Our original headquarters building, formerly known as the La Farge Butter and Cheese Factory.

Our original headquarters building, formerly the La Farge Butter and Cheese Factory.

If you happen to stumble onto our hometown, you won’t know it. It’s as unremarkable as a stoplight. Not that we have one. Population 774, La Farge is just another sleepy village in a Wisconsin packed with them. There’s nothing to clue you in to the fact that a $1 Billion business turns the daily cranks of it’s nationwide operations from this very spot.

You might top-off your tank at the ZZip Stop (not a typo—at least not in this piece, but, I have it on good authority, definitely on the store’s 15-foot sign), grab a deep-fried chicken breast and ice-cold milk, and be on your way, having jotted not a single mental note for the bedtime diary.

We like it like that. Incognito. Yawnsville. It’s the cloak we like to wear because inside beats a cooperative heart, ferocious in its love for rural community, which on its best day is sleepy, unremarkable, precious as diamond.

Last week I found myself in Orlando, home of Disney’s multitude of mousey theme parks, but at the same time and quickly apparent, home to no one. It is a place of tourists and conventioneers encountering imported people who feed and amuse them in franchised boxes. Not so awfully long ago it was a medium-sized town scrunched in a vast, buggy swamp. A guy named Walt strode in during 1965 and told everyone there were going to be some changes around here.

Today, this inland metro population of two million offers balmy retreat to more than thirty times it’s own numbers annually. That’s like twenty percent of the U.S. citizenry traveling through town every year, billfolds ablazing.
Following a blowout from too much walking, I went to a nearby CVS pharmacy to pick up new shoelaces, and stumbled upon home. Organic Valley was already here, standing proud above a coffin cooler. FUEL, Balance and Good to Go, some of my very best friends, gave me a quick wink and a nod. Dude!

Okay, thirteen hundred miles in today’s jetrosexual world is not that far. In physical distance. But the metaphysical distance from La Farge ZZip Stop to Orlando CVS approaches infinity. Especially when it incarnates amid this year’s carnival of presidential politics. It’s hard not to notice the theme that straddles both parties: economic inequity—you know, the one percent and everybody else, Wall Street elitism, socialism, rigged economy, slanted international trade deals, blah blah blah.

Right here in front of me was an inside joke. The punch line, “It’s the cooperative, Dummy!,” isn’t all that funny. Ha ha funny, I mean. But it is funny that no one is orating about cooperatives, the business structure we enjoy and cherish here at CROPP, where the whole point is to level the playing field—in both risk and reward—and make something together that floats all boats.

It’s truly amazing how it works when it’s done right (which is rare). Even so, I don’t expect the notion to come up in the ongoing debates, and that’s fine with boring old us. Sooner or later it will be unavoidable, especially as cooperatives like CROPP continue to demonstrate viability and resilience rooted in the common good. In the mean time, we’ll keep on milking our grassed-up organic cows and bring tall frosty ones to communities near you. We’ve got all day.