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Latino farmers hammer out details for co-op

About 20 Latino farmers from around the Lower Valley gathered Thursday night to iron out the details of a cooperative that would allow local farmers more say in the prices they receive for their products.

Luz Bazan, the president and CEO of Rural Community Development Resources, which oversees the Center for Latino Farmers, said the most recent meeting was for farmers who were interested in moving forward with a cooperative.

In 2001, a group of farmers from the Tieton and Cowiche area set up a cooperative structure for growing and packing, according to Bazan.

After the Rural Community Development Resource center set up the paperwork to organize the cooperative, it didn't move ahead.

"The purpose of the meeting was to reactivate the cooperative," said Bazan.

Two weeks ago the Center for Latino Farmers held its first meeting with local farmers. Import and export seminars were held to discuss the opportunities of Washington products being exported to Mexico.

Bazan said that Hon. Jorge Madrazo-Cuellar, Mexican Consul of Mexico for Washington State, told the farmers that if they don't form a cooperative they won't find packing opportunities and be able to compete in the market.

Of the 50 farmers who attended the first meeting 20 returned to last night's meeting in Sunnyside to begin the process of starting the cooperative. Bazan said that with the freezing temperatures expected Thursday night there were several farmers who were not able to attend the meeting. All those attending the meeting were in favor of moving forward with the project.

Most of the farmers who attended were from the Lower Valley, representing Grandview, Sunnyside and Mabton. Apple farmers made up the majority of the group, although there were two cattle farmers and those growing vegetables, including asparagus, chilies, cilantro and other produce commonly used in Mexican dishes, said Bazan.

Thursday night's working meeting was designed to hash out the articles of the cooperative and to make any changes that the new group of farmers pushing for the cooperative don't agree with.

Bazan said one of the changes made was that originally a farmer had to have at least five acres to be a part of the cooperative. The farmers at the meeting Thursday night changed it, leaving the amount of land required open.

Bazan said this will especially affect the vegetable farmers who want to participate.

"They opened it up so they would not leave people out," she said.

By creating the Latino Farmers Association cooperative, the farmers are developing a for-profit business that will help them market and package their products. It will also make it easier for farmers to find warehouses to take their products.

"There's a lot of interest in cooperatives by the United States Department of Agriculture," said Bazan, explaining that bringing together farmers can help build what in many ways has become a dying breed.

She said that their decision to help build a cooperative is based on a study that shows a trend and strength in groups of farmers working together. Her dream is that one day the cooperative will have a loan program, which will have farmers within the cooperative lending money to each other.

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