Summer Road Trip 2012: Cooperative Grocery Edition

Next time you find yourself around the picnic table, take a moment to see if that burger or beverage comes courtesy of one of these exemplary food co-ops.

 
 

My summer vacations growing up involved Mom and Dad piling us kids into the car with a couple of suitcases, some library books, a cooler, and a map. Often times, we’d have a rough idea of a destination, but it was all about the journey – exploring some corner of the country to discover new sights, kitschy hotels, and different experiences.

This year, I’m in charge of the planning, and we’re going to be crossing the country to check out some of the nation’s foremost food cooperatives. No, not grocery stores, but the places that produce the goods you find on your grocery store shelves. It’s going to be an adventure full of surprises, familiar names and faces, and some tasty treats. Time to gas up the station wagon and find a Beach Boys’ song on the radio.

COUNTRY NATURAL BEEF, VALE, OR GOOD BEEF, AND THAT’S NO BULL

FAMOUS FOR: Burgerville burgers, McMenamins pubs, beef at select Whole Foods Markets

HISTORY: After moving their cattle operation from Montana to Oregon in 1984, Doc and Connie Hatfield reached out to their new neighbors to explore ways to meet consumer needs while staying economically and environmentally friendly. The 14 original family producers have expanded to include 120, encompassing 100,000 mother cows and more than 6.3 million acres from North Dakota to Texas to Hawaii. The co-op has relationships with restaurateurs such as California’s growing Burgerville chain and brew-pubs across Oregon. Although Country Natural Beef’s members are geographically dispersed, that doesn’t impede the co-op’s business model. Its “circle of commitment” encourages members to discuss opportunities and issues to reach consensus on policy setting and problem resolution.

SHOWING THOSE COOPERATIVE ROOTS:

“Country Natural Beef provides a different business model. It’s intended to be a flat structure, where all members have a voice and a say in the co-op.”

MARK PRATT, A BLACKFOOT, ID, RANCHER, ON COUNTRY NATURAL BEEF’S WEBSITE

LAND O’LAKES,SAINT PAUL, MN
BUTTER THAN AVERAGE

FAMOUS FOR: butter, cheese, eggs, seeds, animal feed, farm services

HISTORY: The Minnesota Cooperative Creameries Association came together in 1921 in an effort to improve the marketing of butter while increasing the profitability of the dairy farmer. After developing a grade of uniformly sweet cream butter that played off of Minnesota’s nickname “The Land of 10,000 Lakes,” the cooperative became so closely identified with that product it changed its name to Land O’Lakes in 1926. In the past 90 years, it has expanded into other services for farmers, including seeds and crop protection, livestock feed, and even business management and planning. Presently it is the second-largest cooperative in the nation with approximately 9,000 employees, 3,200 direct producer-members, and 1,000 member-cooperatives.

SHOWING THOSE COOPERATIVE ROOTS:

“‘Cooperative’ describes more than our business model. For our members, it defines a way of life. … It’s not just about ideas that grow grains, protect crops, or produce award-winning dairy products. It’s about ideas that perform — ideas that set industry standards and increase sustainability. It’s our ability to exchange and implement these ideas that drives our success.” LAND O’ LAKES WEBSITE

FLORIDA’S NATURAL, LAKE WALES, FL
ORANGE YOU GLAD YOU CAME TO FLORIDA

FAMOUS FOR: orange juice, Ruby Red grapefruit juice, lemonade, apple juice, orange juice blends

HISTORY: Florida’s Natural includes 13 growers associations with more than 1,000 members covering 50,000 acres of groves. But the freshly squeezed juice co-op comes from humble roots planted in the 1930s. Growers pooled resources to not only assure quality products but also move toward extracting juice via machines instead of manually. With threats like hurricanes and climate change often challenging its harvest, the cooperative has responded by exploring green technology such as solar power and micro sprinkling irrigation water conservation methods. The 13 individual growers associations share multi-generational histories and are a testament to the power of working together.

SHOWING THOSE COOPERATIVE ROOTS:

“Through cooperatives, “smaller growers are able to remain competitive and ‘keep our heads above water.’” ANITA SIMPSON, PRESIDENT OF SIMPSON FRUIT COMPANY, ON FLORIDA’S NATURAL WEBSITE

CABOT CHEESE, CABOT, VT
EVERYBODY SAY CHEESE

FAMOUS FOR: classic cheddar cheeses, Greek yogurt, butter, dips, sour cream, cottage cheese

HISTORY: In 1919, when the costs were lower and farmers often produced more milk than they could use, 94 farm families joined forces to turn their excess milk into butter. Each family kicked in $5 a cow, “plus a cord of wood to fuel the boiler,” to create the Rosedale brand. The effort grew to almost 600 farm families in the 1960s, and Rosedale adopted the Cabot brand in the 1980s when they started winning cheese competitions and taste tests across the U.S. Cabot merged with an 1,800 member New England cooperative in 1992, and today the folks at Cabot continue to churn out high-quality dairy products for consumers up and down the East Coast.

SHOWING THOSE COOPERATIVE ROOTS:

“Being a co-op, we are owned and operated by our members, which for Cabot are our farmers and their families. As a cooperative, we emulate the Rochdale Cooperative Principles. We value community, quality, democracy, and local ownership.” CABOT CHEESE WEBSITE

 

 

 

Sept. 14, 2012


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