• Dec 19, 2023

How Cooperatives Are Powering Rural Communities

Cooperatives are more than just businesses. They are collaboration in action. They are proof of how powerful it is when many come together as one. They power rural communities, creating opportunities for the greater agricultural industry and every member individually.
Co-Alliance Cooperative Inc. is a prime example. It remains a powerful force for the rural communities it serves in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan.
For nearly 100 years, Co-Alliance has been farmer-owned and driven by their mission of “Lead. Grow. Give. Remember.” These core four principles can be seen throughout the numerous services and products they offer, geared toward serving their communities and employees. In our conversation with Lindsay Sankey, marketing specialist at Co-Alliance, she shared just how far they go to help strengthen, support and give back to the communities they serve.

The Cooperative Model: A Beacon for Rural Communities

Since cooperatives like Co-Alliance are owned by farmers, they are driven by the needs and interests of those farmer-owners and the communities they live in.
"We looked to our membership to focus our investments on what they value,” Sankey explained.
Food security, farm and energy safety, and agricultural education and leadership are the cooperative’s giving back pillars, reflecting the most important causes to its members.
The cooperative model goes beyond profit motives. It fosters a sense of ownership, shared responsibility and a commitment to the long-term well-being of the community.
Employees of Co-Alliance actively maintain a culture of giving by participating in the cooperative’s Cultivating Communities program. Through this initiative, Co-Alliance offers each employee eight hours per year to volunteer within their communities and organizations. 
Co-Alliance doesn't just exist within rural communities. Their members and employees actively participate and invest in them. By physically showing up at local events, supporting youth programs, volunteering in the community and addressing critical issues like food security and safety, cooperatives have become integral parts of the rural landscape.

Farm Energy and Safety

As rural communities face evolving challenges, Co-Alliance evolves alongside them. Sankey explained how they keep their cooperative model focused on the countryside, not just the headquarters.
She noted that, “It's really about keeping an ear to the ground. As we continue to grow, something we want to remain focused on is not what’s coming out of the corporate headquarters but what’s coming out of the countryside from our members. It comes down to being all ears. It’s what our members value and the fabric of the cooperative spirit.”
Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations someone can have. Regarding the importance of education and training involving farm safety, Sankey explained, “We can’t keep the family farm going if people are getting hurt or there are disasters. So, we really invest in educating fire departments on grain extraction and propane safety.”
In 2023 alone, Co-Alliance hosted around 80 safety events with more than 3,000 first responders to help give them the tools to help save lives surrounding grain entrapment and extraction, and propane and anhydrous ammonia safety.

Food Security

Co-Alliance showcased its commitment to evolving needs through initiatives like Planting The Seeds For Food Security. The initiative was launched as rural food insecurity became strikingly more evident during the pandemic.
As the pandemic waned, food insecurity in rural communities did not. “We are part of producing the greatest and most abundant, safest food supply in the world. Why are our neighbors hungry?” asked Sankey.
To help provide aid to their communities, Co-Alliance employees were given the opportunity to choose an amount to donate from a single paycheck, resulting in the participation of more than 300 employees and a collective fund exceeding $15,000. That donation was then matched by Co-Alliance and Land O’Lakes, tripling the initial amount to total $46,440. Employees were able to send in requests for donations to be allocated to food pantries in their communities where food insecurities were present. From May to September, every cent of the fund was allocated to local food banks to address those needs identified by employees.

Agricultural Education and Leadership

Through their scholarship program, Co-Alliance has shown how important it is to foster educational and professional development in rural areas, recognizing that providing opportunities is essential for the vitality of these communities.
Sankey explained, “We want to provide opportunities for people who want to return to their hometown.”
Co-Alliance has seen scholarship recipients use their funds to get a degree and then follow their career path back to Co-Alliance where they joined the team full time.
Co-Alliance Cooperative, Inc. embodies the spirit of community engagement and shows how powerful communities can be when a culture of giving is evident. Co-ops play a unique role in addressing the needs of rural areas. As the cooperative continues to cultivate communities, it stands as a testament to the power of collaboration and shared values in building a brighter future for those in rural communities.
All photos are either the property of WinField United or used with permission.

© 2023 WinField United. Important: Before use always read and follow label instructions. Crop performance is dependent on several factors many of which are beyond the control of WinField United, including without limitation, soil type, pest pressures, agronomic practices and weather conditions. Growers are encouraged to consider data from multiple locations, over multiple years and to be mindful of how such agronomic conditions could impact results. WinField is a trademark of WinField United.