A Kansas State University program that helps to sustain locally owned rural grocery stores has received a grant aimed at boosting the success of grocers owned by the people who shop there, often called Food Co-ops or cooperatives.
Rial Carver, leader of K-State Research and Extension’s Rural Grocery Initiative, said the program has received a USDA Rural Cooperative Development grant for $175,000 to focus on “elevating awareness and understanding of the cooperative model as a viable solution for rural food access.”
“For many years, the Rural Grocery Initiative has shared information on innovative ownership models in rural grocery,” Carver said. “The cooperative model has always been part of this conversation, but not a focal point. This grant project will change that, allowing our program to hone our expertise in rural grocery cooperative development and provide direct support to communities interested in the cooperative model.”
According to Carver, the one-year grant focuses on four activities:
- Providing technical assistance.
- Partnering with K-State’s Department of Agricultural Economics to conduct a feasibility study for rural grocery purchasing cooperatives.
- Developing Kansas-specific grocery cooperative materials.
- Providing professional development opportunities for resource providers and others within the K-State Research and Extension system.
The Rural Grocery Initiative specializes in providing assistance to rural grocery stores and communities working to maintain or re-establish their local store. Carver said that for many communities where a grocery store has closed, an alternative ownership model — like a cooperative — might present a viable solution for the community.
The grant will also establish the Kansas Cooperative Development Center at K-State.
“There are many established cooperative development centers across the country, some that we’ve partnered with in the past,” said Erica Blair, a program manager for the Rural Grocery Initiative. “The focus of the Kansas Cooperative Development Center, housed within the Rural Grocery Initiative, will be on rural grocery cooperatives and the ways a cooperative model can help overcome the unique challenges rural grocers face.”
K-State agricultural economics professor Brian Briggeman, who is a principal investigator on the project, said the feasibility study also will explore a group purchasing model to coordinate orders among small town grocers, which improves stores’ bargaining power, price competitiveness and operational sustainability.
“When considering a purchasing cooperative or shared services cooperative, there are many important questions to ask,” said Briggeman, who also is director of the Arthur Capper Cooperative Center at K-State. “We’ll be working alongside a group of grocers to dig into these questions and to help the team make informed, data-driven decisions about the cooperative model.”
More information about K-State Research and Extension’s Rural Grocery Initiative is available online.
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