Cooperatives emerge when a group of individuals identify a common need and set out to create a solution together. They are enterprises that enable a group of people to accomplish a common objective by joining forces, pooling resources, and building a collective solution. There are many different types of co-ops–consumer, worker, producer–each addressing the specific gap in product or service that the group members are experiencing.
Young Agrarians supports farmers to access resources and education to cultivate the skills necessary to cooperate successfully so that we can build a more sustainable food system, collectively.
In the coming months, Young Agrarians will be exploring collaboration and cooperation as solutions for the challenges presented by our current food system. Sign up for our newsletter to be the first to hear about it.
You can also find web resources for all stages of your co-op journey in our Co-op Toolbox.
You don’t have to do it alone, let’s build together!
Whether you’re just learning about the cooperative model, in the early stages of forming a co-op, or are part of an existing cooperative, our cooperative toolbox offers resources curated for every stage of your journey.
The National Farmers Union in the US has put together a great webinar series that explores how the co-operative model can help address common challenges faced by small- and medium-scaled farming enterprises, along with other co-op fundamentals.
- How to choose the right business structure: Starting a co-op is an exciting process! But is the co-op model the right fit for your group? This resource from Small Business BC describes the pros and cons of forming an unincorporated (sole proprietorship, partnership) vs. an incorporated (non-profit, LLC, cooperative) business.
- Business Structure Overview: If you decide to go the incorporated business route, this handy chart from Small Business BC gives an overview of the difference between a non-profit, corporation, and cooperative.
- The Cultivating Co-op Guide: A step-by-step manual, created by the BC Cooperative Association (BCCA) that gives an overview of the cooperative model, as well as a comprehensive process for starting a cooperative in BC.
- Co-operate NOW Course: The BCCA also offers their Co-operate NOW course several times a year. They describe it as “an interactive blended learning experience designed to support co-ops and co-operators flourish.”
- The BC Farmers Market Guide to Starting a Marketing Cooperative: A short guide by the BC Farmers Market Association that walks through some basics of co-ops from a farming perspective. Although not comprehensive, it includes some case studies to give you a flavour as to the types of farmers’ co-ops that already exist in BC!
- The BC Government Cooperatives Page: All of the legal requirements for incorporating a co-operative.
- The Co-op Creator: A wealth of resources to answer most of your co-op creation questions! From early stage to incorporation, financing to additional resources for co-ops that are already up and running, the resources section offers articles on common challenges faced by both new and established cooperators.
- Budget Template: By the Co-op Creator, this resource is a starting point for determining what your start-up costs will be for your co-op.
- Cooperative Business Planning: Creating a business plan as a co-op is the ‘same-same-but-different’ from creating a business plan as a farm. This guide from BCCA will walk you through creating a co-op business plan. The activities in the guide reference a business canvas that is not included in the guide. YA has a Business Model Canvas template that you can use.
- Co-op Feasibility Study: A feasibility study is a type of ‘reality check,’ and designed to determine if your co-op enterprise will be viable and sustainable. This short guide is a good place to start before jumping into creating a more comprehensive business plan.
- Resourcing your co-op: Accessing capital to start your cooperative can feel like a daunting task! This summary can give you an idea of the types of creative financing that is available for new cooperatives.
Co-ops, like any enterprise, benefit from consistent tweaking and a little TLC. Below are some resources for existing co-ops for strengthening their cooperative mojo.
- ACCESS Shared Services: Need a bookkeeper, graphic designer, or web-hosting services for your co-op enterprise? ACCESS offers a concierge service for business services such as bookkeeping, marketing, web hosting and design. Your co-op must be a member of BCCA or another member organization to use these services.
- Cooperative Board of Directors: It’s quite common for new co-ops to have an inexperienced board of directors. Board of Directors can play a critical role in ensuring the success of a cooperative if given proper guidance and training on how to do so. This guide lays out the key responsibilities to set a strong foundation for good governance.
- BCCA Governance Workshop: BCCA provides training workshops for executive directors and boards.
- Co-op Guide for Farm Market Managers: can get questioned by Farm Market Managers about whether or not they are in violation of farmers market guidelines/by-laws. This short guide by BC Farmers Market Association helps to demystify farm co-ops and farm collectives, and also outlines what you need to provide market managers to participate as a vendor at a Farmers Market
One of the revolutionary aspects of the cooperative model is that ownership is shared by people and not by wealth (one-member-one-vote vs. one-share-one-vote). By empowering each individual to participate actively in shaping organizational direction, cooperatives have the potential to transform how our economy is run–from the bottom up.
What does empowerment mean when running a business enterprise? Our relationship with power is foundational in how we interact with one another.
- Creating Healthy Power Dynamics: This article gives some tips for creating healthy power dynamics in a working environment
- Hierachy or Power Dynamics?: This article highlights power dynamics rather than hierarchy as a potential source of issues.
As a society, we are unpacking a lot of historically bad habits. As value-driven organizations, cooperatives provide an opportunity to practice new ways of relating with one another that offer a better reflection of our values.
- Positionality Exercise: This resource offers some context on positionality of different forms of privilege
- “So our co-ops are mostly white”: This cheekily-titled article helps to name steps in creating more inclusive and representative organizations.
We hope you find these resources helpful! Keep checking back as we add more to this page.
Are you part of an agricultural or farm-adjacent co-op? Do you farm on co-operatively or collectively owned farmland? Have any questions about co-ops? We’d love to hear from you. Please reach out to the Young Agrarians Co-op Coordinator, Emi Do (email@example.com)
This initiative is funded by the British Columbia Co-operative Association, in partnership with the Alliance for Co-operative Development.