Producers/Buyers Cooperative: Linking Family Farms and Institutions

Project Overview

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2009: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Southern
State: Alabama
Principal Investigator:
Kathryn Strickland
Food Bank of North Alabama

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: potatoes
  • Fruits: melons
  • Vegetables: sweet potatoes, beans, beets, cabbages, carrots, cucurbits, eggplant, greens (leafy), onions, peppers, radishes (culinary), turnips
  • Additional Plants: herbs
  • Animals: bovine


  • Farm Business Management: farm-to-institution
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, urban/rural integration

    Proposal abstract:

    The Food Bank of North Alabama and Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network are facilitating a partnership among rural farmers and urban institutions to identify and solve barriers to local food purchases by institutional buyers. Through educating key stakeholders on the operations of a successful Producers/Buyers Cooperative based in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, the partnership plans to lay the foundation for a similar entity in North Alabama that will foster a mutually beneficial business relationship among rural producers, distributors, processors and urban institutions. The cooperative model will serve as a vehicle to provide a more stable marketplace for farmers and address the unique difficulties of incorporating local food purchases within the confines of institutional settings (i.e. delivery schedules, scale, prep labor and product variations). By expanding local food purchases, a Producers/Buyers Cooperative creates a pathway for rural, limited resource farmers to tap into the buying power of large urban institutions such as hospitals, corporate cafeterias, nursing homes, universities and local school districts – a marketplace that has been difficult for local producers to access. Through a commitment to incremental local purchases, urban institutions (a) increase access to healthier food choices in a region with high rates of diet-related diseases; (b) diversify their food sources increasing local food security; and (c) improve their triple bottom line which relates to their financial, ecological and social performance.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objective #1: Research successful models of institutional local food purchases and educate key stakeholders about these operations including the Producers/Buyers cooperative model in Eau Claire, WI.
    River Country RC&D has offered to organize a two day site visit for a contingent of stakeholders from North Alabama to learn how the Producer/Buyers cooperative operates, the challenges they faced and the solutions they have instituted. Prior to this site visit, FBNA management will train initial stakeholders on the cooperative model and its development process. Executive Director, Richard Hiatt is a trained cooperative developer with 25 years hunger relief experience, and Ms. Kathryn Strickland, with seven years experience in agency management, will have completed a three session cooperative development training sponsored by Cooperation Works! in 2010. For its part, ASAN will engage consultants from other southeastern models which have successfully marketed local food purchases to institutions. Current stakeholders include FBNA, CFN and ASAN. This partnership is currently in dialogue with representatives from Huntsville City Schools, Huntsville Hospital and Adtran.
    Objective # 2: Identify and address key barriers to local food purchases by institutional buyers.
    FBNA, CFN and ASAN will engage representatives from the Huntsville City Schools Board of Directors, Huntsville Hospital and Adtran to participate in on-going facilitated dialogues to identify and address these barriers. To accurately identify the specific needs of both buyers and producers an information exchange about the daily operations of all constituents is required. The infrastructure for local food sourcing in North Alabama is fledgling but growing. These nascent efforts face problematic obstacles which can be surmounted by working closely with customers. Once identified, these difficulties such as insurance requirements or harvesting schedules, can be discussed and collaboratively problem solved by drawing upon the resources and capacities of current and recruited stakeholders. Because the Producer/Buyer cooperative model includes both producers and customers in the planning, it is an innovative way to overcome obstacles.
    Objective #3: Foster a mutually beneficial business relationship among rural, local producers and urban institutions that results in local institutions locally sourcing a percentage of their food purchases.
    After documenting and disseminating the information gained from River Country RC&D site visit, FBNA and ASAN will facilitate stakeholder meetings over the course of two years to develop a similar model in North Alabama. FBNA will utilize the cooperative development model created by Gerald Ely and emphasized in Cooperation Works! trainings, a national association of cooperative development centers. The development process encompasses key activities including: an evaluation of the commitment of potential members; characterization and analysis of the potential market; member benefit/risk report; feasibility study; business plan and legal documents; member equity drive; incorporation and board of director election; establishment of accounting and control functions; staffing; and the development of operating policies.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.