A group of Montezuma County producers are working together to turn a community built on agriculture into an agricultural community.
Roughly 30 area producers have been meeting together as the Ag Roundtable since January. The goal has been to find a way to harness the vast amount of agricultural expertise in the area and move toward a community model of cooperation through the creation of a local cooperative.
We really brainstormed what were good ideas to support agriculture in the community and it came down to we really needed to have something that would bring the producers together, said Judy Garrigues, district manager of the Dolores Conservation District and group facilitator. We wanted to start on a project involving distribution and marketing of the goods produced locally.
Agricultural cooperatives have long been a part of the American landscape. Cooperatives are user-driven businesses that pool resources and expertise to strengthen the group and individual producers. The co-op model is recognized as a viable organizational option for the marketing and distribution of agricultural products, according to the U.S. Department of Agricultures Rural Development Office.
In Montezuma County, the presence of an ag co-op would be a useful tool to strengthen individual producers through cooperation with other growers.
A cooperative is a sort of business model that will help to bring the farmers and growers together to do things that they may not be able to do by themselves, Garrigues said. It could be a myriad of things but the idea is the community members come together to be stronger in a group than they could be by themselves.
The group is working with Dan Hobbs, a cooperative specialist with the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. Hobbs has encouraged roundtable participants to design a scope of work that will identify the need and benefit of a local cooperative.
A steering committee will begin work this week on identifying the needs of the community in relation to the creation of a co-op.
Our first pilot project is actually going to be a lot of information gathering, Garrigues said. We want to make sure the model we come up with meets the needs of the community. We need to look at what the co-op really does need to encompass. It is an evolving thing.
Ideas such as common storages, year-round marketing and sales and an area distribution center have all been part of the discussions centered around the co-op idea.
Garrigues said she hopes the creation of a co-op will enable local producers to find a niche in the produce market.
We understand that we grow really fine produce here, she said. Maybe if we are able to market it under a co-op name there would be more marketing opportunities.
Though individual producers and businesses would retain their autonomy, the collaborative nature of a co-op is intriguing to many producers in the area.
Everyone has been very excited about coming together, Garrigues said. The producers really want to work together to accomplish this goal.
Much of the involvement at the roundtable has come from smaller, market producers, though Garrigues said producers of all size are welcome to join in the discussion.
We would love to see some bigger producers on board as well, she said. This is a community project and it is really to support the community that we live in and its health and wellbeing as well as the land and the landscape that surround us.
For more information, contact Garrigues at 565-9045 ext. 118.
Reach Kimberly Benedict at [email protected]