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Building a Better World, One Co-op at a Time


Southeastern Oklahoma Interlocal Cooperative


Farm Credit of Enid By Meg McElhaney W


hat do towns across Oklahoma have in common with places like Lebanon, Australia, Belgium and Peru? People helping people through the busi- ness model of a cooperative. What works all over the world—cooperatives—also thrives here in our own backyard.


Pioneer Telephone Cooperative, Inc.


Courtesy Photos


from a 501(c)(3) to a 501(c)(4) nonprofi t organiza- tion to help secure grants and funding. “When we were founded there weren’t other coop-


eratives like this, so we were grouped in with the electric cooperatives,” Cates said.


A cooperative is a group of people as small as a few and as large as thousands, who buy into a service—electricity, food, education or anything else a community needs—and make that service accessible and affordable by working together. Instead of benefi ting the shareholders, cooperatives benefi t all mem- bers equally. The members also control cooperatives equally, allowing them to be run with values and communities in mind. To celebrate how important coop- eratives have become and how many people they have helped over the decades, the United Nations declared 2012 the International Year of Cooperatives. This year has marked a global effort to help support and highlight what cooperatives have been doing for decades around the globe—Oklahoma included. The Sooner State is home to resilient, creative people making it the perfect place for diverse cooperatives to fl ourish. A few of them are featured here.


Arts & Crafts


Although unknown to many, Oklahoma is home to a cooperative unique not only to the state, but to the nation as well. The Oklahoma Indian Arts & Crafts Cooperative was founded in 1955. This cooperative has had artwork pass through it that has been displayed at a 1968 World’s Fair. Manager LaVerna Cates has been at the helm since 1965.


“We’re a fourth-generation cooperative. My mother was the manager before me, and after she passed away, the board members decided that I should be manager,” Cates said.


The cooperative is unique in many ways. Not only is it the only Indian–run cooperative in state, but a majority of the members and producers are women. The board is made up of four women and one man, all of whom are artists or craftsmen.


“We are not funded by the state, nation or a tribe,” Cates said. “We represent the Southern Plains tribes. Our board of directors is made up of producers all from different tribes.”


Although the cooperative has stood the test of time, modern days mean the Oklahoma Indian Arts & Crafts Cooperative is facing new challenges. The offi cial seal of the cooperative’s trademark has expired and they are also trying to change


28 OKLAHOMA LIVING


Despite the challenges that come with age, the cooperative has been prospering with nearly 80 members. Of them, 35 are cur- rently producing artwork to sell, and new artists are coming in regularly. The Oklahoma Indian Arts & Crafts Cooperative shop is located within the Southern Plains Indians Museum at 715 E Central Blvd., Anadarko, OK 73005. For more information, call 405-247-3486.


Food


The Oklahoma Food Cooperative was founded in 2003 in hopes of bringing farmers and producers one step closer to consumers. The solution became what is known as the Oklahoma model—a system that makes both the consumers and producers equal members. Eric Lyons, president, explained how the system works.


“You join the co-op, which is $51.75 for a lifetime membership and refundable if you move away or would like to leave,” Lyons said. “The fi rst of every month the producers list all of their products online. Ordering is open until midnight of the second Thursday of the month, and deliveries are made the third Thursday of the month.” Lyons, an upstate New York native and member of the U.S. Air Force, relocated to Oklahoma when he was stationed at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City. He ran across the cooperative while doing an online search for farmers’ markets in Oklahoma City and began to volunteer. Eventually he and his wife joined the cooperative and have been active ever since.


Don’t let the name “food” fool you though; almost 50 percent of the products sold online through the Oklahoma Food Cooperative aren’t food, according to Lyons. The rest are crafts, plants and other items that have been grown, made or processed in Oklahoma.


To make all of this happen, the cooperative relies on 100 to 150 volunteers who drive, prepare and deliver orders to one of the 44 pickup stations across the state. While up to 75 percent of the purchases come from either the Oklahoma City or Tulsa metro areas, the 25 percent that come from small, rural towns are just as important to the cooperative.


“Rural is really important to us; that’s one of our goals,” Lyons said. “We want a pickup site in every little town where there are a few people willing to do the


Celebrating Oklahoma’s Cooperatives


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