As we celebrate our 100th anniversary as a farmer-owned cooperative this year, Land O’Lakes, Inc. is taking a moment during National Cooperative Month to reflect on what is so special about being a co-op.
Cooperative ownership essentially means sharing ownership and combining capital with an overarching democratic governance structure. This type of cooperative model was thought to be invented over 500 years ago in Aberdeen, Scotland. While cooperatives have historic significance, there’s something very futuristic about them as well -- people combining resources and advocacy to create a better tomorrow together.
Today, according to researchers at the Cooperative Development Institute, places with a high density of co-ops, such as the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, have significant health impacts and benefits for the community. That’s because cooperatives create lasting impact -- from those who are part of the ownership model, to those who use their services, to the nonprofits who benefit from these local leaders giving back to the community. The result is greater economic vitality in a responsible way.
Or at least, that’s what we’ve found in our first 100 years as a farmer-owned cooperative.
At the heart of our identity at Land O’Lakes is the idea of working together for the common good, across urban and rural divides— today and for future generations.
In 2021, we’re celebrating the 11th year of an important partnership -- our First Run Program in collaboration with Feeding America®, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization. While typically, food banks receive corporate donations of food that’s nearing the end of its shelf life or has damaged packaging, Land O’Lakes is unique in the fact that we make fresh product—the first run off the production line—specifically for donation. We’ve donated over 6.4 million pounds of product through First Run since 2010.
This month, in recognition of our 100th anniversary, we’re also donating $100,000 to Feeding America to provide 1 million meals to those in need. But the hunger work of our cooperative doesn’t stop there. Our Community Gardens program helps students grow produce for local food shelves, with 65,980 pounds of food donated in 2020. Our employees are also giving back to their respective communities, logging 19,867 volunteer hours in 2020.
Furthermore, our members from across the country are investing in their neighbors, rising to the challenge to feed rural communities in multiple ways during COVID-19. We had 102 member co-ops donate $612,579 towards hunger initiatives last year. Through our member match program, every dollar of this was matched by the Land O’Lakes Foundation, doubling the impact.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon once said, “Cooperatives are a unique and invaluable presence in today’s world.”
We knew that was true 100 years ago, and it’s still true today.
While we’re incredibly proud of the collective impact a cooperative can provide communities, we know there are a multitude of reasons to take pride in National Cooperative Month – whether it’s about the equitable nature of co-ops or the economic power of being locally led. That’s why we want to hear from you.
If you’re part of a cooperative or simply believe in the cooperative model, tell us why and share out with the #CoOpProud hashtag this week and tag us @LandOLakesInc. We’ll be asking our employees and our members to do the same.
It’s a cooperative campaign about the power of cooperatives that needs your voice at the heart of it.