Cooperative Farming Resources

Cooperative Farming Resources


About Co-ops, Cooperative Development Institute, 2015

This resource is both a general overview and definition of what “co-op” means (and what the various types of co-ops are), and also an entry portal to the extensive resources of the Cooperative Development Institute. CDI is the recognized regional cooperative development center covering New England and New York, and is a frequent contractor with the USDA Rural Development’s Rural Business Cooperative Service division.  In all cases, CDI can offer excellent online resources to those interested in learning about cooperatives, and, for eligible groups and individuals, CDI can also offer customized technical assistance.


About Co-ops, National Council of Farming Cooperatives, 2015

This resource is another definition, in this case looking more closely at farming cooperatives.  Consistent with typical industry history in the US, this sector-specific overview focuses on cooperatives that have been formed between farm enterprises, rather than farms that have been formed as cooperatives.  While the later (farms formed as cooperatives) exist in the US, they are far less typical than they are in other nations.  The National Council of Farming Cooperatives is a source for resources and peer support and represents a united policy voice for agricultural cooperative enterprises.   


Considering Cooperation: A Guide to New Cooperative Development, Brian Henehan, 2001

This resource is a complete handbook for starting a cooperative. Written by the Cornell University Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management Cooperative Development expert of the time, it is still the primary resource offered by the Cooperative Extension Cooperative Enterprise Program at Cornell. The link also is a conduit to other appropriate resources for starting a co-op, as well as a connection to staff of the program. Their introduction sums up what they can help NY residents interested in starting a co-op to sort through:

“Starting a cooperative or other group action-based association requires people with an interest to solve a common economic problem or to secure a service that is not otherwise available. Early organizers are necessary as ‘cheerleaders’ to build interest for the organization. They promote the new organization to other like-minded people. They work to raise the necessary funds to start the association or cooperative. As the process to form the new organization moves forward, it is important to consult legal advisors to develop the necessary legal documents, conduct a feasibility analysis, develop a business plan, and create a record keeping system. These are useful tools to make good management decisions and to be in compliance with Internal Revenue Service requirements.”


Cooperative Benefits and Limitations, USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Rural Development-Cooperative Service

Prepared by the USDA Rural Development Cooperative Service, this resource provides a succinct and comprehensive inventory of the benefits that traditional US agricultural cooperatives (those that are made up of groups of independent farm businesses) offer, and the ways in which cooperative organizations limit the actions of their members, as well. It contains good arguments for the cooperative form of organization—not only for the benefits to the members, but also how the formation of cooperatives can have positive economic development effects in the wider communities in which the co-ops are located.


Cooperative Farming: Frameworks for Farming Together, Faith Gilbert, with Kathy Ruhf and Lynda Brushett,

This guidebook was created under the auspices of the Greenhorns (a national young farmers organization) to specifically address the “new wave” of agricultural cooperatives coming into focus in the twenty-first century in the US. The scale of these new wave co-ops is smaller—typically just one farm or a handful of farms working together—and the cooperative form is envisioned less as a tool to accomplish joint marketing and/or processing services, and more as a means of affording capital investment, such as land and equipment. In addition to outlining formal cooperative structures, this guidebook also addresses less formal approaches to cooperation. It has a fun and inspiring format and could serve as a discussion guide for groups interested in buying or leasing a farm as a cooperative enterprise.


Cooperative Organic Farming Takes Root in Kentucky, Daniel Klein in Grist, July 6, 2014,

This short video resource is an overview of a “new wave” farming cooperative structure (smaller scale and focused on access to capital and land) in an urban environment. Directly transplanted from cooperative farming methods common in other countries, such as the featured farmer’s native El Salvador, this large urban cooperative farm in Kentucky shows how successful South American approaches to cooperative farming can be in under-resourced communities in the US, such as particularly immigrant communities.


Introduction to Worker Cooperatives for Farmers and Start-ups, US Federation of Worker Co-ops, The Greenhorns, The National Young Farmers Coalition, January 30, 2015

This is a resource appropriate to those who have decided that they would like to structure their cooperative enterprise as a worker cooperative.  The US Federation of Worker Cooperatives is a cross sector organization devoted to the development of more cooperatives owned and managed by the workers who work in them.  Its Democracy At Work Institute provides technical assistance as well as resources for groups interested in incorporating using the worker cooperative model. For this introductory presentation, they have teamed up with some cooperative farmers and the Greenhorns and the National Young Farmers Coalition, two groups representing a new generation of farmers, to present information about how to start a farm cooperative of the “new wave” variety.  There are also links to additional resources at the Democracy At Work webpage on which this recorded panel discussion is hosted.


Resources for Group-based Agricultural Businesses, Cooperative Development Institute (various authors), 2015

The Cooperative Development Institute (profiled above under introductory materials) has a sector-specific resource library for those groups interested in forming an agricultural cooperative business.  This site is a jumping-off place for a wealth of additional resources.


Self-learning, Cooperative Development Institute, 2015

The Cooperative Development Institute (profiled above under introductory materials) has a general resource library with resources on the cooperative movement, its history, its breadth both in this country and worldwide, and its associations and proponents  This site is a jumping-off place for anyone interested in a self-initiated course of study on cooperatives.


What Farm Cooperatives Can Do For the Food System—and Farmers, Darby Minnow Smith in Grist, May 5, 2015,

This is a short story and video about the film “The Grazers,” a documentary about the development and early years of a cooperative established in the Adirondacks to help ranchers survive and thrive in the grass-fed beef business.  It has a holistic view of how cooperative development impacts not only cooperative members, but also their communities and their customers.


What is a Cooperative? University of California Cooperative Extension, 2015

This resource includes a very detailed definition of various cooperative types, and what they have in common and how they differ from one another.  Of particular interest is the definition of “new generation” cooperatives—a cooperative type that first surfaced in the 1970s, typified by a different relationship to cooperative finance, including financing of capital for value-added enterprises through the sale of future delivery contracts.