Co-ops provide solution to high unemployment in rural communities

There are still many areas throughout the country where the majority of people live below the poverty level.

While there is work available in larger metropolitan areas, many rural regions suffer from high rates of unemployment and smaller family farms are being priced out of business by the day. Recently many of these communities have begun working together to build on resources and talents that are available to them by growing, making and selling products in outdoor venues.

Some smaller family farms still able to grow produce or livestock have begun taking their crops to farmers markets in order to sell directly to the public without going through a distributor. If you are part of a small community looking to set up and run your own farmer’s market, here are a few tips to get you started.

1. Organize a community meeting

Sometimes these ideas take hold with a small group of friends meeting over coffee or outside the local diner as they share concerns for the future after having lost a job or closed down a farm. Although this may be the core group, if this is going to be a project that will benefit the entire community, the best place to go from here is to organize a community meeting. Advertise the date, time and location in any way possible to ensure maximum attendance by anyone who would have an interest in earning money with crafts or agricultural commodities.

2. Is there enough interest to sustain the project?

Once you have hosted the community meeting you will be in a better position to judge how much interest there is in constructing and operating a farmer’s market / flea market. You will probably find that many within your community have other talents and areas of expertise that will help get the project off the ground. For example, maybe there are unemployed PR people in the group or real estate agents who could help find a prime location. The more people involved, the easier it will be to actually organize a profitable venture.

3. Research local zoning laws and business regulations

If any of your group have any experience in real estate, those would be the people to choose for a committee tasked with researching zoning laws and business regulations. Perhaps you have insurance adjusters or property appraisers in the community who would be willing to help with this aspect of the project. Before you can actually begin making plans for a marketplace, it is important to consider zoning laws and the availability of business licenses for co-ops.

4. Find property with high visibility

Before you go any further, it is important to note whether or not you have a property available with high visibility. This could be on a state road or country road that has a high percentage of through traffic going to other locations. A highly traveled road between two major cities would be ideal. Travelers would undoubtedly stop to see crafts made by local artisans and perhaps pick up seasonal fruit and veggies that are fresher than in supermarket chains and also grown under stricter conditions for quality control. It is amazing just how popular these kinds of farmers’ markets and bazaars actually are!

5. Type of structure needed to house market stalls

It is probably doubtful that you already have at your disposal a building suitable for a farmers’ market. Rather than spend a small fortune having a building constructed with separate stalls and various entrances, you might want to consider custom fabric buildings. Built with stretched UV resistant fabric, these are much less the cost of a traditional brick and mortar building and are made to last up to 30 years with very little maintenance and repair needed.

6. Elect board of directors to oversee the project

If you haven’t done so already, have a general election to name a board of directors to oversee the project. Those who were there in the beginning envisioning the project should probably be included without being elected but the other members rounding out the board should be chosen from within the community. A true co-op gives every member a voice so that they should also be given the authority to vote in directors as they see fit.

7. Begin taking reservations for vendors

Finally, as the building is being designed and constructed, it is time to begin taking reservations for vendor spaces. You may want to include this step in the design phase of the building to ensure that the building will be large enough to accommodate all the local vendors who wish to participate but not too small to gather newcomers as they crop up. Many communities around the country have begun raising capital to keep their towns and villages alive by sponsoring community co-ops. Whether you invite ‘out-of-towners’ to participate in order to generate extra revenue or keep it closed to community members is up to you.

The point is, with a floundering economy it really is possible to give each and every member an opportunity to be an entrepreneur. Even when the economy is on an even keel, your community will have a brighter future because you empowered them to be all that they can be at the worst of times. No one knows what the future holds but the small steps you take today can lead to a giant leap into a financially sound tomorrow.