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FARM SCENE: Small-farm co-op seeks strength in numbers

December 16, 1996

JEFFERSON, Md. (AP) _ Looking for price breaks and better marketing, small farms in Maryland are banding together.

The Maryland Small Farm Cooperative, launched this month with 60 members, is among the nation’s first agricultural co-ops aimed at boosting the purchasing and marketing power of farms grossing less than $50,000 annually. That includes nearly three-quarters of the farms in Maryland.

``The idea of this cooperative is to network and bring small farmers together so that they can take advantage of all the things large farmers have,″ said Frederick County Extension Agent Terry Poole, a co-op organizer.

Many of the nearly 100 people who attended an organizational meeting Dec. 3 said the biggest benefit would be group purchasing. Many seed companies and suppliers of automotive, heating, plumbing and greenhouse equipment offer discounts for large purchases, according to Steve Bogash, leader of the co-op’s greenhouse and ornamental plants group.

``The bigger and more active you become, the better,″ he said.

Sherm Pearsall, the co-op’s purchasing leader, said he had discount commitments from dealers in fencing, steel buildings and new and used farm equipment.

Bogash said greenhouse operators also could benefit by cooperating on deliveries.

``Sixty percent of our sales are in the eight weeks of spring,″ he said. ``We need help especially during that time.″

The cooperative is organized into four groups: field crops, fruits and vegetables, livestock and greenhouse and ornamental plants. It was conceived by a handful of grain farmers who jointly acquired a combine, Poole said.

The cooperative approach could help small fruit and vegetable growers develop auctions for their produce, organizers said. Similarly, livestock farmers hope to find ways to more effectively market their animals to compete with big producers.

Doug Zimmerman, a nuclear engineer who plans to raise goats or sheep on his seven acres near Creagerstown, volunteered to serve as chairman of the co-op.

``If you grow an acre or two acres of corn, you have more than you can get rid of at a farmers market but you don’t have enough to talk to a retail outlet,″ he said. ``But if you’ve got 100 people producing a couple acres each, then you’ve got a real chance of delivering a quantity of produce into a large market.″

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WAUTOMA, Wis. (AP) _ While Rudolph and his companions prepare for the travel plans of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, two other reindeer are helping spread holiday cheer at a Wautoma-area tree farm.

Clareese and Holly have turned a half-acre of Timber Ridge Tree Farm & Nursery into their new stomping grounds.

Owners Rick and LuAnn Roth brought the animals from Colorado to help add atmosphere to their business.

``We wanted to make the journey of getting a Christmas tree a family affair,″ Mrs. Roth said. ``The reindeer are an added attraction for kids of all ages.″

The Roths originally held the reindeer in a half-acre pen with an 8-foot-high fence, but they soon found the animals did not care for it.

``They refuse to be in any situation where they might feel cornered.″ Mrs. Roth said. ``They’ve stood outside in the worst rain we’ve had so far, but they love the snow! In fact if there’s snow, they eat it rather than the water we provide.″

The most asked question about the reindeer is perhaps the hardest to answer, Mrs. Roth said.

``The kids keep asking if the reindeer belong to Santa,″ she said. ``So far we’ve been telling them they’re his reindeers’ cousins.″

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