Cooperative ventures often work best when several local operations come together to make the most of regional opportunities.
In 2013, a large group of producers and consumers, nonprofits, and producer/consumer cooperatives in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, and Wyoming came together to meet the challenges smaller producers face in accessing larger markets such as wholesale, institutional, and restaurants. For many producers, developing these markets was literally a question of being able to survive in the long term.
The solution they developed was to leverage the strength of the planned, emerging, and existing food hubs in the region into a finely-tuned network that could finally resolve the distribution inefficiencies and product variety limitations. These 16 partners brainstormed on how to craft such a network, which proved so complicated that they agreed the best way to proceed was to start small. In 2016 a trading network of just four farmer-owned food hubs emerged from the larger group to proceed to tackle these issues and go into business.
Thanks to funding from the Gates Family Foundation and the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union Foundation, these four hubs – Arkansas Valley Organic Growers, High Plains Food Co-op, Southwest Farm Fresh Co-op, and (San Luis) Valley Roots Food Hub – plus distribution partner Peak to Plains Alliance formed the Tap Root Cooperative to produce and distribute a wide variety of mostly Colorado-grown, fairly-priced fresh, organic, conventional, and non-GMO agricultural products to Metro Denver and Front Range locations. And by trading with each other, Tap Root Cooperative reaches across southern Colorado and the High Plains. The co-op just hired a marketing coordinator for Metro Denver, which should mean significant new markets for the partnering hubs. And the founding hubs plan to soon jointly market products under the “Tap Root Cooperative” unified brand.
RMFU’s Co-op Development Center believes this cooperative of farmer-owned food hubs is the first of its kind nationally and has been sharing information with other organizations and food hubs interested in embracing similar business structures and strategies.