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Co-op Development Spotlight: Hemp

Hemp is back in Wisconsin! Low milk and grain prices and a struggling farm economy has left farmers searching for alternate avenues to achieve farm profitability. A combination of state legislation passed in 2017 and the removal of industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act on a federal level paved the way for farmers to legally grow and process industrial hemp in the state again.
Though biologically hemp and marijuana are the same species, Cannabis sativa, hemp has negligible levels of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana. Historically hemp was grown for fiber, and recently for seed that is used in a range of products for human and animal consumption. Currently the highest value product derived from hemp is cannabidiol, more commonly known as CBD oil. Scientific study of its potential benefits has been minimal in the U.S. due to the legal status of the crop, however it is the basis of one FDA-approved drug to treat epilepsy. There is wide interest in its possible health benefits and efficacy at treating a range of symptoms.

While we are in the very early stages of the new hemp industry, Wisconsin has a long history with the crop. It was first produced in the state on nine acres in 1908 as an experiment led by the Agronomy Department of the Wisconsin Experiment Station in cooperation with the Office of Fiber Investigations of the USDA. By 1917 Wisconsin was the second largest hemp producing state both in terms of acreage and fiber yielded. As a war crop, the fiber was mainly used to sew shoes worn by American soldiers and for cordage in ship building. From the earliest years of production, it was recognized that community cooperation was critical to making the crop successful. Machinery for handling hemp was expensive as were processing mills. The Rock River Hemp Grower’s Association formed in the first few years of the industry. In 1917, the statewide Wisconsin Hemp Order organized in Ripon to promote the general welfare of the hemp industry in the state, with both farmers and hemp mill operators as members.

Even as there are many reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the re-emerging hemp industry, many businesses and individuals from outside Wisconsin are scrambling for a foothold as it takes shape. A number of entities from Canada and western states, like Colorado and Oregon, with more established hemp industries are building a presence here, seeking farmers to grow for them. Informational meetings about hemp are often attended by bankers and investors as they too want to benefit from its profitability. There is concern that while hemp may grow here again, much of the value will be extracted by outsiders, or those not directly involved in the production and processing of hemp products. Thankfully, groups are organizing to keep that value closer to home! 
Incorporated in early 2019, the South Central Wisconsin Hemp Cooperative is motivated to overcome some of the same challenges that catalyzed the formation of the early associations. It is a producer-led effort to carve out a viable place in the market for small-scale organic farmers aiming to grow high-quality CBD hemp. Sadly all prior local production knowledge is gone from Wisconsin’s hemp peak. The cooperative is gathering the information they can for their members; organizing a seed order for their first growing season; developing relationships with local processors; and attending meetings to keep abreast of industry developments. With support from UWCC they have developed bylaws and are currently examining business feasibility with support from the Wisconsin Farmers Union. Though spring is just upon us and there are still many unknowns, the South Central Wisconsin Hemp Cooperative is laying important groundwork to increase the value returned to farmers in this new hemp era for Wisconsin.    

Anne Reynolds to be Inducted into the Cooperative Hall of Fame

Anne Reynolds, former executive director of the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives, will be inducted into the Cooperative Hall of Fame on May 8 in Washington, DC. Reynolds joins an esteemed group of cooperators as induction into the Cooperative Hall of Fame is the highest honor that the U.S. cooperative community bestows on the extraordinary men and women who have made genuinely heroic contributions in support of the cooperative form of enterprise.
She is the sixth person affiliated with the University of Wisconsin to be granted this recognition. Previous inductees include Marilyn Scholl, Dr. Ann Hoyt, Dr. Richard H. Vilstrup, Tom Lyon, and Glenn Anderson.

For decades, Reynolds has been a champion for the cooperative model and has dedicated her time to providing direction and resources to sustain and improve a broad range of cooperative businesses. The impact of her work reaches far beyond the borders of Wisconsin.

If you are interested in learning more about how you can honor Anne Reynolds and help celebrate this great achievement, please see Cooperative Hall of Fame.

Cooperative Tapestry: Food Co-ops Gather June 6-8 for CCMA 2019

Registration is now open for the 63rd annual CCMA conference, to be held in Durham, North Carolina, on June 6-8, 2019.  Co-hosted by Durham Co-op Market, Weaver Street Market, and the UW Center for Cooperatives, the conference will bring together food cooperative leaders and industry experts from across the country to build skills to strengthen food co-ops and their communities.
The CCMA 2019 theme, Cooperative Tapestry: Fostering Democracy and Equity in Our Communities, recognizes the influence of the textile industry on North Carolina’s economy and on the modern cooperative movement.
This year’s program will feature an inspiring keynote address from Dara Cooper, national organizer for the National Black Food & Justice Alliance. Ms. Cooper is a leading voice of the food justice movement, and was recently recognized as a recipient of the James Beard Foundation 2018 Leadership Award for dedicating her life to racial equity and justice in the food system.
The opening plenary session will address the future of retail and how food cooperatives can compete in a rapidly changing landscape. Speakers include C.E. Pugh from National Co+op Grocers, J.J. Cantrell from UNFI, Sally Lyons Wyatt from IRi, and moderator Doug O'Brien of National Cooperative Business Association. 

Our closing plenary session will highlight North Carolina cooperatives that are maintaining their relevance by helping their communities address the challenges and opportunities that arise from changes in our economy and society. Speakers include: Molly Hemstreet from The Industrial Commons, Leila Wolfrum from Durham Co-op Market, John Herrera from Self-Help Credit Union, and Cornelius Blanding from the Federation of Southern Cooperatives.
Breakout sessions addressing a variety of topics from elevating your co-op’s engagement strategy to mentoring staff, the role of board oversight to addressing implicit bias. Attendees will enjoy co-op tours that highlight Durham’s gems including cooperative businesses, producers that are committed to sustainable and organic practices, and other organizations that are making an impact on food access.
Join 400+ of your fellow cooperators as they share ideas and inspiration to strengthen their co-ops and communities, address issues of equity and democracy, and challenge the status quo.  More information can be found on the conference website:

SAVE THE DATE: 22nd Annual Farmer Cooperatives Conference 

In Brief: Updates & Resources

New Look for UW Center for Cooperatives Website

We are proud to share our new UW Center for Cooperatives website!

What's new? User-friendly navigation, responsive design for mobile, and streamlined functionality to help you find what you need.
What did we keep!?!? TONS of resources for cooperatives and people who are interested in starting a cooperative. Check out our extensive resource library for information on all types and sectors of cooperatives. 

Cooperatives in Wisconsin: The Power of Cooperative Action

Newly redesigned, Cooperatives in Wisconsin: The Power of Cooperative Action highlights cooperative basics: types of co-ops, structure, finance, and steps to start a cooperative. A go-to guide for anyone looking to start a cooperative or learn more about them! Print copies are available thanks to the generous support of the Federated Youth Foundation.

UWCC receives NIFA Grant

We are pleased to announce a new grant awarded to UWCC from USDA's National Institute for Food and Agriculture. The grant, New Geographies for Understanding Rural Business and Employment Dynamics, will investigate rural economies' dependence on all food and agriculture-related activities and explore how local agricultural production and economic shocks impact local economies.

UWCC Faculty and Graduate Students to Present Research at ICA Conference

UWCC Faculty Director Brent Hueth and graduate students affiliated with UW- Madison's Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics will present at the International Cooperative Alliance's European Research Conference in Berlin, Germany in August 2019. The conference theme is Cooperatives and the Transformation of Business and Society. The delegation will present on the following research initiatives:
  • Cooperative Enterprise in National Statistical Systems: New Opportunities for Measurement, Reporting, and Research, Brent Hueth, Faculty Director, UW Center for Cooperatives
  • The Farm Credit System and Agriculture Productivity: Evidence from U.S. Counties, 1920-1940, Brent Hueth, Faculty Director, UW Center for Cooperatives and Jared Hutchins, Graduate Student, UW-Madison
  • Farmer Cooperation and Market Access: Evidence from Chilean Wine-grape Markets, Pilar Jano, Professor, Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez. Dr. Jano completed her PhD at UW-Madison's Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics.

New Book: Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement

A new book by Dr. Monica White, a member of the UWCC's advisory committee is now available. Freedom Farmers expands the historical narrative of the black freedom struggle to embrace the work, roles, and contributions of southern black farmers and the organizations they formed. Whereas existing scholarship generally views agriculture as a site of oppression and exploitation of black people, this book reveals agriculture as a site of resistance and provides a historical foundation that adds meaning and context to current conversations around the resurgence of food justice/sovereignty movements in urban spaces like Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, New York City, and New Orleans. More information on Freedom Farmers.

Upcoming Events

May 14, 2019, 9:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Cottage Grove, WI

Designed for new directors, this program covers cooperative board roles and responsibilities, cooperative finance, and practical tools for developing a more efficient and effective board.


June 6-8, 2019
Durham, NC

Annual national gathering of food cooperative leaders that features 30 educational sessions from co-op peers, inspiring keynotes, co-op tours, and networking.


Copyright © 2019 University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives, All rights reserved.

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