As one of the cooperative principles, education is a key component of Montana cooperatives and MCDC’s work. To support our cooperatives and increase Montanans’ knowledge of cooperatives, we have developed several educational programs. Our curriculum, including a Cooperative 101 booklet, reaches high school and college students. The program showcases not only the cooperative model, but also the impacts and history of cooperatives in the state of Montana.
MCDC partnered with Montana Farmers Union to create a curriculum for their summer camp program, where campers learn about the model and design their own cooperatives as a final project. In 2023, MCDC hosted its first Internship Program, hiring students from Tribal colleges in the State to do outreach and build capacity, and we hope these students will bring knowledge of the cooperative model back to Tribal communities. Lastly, we have created a series of coloring books featuring Legacy the Unicorn and her fantastical friends to teach young children about cooperatives and the importance of community. The first coloring book is available and can be order here, with future coloring books available in 2024 an 2025.
Workforce is a critical issue within all sectors in all communities across the country. To attract and retain employees, we build cooperatives that improve the livability of our rural communities. MCDC has partners with the Montana Council of Cooperatives to design a Pre-Apprenticeship Program , which gives Montana high school students the opportunity to work for cooperatives in their area, supporting Montana’s cooperatives while showing our youth the value of well-paying cooperative careers that keep them within their rural communities. MCDC is also entering the field of employee-owned cooperative conversions, which retain and attract employees in businesses like grocery stores, restaurants, and main street storefronts when owners want to retire. We created a Multistakeholder and Workforce Conversion Toolkit to show workers how they can achieve job security while keeping rural businesses open and thriving.
Food and Agriculture has always been one of the cornerstones of our work. From ranching to value-added ag, we use the cooperative model to encourage young producers to enter the industry, convert family-owned ranches and farms to cooperatives to preserve the land and engage future generations, and increase producers’ bargaining and purchasing power. In the past few years, MCDC has published several studies on food systems in rural and Tribal communities in the state of Montana to evaluate how we can best keep local food in their communities with the cooperative model. Cooperatives positively impact food security in the State by keeping rural grocery stores open, engaging Tribal communities in preserving traditional knowledge of food and lifeways, and supporting our rural producers. We also partner with food access state programs and nonprofits across Montana to continue to engage the network of dedicated people passionate about making sure every Montanan has access to nutritious, affordable food.
In 2018, the Musselshell Rural Investment Cooperative became the first investment cooperative in Montana. As MCDC tackled this project, we learned important lessons about this innovative model that led to our team becoming the experts on investment cooperatives in the State. Investment cooperatives are community impact funds that bring community members and investors together to invest in projects that improve the livability and economic vitality of their area. Rural communities with less access to infrastructure and services easily found in urban areas particularly benefit from this model. We developed an Investment Cooperative Toolkit to show groups how they can use this model to meet their needs while preserving the culture of self-reliance our rural communities pride themselves on.
MCDC is dedicated to providing high-quality technical assistance and economic development strategies to disadvantaged groups across the State. Funded by USDA—Rural Development’s Socially Disadvantaged Group Grant, we guide women- and Native-led projects through the cooperative development process, provide financial literacy services to rural women on investment, and are working on designing an investment cooperative to increase access to capital for women and Native business owners. Our Indigenous People’s Digital Library provides resources to Native and reservation-based groups interested in the cooperative model, including a legal study examining how Tribal law affects the cooperative incorporation process, considerations for writing culturally relevant bylaws, and the pros and cons of the cooperative model relating to its background in Native economic history.
Housing is a critical issue across the state of Montana, especially when attracting and retaining a workforce. To create affordable housing, prevent employees from being priced out, and preserve our rural communities, MCDC works hard to build housing cooperatives. Our first rural housing cooperative, Riverside Crossing in Hamilton, MT, focuses on senior housing, and a developing cooperative in Gardiner, MT will address workforce housing needs. We work with several partners across the State and Nationally, to build out programing that addresses housing needs of Montanans. MCDC is also working in many communities to utilize the investment cooperative model to address housing needs.
In 2021, MCDC partnered with Zero to Five Montana to spearhead the Montana Community Child Care Innovation Pilot. As a result of the pilot, we developed a deep knowledge of all child care cooperative models, from parent-owned child cares to employee-owned investment cooperatives. We worked with different communities across the State exploring these models, and guided them through the cooperative development process. Additionally, we developed a Child Care Cooperative Toolkit , which helps communities decide which cooperative model is right for them, what first steps to take, and how MCDC can help.