Cooperative Advocacy & Education

The essence of the co-op movement – people working together for our mutual benefit—is the spirit that motivates Farmers Union activity.

What is a co-op?

The International Cooperative Alliance defines a cooperative, or co-op, as “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically controlled enterprise.” In other words, cooperatives are created by people who have a specific need and who are willing to work together to operate and organize a company that will meet that need. Read more from NCBA CLUSA.

The Rochdale Principles

The Rochdale Pioneers were a group of weavers and artisans from Rochdale, England who started a consumer food cooperative in 1844. This early supply cooperative quickly grew and prospered. These pioneers are credited with developing the Rochdale Principles, which became the standard principles of success for cooperatives in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Voluntary and Open Membership—Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept theresponsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political, or religious discrimination.

Democratic Member Control—Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting policies and makingdecisions. The elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary cooperatives, members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote)and cooperatives at other levels are organized in a democratic manner.

Members’ Economic Participation—Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their cooperative. At least part of that capital isusually the common property of the cooperative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership.Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing the cooperative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the cooperative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.

Autonomy and Independence—Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their cooperative autonomy.

Education, Training, and Information—Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers and employees sothey can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives. They inform the general public, particularly young people and opinion leaders, about the nature and benefits of cooperation.

Cooperation Among Cooperatives—Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.

Concern for Community—While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies acceptedby their members.

Why does NFU advocate for cooperatives?

Farmer-owned cooperatives reduce costs of production, maintain a reliable source of inputs, effectively market and process farm products, improve livelihoods, and help recreate rural communities. Farmers Union members provide leadership in the patronage, direction, operation, and development of cooperative enterprises, and in the education of members and the public as to cooperative philosophy and principles. Read more in the NFU Policy Book.


"A lot has changed since National Farmers Union was founded 119 years ago, but one thing that has stayed the same is our commitment to cooperative values. These values—including democracy, equity, and solidarity—guide National Farmers Union's efforts and are largely the reason for our lasting success as an organization. By joining our voices together, our goals are heard much more clearly on Capitol Hill and are much more likely to be accomplished."

—Rob Larew, President, National Farmers Union

"What attracted me to cooperative model was the movement to build sustainable communities, giving everyone a voice, and provide opportunity to pursue dreams when those dreams did not align with the traditional model."

—Sandra Baca, Assistant Director, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union Co-op Development Center

"Cooperatives are businesses that exist to improve the lives of those that participate in them, by providing goods, delivering services or purchasing from their members. They also give power to their members by enhancing their income and letting the members make governance decisions."

—Mark Watne, President, North Dakota Farmers Union

" I believe cooperatives are essentially one of the best options to encourage collaboration to enhance economic opportunity across demographic lines."

—Cary Junior, Founder, SouthEast Michigan Producers Association & Member, Michigan Farmers Union

Featured Video: Inside the Twin Cities Co-ops

During NFU's 2021 virtual College Conference on Cooperatives, participants got a behind-the-scenes look at Fair State Brewing Cooperative, a 1,500-member craft beer co-op, and Seward Community Co-op, a beloved local institution which celebrates its 50-year anniversary next year.

The Latest from Farmers Union

Webinar: Land, Legacy & Concern for Community
In part one of its Co-op Month 2021 webinar series, National Farmers Union featured Love is Love Farm and Mileston Cooperative on using cooperation to promote mindful land stewardship and inclusive community development.

In the news: Mobile meat-processing unit unveiled in Great Falls
To keep Montana beef local for the benefit of consumers and ranchers alike, the Montana Farmers Union rolled out a new mobile meat processing facility. President Walter Schweitzer said the producer-owned unit will help retain value and provide consumers more options to enjoy Montana beef.

In the news: New Minnesota co-op wants to profit from getting Kernza wheat in marketplace
Minnesota Farmers Union member and NFU Next Generation Representative Anne Schwagerl is a founding member of the Perennial Promise Growers Cooperative, the first ever for growers of Kernza, a perennial wheat that protects water supplies, store more carbon in the soil, and reduce erosion.

Webinar: Credit Unions are Co-ops, Too!
Around the world, co-ops have helped people meet shared needs and build stronger communities, together. Learn how, like other co-operatives, credit unions grow community wealth and build resilient local economies.


Steps to Startup—University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives
Starting a cooperative, from initial concept to launch.—Association of Cooperative Educators
Curated learning paths, resource libraries, and cooperative news.

Find a Co-op Developer—CooperationWorks!
Network of developers working in all fifty states and across sectors.

Funding Opportunities

Cooperative Development Foundation
Support for research, education, disaster relief, and development.

USDA Rural Cooperative Development Grant Program
Funding to start, expand, or improve rural cooperatives.

Ralph K. Morris Foundation
Scholarship programs for emerging leaders.

Cooperative education is also integral to our farm business and leadership programming:
Women's Conference | Beginning Farmer Institute | All-States Camp 

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