If I were putting together a Sunday Drive Edition of a scavenger hunt, it would most certainly include the “CO-OP” emblem. You probably know what one I mean: an outline of a red circle and blue circle overlapping and the letters C-O-O-P stamped in the middle.
The logo, which was almost universally used by agricultural cooperatives in the 1980s and earlier, has slowly faded from use as modern cooperatives have opted to use their own brands to build recognition and loyalty, which is a smart move from a business perspective.
The nostalgic side of me is a little sad to see the once unified look of cooperatives drift into obsolescence. It makes me think about all the people who are rapidly moving further away from the complex story of how American agriculture came to grow the safest, most abundant food supply in the world.
Cooperatives played a vital role in that story, and since October is National Co-ops month, I want to share briefly about how co-ops helped build American agriculture into what it is today and how they continue to keep our rural communities strong.
Cooperatives have their roots in agriculture. A group of farmers in England who were getting a raw deal from their suppliers formed the first cooperative several centuries ago. They were paying too much for a terrible product. Eventually the farmers got so frustrated that they decided they could do much better themselves. They pooled their resources to create a business but ended up creating a new framework and guiding principles for cooperatives, which are businesses collectively owned and operated by their members, who then share in the benefits and profits of the organization.
A century ago, that same model started to make a lot of sense in small remote communities across the Midwest. As farmers began to grow excess grain, they needed somewhere to take it. A group of neighbors could form a cooperative, which allowed them to team up and build an elevator for storage and have an organization that could take care of selling and shipping grain to larger markets. Cooperatives helped farmers make a better living for themselves and their neighbors.
Through the decades, these small community cooperatives have grown and merged with other cooperatives to create more efficiency and adapted to provide new services for their members. However, the guiding principles of serving members and their communities have stayed the same.
And if you do have a local co-op, remember supporting them is just like supporting your neighbors and community.