Spring Rose Growers Cooperative: Protecting Multicultural Farms
By Katherine Lupo
As the organic and sustainable food movement expands, people are finally beginning to question where their food comes from, and many are not happy with what they find. The agricultural industry led by big international corporations like Monsanto, Cargill and DuPont is pushing small farmers off their land around the world. In the US this is especially true of minority farmers, with many of them losing their land.
The US cooperative movement began in the late 1800’s and slowly expanded until the late 1930’s. While many of those cooperative have since folded or shrunk in the face of consolidation in the farming sector, now may be a time to once again look at the benefits of cooperation as we seek to expand a sustainable (and equitable) food movement here in the US.
So in 2010 four farm businesses that shared land at The Farley Center for Peace, Justice and Sustainability in Wisconsin formed the Spring Rose Growers Cooperative with the help of the University of Wisconsin’s Center of Cooperatives. An agricultural co-op allows production resources (such as land and machinery) to be pooled together and shared by the farm members, saving money and allowing them to grow a greater variety of crops. The UWCC staff is eager to “provide assistance for cooperative ventures in emerging local food systems that provide opportunity to agricultural producers and rural communities”. The Spring Rose Growers Cooperative and The Farley Center benefitted greatly from their advice.
Since 2010, the Spring Rose Growers Cooperative has received grants from the USDA that focus on assisting women and people of color. And they have now expanded to include eight farms, all of which are owned by Hmong, Latino and African Americans, and using the grant money for technological assistance in farm production. Even farmers who have been cultivating land for decades benefit from these classes by learning new sustainable farming techniques to grow healthy and productive crops- without agro-chemical inputs like pesticides and chemical fertilizer. The cooperative also offers classes for the public on farming techniques- such as planting an organic orchard. The classes are translated into both Hmong and Spanish to further support a multicultural farming community.
The Spring Rose Growers Cooperative sells their produce at farmer’s markets in Madison, Wisconsin, including sites that have been termed “food deserts”. Food deserts are neighborhoods or communities that lack grocery stores, and, in many cases, residents rely on convenience stores which usually lack healthy options and fresh fruits and vegetables to do their shopping. In the US, including Madison, food deserts are usually in low-income areas with a high percentage of minorities. By bringing their fresh produce to these areas, the cooperative is helping increase the health and nutrition of these multi-ethnic, low-income communities, while also providing them with an alternative to unhealthy, highly processed foods with genetically modified ingredients.
In 2011, the Spring Rose Growers Cooperative initiated many new marketing strategies for farmers to get their direct distribution (in addition to farmers’ markets) through sales to restaurants, other large area employers, as well as Community Supported Agriculture- (CSA) boxes of fresh produce that consumers buy for delivery or pick up. By expanding marketing strategies beyond farmers’ markets, the cooperative has tapped into an expanded local market their produce, keeping costs low for everyone involved, while at the same time, creating a more sustainable food system by reducing food miles and packaging.
The Spring Rose Growers Cooperative is a wonderful example of a sustainable alternative to the big agribusinesses that dominate in the US. Agricultural cooperatives are a successful strategy to keep farms in the hands of small farmers, and the Spring Rose Growers Cooperative takes it a step further, keeping farms, and our food, in the hands of a collection of multicultural families who are feeding their community organic, healthy food.