On January 10, NCBA CLUSA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) hosted a joint Rural Partners Network (RPN) webinar called “Resilient Rural Development through Cooperatives.” The RPN is an all-of-government program that helps rural communities find the resources and funding to create jobs, build infrastructure and support long-term economic stability on their terms.
Currently, RPN has Community Networks within 10 pilot states. USDA has also hired community liaisons as on-the-ground technical assistance providers to build capacity for local leaders in navigating and accessing federal resources to create thriving rural communities.
This educational session provided an overview of cooperatives and opportunities for collaboration between the RPN and co-op members currently working in RPN cohort communities to achieve long-term economic development. During the webinar, NCBA CLUSA staff and partners provided insight into the current landscape of cooperatives and key programs.
Highlights included the “Strengthening Co-op Capacity for Historically Underserved Farmers Program,” which seeks to empower historically underserved farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural producers by providing grants and connecting individuals with preferred vendors. Donna Pearson, Founder and Executive Director of Common Ground Producers and Growers, a 2024 grantee of the project, shared how they have utilized funding to operate a Mobile Market and Mobile Food Hub providing fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables to food deserts and food insecure areas by partnering with Kansas farmers and growers.
The Historically Underserved Farmers Program partners with cooperative development centers, creating a network of technical assistance providers operating as preferred vendors. Two preferred vendors include Thomas Beckett, Executive Director of Carolina Common Enterprise (CCE), and Autumn Vogel, Cooperative Developer at Keystone Development Center (KDC). These organizations utilize program funding to help strengthen local capacity, create opportunities for scaling agricultural production, and expand access to markets through the cooperative model for historically underserved farmers, ranchers, and other socially disadvantaged groups.
Additionally, both CCE and KDC are recipients of USDA’s Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) program, which grants funds for technical assistance to improve the economic condition of rural areas by helping individuals and businesses start, expand or improve rural cooperatives.
NCBA CLUSA’s USDA-funded Puerto Rico Climate-Smart Coffee Partnership incentivizes farmers to adopt climate-smart agriculture and forestry (CSAF) practices that meet USDA’s practice standards in the production of climate-smart commodities (CSCs).
La Liga de Cooperativas de Puerto Rico (La Liga) is a partner for the Puerto Rico Climate Smart Commodities Program and a long-time NCBA CLUSA member representing cooperatives across the island. Franco Jiménez Sanabria, Educational Service Officer at La Liga, utilizes program funding to provide culturally relevant technical assistance, helping producers classify as Certified Regenerative and granting them access to new climate-smart markets, enabling producers to sell commodities for a higher premium.
Attendees also learned how housing cooperatives can be a tool for addressing the affordable housing crisis during a presentation on the Cooperative Development Foundation (CDF)’s Affordable Housing Initiative (AHI). The AHI works with partners and advisors such as Mary O’Hara, Executive Vice President of ROC USA®. The presentation discussed how ROC USA provides technical assistance to manufactured home communities operating as resident-owned communities (ROCs) or looking to transition to an ROC. Resident-owned communities allow residents to maintain their affordable housing perpetually and are one of the few sources of unsubsidized naturally occurring affordable housing in the country.
Additional resources shared during the webinar:
- Interagency Working Group on Cooperative Development
- Start.coop case study on the Real Pickles conversion
- Rural Energy For America Program (REAP)
- Introduction to Cooperative Development
- Interagency Working Group on Cooperative Development meeting on Equitable Ecosystem
- Business & Industry (B&I) Loan Guarantees
- Sustainable Economies Law Center