Cherries at Franklin Food Co-op

Collective Action in Rural Communities

We are excited to share the results of a multi-year research and outreach project titled Collective Action in Rural Communities: Mapping Opportunities for Cooperative Conversion and Start-up. The goal of this project was to enhance opportunities for rural cooperative entrepreneurship by providing decision-making tools and research-based information to cooperative and economic developers, rural entrepreneurs, and policy makers. Our report delves into the many ways rural communities are using the cooperative model to meet collective needs and to strengthen local economies.

In the report and highlighted below, you will find:

  • factors that contribute to new co-op development in rural areas,
  • case studies of five major clusters of new rural co-ops,
  • concrete recommendations for you to use in your own work,
  • the National Cooperative Ecosystem Resource Map, and more!

For example, we found that 945 cooperatives were incorporated between 2011-2019, with 21% in rural areas (slightly higher than the 19% of the U.S. that is rural). The top member type of new co-ops in rural areas was Consumer, aligning with Grocery as the top clear sector (see report pages 8-9).

Many thanks to the National Institute for Agriculture’s Agriculture Food Research Initiative (AFRI), which funded this major research undertaking.

new co-ops started from 2011-2019
New Co-ops Map 2011 - 2019

Factors contributing to new co-op development

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1. Cooperative Development

Presence of business development support that is knowledgeable about cooperatives (e.g. cooperative development centers, small business development centers, employee ownership centers, Extension, etc.)

2. Legal Context

Statutory provisions and/or presence of attorneys with cooperative expertise

3. Co-op Friendly Capital

Presence of community development financial institutions, credit unions, community banks, foundations, or municipalities that are cooperative friendly

4. Co-op Education

Presence of organizations providing education on cooperatives to the general public (e.g. CoMinnesota, Co-op Connection, etc.)

5. Density of Co-ops

Presence of established cooperatives

6. Policy Environment

Presence of policies, plans, or tax incentives that support cooperatives

7. Connectivity

a. Co-op to Co-op: Degree to which cooperatives are aware of and connected with one another

b. Community: Presence of cooperatives that emerged from an established community network and are intended to support that particular community