In the town of Clinton, in north-central Arkansas, is Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative. Founder Cody Hopkins describes his startup as a farmer-owned e-commerce company that makes it easy for families to order pasture-raised meats from family-owned farms in Arkansas, Texas, Missouri and Kentucky.
“At our core, what we do is help family farmers in our state and region expand their businesses and connect with customers via our e-commerce platform,” he says. “Everything that we ship out, all our meats, are pasture-raised, grass-fed, non-GMO grains for chicken and pork.”
The advantage for customers using the cooperative is that they know exactly where their food comes from via farm-of-origin stamps. Those customers can then learn more about the farmers and farms from whom they’re purchasing. And the co-op benefits farmers participating because they all own it. This business model cuts out the middleman and directly connects consumers looking for meat with farmers looking to sell it, Hopkins says.
The owner of this early stage company says it can be difficult for small family farms to connect to markets. After hitting local farmers’ markets, it can be challenging to find a place to grow.
Hopkins says the idea for the co-op came to him as he hit a ceiling with his sales. Then there was all the complexity of getting products processed, packaged up and delivered to market. Hopkins says he found other farmers across the state experiencing similar issues.
So, they got together and established a business. Hopkins says he let farmers focus on the agricultural side, and they all got ownership in the company, so they could trust it would stick with them.
Now? Things are progressing well, according to Hopkins.
“We are growing quickly,” he says.
The co-op will turn five in April, and it’s about to start a new phase, buying into a processing company, Hopkins says. Marketing will have an increased focus as well.
“We are in a place now where we’re on track for over $5 million in gross revenue,” Hopkins says. “We feel good about the impact we’re having and the demand we’re seeing on the customer side.”
Hopkins says he wants to continue helping farmers grow and scale the business and to find more families looking to buy straight from farmers.
One of the most significant advantages the co-op has? “We’ve had an excellent partnership with Heifer International,” he says.
Heifer helped get the farm base off the ground, according to Hopkins. It also set up a loan fund for farmers to gain access to capital and stay in their business.
“We would not be able to do what we do today without Heifer’s partnership,” he says.
USDA rural development grants were another early advantage. Hopkins says the grants helped to focus on improving packaging and processing.
“It was a big shot in the arm,” he says.
As for the future of rural startups in Arkansas, Hopkins says it could be tough with such a small market. But there is a real need to create economic opportunities, especially for family farmers across the state, he added. If a company can be innovative and use tech to their advantage, there’s a great place to start a company.
He says, “We had to be adaptable and use technology to our advantage.”
For more information, visit grassrootscoop.com.