Case Example: Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative – How Coops are Saving Farmland in Pennsylvania and Providing Healthy Food to the Mid-Atlantic
Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative (LFFC) is a nonprofit organic food cooperative comprised of roughly 75 farmers. Started in a small barn in 2006 with only 9 farmers, the cooperative has grown rapidly. In 2008, LFFC achieved sales of over $2,000,000 – much of which was returned to the farmer members in profit sharing. Located in Lancaster, PA this innovative cooperative is helping Southeastern Pennsylvania preserve valuable farmland by building the local food economy/infrastructure, and by connecting consumers to fresh and diverse local produce and to the farmers that serve them.
LFFC aggregates produce, dairy, and value-added products from small and mid-scale family farms in the Lancaster, PA area. By aggregating production as a cooperative, LFFC is able to serve much larger wholesale and institutional markets; increase efficiency; increase bargaining power over buyers; and increase marketing benefits for the group. This cooperative demonstrates the power of non-summativity– that the collection or system is greater than the mere sum of its parts.
LFFC was one of the early pioneers of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in the area and now also serves large wholesale buyers from Washington D.C to New York City. Without the cooperative structure, many small farmers would not be able to reach these large markets nor produce diverse enough product mixes to meet consumer demand. In the CSA model, buyers sign up for a share of the production at the beginning of the growing season. This entitles the share member to a weekly or bi-weekly share of freshly picked produce. By providing the farmers with cash up front, much of the farm’s operating expenses such as seed and planting costs are covered for the year. This financially beneficial relationship also provides a direct link between the farmer and the consumer which strengthens communities. Indeed, by supporting your local CSA, not only are you helping to preserve farmland, you are also contributing to regional community development right in your back yard.
I have been a member of Lancaster Farm Fresh since 2010. The abundance of fresh and delicious produce is the starting point for most meals in our household. I can say without a doubt that our household consumption of vegetables has dramatically increased since we became CSA members. Indeed, most health professionals suggest joining your local CSA as a way to boost health. As an example, a friend’s husband reluctantly joined a CSA two years ago at the insistence of his wife. At first, he did not look forward to the weekly pickup. Soon though, he became a vegetable convert once he tasted the fresh produce. Two years later, he has become an enthusiastic vegetable cook and has lost an estimated 60 pounds.
LFFC is a great example of how cooperatives with their unique organizational structures can execute both financial and mission based strategies. By pooling resources and executing key activities that would be out of reach for small farmers, LFFC is preserving farmland, building robust sustainable communities, and providing much needed healthy fresh food.