-op banner. Key employee benefits such as retirement planning and health insurance are ripe for a co-op revolution.

One thing is certain: if you want to attract and retain high-quality employees, it is imperative you offer a high-quality benefits package. A 2013 survey indicated that 60 percent of respondents who planned to work for their companies until retirement identified their retirement plans as a key factor in deciding to stay. Health care was even more important. Co-ops are great at leveraging goodwill and personal values to attract the right kind of talent, but for small and medium-sized co-ops, the costs of offering a benefits package are often prohibitive. It doesn’t have to be this way. By applying and leveraging buying power to services, co-ops can design benefits packages that compete with what the big-boxes can offer.

Co-ops can also increase their member retention through the use of these programs. By integrating more functions of modern businesses, the co-op becomes the most crucial business relationship the individual members have. A symbiotic relationship is born, where co-op and member alike rely on each other for survival. Pure purchasing co-ops are at risk of industry competitors forming similar buying groups and poaching co-op members. By creating a sticky relationship, where the benefits are more than simply negotiating a better price on goods, co-ops can help protect against this type of competition. Due to laws and regulations, retirement and group benefit plans are typically off-limits to small and medium sized companies that join pure industry buying groups, whereas co-ops are a natural fit for such programs.

Members can be hesitant to join co-op programs that integrate back-office functions, but in most cases the benefits truly do outweigh the costs. Co-ops should be careful in designing programs that appeal to their membership and should solicit constant feedback from their members. A baseline employee census can help the co-op design programs that work from the outset, yet many members are cautious in supplying that data. Mature co-ops tend to have the best results, but all co-ops and their members stand to gain a competitive advantage by applying purchasing power to business services.

—NCBA CLUSA Gold Level Associate Member and Business Sponsor The Capital Group is a retirement and insurance solutions provider that works with co-ops and national trade organizations to design and implement unique benefits programs that drive value and help create long-lasting relationships between national sponsors and their members. This thought leadership piece was written by Andrew Thompson, Vice President of Qualified Plan Services for The Capital Group, and Andrew Seaborg, a Partner with The Capital Group. The Capital Group is a Silver Level sponsor of NCBA CLUSA's 2015 National Purchasing Cooperatives Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, next week. 

Disclosures: Andrew Thompson and Andrew Seaborg are registered representatives of Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp. Securities and investment advisory services offered through Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp., a broker/dealer (member SIPC) and registered investment advisor. Insurance offered through Lincoln affiliates and other fine companies. CRN-1307474-092215


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