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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


New guide designed to help launch more student agricultural co-ops

By: Hannah Scott
Program Director, CFAES Center for Cooperatives

If you’re involved in agriculture in the United States, there is a good chance you interact with cooperatives. Students planning a future in agriculture will likely become the member-owners, employees, and director-leaders of our co-ops. A student-led cooperative, where an agricultural class, 4-H club, FFA chapter, or other community group, operates an enterprise using cooperative principles, may be an opportunity to teach entrepreneurial skills and unique aspects of the co-op business model using an engaging, hands-on approach.

Co-op ToolkitCooperatives – user-owned and controlled business that distribute benefits to member-owners based on their use of the business[1] – add value to and market many commodities produced by American farmers, from fruits and vegetables, to cotton, grains and oilseeds, dairy, sugar, nuts, livestock, wool, and more. You may recognize brands in the grocery store like Sun-Maid, Ocean Spray, Florida’s Natural, Land O’ Lakes, Blue Diamond, Welch’s, Sunkist, and others, owned by cooperatives marketing their farmer-members’ products. Co-ops supply farmers with inputs like feed, fertilizer, petroleum, seed, and financial cooperatives like credit unions and the Farm Credit System provide credit to farmers and agribusinesses.

At the Ohio Valley Career & Technical Center’s Agribusiness Management program in West Union, Ohio, students manage a 300-acre farm using a student-led cooperative approach. As part of a recently concluded project funded by the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the CFAES Center for Cooperatives and Christie Welch, Direct Food and Agricultural Marketing Specialist, both based at the OSU South Centers, collaborated with OVCTC instructor Mr. Luke Rhonemus to provide training for students on the cooperative model, agribusiness marketing, and sustainable production. Specialists helped the students and instructor develop a marketing plan and conservation plan for their farm and to begin implementing their marketing plan.

Group Photo

To support other educators and community leaders interested in a student-led co-op, Hannah Scott, Christie Welch, and Bradford Sherman, developed the digital toolkit, “Student Cooperative Start-up Toolkit: A Guide to Creating Your Own Student-Led Agricultural Co-op,” available publicly on the CFAES Center for Cooperatives website.

The toolkit includes thirteen learning activities about cooperatives, agricultural marketing, and sustainable production and ten approaches to “developing and doing” a student-led agricultural cooperative enterprise. Embedded within the toolkit are links to 15-18 Ohio State University South Centers developed resources and five external public resources, including videos, worksheets, presentations, and publications that can help support the activities and approaches shared in the toolkit. For example, after helping students learn about concepts like branding with the activity, “Creating a Co-op Brand Identity,” educators can download a template to work with students to draft their own enterprise marketing plan.

In February 2024, Dr. Tom Worley, Director of the CFAES Center for Cooperatives shared the Student Cooperative Start-up Toolkit with nearly 80 students and faculty from across the country at the College Conference on Cooperatives (CCOC), an annual event held by National Farmers Union (NFU) to educate, motivate, and inspire the next generation of leaders in cooperatives. Students and faculty from 18 states heard from experts, engaged in interactive learning activities and workshops, and toured co-ops in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. Dr. Worley shared, “I was most impressed by the overall conference program, the speakers, and the diversity of students in attendance.”

[Photo: “Dr. Tom Worley shared the student-led cooperative approach and toolkit with the attendees of the College Conference on Cooperatives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.”]

Educators and leaders who want to learn more about how they can incorporate education about agricultural cooperatives or a student-led cooperative approach in their efforts can reach out to the CFAES Center for Cooperates at or

This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under agreement number 2019-38640-29879 through the North Central Region SARE program under project number LNC19-428. USDA is an equal opportunity employer and service provider. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Learn more about SARE at:

[1] (2014). Co-op Essentials: What They Are and the Role of Members, Directors, Managers, and Employees. USDA Rural Development Cooperative Programs.