Clearance-priced Christmas decorations, fair trade scarves and handcrafted jewelry colorfully fill the space several feet over from the typical boots and tack. Buyer Annette Moore has stocked the welcoming space with a display of American-made toys, adorable children’s clothing and jars of local honey. The customers I met while browsing around windchimes and garden flags aren’t even farmers. But Allen and Libby Hendry say they frequent the Anderson Farmers Cooperative for several reasons. Allen showed me the mealworms they buy for the birds in their backyard and explained that he also buys corn to feed the deer. Wife Libby likes buying nearly all of the supplies for their home garden in nearby Norris, Tennessee and likes that, “it’s just quaint.”
The Hendry family and other non-farmers are the type of customers the Co-op hoped to attract when they expanded their downtown Clinton showroom a few years ago from 1,800 square feet to 8,000 square feet. Co-op General Manager Jeremy Horne says, “A lot of time when people think of the Co-op they think of just feed, seed and fertilizer and that’s not the case.” Sure, you can buy regionally grown feed and Tennessee-made farm implements. But even if you’re not a farmer, you are welcome. The Co-op stocks pet supplies, Tennessee-made wooden rockers and swings, and even some cleaning supplies. My friend Siobhan over at WeeWarrens shared the tip to check out the bulk sodium bicarbonate because she knew I use baking soda for household cleaning. Sure enough, I could stock up for about half the price of the discount store baking soda.
While manager Horne knows he may not beat the discount or big box stores every time on price, he thinks the Co-op is pretty competitive. And then there’s more than price. “The first thing that I would stress is the service offered here, as far as customer service, that’s something that we pride ourselves on,” says Horne. Communications Manager Allison Morgan speaks for the larger Tennessee Farmer’s Cooperative when she explains another source of pride. She confirms that around 300 Tennesseans have jobs because of Co-op feed mills around the state as well as Middle Tennessee facilities where they make metal gates and feeders sold exclusively through the member Co-ops. “That’s one of our values is to try to make available as many locally produced products as we possibly can,” says Morgan.
Co-ops are responding to customers’ needs by slowly expanding their offering to include organic seeds and other sustainable products in additional to conventional fare like pesticides. They can special order things, without charging the customer shipping costs.Co-ops like the one in Clinton offer everyone a chance to help keep profits in the local community. Everyone who shops the member-owned store gets the best possible prices. Those trying to make a living in farming or market gardening can become a member and get a portion of the Co-op’s profits back as a cash dividend at the end of the year. Horne explains that a dividend check, based on how much the member spent that year, could be just a few dollars up to thousands of dollars for farmers who’ve bought most of their feed there.Learn more about several Farmer’s Cooperatives at these links: