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Five New Cooperative Projects Initiated

The University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives and Cooperative Development Services of Madison have selected five innovative cooperative development projects for special technical assistance.

The “Hiawatha Sustainable Woods Cooperative” involves woodlot owners in Buffalo and Trempealeau Counties, as well as Winona County, Minn. As project leader Jim Beeman of Fountain City explains, “The co-op will allow farmers and other woodlot owners to develop sustainable woodlot management plans, practice selective harvesting, and then add value to their wood through cooperative processing and marketing.” A similar project in the Spring Green area is further along and will provide guidance and input for this project.

A second project is the “Iron County Towns Cooperative.” Community resource extension agent Cathy Techtmann explains why Iron County”s 10 towns are behind this project: “The gap between what these municipalities can afford to provide to their constituents and the rising costs of these services continues to grow each year.” Working with CDS, UWCC, and the UW-River Falls Rural Development Institute, Techtmann and the Iron County Towns Association will explore cooperative administration, purchasing, and provision of municipal services as a means of saving costs and increasing effectiveness.

A third project, tentatively titled “Cooperative Housing Alternatives,” actually involves two separate initiatives, located 45 miles apart. The Amery Housing Authority and the Wisconsin Farmland Conservancy

of Menomonie will lead efforts in their communities to explore cooperative strategies for providing good quality, affordable housing and home ownership options. Conservancy director Tom Quinn understands that success will require a team approach: “Our goal is to engage business and community leaders, builders and realtors, citizen groups, and government agencies” in order to make cooperative housing part of the local homeownership fabric.

The fourth project selected is the “Washington County Childcare Cooperative.” Family living extension agent Marma Jean McIntee leads a subcommittee of the Families First Council of Washington County, which is exploring cooperative strategies that small businesses and their employees can use to acquire affordable, quality childcare services. The need is clear, as a recent study found that only 32 percent of the need for licensed childcare was being met in this fast-growing county, according to McIntee. CDS and UWCC will conduct a feasibility study as part of this technical assistance award.

Finally, UWCC staff will work with the “Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Cooperative.” Formed in 1996, the 14 sheep-milk producers in this co-op are looking beyond wholesaling toward contracting for product and eventually processing their own specialty cheeses. “Doing so will give our farmers greater control over the factors which influence demand for sheep milk,” says co-op president Jeff Foster.

UWCC and CDS received funding this year from the USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service to develop cooperative development training for economic developers and entrepreneurs, and to provide technical assistance to help launch local cooperative initiatives. According to UWCC program manager Will Hughes, “We”ve selected projects that will demonstrate to others in Wisconsin how cooperatives can be used to meet a variety of community needs.”

For more information, contact UWCC outreach specialist Greg Lawless at (608) 265-2903, lawless@aae.wisc.edu The UWCC home page is at http://www.wisc.edu/uwcc/