MILLS RIVER, N.C. — “People used to share,” says Zev Friedman, “it isn’t a new concept.” Friedman, one of the founders of Cooperate WNC, a new non-profit serving 22 counties in North Carolina, seeks to support sharing models, and particularly those that bolster the food and farming economy. Coming from a background of permaculture design and education, Friedman saw the weak links within local networking, and is on a mission to fill the gaps with sharing and cooperation. In a workshop at Living Web Farms on February 15th, Friedman and his colleague Mari Stuart will share examples of successful cooperative economic strategies for farmers and landowners, and provide guidance as participants apply similar ideas to their personal business plans.
“Maybe you’ve heard of The Grange before,” Friedman shares. “This is just one example of the ways in which farmers used to work together, even if they were managing separate businesses.” While The Grange still operates in many rural areas to support community gatherings, it is not as prevalent as it once was. Grange infrastructure was once used for storage of co-owned tools and equipment, shared inventory of seeds, fertilizers, or feed, as well as a hub of information and knowledge accessible to the farming community. Cooperate WNC asks, what would it take to revive some similar form of reliable support for farmers?
The Grange isn’t the only example. One of Friedman’s favorite concepts is that of a savings pool, where a group of people (farmers or not) put capital into a shared pool of money and take turns making loans to others to support local, independent successes. “There’s also the possibility for farmers to strategically purchase shared land or supplies, “ he adds, “or pre-pay into cooperative marketing plans, or share skills like grafting, animal husbandry, or forestry.”
As Cooperate WNC develops, much of the work focuses on education about the various opportunities for cooperative community organizing, including but not limited to the history of Mutual Aid Societies and their use in support of farmers. At the Feb 15th workshop, Friedman and Stuart will guide participants through the practical application of strategies both old and new to the operation of modern-day land based businesses.
“People will have the option to create real world plans, but it won’t be a requirement of the workshop,” Friedman shares. Indeed, the other necessary aspect of cooperative alliances is the simple act of networking to discover what resources are needed and who is in community in such a way as to make cooperation possible.
“We’re looking to find and also to support clusters, neighbors, and other networks of people,” Friedman says. The workshop is free to the public, with a sliding scale donation suggested. Living Web Farms and Cooperate WNC together invite farmers and landowners as well as those who see themselves in support of healthy functioning farms and land bases in the region to join for the day from 10am to 4pm at Living Web Farms in Mills River.
For more information about “Mutual Aid for Agriculture & Resilience” visit
— Living Web Farms
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