From agricultural co-ops to food co-ops, Oklahoma benefits from various cooperative businesses
Cooperatives represent a strong business model and greatly contribute to both the national and local economies. Photo courtesy of https://www.coopmonth.coop.
There are nine categories in which cooperatives can be placed: Artist, Childcare, Banks and Credit Unions, Energy, Freelancer, Housing, Producer and Marketing, Purchasing and Worker Cooperatives.
Here’s a sampling of cooperatives that exist in Oklahoma:
- Oklahoma Indian Arts & Crafts Cooperative based in Anadarko
- Oklahoma Childcare Resource & Referral Association, Inc. based in Oklahoma City
- Pioneer Telephone Cooperative based in Kingfisher, and Santa Rosa Telephone Cooperative, which serves Devol, Elmer and Randlett in Oklahoma
- Nationwide Insurance, which has offices throughout Oklahoma
- Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Association based in Oklahoma City
- Farmers Cooperative Association based in Snyder
- Healthy Hearts for Oklahoma based in Tulsa
- Oklahoma Shared Clinical & Translational Resources based in Tulsa
- Oklahoma State Cooperative Extension Service based in Stillwater
- Ace Hardware, which has stores throughout Oklahoma
- Worker Cooperative Law Project based in Oklahoma City
- Oklahoma BuyBoard Purchasing Cooperative, an agency partnering with Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Association based in Oklahoma City
In the process of creating an economic model in 1844, members of the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers wanted a system rooted in democracy. What emerged were the Rochdale Principles.
Over the decades, the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers faded into history, but the concept of cooperatives remains in the economic model it left behind.
Members of rural electric cooperatives in Oklahoma adhere to seven cooperative principles, which are: 1. Open and voluntary membership; 2. Democratic member control; 3. Members’ economic participation; 4. Autonomy and independence; 5. Education, training and information; 6. Cooperation among cooperatives; 7. Concern for community. There are other types of cooperatives besides electric cooperatives that adhere to these principles as well.
“Those are basically the same principles we follow. You can have open cooperatives and closed cooperatives, which are only open to members who bought in,” said Jeannie Hileman, manager of the Carnegie Cooperative Cotton Gin, one of 17 cooperative cotton gins in Oklahoma.
Cooperatives are formed by a group of people who share a common need. Cooperative members pool their resources, which gives them more leverage in the handling of their product. In the case of the Carnegie gin, it has allowed the business to ride out the ups and downs that come with being involved in agriculture.
“When our current gin was built in 1925, it was funded by $100 shares,” noted Hileman, who became gin manager in 1990. “When I started, there were over 50 (cotton) gins in the state.”
At one time there were five gins in Carnegie, but some of them closed and some of them consolidated, just like other gins did around the state.
“In 2002, we kind of bottomed-out, but we started doing well again, and in the last three years we’ve become the biggest gin in production in Oklahoma,” she said. “In fact, last year was an all-time high for all of the cooperative gins in the state, and this year could be even better, thanks to the weather we’ve had that is good for cotton growing.”
Riding the crest of success, the members of the Carnegie Cooperative Gin voted to allow its board of directors to go shopping this year. The directors returned with three options.
The first was to consider building a new gin facility; the second option was to modify the current facility in downtown Carnegie; and the third was to purchase an updated gin and have it brought to town.
Ultimately, the membership approved the third option, and a nationwide search resulted in the Carnegie Co-op spending $3.5 million on a refurbished gin in Mount Olive, North Carolina. In June, the equipment and machinery needed to rebuild the 45-bale-per-hour gin began appearing at an 80-acre site 4 miles north of Carnegie on Oklahoma Highway 58.
Much of the preparation and rebuilding is being done by Carnegie Co-op employees, and the target date to open the facility is by mid-November.
In addition, the Carnegie Co-op will continue to use its older facility in the foreseeable future. That combination prompts projections for 2017 to rise by 50 to 100 percent.
Cotton isn’t the only product milled or ginned in Carnegie, where rural electric service is provided by CKenergy Electric Cooperative Inc. Carnegie Cotton Gin partners with other co-ops, which is one of the Rochdale Principles, “Cooperation Among Cooperatives.”
“In our co-op, we gin cotton and we mill wheat and peanuts, and we are a service station,” Hileman said. “We work with Plains Cotton Cooperative Association in Altus where we warehouse, and that’s been a huge improvement.”
They use Farmers Cooperative Mill & Elevator and all of the cotton gin cooperatives do business with Producers Cooperative Oil Mill.
“Our co-op has 200 to 300 members who are cotton farmers, and cooperative-wide there are about 1,000 members, which includes some producers and landlords.”
Rural electric and cotton gin cooperatives are prominent in Oklahoma, and so are food co-ops and food banks.
One of the largest such entities is the Oklahoma Food Co-op (OFC) in Oklahoma City.
“We’re categorized as a cooperative business in the co-op model,” said Adam Price, who started out as a member in 2008, before becoming the co-op manager.
The only paid employee of the Oklahoma Food Co-op, Price noted, “We’re not a non-profit, but we do see ourselves more as a service than a business.”
The co-op services 45 to 50 pick-up locations across the state. They have 300 to 350 active members and 9,000 total members on their books.
Folks interested in fresh food and other items produced in Oklahoma can become lifetime OFC members for a one-time fee of $51.75. That gives them access to the co-op’s shopping network. Once the patron signs up for a free access account, they can start ordering from a seemingly endless catalogue of food and non-food items.
Early each month, members go online to pre-order. Then on the third Thursday of the month, farmers, ranchers and other producers—many of whom are rural electric co-op members—bring their product to OFC for distribution. All of the distribution is home delivery done by volunteers.
“Our distribution service is ‘farm to table’ in the purest sense,” Price said. “Since 2003, we’ve sold millions of dollars of food and other items.
“We were the first food co-op in the country to sell only locally grown and made food, and other items, and we’ve returned millions of dollars to the state’s economy.”
For information on the Oklahoma Food Co-op, contact Price at 405-605-8088 or visit the website, www.oklahomafood.coop.