By Hannah Ruth Tabler, NFU Intern
For beginning farmers, getting a foothold in the agriculture industry can be difficult. One of the foremost challenges facing beginning farmers today is a lack of access to appropriate markets. Many farmers, young and old, have turned to the cooperative business model to increase their profit and reap the benefits of employee-owned businesses.
This week on the Beginning Farmer Column, we’re highlighting the Ohio Employee Ownership Center (OEOC) at Kent State University. They have done extensive work in the creation and support of all sorts of cooperative efforts in the state. Our focus, however, will be on how Ohio farmers have benefitted from employee ownership services.
The Evergreen Cooperative, which is a joint effort by OEOC, the Democracy Collaborative at the University of Maryland, the city of Cleveland, The Cleveland Foundation, and Enterprise Cleveland, “is working to create living-wage jobs in six low-income neighborhoods” by “catalyzing new businesses, owned by their employees.” Green City Growers, an urban food-production greenhouse in Cleveland, is one of such ventures. It is the largest food-production greenhouse in a core urban area in the United States, and its employees are also part owners, sharing in the profits of the cooperative venture.
OEOC also assisted in planning at least five food hubs in Ohio. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines a food hub as a “business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of course-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers to strengthen their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail, and institutional demand.” The growers that sell to the hub are keeping their products – and their money – in the community. The same goes for the customers; the development of their community starts with the collaboration between farmers, business owners, and consumers.
Many of OEOC’s resources are business-owner based; for example, they assist owners in selling their business to their employees. However, they also have resources for growers looking to join up or start a coop.
The OEOC offers various training programs to assist employee-owned businesses. You can simulate three years in the life of a fictional coop, build team-working skills, learn financial information for employee owners, and more. They can help in the creation of a business plan or even provide financing. For example, the Common Wealth Revolving Loan Fund (CWRLF) is a non-profit financial institution that offers loans for coops as well as Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs) and community-based nonprofit projects looking to expand their employee-ownership capabilities. This money can be used for activities like succession planning, expansion of the coop’s services, organizational development.
Ohio farmers aren’t the only ones that can take advantage of these resources; see for yourself at http://www.oeockent.org/.
What tools have you utilized to expand your farming business? What tools would you like us to discuss? Let us know below!