Improving Producer Cooperatives: Best Practices in Marketing, Distribution and Governance

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2019: $23,750.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2021
Grant Recipient: CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Margaret Christie
Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA)

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Sustainable Communities: food hubs, local and regional food systems, values-based supply chains

    Proposal abstract:

    This project will research, review, and evaluate best practices in marketing, distribution, and governance for producer marketing cooperatives. We will work closely with two existing cooperatives and share our findings with farmers interested in improving existing or starting new cooperatives.

    Producer marketing cooperatives are an effective way to share the costs of marketing and distribution while retaining profits from those activities. They allow growers to benefit from economies of scale through bulk buying of supplies; shared facilities and staffing for aggregation, packing, or distribution; and shared costs for meeting licensing or food safety requirements.

    Producer cooperatives also face obstacles to success. Margins in most agricultural sectors are low and cooperatives are often made up of competitors. Members have both shared and individual interests which may sometimes be in conflict. Cooperative membership is sometimes stagnant, and as current members face retirement, cooperatives need to attract new growers to maintain efficiencies and sales.

    Project activities include conducting needs assessments with two existing cooperatives; researching best practices used by cooperatives in other regions and soliciting input and feedback from cooperative development specialists; and prioritizing improvements and making implementation plans with existing cooperatives. Dissemination will be thorough and targeted, focused on identifying and supporting emerging and potential producer cooperatives in our region. By reviewing and evaluating best practices with both current and potential cooperative members and cooperative staff, this work provides on-the-ground, real world evaluation of practices that can help producer cooperatives thrive. It is adaptable to many different regions and agricultural sectors.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project seeks to discover best practices for producer marketing cooperatives in order to ensure profitability, increase sales, and expand participation.

    Objective1: Research and assess best practices for producer marketing cooperatives.

    Objective 2: Review best practices with partner cooperatives and complete plan for implementation of new practices in at least three topic areas.

    Objective 3: Disseminate project process and conclusions, both positive and negative, to stakeholders, including participating coops and their members, other existing cooperatives, producers interested in forming cooperatives, and other agricultural service providers and relevant organizations.

    This project will benefit the 42 farms that are current members or shippers with Our Family Farms and PVGA by ensuring that these coops continue to operate and thrive, providing services that producers depend on, including marketing, branding, aggregation, discounted supplies, ordering, payment, inventory management, and distribution. The project will also benefit potential new members of these cooperatives. CISA is also committed to making the information we gain through this project available to emerging producer cooperatives, although we cannot complete those activities within the scope of this proposal.

    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.