Cooperative Development Services (CDS) celebrated its 25th anniversary late last week with a dinner event at Cedar Summit dairy, complete with drinks, conversation, speakers, a whole roasted hog, and a cow parade. What’s that? You’ve never heard of CDS?
Well, that makes sense. Kevin Edberg (below), executive director of CDS, says the work they do — helping launch co-ops and revitalize existing ones — is definitely of the back room variety. “We work with accountants; we work with managers on how to make sure they’re doing good business, buying products, marketing, merchandising…,” says Edberg.
The Wedge co-op manager, Lindy Bannister, who attended the event, calls CDS an “orchestra conductor to co-op development” because the group helps so many different types of co-ops with their problems.
“If you have a question about anything in the co-op world, they know the answer or they know who you need to talk to,” Bannister says.
Florence Minar of Cedar Summit says that CDS help proved invaluable in re-writing their business plan. “We know how to produce our milk and process our milk, but marketing? It’s in a class all its own.” The dairy relied on CDS to help them develop a feasible marketing strategy.
CDS’s work over the last 25 years has gleaned tangible results. Edberg says in the past 6-8 years, the number of communities across the country starting co-ops has grown, with an estimated 300 food co-ops nationwide.
Never really thought about co-ops? Well, to Edberg, co-ops are about having a voice. He says that as a member-owner, you can impact the kind of business that is done far more than you would by just going to the store. For instance, you can support local sustainable farmers.
“I don’t know that you would find that same corporate ethos in a Target superstore,” says Edberg.
He points to tangible success stories of fulfilling consumer demand for local products. Five years ago, Edberg says, Northfield, MN residents didn’t have an easy way to get access to local sustainable products. They had to go without or had to drive 20 or 30 miles away.
But, says Edberg, with assistance from CDS, Just Food co-op was created and now does 4 million dollars in sales, makes a million dollars in purchases a year from specifically local producers, and has about 2,000 members.
The 25th anniversary dinner was full of literal fruits of labor.
Further evidence of that vitality of co-ops was present in the array of foods served at the event. Dinner included tarragon chicken salad, which is available at Just Food co-op’s deli and is made with chicken from Callister Farm. Cedar Summit Dairy provided cream, milk, and whipped cream; there were blueberries from The Berry Patch, and even the wine came from a local producer, Cannon River Winery.
Remember that roasting hog? It came from Six Point Berkshire Cooperative, a business that CDS helped move from relying on a sole foreign customer to now doing 80 percent of their business domestically.
The event was catered by Good Life Catering, who filled in the meal with their homemade breads and crackers, a mixed green salad using Axdahl’s Garden Farm produce, mashed red and Yukon gold potatoes, and a variety of colorful spreads including a “pate trio” of mushroom, carrot cashew, and beet hummus. There was also a cheese plate that included cheddar cheeses from PastureLand cooperative, a Donnay Dairy chevre, and an Eichten Gouda.
Jenny Breen, of Good Life Catering, said that the event was an inspiring one. Though working, she felt thankful to be in a beautiful place like Cedar Summit Dairy and see what the farmers are doing. After all, she points out: “We wouldn’t be eating all that great food without them.”