Magazine article Rural Cooperatives

Preston Growers Co-Op Helping to Feed Local Schools

Magazine article Rural Cooperatives

Preston Growers Co-Op Helping to Feed Local Schools

Article excerpt

A GROUP OF FARMERS in Preston County, W.V., is working cooperatively to provide locally raised food to area schools and institutions. The recently formed Preston County Growers Co-op Inc., provides a variety of foods--including lettuce, potatoes, eggs, etc.--for the community.

The road to cooperation for Preston County Growers Co-op began in 2014, when farmers in the county were visited by representatives of the West Virginia Farm to School program to discuss the program and the potential of providing locally raised foods to schools. To supply institutions with a consistent quantity of quality produce, the producers quickly realized they would have to work together.

Many of the farms could not individually supply the school system with the volume of products needed throughout the school year. The group began coordinating production and the ordering process. Although they were working together, each farm remained independent, handling their billing and delivery individually.

Soon, the group explored other models of working together. Vital to the journey of becoming a cooperative was the information and support Preston Growers received from the Garrett Growers Cooperative, a co-op of nine vegetable farms based in Mt. Lake Park, Md. Discussions between the two groups provided Preston Growers with a background on the process of organizing and operating cooperatively.

In late 2015, Preston Growers decided to formally organize as a cooperative that would be owned and controlled by farmer-members. The motivation for embracing the co-op business model sprang from the need to simplify various processes and to create a sustainable organization that would market on behalf of its members.

The process of establishing the co-op was supported by a number of organizations, including West Virginia University Extension Service, the Value Chain Cluster Initiative, West Virginia Office of Child Nutrition's Farm to School initiative, and the Ohio Cooperative Development Center at The Ohio State University South Centers (OCDC). …

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