About Our Coop
Tuscarora Organic Growers (TOG) took root in 1988 when three neighboring organic fruit and vegetable farmers in South Central Pennsylvania came together to share a common problem they each had. Each farm marketed their produce in the Baltimore-Washington area at their farmer’s market every weekend in season. Each was becoming overwhelmed by requests from food co-ops, retailers and restaurants for their produce. They decided to hire someone to manage the sales as well as to cooperate in providing produce for the venture. They went through several individuals in short order until they found a young man by the name of Chris Fullerton. Chris managed the cooperative for fourteen years and is credited with developing, along with the growers, a successful cooperative business model.
They soon discovered that by working together, they could coordinate crop production to complement one another rather than compete. Each could grow for their markets and grow for the co-op. Each grower could focus on crops they do well and purchase produce through the co-op from the other growers. The cooperative form of business fit the farmers’ needs, allowing ownership and market access to be divided fairly and decisions to be made jointly. And through cooperation, the growers were able to serve their customers better, by providing a diversity of crops and a level of service that no one grower could provide on his own.
In TOG’s first season, seven growers moved about 1,500 cases of produce to Washington DC retailers over a five-month period. Since then, each successive season has brought steady growth in sales as well as diversity, season length and professionalism. In the coming season, our twenty-sixth, TOG will work with 44 member producers and an additional 15 or so growers to bring over 100,000 cases of produce from farm to city, offering locally grown, certified organic produce all 12 months of the year.
Many of our growers’ farms are located throughout a seven-county region of south central Pennsylvania known as the Juniata River Valley. (The counties are Bedford, Franklin, Fulton, Huntingdon, Juniata, Mifflin and Perry). This beautiful, rugged region is sparsely populated, heavily forested, and environmentally pristine. Our small fields hug streams in narrow valleys or sit on ridges above. Our farms are part of both the Potomac and the Susquehanna River watersheds. The co-op’s warehouse and office are located beside New Morning Farm near Maddensville, PA.
Each member of the co-op as well as its non-member growers are certified organic by a third party agency and each farm must be re-certified annually. Each of TOG’s growers is a sustainable family farm. However, not all of TOG’s growers are alike. We have growers from the early organic movement of the seventies as well as many new generation farmers, some of whom graduated from internships on some of our original farms. We have traditional farms which chose to switch to organic farming. We also have a large group of Amish growers in the co-op. Their values and family life truly exemplify sustainability in farming.
TOG is legally incorporated as a producer's cooperative, which means that the business is owned by the farmers it serves. The economic goal of the co-op is service at cost to growers. The TOG staff consists of 4 full time employees and up to 18 part time employees. Each farm receives 70-75% of the sale of their produce through the co-op and is paid within two weeks of the sale. The balance of the sale is used to operate the co-op and does include the cost of delivery to its markets in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area.
The TOG staff serves three primary functions for its growers. First is the marketing of their crops. TOG has been working to keep up with demand in their markets from the beginning. Approximately 20% of its sales are to its own growers, who use the produce to supplement their crops for their farmer’s markets and CSA’s. The remainder is roughly split between retailers and restaurants. Many varieties and sizes of a particular produce when harvested has been shaped by our customers needs.
The second function is production coordination. TOG offers over 1200 active produce items annually that must be fairly divided among over 50 independently minded growers. This is no small task. The season planning process known as the commitment chart begins in November and concludes in February. Each grower works with the staff defining his commitment to deliver X number of cases per week for Y number of weeks for each of his crops. The process is market-driven, but ultimately ruled by Mother Nature.
Finally, TOG provides the quality standards that all growers must adhere to so that our customers can expect the same high quality produce from all of our growers. This seventeen page document was developed by the growers and is updated every few years to include new varieties as well as adopting new methods to ensure high quality and food safety.
All produce is packed at each farm and brought to TOG once or twice a week for distribution to its markets. Each case of produce has the name of the farm, the certifying agency and a lot number identifying the date of harvest. Currently TOG delivers to its markets twice a week.
TOG's cooperative model also allows growers to pool their buying power. By ordering larger quantities, growers can receive a better price for supplies such as potting soil, boxes and labels, seed potatoes and organic pest and weed control products. The co-op offers seasonal training by its own growers for new growers as well an exchange of technology amongst growers through networking and semi annual meetings.
The Tuscarora Organic Growers Cooperative started with no outside funding, just an idea that farmers could work together to grow their produce sustainably and be profitable Beginning in 1988 with just three farms deciding to work together, the cooperative has grown into a three million dollar business that is owned and managed by its members.
The business practices of the TOG’s business model has been shared with others interested in working together and helped establish similar cooperatives in New Mexico. Colorado, Pennsylvania and Lebanon. TOG staff and growers are active speakers and participants in local, regional and national conferences on sustainable agriculture.
President, Board of Directors: Mark Stanley, Help From Above Farm
General Manager: Emily Best