Mississippi Association of Cooperatives
Ben Burkett is employed by the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund as State Coordinator of the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives (MAC). Established in 1972 as an affiliate of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, MAC serves farmers, their families and communities by increasing their livelihood security and improving quality of life. Building from a tradition begun in the Civil Rights Movement, MAC provides technical assistance and advocates for the needs of its members in the areas of cooperative development and networking, sustainable production, marketing and community food security.
Ben Burkett became an activist and cooperative organizer to gain access to markets and government programs denied to Black farmers because of ingrained racism. A 40-year, fourth generation vegetable and timber farmer from Petal, Mississippi, Ben organized neighboring farmers to sell their crops in Chicago and helped develop the Indian Springs Farmers Association.
In 1978, Ben joined the staff of the Emergency Land Fund (ELF) where he worked with Black farmers and landowners to protect their landholdings. When ELF merged with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Ben’s role expanded to include spreading the word about the cooperative business model and teaching diversified crop development.
Ben was later appointed to the USDA’s Farm Service Agency Committee for Mississippi where he helped raise the profile of agricultural and handicraft co-ops throughout the South, work he continues to do as a State Coordinator for the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives. Past president of the National Family Farm Coalition, representative for La Via Campesina’s Food Sovereignty Commission and board member of the Community Food Security Coalition, his expertise in agriculture took him to Senegal, South Africa, Kenya, Nicaragua, Lebanon and Zimbabwe.
A tireless promoter and advocate for cooperatives, Ben’s knack for connecting farmers globally and bringing them together for a common cause makes him a true example of the cooperative spirit. Ben’s work received numerous awards including the James Beard Foundation Leadership Award in 2014.