Co-Op History Books Should Target Both Members and Public. (Management Tip)

Article excerpt

Background on co-op and history project: In celebration of its 90th anniversary, Blue Diamond Growers--one of California's most successful farmer-owned cooperatives--decided to publish a pictorial and narrative history of the cooperative and the industry that it helped build. The two-year project produced "The Almond People," a 200-page, four-color book that was presented to members who attended the cooperative's 90th annual meeting in November 2000. Copies were also sent to the news media, customers, suppliers, government officials and friends in the almond industry.

The board of directors approved the project in 1998. "This first-ever history of our cooperative tells a fascinating story of vision, courage and determination," says Board Chairman Howard Isom, an almond grower who also runs an accounting business near Chico, Calif. "That story began in 1910, when a small group of almond growers formed a cooperative to wrest control of their crops from unscrupulous buyers who for years had denied them a fair return. They succeeded in spite of difficult odds and built not only one of the world's most successful farmer-owned cooperative, but also an important new industry in America.

Why produce a co-op history? Isom says today's growers sometimes lose sight of the important roles that processing and marketing cooperatives play in the farm economy. "We tend to forget the reasons behind the formation of our established institutions," he notes. "And when we do, we invite history to repeat itself, often to the detriment of the grower. We hope that in reviewing how Blue Diamond worked for better grower returns, developed new products and markets, and gave almond growers an effective voice in government and the media, younger members will better understand the importance of cooperative marketing to their livelihoods."

Target audiences: "The Almond People" reaches out to audiences beyond the cooperative's membership, says Susan Brauner, the co-op's public affairs director, who initiated and oversaw the project. "The book does more than preserve and celebrate Blue Diamond's history among our growers. It also informs and motivates our employees and gives our customers and suppliers new appreciation of our long-term value to them," she says. "We believe that as government officials, other almond industry representatives and the news media read about the cycles that this industry has experienced over nine decades and the role that Blue Diamond played in stabilizing prices and markets, they will better appreciate the value of a strong cooperative in a commodity business."

In short, "The Almond People" serves as another effective tool in Blue Diamond's long-term program of building greater understanding and appreciation of the importance of farmer-owned cooperatives in America's economy, says Brauner. …