Local food marketing goes online through co-ops
Southeast Wyoming – A new endeavor, beginning in a few southeast Wyoming counties, would enable Wyoming producers and customers to easily connect and do business through an online cooperative.
The program’s pilot project, made possible by a USDA specialty crops grant through the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, will include Platte, Goshen, Laramie and possibly Albany County at the outset.
The program, operated under the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) Cooperative Development Center, will be modeled after existing co-ops in Oklahoma, Nebraska and on the Front Range of Colorado.
“It’s a double-ended co-op where both the producers and customers are members,” explains RMFU Wyoming Representative Scott Zimmerman. “Customers can take a look online of what is offered, then order products directly from producers.”
Zimmerman says Oklahoma has a phenomenal effort – their co-op facilitates $60,000 each month in business. “The potential for this kind of co-op is vast,” he says.
The Colorado-based High Plains Food Co-op’s (HPFC) website slogan is, “We bring the farmer’s market to you.” The co-op unites producers and consumers with an interest in locally grown food and other locally produced products.
Appealing to recent food trends, the HPFC says it “strives to be a business that is environmentally sustainable, economically viable, and socially just. To foster a local food community and promote a culture of stewardship by cultivating farmer-consumer relationships, promoting the enjoyment of healthful food, increasing food security through diversity, and enhancing overall rural sustainability.”
The HPFC offers a variety of products including vegetables, meats, grains, flours, eggs, spice mixes, breads, pies, tea, herbs and pet supplies, to name a few.
According to its website, HPFC acts as the agent of producer members, posting and marketing the products the producers have for sale, receiving orders, providing delivery to other members of the cooperative, collecting from the consumers and forwarding payments to producers.
On the customer side, HPFC provides an online catalog of available local food products, including information about how and where the products were grown and processed. It arranges for food to be delivered and receives and processes payments.
On each order producers are assessed a 15 percent co-op fee, which goes toward the delivery process and the facilitation work in between. A check is mailed to the producer when delivery is complete. Each consumer has a 10 percent fee added to each order to help cover the same costs.
Although a few Wyoming producers are a part of the HPFC on the Front Range, Zimmerman says it’s a limited basis.
“Our plan is to replicate those co-ops on a limited basis in a trial project in Wyoming, and if it works we’ll go statewide,” says Zimmerman.
The southeastern counties were chosen for the pilot project to contain the initial transportation and logistics.
Although the funding was awarded in mid-October, Zimmerman says he doesn’t know exactly when it will be received. “There’s no timetable yet, but our intention is to start organizing the first of the year and have it up by next spring,” he says.
For more information on how the co-ops work and what types of products are available, visit www.highplainsfood.org. Christy Hemken is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.