by Guy Gregory
MCDC Communications Specialist
The Bitterroot Valley’s Cooperative Impact Week brought co-op leaders and Ravalli County residents together for four days of activities, dialogue and presentations from May 1-5, 2018. Events focused on how co-ops have become a driving force in the Valley’s economic development in various industry sectors. The Ravalli County Economic Development Authority (RCEDA) and the Montana Cooperative Development Center (MCDC) hosted several events in Hamilton, where people learned about the history of local cooperatives, along with their present and future economic impact on the Bitterroot Valley.
The week kicked-off with back-to-back public forums at University of Montana’s Bitterroot College, where MCDC Executive Director Janice Brown introduced the co-op business model to interested students and campus visitors. Crucible President Tyson Holland and Vice President Phil Munson then discussed how workers could own and control their own cooperative business like their Belgrade-based co-op that designs and builds unique furniture pieces from Montana resources.
BudWood Cooperative President Lee McAlpine wrapped up the forum by explaining how her co-op supports existing apple producers and the growing number of local orchardists. A complimentary lunch for all those in attendance was catered by the Loyal to Local Multi-Farm Cooperative.
The Hamilton Downtown Association partnered with RCEDA and MCDC to host several presentations on the benefits of structuring a small business around the co-op model. Participants met at Hamilton’s Bitter Root Brewery to learn more about shared ownership and investments in cooperatives along with the mutual benefits of building equity in the business.
In addition to MCDC and the worker-owners of Crucible, speakers included Claire Kemp, Executive director of the Hamilton Downtown Association, and Jamie Tadvick of Farmers State Bank, which is handling the construction loan for the Riverside Crossing development.
The second day of events kicked off with a presentation on Riverside Crossing Active Adult Housing Cooperative in Hamilton. Ravalli County Council on Aging’s Executive Director Paul Travitz detailed plans for the new type of co-op emerging in Montana that is the first of its kind in the state. Travitz showed architectural sketches and blue prints of proposed homes along with a layout of Riverside Crossing. During the presentation, ground was being broken to lay water and sewer lines for the future housing co-op.
Co-op Impact Week also featured four tours of local co-ops in and around Hamilton. Robin Ireland of Clay Works! In the Bitterroot showed their studios and the latest pottery pieces created by members of the ceramic artisan cooperative.
Tours continued at Montana Poultry Growers’ cooperative-operated poultry processing facility. It is located on the property of Homestead Organics Farm south of Hamilton
Homestead Organics, a farm owned by Laura Garber and Henry Wuensche who are members of Montana Poultry Growers Co-op as well as Loyal to Local, a cooperative made up of several Bitterroot Valley farmers.
The second day concluded with a public meet and greet at the Bitterroot Community Federal Credit Union. President and CEO Kathy Transue spoke about how the valley’s smallest financial institution started business in Darby, grew and eventually expanded with a new branch office in Hamilton.
MCDC Program Director, Marilyn Besich was also present to discuss a newly proposed type of cooperative for Montana called a “rural investment co-op (RIC), which has proved successful in both Alberta and Minnesota, which allows people to invest a small portion of their individual retirement account into local community projects.
The third day began with a tour of Ravalli Electric Co-op’s Valley Solar array north of Hamilton. Manager of Member Services Jim Maunder and Communications Specialist Melissa Greenwood discussed the cooperatives community solar energy program, where participating members can receive the benefit of solar power from panels they lease from the electric co-op, who maintains the panels. Participating member-owners receive a credit on their electric bill for the power generated from the panels that is divided among all of them by the co-op.
The third day’s festivities ended at Ravalli County Federal Credit Union, with President and CEO Darci Parsons who spoke about the history of the financial cooperative and the many different community outreach programs they support to fulfill the cooperative principle of “ Concern for Community”. Parsons highlighted how her members had generously donated food to the credit union’s Thanksgiving Food Drive and how her staff has volunteered many hours to help the Supporters of Abuse Free Environments (SAFE) in the Bitterroot and the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA).
Cooperative Impact Week wrapped-up on Saturday, May 5, with the spring opening of Saturday’s Hamilton Farmer’s Market. Attendees came to check out Montana grown and handmade products by over 130 vendors who are all Ravalli County residents and member-owners of the Hamilton Farmer’s Market Cooperative.
The Bitterroot Valley Cooperative Impact Week was funded in part by a Cooperative Education Grant from the CHS Foundation (funded by charitable gifts), the Montana Farmers Union, and the Montana Council of Cooperatives.