The word “cooperative” has two meanings: both a type of business and
an attitude that can be broadly applied. A cooperative (n) is a specific
type of business that is formed expressly to provide benefit to its members, such as:
• a producer co-op that is created to provide cost savings and or
marketing services to a group of producers
• a worker cooperative created to provide stable, fair employment
for its workers.
A cooperative business is defined by three major standards:
• It is owned by its members, those participating in the
business, not by outside shareholders or investors.
• It is governed by its members. Each member of the
business has a vote in major business decisions and in electing
representatives or officers.
• It exists for member benefit, not profit for outside
shareholders. Any profits are distributed equitably among members.
In addition, cooperatives operate according to internationally
recognized core principles and values, which include operating as an
autonomous organization, investing in the training and education of
their members, and supporting other cooperatives and the community.
While cooperatives have an important role in farming, not all
collaborative efforts meet those criteria. Buying a seed drill with
neighboring farms, sharing a delivery van to a nearby city, or even running
a farm together need not be classified or operated as a cooperative in
order to provide fair and mutual benefit to those involved. Cooperative
farming explores a variety of frameworks to work together as a group.
Here, we focus on the agreements and processes that make collaboration function.