This October USDA is celebrating National Cooperative Month, an observance that recognizes the cooperative model, its many influential uses, and how cooperatives benefit their members in numerous ways. There are at least 30,000 cooperatives in the United States providing more than $700 billion to the economy. This year’s theme is Owning Our Identity, a reference to the principles and values that distinguish cooperatives from other business forms.
Cooperatives are created by individuals to tackle issues they are unable to solve individually. Co-ops have additional features that make them an attractive option in today’s environment, including the ability to address social justice, create wealth in local communities, encourage self-determination, and build capacity in a community. But cooperatives do not guarantee business success and like other business models require planning and hard work. (View the top myths about cooperatives to learn more!)
Cooperatives are made up of members who collectively own, operate, and run the organization, with each member typically getting one vote on decisions. Members are also the customers and use the cooperative services from agriculture marketing, food distribution, mutual purchasing, home care, childcare, real estate, to workers joining together to continue operating businesses that otherwise would have been closed or taken over by competitors.
Cooperatives are resilient as evidenced by the fact that 23 percent of the country’s agricultural cooperatives have been in business 100 years or more, 54 percent have been operating for 75 years or more, and 77 percent have been in existence 50 years or more. To achieve such resilience and own their identity, cooperatives have shown they are ready and able to thrive in their communities through the upheavals and changes in the economy; from a pandemic to competition looking to overtake their sectors, and in members’ mindsets that evolve as new generations evolve how cooperatives are run.
In celebration of National Cooperative Month, learn more about the resources available at Rural Development to help communities start, sustain, or convert to a cooperative business model:
- Interagency Working Group on Cooperative Development: The Interagency Working Group for Cooperative Development, led by USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service, met five times in 2023 to uncover how cooperatives operate and benefit local people and communities in the housing, food, child care, real estate investment sectors. For National Cooperative Month, the group hosted a panel discussion featuring cooperative leaders, including newly inducted Cooperative Hall of Fame housing co-op advocate Linda Leaks.
- Cooperative Services Branch: Cooperative Services provides support and information for people deciding whether and how to form a co-op. Many of these materials are used by economic development professionals, trade associations, extension educators, youth groups, and agriculture and business schools.
- Cooperative Success Stories: Learn more about people who have successfully navigated Rural Development programs and services to help their communities with the cooperative business model.
Co-ops are community based, resilient through economic downturns, and ready to help people meet market needs. This October cooperatives are owning their cooperative identity and showing how their values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity distinguish them from other businesses.