Improving the Economic Condition of Rural AreasRATIONALE
In keeping with the direction of the Winrock Advisory Council and the primary objective of the RCDG program, to improve the economic condition of rural areas through cooperative development, AREC will focus on two initiatives for the 2007-2008 program year.
Initiative 1: Assist immigrant poultry producers by organizing a purchasing cooperative, helping them purchase necessary seed and equipment to produce and market alternative crops; thereby improving their economic well-being while adding and preserving jobs.
Initiative #2: Cooperative Development Services and National Coordination. Utilize the cooperative business model to create and preserve jobs while increasing income in rural areas.
Arkansas Rural Enterprise Center's (AREC's) 2007-2008 program objectives were to continue offering quality cooperative development services and, specific to the final year, a special initiative to assist immigrant poultry producers in forming a purchasing cooperative and transitioning into growing and marketing specialty crops. AREC responded to a high volume of requests for assistance received from individuals around the state, particularly farmers interested in the exploding biofuels industry.
AREC focused on the two initiatives during the project:
Initiative #1: Assist immigrant poultry producers by organizing a purchasing cooperative, helping them purchase necessary seed and equipment to produce and market alternative crops; thereby improving their economic well-being while adding and preserving jobs. Tasks under this initiative included 1) Organize immigrant poultry producers who are interested in producing alternative crops to organize a purchasing cooperative, 2) Assist in training and technical assistance dedicated to growing specialty crops, and 3) Assist in developing markets for the specialty crops.
Initiative #2: Cooperative Development Services and National Coordination. Utilize the cooperative business model to create and preserve jobs while increasing income in rural areas. Tasks under this initiative included 1) Respond to the high volume of requests for cooperative development assistance in all AREC service offerings; i.e. buying cooperatives, marketing cooperatives, farmers markets, specialty crop and livestock producers, and value-added processors. There has been extremely high volume of requests due to exploding interest of row crop farmers in providing feed stocks to the biofuels industry, 2) Provide the technical assistance needed to organize farmers into cooperative networks that will produce and package agricultural products at quality standards and packaging specs set by private industry, and 3) Continue networking activities with members of Cooperation Works, the national network of cooperative development centers, transferring lessons learned and maintaining best practices for cooperative development.
Technical Assistance Projects initiated and continuing:
A group of poultry producers in northwest Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma established a cooperative network and incorporated as Poultry Partners, Inc. Efforts concentrated on developing three major workshops and seminars and delivering technical assistance to the members in the form of presentations on the publication "A Review of Biomass Furnaces for Heating and Poultry Houses in the Northwest Arkansas Region."
A group of eastern Arkansas minority vegetable farmers established an LLC, incorporated as the Arkansas Delta Produce Marketing Association. Their major marketing efforts included attending the United Produce trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada, and preparing for the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit in Orlando, Florida.
The Arkansas Farmers Market Association (AFMA) was formed and incorporated as a non-profit association. Their efforts concentrated on developing membership and defining benefits for membership in the association.
Arkansas Women in Agriculture was formed to address issues affecting women involved in agriculture. Their main activities were an annual meeting and "Annie's Project" – multiple training sessions focused on helping women involved in family farming. Approximately 200 cooperative network members were reached by center activities during one program year. A new cooperative that could impact approximately 50 new members is in the start-up phase.
Preliminary investigation into forming a cooperative entity for farmers in northeast Arkansas began. Working with the East Arkansas RC&D, an investigative study tour was performed and meetings with growers from the Arkansas Delta Produce Marketing Association conducted. It is anticipated that these efforts will continue through 2008-2009 RCDG efforts.
Other outreach activities included tasks to support the center's programs and activities that do not require formal project establishment and are not of a "hands-on" technical assistance nature. Activities include 1) Center staff member is AREC representative for Cooperation Works and actively engaged in planning activities and strategic planning for the organization, 2) Center staff is actively engaged in Cooperation Works activities, participating in numerous conference calls regarding outcome measurement, joint projects, etc., 3) Center staff member is on advisory committee of AFMA and meets regularly with this cooperative network, and 4) Center staff is actively involved with Arkansas Women in Agriculture organization, assisting with outreach to women involved in agriculture. During the 2008 meeting, a presentation was made to goat producers, encouraging exploration of forming local cooperative networks for those in goat production.