University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives
End Notes for Farmer Food Dialogue Project
  1. CIAS Associate Director G.W. (Steve) Stevenson has presented the goal of regional "self-reliance" in contrast to regional "self-sufficiency." The latter goal ultimately aims toward zero dependence on food supplied from outside the defined region. On the other hand, the goal of regional self-reliance merely aims to identify what food products can be efficiently and effectively produced and provided within the region; and to maximize regional provision of food before relying on outside sources. An underlying assumption is that this approach will promote economic development in the region, along with the added security of a diverse local food supply. For more on regional self-sufficiency, see the Final Report of the Regional Food Systems Seminar, available through CIAS.
  2. In particular, Dr. Jack Kloppenburg of Rural Sociology, Dr. Sally Leong of Plant Pathology, Dr. Jane Voichick of Nutritional Sciences, Dr. Gerald Campbell of Cooperative Extension and the Center for Community Economic Development (all at the University of Wisconsin-Madison), have frequently participated in the regional food systems seminars organized by CIAS.
  3. In the past, the U.S. Department of Commerce classified farms as any business producing merely $1,000 worth of products per year (Strange 1988, p. 61). In 1987, the U.S. Department of Agriculture further classified farms into four categories: small ($1,000 - $39,999 in sales), medium ($40,000 - $249,999) , and large (over $250,000) (Strange, 1988, p63). While gross sales figures were never requested from farmers, they were offered in many cases. Most participating farms probably fell in the upper range of the "small" to the upper ranges of "medium" classifications.
  4. There is no general agreement on the meaning of the term "family farm." Binswanger (1993: 1) defines it as a farm operated "primarily" with family labor, with some hiring in or out of labor. Comstock (1987: xxiv) claims that as long as a farm is owned and worked by a family, it is a family farm. Strange (1988: 32) describes a " system" of family farms as tending to be owner-operated, entrepreneurial, dispersed, diversified, technologically progressive, resource conserving, and family centered. There are undoubtedly many more definitions, some of which would likely contradict one another. For this report, the use of the term "family farm" will most closely follow Binswanger’s loose definition: a family farm is a farm business operated primarily (fifty percent or more) with family labor.
  5. In short, Frank Kelly, food purchaser for the entire Madison Public School District, was an enthusiastic and valuable participant in discussions sponsored by this project and by Dr. Sally Leong’s Foodshed Working Group. Kelly expressed interest in sourcing local and even organic foods for his school lunch programs, but he indicated that a well coordinated and sufficient supply would have to be established first. He also explained that if farmers could process their raw products (chop carrots, slice potatoes, etc.), school district kitchens would be more likely to incorporate local foods into their operations.
  6. In particular, the state’s Sustainable Farm Networks, the Wisconsin Natural Foods Association, and the Wisconsin Chapter of the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA) provided many of the addresses needed to contact farms directly. The project was also presented at the Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference in 1995 and 1996 at Sinsinawa, Wisconsin, and at the 1995 Urban-Rural Conference in East Troy. A broader group of fruit and vegetable producers was approached indirectly through the president of the Wisconsin Fresh Market Vegetable Growers Association, Juanita McDowell.
  7. Unfortunately, the 1994 survey gathered little data on the quantities of the various farm products produced in the state, and the 1995-96 Farmer-Food Buyer Dialogue Project made no further progress in this respect. An important " next step" in regional and sustainable food system development would be to quantify the various food products grown and raised in Wisconsin.
  8. The "Good Earth Guide," a publication of the Wisconsin Chapter of the Organic Crop Improvement Association, states the following: "Each organic farm operation must keep and submit detailed records on every crop and animal, and is visited yearly by an independent third party inspector. The applications received are reviewed by a committee of producers and consumers, who determine certification eligibility. This careful process assures consumers that OCIA certified foods have been grown and processed without the use of unapproved methods or materials (synthetic chemicals are prohibited), and with proper care to the preservation of our soil and water resources."
  9. It was not within the scope of this project to verify by other sources all qualitative or quantitative data offered by interview participants. Interview participants were selected for their reputation as being qualified to speak of the issues they each face in their respective sectors. When information which they provided, such as the percentage share of organic foods in the food industry, cannot be referenced to published sources, it will be acknowledged herein as anecdotal data that was part of this project’s dialogue and which informed the project’s "next steps" and its conclusions, as presented in this final report.
  10. CSAs have been active in the United States for about ten to fifteen years. There are as many as fifty CSAs operating in Wisconsin, more than in any other state. In a typical CSA, a CSA "member" pays the farmer as much as $400 in exchange for about 26 weekly delivers of produce to a drop-off site in the customer’s neighborhood. The produce varies by season, and each weekly delivery is usually intended to feed a family of four. A CSA may involve anywhere from 10 to 300 families.
  11. It must be noted, however, that there is no guarantee of a patronage refund check for co-op members. First of all, the co-op may not generate any profits. The co-op’s elected leadership may also choose to retain profits for investment in the business. A very common complaint of this project’s participating farmers is that many Wisconsin marketing cooperatives fail to reward their members with either high prices or patronage refunds. They argue that distinctions between private and cooperative marketing intermediaries are therefore greater in theory than in reality. Cooperative advocates may counter that benefits are not always obvious. For instance, existence of cooperatives in the marketplace should provide an upward pressure on prices paid by processors and wholesalers to their farmer suppliers. Unfortunately, a farmer does not have to be a member of a co-op to enjoy this benefit, and so cooperatives do need to provide other benefits exclusively to members if they are to retain member loyalty.
  12. Cropp, Robert, Wisconsin Cooperatives: Directory and Business Information Guide, 1993, University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives, Madison, WI.
  13. Feder, Barnaby J., "Quaker Oats and Iced Tea Just Won’t Mix: Takeover of Snapple is the Prime Suspect in the Food Giant’s Weak Showing," New York Times, August 7, 1996.
  14. Sponsored by the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute. Contact Gail Kavohic of MFAI for more information.
  15. Below is a breakdown of the 298 groceries and restaurants surveyed. All known food cooperatives in the region were surveyed. Groceries were selected from the Madison metro-area (Dane County), using all groceries listed in the Madison phone book. Restaurants were selected less randomly. About half were pulled from Eating Well in Wisconsin, by Jerry Minich; the rest were selected randomly from the Madison phone book.


Total Sent


% Returned

Food Cooperatives (TOTAL)




(eastern Minnesota)




(northern Illinois)








Groceries (Dane County)




TOTAL of all Retail Food Buyers





Restaurants (Madison-area)




Restaurants (rest of southern Wisc. and Chicago)




TOTAL of all Restaurant Food Buyers





TOTAL of all Food Buyers




  • It is an experiment that has so far cost members $75 in membership fees, along with time spent in meetings.
  • Much of the qualitative data gathered was gathered fortuitously. For instance, the author’s father, Jim Lawless, managed a medium-sized, mainstream grocery for over twenty-years. A tour of this grocery, and an impromptu interview with a meat cutter, are examples of the methods used. The UW Center for Cooperatives also runs two programs for natural foods cooperatives at the national level. Dr. Ann Hoyt and Marilyn Scholl, both of UWCC, offered their insights many times throughout the project. Guided tours they arranged of private and cooperative groceries in Chicago and Milwaukee were also most informative.
  • With hindsight, it might have been better to have framed the request for size data in terms of gross annual sales. Many respondents explained that they could only guess the volume of food purchased, whereas gross sales figures might have been easily attained. There may also have been confusion as to whether the value of food purchased was to be measured in terms of prices paid to suppliers or received through resale.
  • Again, most of the research for this project was done through qualitative interviews with experts in their field, in their store, or in their restaurant. Quantitative data, such as trends in the organic retail market, was often gathered second-hand, and was considered anecdotal and quite valuable.
  • Cynthia Hizer, founder and farmer member of Georgia Grown Cooperative (GGC) accepted an invitation to visit Wisconsin in October of 1995. Her enthusiastic presentation at the Urban-Rural Conference revealed how GGC was succeeding in its efforts to supply organic produce to up-scale Atlanta-area restaurants.

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