Revolutionary Approach

An equitable, worker-owned operation in Mansfield, Love is Love Cooperative Farm models a different way to distribute food. It provides certified organic produce, flowers and seedlings to customers across metro Atlanta, all while priding itself on being a global steward.

by D.J. Dycus

Have you ever had a neighbor who was a big deal without your knowing it? Here in Newton County, a member of the community is helping to change this corner of the world. Love is Love Cooperative Farm is a worker-owned cooperative—meaning it is collectively owned and operated by five individuals, with the intention to add more worker-owners—located on 70 acres in Mansfield. It is modeling a different way to distribute food in the United States, as it works to reduce global carbon emissions. It grows food in a way that protects our natural resources, keeping pollutants from the land and waterways and permanently preserving the ground for farming. It is also developing alternative models for ownership and equity in business. 

Love is Love Cooperative Farm is worked and owned by Judith Winfrey, Joe Reynolds, Demetrius Milling, Moncia Ponce and Russell Honderd, who collectively manage the farm, make decisions about what to grow, where to sell and who to hire. All of these questions are settled by consensus. While they work as a team, each person has primary areas of responsibility. Ponce cuts flowers and oversees the greenhouse that provides starts and seedlings; Milling operates as the field manager; Honderd co-manages the outdoor fields, as well as the wash-pack operations; Winfrey manages sales, marketing, communication and behind-the-scenes administrative responsibilities; and Reynolds serves as co-manager of the greenhouse and harvest manager, in addition to sales and marketing. Since its inception, the group has held a vision to on-board new worker-owners as employees express interest in participating. 

To acquire the land in Mansfield, Love is Love worked with The Conservation Fund to utilize their Working Farms Fund (WWF). It is the first farm in the world to participate in the program, which “permanently protects at-risk farmland, creates opportunities for ambitious, diverse farmers to scale up local food production” and which helps farmers own their own farms. WFF purchases the development rights to the land, which lowers its cost, making it more affordable for farmers to purchase. The result for Newton County is a productive farm that is permanently protected from the encroachment of developers. 

Winfrey revealed that the WFF “not only made the farmland accessible, but it did this in close proximity to substantial markets. Both of these aspects are vital to the success of a farming operation.” Ultimately, the goal of the Working Farms Fund is to restructure the food system in the United States by supporting local small- and mid-sized farms, thus reducing the carbon footprint created by transporting crops throughout the country. Another one of the goals of Love is Love Cooperative Farm is to change the way farming operations are conceptualized and run. 

“Many farms don’t have greenhouse capability of their own, so we partner with them to provide seedlings to bolster their rates of productivity.”

Joe Reynolds

In regard to Love is Love, “cooperative” carries several different meanings, all of which are layered. In the narrowest sense, it means the worker-owners form a team, each member of which guides and directs the development of the farm. There are many different types of cooperatives. Some are consumer-owned—a setup often seen in grocery or health food stores, such as Sevananda in Atlanta—and some are marketing cooperatives. Land-O-Lakes and Organic Valley Milk, for example, are marketing cooperatives owned by groups of dairy farmers. Others are community owned, such as the Green Bay Packers, an NFL team owned by its’ fans. Those behind Love is Love Cooperative Farm chose the worker-owner model because they want to provide opportunities for their employees to become owners of the farm and have a stake in the decision making and governance of the business. More expansively, though, the term refers to the fact that Love is Love Cooperative Farm thrives because it supports farmers, communities and individuals, all of whom, in a reciprocal manner, support the worker-owners. They are purposeful in this regard, mindful of their role to serve as a neighbor in Mansfield, Newton County, the Atlanta metro area and the state of Georgia. Winfrey indicated that the worker-owners are “thankful to be operating in Newton County [and doing] work that benefits this plot of land and the community, as well as the planet.” The co-op’s conception of being a good neighbor even extends to a global scale.

On a scale slightly smaller than the global one, Love is Love cooperates with organic farmers across Georgia. The farm provides certified organic produce, flowers and seedlings for Newton County and beyond the metro Atlanta area, doing so with transparency and integrity. According to Reynolds, some plants and vegetables need a protected environment at the beginning of their growing cycle. Many types of produce have a much greater chance of viability after six or nine weeks of being raised in a greenhouse. Reynolds explained that “many farms don’t have greenhouse capability of their own, so we partner with them to provide seedlings to bolster their rates of productivity.” The farm also purchases meat, eggs, grains and other products from local farms to include in its Community Supported Agriculture, including milk and cheese from Rockhouse Creamery just down the road. 

Another way that Love is Love serves as a good neighbor is by providing work opportunities in Newton and surrounding counties through full- and part-time positions that pay $15 per hour. Those who are employed by the farm also receive a weekly CSA share during subscription periods that provides “a wide range of delicious produce each week.”

After nearly two decades of hard work, Love is Love has achieved a position of economic viability, largely due to its cooperative model. The worker-owners and those who support the vision of the farm do not see unbridled profitability as their primary goal. Love is Love exists to support its community. Toward this end, the farm partners with nonprofits like Wholesome Wave Georgia to give SNAP recipients access to fresh, locally grown food. Furthermore, SNAP benefits have twice their value when shopping with Love is Love. 

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Often, the best types of neighbors are those who do not make a fuss or clamor about their presence. Love is Love Cooperative Farm is tucked away in the quiet, southeast corner of Mansfield, on Ga. 11. From a visit to the farm or by talking to the owners, you would never guess that this business has been featured in the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Atlanta Magazine, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Creative Loafing, Project Drawdown, Forbes and The New York Times. Despite the exposure, there are likely many Newton County residents who do not even know about its existence.

In addition to the other qualities already mentioned, the worker-owners at the co-op are invaluable resources on a tremendous range of topics like soil quality and development, organic agriculture, different varieties of local plants and vegetables and where they thrive, irrigation, the attributes of a successful farm, cooperative development and many more. They would love nothing more than to share information and ideas with members of the public who visit during their plant sale, September 7 from 10am to 3pm or join the CSA to participate in what they offer the community.

Once you get a feel for their commitment to improving this corner of the world, it becomes apparent that even Fred Rogers would proud to call them neighbors.  

For information about Love is Love Cooperative Farm, visit loveislovefarm.com.

PHOTO CREDIT: Addison Hill Photo

Click here to read more stories by D.J. Dycus.

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