Keystone Development Center (KDC), a non-profit corporation with a mission to provide technical and research assistance to groups who wish to organize as cooperatives, believe that the cooperative-business model can enable people to mitigate business risk and provide themselves with services at an economic advantage.
KDC will be conducting research on the economic contributions and rural impacts of agriculture cooperatives on preserving working farms in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania, through the partnership between all levels of government and non-profit agencies, has shown commitment and leadership nationally in preserving farmland through the easement purchase of more than 4951 farms totaling more than 520,619 acres. Farm businesses return far more to Pennsylvania’s economy than the Commonwealth invested in the preservation of farmland.
Combining farmland preservation achievements with efforts to organize and strengthen agricultural cooperatives moves us closer to the goal of growing, maintaining and supporting farmers and working agricultural lands in the Commonwealth. What has never been accounted for is the overall economic impact of cooperatives in Pennsylvania in terms of jobs, wages and salary and total income.
Keystone Development Center is concerned with the holistic reality of the regional economy and the critical contributions of agriculture to regional food security, economic prosperity and environmental sustainability. KDC has received $20,000 in funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to support their newest research project. This award was matched with supporting funds from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Cooperative Development Grant which supports KDC’s general operating budget for $200,000.
Many cooperatives work to build and strengthen local and regional food systems by developing capacity along the food chain, building relationships that create mutual benefit between and among cooperatives across sectors and between urban and rural communities.
KDC is excited to further investigate the agricultural co-op sector as part of this year’s Cooperative Census. “We estimate that there are 66 agricultural marketing cooperatives currently operating in Pennsylvania.” states Peggy Fogarty, Executive Director of KDC. “We hope to identify strategies to promote business growth and create conditions that will allow these communities to thrive economically.”
Keystone Development Center’s Cooperative Census presents an excellent opportunity to go beyond the information customarily gathered around size, structure, revenue, etc. of the cooperatives they serve, to dig deeper into the agricultural sector of co-ops, and to engage co-op members - not just organizations.
KDC plans to interview member producers from key agricultural cooperatives in Pennsylvania. They will identify cooperative member farmers who are farming on preserved land, and conduct in-depth interviews with them, gaining insights and first-person narratives that will illuminate the relationships between the impact of preserving farmland and of agricultural cooperatives in the Commonwealth.
Keystone Development Center’s census has three key objectives:
- Develop a Complete Database of Cooperatives
- Track the Economic Impact of Cooperatives
- Assess the Current Technical Assistance Needs of Cooperatives