Morgan County Co–Op continues planning
By Jessica Blomquist
Members of the community who are interested in starting an agricultural cooperative in Morgan County met on July 31 at 6 p.m. to discuss plans for the creation of the co-op.
The Madison-Morgan Conservancy provided food, including a salad made with locally grown vegetables and chicken salad sandwiches consisting of free-range chickens from Michael and Jennifer Dean of Hunker Downs Fresh Market.
About 12 people attended the meeting to serve as a steering committee for the co-op and begin to decide what products would be included in the co-op, who the members will be, and how to attain funding for a feasibility study to determine the potential success for a co-op. “I see a tremendous potential for fruit and vegetables in the county,” said Jim Markley, owner of CJ Orchards. One of the main topics debated at the meeting was whether the members would want to have a feasibility study done.
Rachel Robinson of Doe Creek Farms believed that the success of local fresh market Hunker Downs as well as the ease with which local vegetables can be sold is evidence enough that a co-op would be profitable.
Local dairy farmer Russell Johnston disagreed, claiming that a feasibility study would be necessary to recruit members for the co-op once statistics and information is gathered to prove that the co-op would be successful. “We need some hard numbers to show that what this is won’t be an ordinary co-op, but a local growth organization where we can get the money back to the farmers,” Johnston said. Another subject discussed by the group was whether to first perform a feasibility study and then enlist others to join the co-op or to gather members and then arrange for a feasibility study. Many believe that a co-op is what farmers need to flourish in the county. “It’s about giving farmers options,” said county extension agent Bobby Smith. “There is a capturable dollar amount that is out there to produce this product.”
“The middle man somewhere is getting the money,” said dairy farmer S.J. Saffold. “We’re not getting it.” Others see the co-op as a way to preserve the agricultural nature and rural character of Morgan County. “We want to see the agricultural history and the land accompanying it be preserved,” said Mary McCauley of the conservancy.
The next meeting for potential members of the co-op is September 8 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Meanwhile, members have split into different groups based on whether they sell produce, dairy, or specialty meats, to discuss their individual needs based on their specific product.