News from the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union Cooperative Development Center,
The Wyoming Farmers Market Association, Wyoming Department of Education, Wyoming Business Council, Wyoming Department of Agriculture, and Casper Food Hub worked together last fall to plan and host in Casper a conference to explore forming a state local food coalition. This effort was aided by the shared Vista person those groups hired for 2019. The approximately 90 in attendance decided to explore various options and strengthen their leadership. On a related note, the shared staff position is being extended for a second year and applications are being sought.
Sorry to report that the Wyofresh/Triple Crown Commodities Cooperative board of directors voted to cease operations effective December 31, 2019, meaning the co-op’s online farmers market has gone out of business. The Co-op Center was the driving force behind its formation as a pilot project in 2010 and incorporation in 2012. The plan is to retain the cooperative organizational structure for the time being.
Monthly conference calls are continuing with USDA Rural Development personnel, university extension educators, and co-op development specialists from Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming (dubbed the Tri-State Foods calls) to strengthen awareness of the local food projects and issues in those states.
The Co-op Center is participating in a rural grocery initiative with other cooperative development centers to develop a data base of case studies of rural grocery store successes and challenges. We’re also engaging the Center for Community Ownership in Montana and the Illinois Cooperative Development Center in a series of conference calls to better understand rural grocery store distribution issues.
The Co-op Center met with the New Mexico Electric Co-op Association to familiarize the association with our cooperative development work and to enlist the association’s support for that work. The association is working on an initiative to bring public transportation to rural communities through a program whereby community-owned co-ops would purchase electric cars to be made available to community members in need of transportation for such things as seeking important medical treatments.
The Co-op Center co-hosted a conference in Taos on cooperative models and their development. The conference was co-hosted by the Taos County Cooperative Extension Service and the Agri-Cultura network based in Taos County.
TableTop Co-op continued to develop its administrative infrastructure, budgets, and job descriptions for the administrative and program managers for its beginning farmer/rancher program. They will be pursuing grant funding for their work. TableTop incorporated as a cooperative with the State of New Mexico last year.
The New Mexico Producer and Livestock Cooperative continues its reorganization by establishing new policies and procedures, transitioning its bank account, and restructuring operations. The Center’s Susann Mikkelson provided board training and helped the group draft the new policies and procedures and look at the co-op’s insurance options.
Susann continued to work with ECO High School in Santa Fe, presenting on cooperatives, arranging a panel of growers and other agricultural professionals to discuss career opportunities in agriculture, and connecting students and faculty with a bee keeper to help them set up a bee colony and hives on campus.
Susann has met twice with staff at Mind, Body and Spirit, a 501(c)(3), to discuss forming a cooperative. She also explored forming co-ops with a group of hemp growers and Native beef producers in northwestern New Mexico.
The Co-op Center’s Dan Hobbs helped organize and lead the University Colorado, Colorado Springs Grain School, especially the first day on "The Grain Chain Starts with Farming", which included a presentation on "Grain and the Art of Cooperation".
Dan also responded to the San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition’s request to assist the Rio Grande Farm Park Cooperative in establishing their value proposition, understanding their role in the broader Coalition, and planning production.
Dan helped the newly formed Colorado Grain Chain and the Southwest Farm Fresh Cooperative with organizational development and planning.
The Co-op Center continued to work with the Mobile Farm Workforce to help relieve the confounding labor shortages facing farmers and ranchers. The MFW is in the middle of 2020 business planning, which includes the possibility of working with the Colorado Department of Corrections on bringing inmates close to parole or discharge into the farm labor workforce.
We’re also working on the conversion of a Subchapter S corporation which provides household pet services in the Glenwood Springs area to a worker-owned cooperative. We’ve shared organizational document drafts with the current and prospective new owners and begun planning the conversion in light of taxation, governance, and other factors.
We’re assisting the Colorado Farmers Market Association with addressing a particularly challenging issue with respect to their group liability insurance program: Their current brokerage, which has helped CFMA for several years, recently informed CFMA that when the brokerage issues a liability insurance policy to a farmers market, all vendors selling in that market will be required to carry their own liability insurance policies. This means that for each market to be covered under the CFMA group liability insurance policy, each of that market’s vendors will need to purchase its own liability insurance policy and submit proof of insurance to the market manager and the brokerage. There are a number of markets, especially in rural areas, that a have a significant number of vendors too small or too infrequently using the market to be able to afford to purchase their own insurance. We’re exploring alternative coverage approaches that may enable markets to hurdle this roadblock.