Editor’s note: Thomas is Extension educator and innovation counselor at the Michigan State University Product Center, Michigan Cooperative Development Program. This is one in a series of blogs USDA is posting to help celebrate Cooperative Month in October.
Farmers on the Move (FOTM) is a cooperative of Hispanic farmers, incorporated in June 2009, which is working to create a quality retail brand of fresh blueberries and vegetables for the Michigan and Midwest markets. Guiding this effort is Filiberto Villa Gomez, co-op board president, who has consistently striven to enhance member knowledge of both growing and marketing practices.
Together, the farmers process, package, deliver and share marketing expenses. The co-op sells to retail and wholesale markets, as well as through farmers markets.
FOTM currently has 14 members who farm from 5 to 50 acres. Sales this year will be in the low-to-mid six-figures. The 2012 Michigan Ag Census listed 855 Hispanic farmers in the state, who are farming 115,087 acres.
Working together enables the producer-members to supply their products more efficiently and competitively, helping growers realize greater profits. By creating a stronger production and marketing framework, FOTM helps to fuel the entrepreneurial spirit and sustainable business growth of the state’s small, specialty crop farmers. The cooperative has also provided and coordinated training and educational resources for the Southwest Michigan Hispanic agricultural community.
A co-op packing house was established in 2012. Sorting machinery was secured via additional member investments. By marketing their products together, members secure higher prices and build the co-op’s brand.
FOTM got a boost when it received a USDA Small Socially Disadvantaged Producers and Ranchers technical assistance grant in 2009. The grant was awarded to the co-op to help develop marketing resources and materials.
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Can't we just be "Americans"? How do all other groups feel when certain ones are singled out?