Op-Ed: The Need for a Multi-Stakeholder Cooperative Business Statute

February 9, 2015   Tags:

Kevin Johnson is the President of the Board of Directors for the Alderson Community Food Hub. He resides in Alderson, West Virginia. 

By supporting the creation of a multi-stakeholder cooperative business statute, West Virginia will create opportunities for business entrepreneurship and bolster our rural agricultural communities.

Improving food access while supporting local agriculture is a daunting challenge in West Virginia, but it doesn’t have to be. That’s one of the lessons we’ve learned on our journey as a food hub based in Alderson, WV, connecting producers and consumers of all kinds to build a stronger, more food-secure community and a thriving local food economy. This journey has taken us from managing a seasonal farmer’s market in 2011, to hosting a Grow Appalachia program, a school gardening and nutrition program, a Community Orchard, and a co-op grocer in 2015. We see great promise in this kind of work, made possible by our partnerships with other community organizations, and most importantly, our committed producer and consumer members.

One of the other important lessons we’ve learned is how challenging it can be for a small group of people to start a community-based venture that is not a traditional business, but also not an official non-profit.

After first trying to incorporate as a cooperatively-owned business, we realized that the business licensing and tax system as-is in West Virginia does not currently reflect our desired management structure. After a years-long discussion about what organizational structure best served our values and objectives, we decided to pursue non-profit status with the acknowledgement that pursuing a cooperative structure, if ever possible, would be a goal for the future.

A multi-stakeholder cooperative business statute is ideal for an organization like ours because it allows low-resource individuals to collectively finance and own a business, greatly reduces our federal tax burden, and allows both producers and consumers to buy-in as owners that stand to benefit from their work.

We urge our legislators to sponsor a bill that will establish a multi-stakeholder cooperative statute in West Virginia, as it will provide a much more appropriate structure for enterprises like ours to take root and grow where we are. We understand that our story is one of common issues — a small community with insufficient outlets for its own diverse agriculture, a community not large or well-connected enough to attract outside business — but with uncommon people that make possible creative and entrepreneurial local solutions to meet its needs. We want the same opportunity for all of our fellow West Virginians striving to improve their communities, and we see this as one important tool towards that end.

Many thanks for your attention,

Kevin Johnson

President, Board of Directors

Alderson Community Food Hub

6235493_orig

Launched in Spring 2011, the Alderson Community Market strengthens its community and economy by creating opportunity for people to buy and sell locally produced goods. Their vendors are local farmers and craft persons offering locally grown foods, home- baked goods, locally crafted items, and fresh roasted, ground coffee.