By Jake Stukenberg, NFU Intern
The most definitive aspect of the cooperative business model is that the members or producers own the business. This allows producers to drive their cooperative into the direction that benefits the producers, not private interests of outside stakeholders. With this power of directive comes the greater responsibility to stay active, the ability to have your voice heard, and the power to dictate how the business is operated.
When you become a member-owner of a farm cooperative, you have a responsibility to produce, patronize, and encourage others to use the cooperative’s services. In most cases, you also must continuously provide products for the cooperative to sell or market for a cooperative to continue operating.
If the market for the products sold by your cooperative begin to dwindle, this does not mean that it’s time to abandon ship. The need for the business should be assessed and adjusted based on local markets.
Aside from providing products for the cooperative to sell or market, a member-owner is responsible for learning how cooperatives are operated. They cannot give proper input to a board of directors, effectively recruit new member-owners, or advocate for the cooperative business model without some background knowledge. A member-owner should know the definition, principles, and practices of a cooperative, the history of the business model, bylaws and articles of incorporation, operating polices, etc. This will help make a better educated and prepared membership base for new members to follow confidently.
Member-owners are responsible for more than just contributing to the business. They should also be the educators, the policy-makers, and the managers. This is what makes the business model so innovative – it gives the power to the people most directly affected.
Are you a member-owner of a cooperative? Share your experiences managing, educating, or advocating for your business in the comment section below.