Cascadia Cooperative Farms: Connecting farmers to new markets in King County

Cascadia Cooperative Farms (CCF) is an egg and pastured poultry cooperative in King and Snohomish counties that brings together small local farms raising pastured poultry to help connect member farmers to new markets, help them earn fair compensation for their products, and alleviate some of the administrative burden related to producing poultry products.

The Local Food team spoke with Libby Reed, farmer at Orange Star Farm, to learn more about the cooperative farm model and why she believes cooperative farms work well for farmers with small businesses.

“Cascadia Cooperative Farms has been in the making for a long time, and our story is pretty common. We started as a group of farmers with small businesses trying to do our best for the community with limited resources,” said Reed.

However, limited resources didn’t stop CCF from being successful. CCF’s model provides their farmer members with a revenue alternative to increase the resiliency of their small farms.

“Having diverse markets to sell to is a way to build a more resilient business,” Reed said. “Most of our cooperative farmer members also sell direct to consumer. This additional avenue provides our farmers with a market that has limitless demand. You don’t want to have all of your eggs in one basket!”

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What are the challenges of the cooperative model?

“Working with a large group of farmers can be challenging because we rely on everyone to come together and make decisions cooperatively,” said Reed. “It took us a long time to agree on a lot of the details, such as production requirements regarding poultry care and standards.

“Building the foundation of the cooperative was not a major challenge but it took a long time to do,” she said. “I believe it took even longer for us because we are all full time farmers. We had varying times to dedicate to planning and preparing our product for market. We all had the same goals but didn’t have a lot of time to make it happen as quickly as we wanted to. On the flip side, we’ve worked together to ultimately create a cooperative structure that we all feel invested in and see the real value in from an economic and social perspective.”

Reed said Cascadia Cooperative Farms members get excited about the potential for scaling up the business because of the potential growth their work model provides.

“Pasture-raised poultry doesn’t require the landscape that row cropping does,” said Reed. “In a region like King County that has a good amount rural land that is less desirable for row crops, we’re seeing potential land for poultry.”

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Why do you believe the cooperative model is successful, and what are some of the successes CCF is having?

“It took us a few years to build our business to the point where we were ready to make sales,” said Reed. “We just started making sales, which is huge! This is where we’ve wanted to be for a long time, and it feels really gratifying to be at this stage in the game.”

Now, CCF is focused on developing their membership, supporting their farmer members, and doing outreach and engaging other poultry farmers.

“We are currently selling to several outlets, and we’re excited about future partnerships,” said Reed. “We’re also excited that restaurants are buying our products.

“The President of our Board, Petrina Fisher, has been working hard with Luke Woodward through Northwest Agriculture Business Center to reach larger markets,” she said. “We have been able to provide our services to more people because of their assistance.

“We’ve also been working with Farmstand Local Foods as well as the Puget Sound Food Hub who plan to carry out our initial deliveries,” said Reed. “Some of our connections have been made through our farmer members as well.”

In addition, a King Conservation District Regional Food System Grant was instrumental in launching CCF, enabling the organization to make initial large infrastructure investments, such as purchasing a commercial egg washing machine, a cooler, and develop a functioning workspace to house its operations. The key investment has been essential to its success.

“A cooperative farm endeavor is more than just the people that build it,” she said. “There is a network of stakeholders around these models that encourage and invest in the model, which helps us reach our goals and be a successful business.”

Why the cooperative model is important for farmers

The cooperative model can work for any farmer in a variety of different ways. CCF consists of a group of like-minded poultry producers who got together to simplify their poultry operations and share the most burdensome tasks of egg washing, delivery, and marketing. Ultimately, CCF allows the farmers to focus on their passion: raising their animals sustainably and providing the highest quality food to their community.

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“We all came together because we really wanted to focus on the health of our poultry and providing healthy, local food for our communities,” said Reed. “We wanted to aggregate our eggs, wash them, and sell them together.

“The cooperative model helps farmers who are interested in working with other farmers ease their administrative burden to focus on growing the products and serving communities,” she said.

Reed said cooperatives are not possible without the support of consumers and the businesses that buy the products.

“The farmers invest in a profitable and productive business structure while markets work to sell the farm products at a reasonable price, and consumers then choose to eat the healthy products that are rooted in the place they live,” she said. “We want to acknowledge that everyone has their part in the local food economy.”

Keep an eye out for Cascadia Cooperative Farm products in your local markets!

See Northwest Agriculture Business Center’s article for more information about Cascadia Cooperative Farms.

Visit Cascadia Cooperative Farm’s Facebook page to stay up to date about their products.

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