As we continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic combined with the encroaching effects of climate change, people are waking to the realization that our greatest strength in times of trouble is to work together in a cooperative manner. Governments, even well meaning ones, cannot be depended on to support communities in times of need or to uplift and support communities to help them grow and prosper.
With the renewed interest in local foods and in building stronger local economies, cooperatives have regained some traction as viable, socially just methods of conducting business. Many people know about agricultural cooperatives where farmers come together to purchase supplies, help each other out on the farms and cooperatively sell their crops. But enthusiasm for creating other cooperatives such as financial services cooperatives like credit unions has also been growing as a response to abuses by large corporate entities.
In this episode of the Sustainable AG Rider, we speak with Eric Simpson of the West Georgia Farmers Market and Matthew Epperson, Executive Director of the Georgia Cooperative Development Center about cooperatives in the age of COVID
The West Georgia Farmer’s Cooperative is a grassroots agricultural collective designed to build the best infrastructure to support local businesses and the production of affordable food. West Georgia has provided training, funding and other resources to its members and local citizens to rebuild small farms into impactful community change agents for generations.
The Georgia Cooperative Development Center provides assistance to startup and existing cooperative businesses across the state of Georgia with the goal of addressing the social needs of our communities and creating a more equitable economy. We do this with a strategic plan that hits on many of the barriers to co-op development in Georgia:
We educate stakeholders, particularly youth and opinion leaders, about the values and benefits of cooperative businesses in Georgia. We hope to eventually have a Coop Academy which interested groups can enroll in that will start their journey from feasibility to ribbon-cutting.
We convene networking opportunities for the Georgia cooperative community to meet and greet one another, share wisdom and best practices and begin to reinforce those relationships in new ways.
We provide connections for startup and existing co-ops to research the feasibility of new co-ops (or new business ventures within existing co-ops) as well as tackling business planning which can be used to help secure funding.
We gather precise analytics on the state of the Georgia cooperative economy, its present impact, and multiplier effects, making the case for an already strong co-op economy and begging the question: how much more could we do?