How To Form a Successful Cooperative


Members of the fledgling Oregon County Food Producers and Artisans Cooperative in tiny Alton, Mo., (population 879) are preparing to celebrate with the community a substantial win – a national award package valued at more than $40,000 to refurbish a vacant building and create an edible courtyard.

Not only are co-op members asking for public input on how to demolish and salvage materials from the old tavern, they will share Nov. 20-22 what they have learned about forming a successful cooperative in a rural community. The 101-member co-op has come a long way since founder Rachel Luster first began turning into every driveway in the county with a “Farm Fresh Eggs” or “Hay for Sale” sign posted in the yard to recruit potential members.

Driving the rugged gravel roads in search of fresh produce, meat and eggs for her family, Luster envisioned uniting producers and artisans with consumers at a centrally located market. After overcoming numerous obstacles, her persistence paid off with the formation of the all-volunteer organization and store opening in March 2013.

Co-op members take turns running the store in a small rented building and stocking it with their homegrown and homemade wares – anything from goat milk lotion, treadle-sewn quilts, dried organic herbs, bedding plants and cedar trunks to homemade laundry soap. Members pay dues of $5 to $10 per month, in cash or exchange of products or labor. Members also set their own prices for their products, with 30 percent of sales going to the co-op for expenses.

Partnering with Alton Chamber of Commerce to apply, the co-op was awarded, just a year after opening its doors, a Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design grant to expand the organization’s community support. The co-op was one of only four organizations across the country to receive the award this year funded, in part, by the National Endowment for the Arts and the USDA.

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