HSUS, OFU members hold meeting to discuss farmer co-ops

WOOSTER, Ohio — A diverse group of animal protection activists, small farmers, an OSU Extension educator and a rural development specialist met Feb. 25 at the Ohio Agriculture Research and Development Center to talk about forming grass-fed beef cooperatives in Ohio.

Joe Logan, president of Ohio Farmers Union, moderated the event, which he said was held in response to the “growing demand for grass-fed beef.”

A cooperative offers several advantages, including shared resources, shared decision making, shared markets and profits. A co-op can help connect producers and consumers “more intimately,” Logan said.

Although the information presented could be applied to any new or existing co-op, many of the people who attended were there to hear more about co-ops being formed that include members of Humane Society of the United States.

The past couple years, HSUS has become involved with farmer groups in states by creating advisory councils in Colorado, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, and about a year ago — Ohio.

Related: Group of Ohio farmers form ag council with HSUS.

Meeting demand

Mardy Townsend, an Ashtabula County beef farmer and member of HSUS’ Ohio council, is one of the organizers of the effort to create an Ohio-based grass-fed beef cooperative. She said she has more demand than product, and that creating a co-op would help provide additional supply.

“I have a market that I cannot come close to filling,” she said.

Featured speaker was Joe Maxwell, a hog farmer from Missouri who is also vice president of HSUS’ outreach and engagement. In Missouri, he is in charge of Heritage Acres Foods — a group of farmers that raise, processes and sell their own pork according to what it calls “the right way.”

The Missouri organization produces meat according to a core set of values and standards, which includes the relationship between farmers, communities and consumers. The standards include no antibiotics, no crates, cages or crowding. Humane standards must also be met, which are decided by the Global Animal Partnership — an organization that sets animal care and husbandry standards for each specie of livestock.

The Global Animal Partnership is governed by a board of directors that includes various farmers, farm activists, and Maxwell’s boss, HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle.

Trust your partner

Maxwell said the first step to forming a cooperative is finding people you can trust.

“The keys for success is loyalty and trust basis. You’ve got to look alike and be committed to each other,” he said. “It’s kind of that one-member, one-vote. We’re all in this thing together.”

As a farmer and past lieutenant governor of Missouri, Maxwell said he was used to dealing with HSUS and found he shared many of the same values, especially the commitment to end cruelty to animals and promote family farmers.

Once you figure out your partners, he said, you have to look at the master plan — like where will the operating capital come from, who will be your manager, and how will the cooperative function. He said it’s important to seek out people who are well educated, who build relationships, embrace and apply technology and are good at communicating.

He said American farmers are indeed “the greatest producers in the world,” but may not be as qualified when it comes to marketing and sales. For this reason, they should build their co-ops with members who have those skills.

Hire a manager

This is especially important when hiring a co-op manager. Maxwell said farmers generally should not try to manage the co-op on their own, because it’s not feasible.

Crowd

Attendees take notes at the grass-fed co-op meeting.

“You’ve got to get a champion,” said Deborah Rausch, a specialist with USDA Rural Development.

That champion should be someone who leads the company and delegates tasks to other members in a way that keeps everyone at peak performance.

The advantage of a co-op, she said, is farmers can reach people and consumers they might not be able to reach on their own. They also benefit by pooling resources and sharing profits.

Like Maxwell, she said it’s important to get the numbers right before the co-op is formed. Market data should be sought and analyzed.

Maxwell recommends at least 50 percent in equity before starting, so the co-op can always cash-flow. He gave examples of how his own co-op lost thousands of dollars that could have been avoided.

Natural factors

Along with choosing members and the mission, a co-op also has to consider the feasibility of the product it intends to sell.

In the case of grass-fed beef, there are some constraints in terms of climate and volume cattle that meet the definition.

“We have this little thing in Ohio called seasons,” said OSU Extension Educator Jeff McCutcheon.

“It’s (the seasons) not insurmountable, but it does exist,” he said. “It’s one of the parameters you have living in this state.”

Grass-fed operations can get around this challenge by planning ahead, substituting different feed sources, and writing the rules of their cooperative in a way that takes into account emergencies, and the nutritional needs of the animals.

McCutcheon said grass-fed beef also take much longer to fatten out, compared to beef that are grain-fed. The ration of a grass-fed animal needs to be balanced in a way that produces the muscle-fat combination that the consumer wants, but also that’s healthy for the animal.

He said grass-fed producers do have a lot of opportunity, but they must share the “story” behind their product.

“You’re selling a story,” he said. “The story is what matters to the consumer, often, and we’ve got a great story.”

The following are some of the basic principles of a co-op, as outlined by U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Specialist Deborah Rausch:

• Voluntary and open membership. • Democratic control. • Member economic participation (ownership and control). • Autonomy and independence (control). • Training and Information. • Cooperation among cooperatives. • Concern for community.

About the Author

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties. More Stories by Chris Kick

10 Comments

  1. Alicia says:

    Hope these farmers wisen up and RUN from HSUS. NOTHING good can come of anything they do. NOTHING.

  2. The HSUS is not your local animal shelter. The HSUA has been hijacked by radical animal rights activist. It is an over 150 million dollar corporation that spends almost every dime it gets on obscene salaries and filing lawsuits. It raises money by showing ads of cute dogs and cats, but it spends less then 1 cent on the dollar to feed and shelter cats and dogs. More and more members of congress are questioning the tax free status of the HSUS because of its political activities. The HSUS IS AGAINST RODEO AND WESTERN TRADITIONS. IT IS FOR A VEGETERIAN LIFE STYLE AND AGAINST EATING MEAT. The HSUS has been accused of paying employees to abuse animals and videoing the abuse as proof that meat production should be stopped. The HSUS wants to change our eating habits and standard of living by outlawing farming methods which are used on family farms. The HSUS is bad for America so don’t applaud its lackeys. If you want to support something think about giving to the child fund, St. Jude, the Wounded Warriors, or you local food bank. If you want to help animals, give money to you local animal shelter. Giving money to the HSUS is throwing money away on a bloated bureaucracy that waste it on salaries and litigation. It claims to do good but if you really look at what it does, it only piggybacks on the work of local organizations.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    9 Things You Didn’t Know About HSUS
    1. The Humane Society of the United States scams Americans out of millions of dollars through manipulative and deceptive advertising. An analysis of HSUS’s TV fundraising appeals that ran between January 2009 and September 2011 determined that more than 85 percent of the animals shown were cats and dogs. However, HSUS doesn’t run a single pet shelter and only gives 1 percent of the money it raises to pet shelters, and it has spent millions on anti-farming and anti-hunting political campaigns.
    2. HSUS receives poor charity-evaluation marks. CharityWatch (formerly the American Institute of Philanthropy) reissued HSUS’s “D” rating in December 2011, finding that HSUS spends as little as 49 percent of its budget on its programs. Additionally, the 2011 Animal People News Watchdog Report discovered that HSUS spends about 43 percent of its budget on overhead costs.
    3. Six Members of Congress have called for a federal investigation of HSUS. In April 2011, six Congressmen wrote the IRS Inspector General showing concerns over HSUS’s attempts to influence public policy, which they believe has “brought into question [HSUS’s] tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status.”
    4. HSUS regularly contributes more to its own pension plan than it does to pet shelters. An analysis of HSUS’s tax returns determined that HSUS funneled $16.3 million to its executive pension plan between 1998 and 2009—over $1 million more than HSUS gave to pet shelters during that period.
    5. The pet sheltering community believes HSUS misleads Americans. According to a nationally representative poll of 400 animal shelters, rescues, and animal control agencies, 71 percent agree that “HSUS misleads people into thinking it is associated with local animal shelters.” Additionally, 79 percent agree that HSUS is “a good source of confusion for a lot of our donors.”
    6. While it raises money with pictures of cats and dogs, HSUS has an anti-meat vegan agenda. Speaking to an animal rights conference in 2006, HSUS’s then vice president for farm animal issues stated that HSUS’s goal is to “get rid of the entire [animal agriculture] industry” and that “we don’t want any of these animals to be raised and killed.”
    7. Given the massive size of its budget, HSUS does relatively little hands-on care for animals. While HSUS claims it provides direct care to more animals than any other animal protection group in the US, most of the “care” HSUS provides is in the form of spay-neuter assistance. In fact, local groups that operate on considerably slimmer budgets, such as the Houston SPCA, provide direct care to just as many or more animals than HSUS does.
    8. HSUS’s CEO has said that convicted dogfighting kingpin Michael Vick “would do a good job as a pet owner.” Following Vick’s release from prison, HSUS has helped “rehabilitate” Michael Vick’s public image. Of course, a $50,000 “grant” from the Philadelphia Eagles didn’t hurt.
    9. HSUS’s senior management includes a former spokesman for the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), a criminal group designated as “terrorists” by the FBI. HSUS president Wayne Pacelle hired John “J.P.” Goodwin in 1997, the same year Goodwin described himself as “spokesperson for the ALF” while he fielded media calls in the wake of an ALF arson attack at a California meat processing plant. In 1997, when asked by reporters for a reaction to an ALF arson fire at a farmer’s feed co-op in Utah (which nearly killed a family sleeping on the premises), Goodwin replied, “We’re ecstatic.”
    Want evidence? Vist: http://www.ConsumerFreedom.com * http://www.HumaneWatch.org * http://www.ActivistCash.com
    Revised February 2012. Complete sources and documentation available upon request

  4. L. Kerr says:

    The co-operatives are great ideas, but it should be among the farmers and not involve the Humane Society of the United States that has worked hard for years to mislead the public. The end goal of the HSUS is not as the name applies to support and work for the animals, but rather a political arm that is involved in big government manipulations. Take a look at their site and the known relationship with PETA and it is not hard to extend to seeing what the final goal might be. Farmers are independent by nature, understand cooperation and working together better than anyone. Nature has its own universal laws and teaches us the relationship between animal, man and nature. Politicians and people with political agendas, manipulate and use.

    Libbie

  5. Laurella Desborough says:

    I can completely understand the concept of forming a co-op. What I cannot understand is the idea of asking HSUS to be a member of ANY animal group working together to form anything concerning animals. Some kind of a disconnect here. Are the Joe Maxwells and Mardy Townsends “outliers” here who have no concept of who they are working with? Do they not know of the HSUS program to “eliminate animal agriculture?” Maybe so. Scary.

  6. It’s like asking the fox to roam around in the hen house day or night. H$U$ is led by “animal rights” vegan *true believers*, and the ultimate goal is the elimination of animal use. The only reasons I can think of that animal enterprise individuals would “team” with H$U$ is that either (1) suffering from *cognitive dissonance* or (2) they think they will personally *profit* from the “team” (monetarily or being destroyed last by the AR movement). Do these people really think the H$U$ approves of their animal enterprise, no matter how well run it is? There’s so much factual information to the contrary out there, it’s really hard to believe.

  7. Bonnie says:

    Most real farmers are smart enough to keep away from anything to do with HSUS. They understand that HSUS and all the other “animal rights” groups are after one thing and one thing only: getting rid of all our animals in small, incremental steps, hoping no one notices until it is too late. They don’t care how much they have to lie and cheat to get it done. So all that I can conclude is that this Ohio Farmers Union has been taken over by animal rights idealogues who are hiding their true colors. Because surely no one who has been paying attention to what is going on in animal legislation for a while can really believe that HSUS wants to “help” farmers?

  8. Some may have to do with egos on the part of farmer defectors to the dark side, and not being willing to admit they were flimflammed by H$U$. How can anyone in this day and time, with all the info that is readily available out there, believe that H$U$ and its AR-led buddies are friends of ANY animal enterprise? They are mortal enemies to animal enterprises.

  9. Mary says:

    How ironic that farmers are working with HSUS, when the HSUS agenda is to eliminate animal agricultural! These people cooperating with HSUS are in for a big surprise! HSUS has no intention of furthering animal agriculture. I won’t buy from any farmer that is in this HSUS plan.

    • I agree. Looks like it will have to be the educated consumer’s choices that hopefully will wake up the AR-brainwashed. I won’t eat at Chipotles because of their anti-farming videos. I don’t buy from PetsMart because of their support of H$U$ anti-pet-breeding propaganda. At this time in history, there are a LOT of people and organizations who have been snookered by the AR movement, BIG TIME. I think that will turn around as more understand the true AR movement’s sociopathic cult-like philosophy, but unfortunately, there will continue to be “collateral damage” in the war being waged against society’s CHOICES in their source of food and pets.

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