Why the cooperative model needs to be at the heart of our new economy

In 1903, an American entrepreneur, Charles Boettcher, founded the Great Western Sugar Company in Colorado, and opened two beet sugar refineries outside of Denver. Over the course of the 20th century, the company expanded, adding more facilities in Wyoming, Montana, and Nebraska, and encompassing hundreds of growers across those states. The company passed from owner to owner for several decades, starting in the 1970s, and its last owner, unnerved by the volatilities in the beet sugar market at the time, began looking for someone to buy it in 1990. In 2002, they finalized a sale not to another private owner, but to the nearly 1,000 sugar beet growers who had kept the business alive for decades. They still do. Only now, the growers own and operate it themselves as the Western Sugar Cooperative.

For Nathan Schneider, a journalist and professor of media studies at University of Colorado, Boulder, the story of the Western Sugar Cooperative is a family one: His grandfather was born in Colorado in 1916, and grew up helping his family, who tenant-farmed sugar beets for the Great Western Sugar Company. Now, his grandfather’s nephew grows beets as a member-owner of the Western Sugar Cooperative, where he shares in company profits and votes in decision-making.

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