Category Archives: Uncategorized

CEO CFO Roundtables

Join your peers for a frank and open ended discussion on the issues effecting your employee owned company.

2015 CEO CFO Roundtables

NE Ohio
April 28th, 2015
3-5 pm
Akron Fairlawn Hilton
Followed immediately by the Opening Night Reception of the 29th Annual Ohio Employee Ownership Conference

SW Ohio
September 16th, 2015
Location TBD
Are you an ESOP company interested in hosting this roundtable? If so, send a message to Chris Cooper or call 330672-0338.

Register for the two roundtables; please specify which roundtable (NE or SW) you would like to register for.


28th Annual Ohio Employee Ownership Conference – Agenda Now Available!

Join us for the 28th Annual Ohio Employee Ownership Conference April 24th in Akron, Ohio.

This year we are proud to say we have two excellent Keynote speakers, Karl Warnke, CEO of Kent’s own Davey Tree Expert Company and Jordana Barrack of New Belgium Brewing Company!







And, don’t forget our full slate of pre-conference events:

4th Annual Ohio Cooperative Forum – 3-5 pm
CEO/CFO Forum – 3-5 pm
ESOP Communications Roundtable – 3-5 pm
ESOPs for Exit Planners – 3-5 pm

Employee Ownership Reception (co-sponsored by the Exit Planning Institute) 5-6 pm (serving fantastic New Belgium beer!!)

Movie Showing: We The Owners, along with a Q&A with Mary Ann Beyster, Executive Producer – 6-8 pm






Details on Keynotes, Award Winners, Breakout Sessions, and more can be found here:

The Special Interview Issue of Owners at Work is here!

Latest Issue:

  • CoverOhio Employee Ownership News
  • Q&A with Andrew J. Kulesza
  • Q&A with Loren Rodgers
  • Q&A with Christopher Snider
  • 10 Things You Might Not Know About Co-ops
  • Q&A with James Steiker
  • Q&A with Michael Keeling
  • Q&A with Matt Hancock
  • Valicor’s ESOP Program Brings Greater Trust and Increased Efficiency

View the full edition online by clicking the image or download the newsletter in one of 3 formats:

28th Annual Employee Ownership Conference: Keynotes & Registration Information

OwnershipOpportunity28th Annual Employee Ownership Conference
Thursday, April 24, 2014
Akron Fairlawn Hilton

“A Wealth of Opportunity: Employee Ownership Fuels Growth.”

Keynote Speakers:


This year’s keynote speakers will be Karl Warnke, Davey Tree Expert Company, a 100% employee-owned company. Davey Tree is located in Kent, Ohio and has operations in 45 U.S. states and five Canadian provinces. Davey became employee-owned in 1979 and has more than 7,000 employees.



Also speaking this year will be Jordana Barrack, New Belgium Brewing Company, a 100% employee-owned company. New Belgium Brewing is located in Fort Collins, Colorado with 480 employees and has been an ESOP since 2000; the company became 100% employee-owned in January 2013.

Registrations received before April 6, qualify for our early bird rate of $125 ($150 after April 6; $195 at the door). You can find our registration forms and more information on the topics to be presented and pre-conference activities on our conference page.

Rates (per person)

Members of Ohio’s Employee Owned Network*


Register before April 6



Register April 7-18



At the Door



Group Rate (5 or more)



Includes continental breakfast, lunch, coffee break, and closing reception.

Cancellation Policy: Cancellations received before April 10, 2014 are eligible for a full refund. Cancellations made after April 10, 2014 will be subject to a $30 charge.

*To join Ohio’s Employee Owned Network or receive more information, contact Chris Cooper,

If you have any questions regarding the conference, please contact Chris Cooper (at 330-672-0338 or or Kelley Fitts (at or 330-672-0336).

We look forward to seeing you in April!

How a Fruit and Vegetable Auction in Rural Ohio Helps Appalachian Farmers Thrive

Produce auctions are getting fresh vegetables into food deserts, building community, and helping rural farmers earn a living.

by Erin L. McCoy

Originally printed in Yes! Magazine

Bob Fedyski was adamant: his friend, Chef Matt Rapposelli, needed to check out the Chesterhill Produce Auction.

But for a while, Rapposelli stalled: he didn’t believe an auction in rural, Appalachian Ohio could provide nearly enough produce for his needs—after all, as executive chef at Ohio University he was serving three meals a day to roughly 8,000 students. Besides, Morgan County—where Chesterhill is located—had been a food desert, where people had to travel for miles to find fresh food.

“For Chesterhill, they have two convenience stores, but you can’t buy a tomato there,” explained Fedyski, a specialist in local food for Rural Action, a community development nonprofit.

But finally, one summer afternoon several years ago, Fedyski offered up a compromise: he and Rapposelli would go for a motorcycle ride (“a common addiction”) and end up at the Chesterhill Produce Auction.

They pulled up to an open pavilion, whose broad roof and open garage shaded a concrete patio. Twice a week, May through October, this patio floods with boxes of seasonal produce for the auction block, from apples to squash to, yes, tomatoes. During these auctions, horse-and-buggy teams can be spotted between the parked cars; many of the auction’s most prolific farmers are Amish and live just miles away.

Rapposelli would soon become a regular customer.

“I was stunned,” Rapposelli remembered of that first visit. “Number one, seeing where it was, because it is in the middle of nowhere—it is out. And I was amazed at the number of people who were there: the purveyors, the buyers, and the spectators.”

The auction is not only a bustling sight—it’s also something of a novelty. A produce auction guide printed in Ohio counts only 50-plus auctions in the entire United States. But Chesterhill and Ohio’s eight other produce auctions fill a critical niche—bridging the gap between small producers outside the world of industrial ag and a lower-income populace in need of healthy, affordable food.

Ohio food, Ohio dollars

One in six Ohio residents works in the agriculture industry, and the food and ag industries contribute an estimated $79 billion to the state’s economy each year. Yet nearly 90 percent of the food Ohioans buy comes from outside the state, according to a 2011 report from food systems analyst Ken Meter of the Crossroads Resource Center. The result, Meter estimates, is that Ohio’s economy loses $30 billion a year.

It’s a loss that weighs heavily on an already struggling state. Much of Ohio’s poverty is concentrated in the Appalachian region, where 16.7 percent of the population is poor. In non-Appalachian Ohio, the poverty rate stands at 14.3 percent. In Morgan County, where the Chesterhill Produce Auction is based, 19.5 percent of the population is poor.

Boosting in-state food purchases to 15 percent could increase farm incomes by $2.5 billion, Meter estimates. And Brad Bergefurd, extension educator in agriculture and natural resources with Ohio State University Extension, thinks produce auctions have already made a big difference when it comes to keeping local food in the state.

“We believe it’s at least a $15 to $20 million industry,” Bergefurd said. And considering the roughly 50 to 100 percent markup at most grocery stores, he added, the actual size of the industry could be more like $40 million.

How a produce auction works

Farmers markets are often clustered around bigger towns, like nearby Athens. But for several reasons, those markets are not ideal for a large proportion of farmers. They’re too far to reach by horse and buggy, they often require a farmer to spend all day preparing and tending to the booth, and there’s no guarantee that all the produce will sell.

Produce auctions help to solve these problems. “The produce auction, you can take everything out there that you have that day, everything sells, and you don’t have to bring nothing home,” said Karen Blackburn, who sells a broad variety of produce, from raspberries to kale, at the Chesterhill auction.

Auctions typically take a 10 to 15 percent commission on sales to cover the costs of marketing, the auctioneer, and the facilities. The initial investment makes up the biggest cost for most auctions.

Bergefurd has been involved in every one of the state’s produce auctions, in one role or another, since the first was founded in Geauga County in 1992. The initial investment for the Chesterhill Produce Auction was nearly $150,000—much of which was used to construct the building and driveway. Some of this funding came from Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation grants, but most was a personal investment by Jean and Marvin Konkle, who founded and operated the auction until Rural Action purchased it in April 2010.

In the world of produce auctions, this was actually pretty affordable; a study of Pennsylvania auctions from 2002 found average startup costs to be around $1.5 million.

In general, startup funding for Ohio auctions has come almost entirely from local people, not from government grants or subsidies. Many Amish and Mennonite farmers are opposed to receiving such funding, Bergefurd explained. Instead, communities fund an auction by selling shares locally. Roughly five years into the life of a typical auction, it starts yielding returns on those shares.

For its first three years, the Chesterhill auction operated at a net loss, but around 2008 and 2009 there was a turn. Growers were making more income from the auction, and people from surrounding areas were starting to flock in twice a week to buy produce or just watch the bidding. Commercial buyers started buying in bulk from the auction, and some vendors purchased produce there to resell at farmers markets and fruit stands.

Today, according to Fedyski, the Chesterhill auction has more than 1,300 registered buyers and 35 to 40 commercial ones. Yet annual operating costs hover just around $4,200, according to a case study from 2010.

“This year we grossed $223,000 and we basically cut checks to 130 farmers,” said Tom Redfern, sustainable agriculture coordinator for Rural Action. “Probably 10 of those were the majority of that money.”

The state’s largest, Mount Hope Produce Auction, traded more than $10 million in produce annually as of 2011. But the area is more densely populated and lies between Cleveland and Columbus—a different world, perhaps, from the rural food desert of Morgan County.

One way Chesterhill has sought to overcome its challenges is by encouraging farmers to collaborate for mutual benefit. Farmers meet before each growing season to strategize, which helps prevent oversaturation of any single item.

The auction has also connected farmers with classes to help them improve their agricultural processes and sell their produce, and has in turn boosted the local food economy. Blackburn is one of hundreds who have attended training sessions conducted by Rural Action in partnership with OSU Extension. The training ensures that farmers know how to clean and prepare produce for direct sale.

A better deal for the producer

In the scheme of the larger Ohio food economy, $40 million may look like a drop in the bucket. But for many Appalachian farmers, it has meant a real improvement in lifestyle and livelihood.

Paul Linscott is one such farmer. He’s retired and mainly sells black raspberries at the Chesterhill auction in June and July; he doesn’t rely primarily on his auction income. He freezes and cans a lot of his produce, and the auction prevents the excess from going to waste.

“It’s just a great avenue to take your surplus,” Linscott said.

Warren Fussner agrees. He’s an Amish farmer who clerks at the Chesterhill auction, inspecting all the food that comes through for quality. “It’s something that, if people want to get involved, there’s an income for any family,” he said.

Fussner lives six miles from the produce auction at Chesterhill; it takes him about an hour to get there by horse and buggy. Before the auction, he said, prices were unstable and sources of income uncertain. Farmers who sold produce directly off their farm could be tricked by dishonest buyers into selling too cheaply.

In part because of their role in stabilizing prices, produce auctions throughout the state have helped Amish and Mennonite communities thrive, Bergefurd believes.

“They’re buying farms and land and buggies and irrigation supplies,” he said. “They’re buying more farms for their children so their children can be vegetable farmers.”

That’s especially important because many Amish and Mennonite communities across the state have shut down their dairy operations over the last few decades as a result of new dairy production regulations. The regulations demanded that farmers use technologies, such as mechanical cooling equipment, that these communities often avoid.

In lieu of dairy, many have transitioned to produce. And the auctions seem to have helped these communities thrive economically—many in the next generation who might have had to move away to make a living are able to stay in their tight-knit communities.

Ups and downs for commercial buyers

The volume and variety of produce at the Chesterhill auction impressed Rapposelli enough that he started buying it for Ohio University. And because he was able to communicate his needs to farmers face-to-face, they started growing more of the types of produce he wanted most in the following year.

“They were really responsive,” Rapposelli said.

Today, he supplies his two private restaurants with food from Chesterhill. But buying from a produce auction isn’t exactly easy for a busy business owner.

“It’s the least convenient thing you could possibly do,” Rapposelli said, laughing. A typical restaurant owner could source ingredients more quickly through a few Internet orders: “Fifteen, 20 minutes and I’m done.”

Getting food from the auction tends to be more time-consuming. Rapposelli used to drive there and spend several hours bidding; afterward, he arranged to transport the food.

So why go to all that effort?

“At the very basic, basic level, it’s because the food’s better,” he said. And secondly, “If you have an opportunity to support a neighbor rather than a corporate entity, you should support the neighbor.”

Today, the situation has much improved for commercial buyers. Rapposelli wasn’t at the auction once for the 2013 season because Fedyski now does proxy bidding for big buyers. He bids for them and often arranges a pickup location for the produce.

It seems to be working well—remote bidding accounted for 10 percent of sales in 2013, Fedyski said. A hospital also buys from the auction, and Fedyski is working to arrange a collaboration between local schools and a nearby culinary college, in which the college would do the prep work most school cooks don’t have the time for.

The other challenge for a commercial buyer is the unpredictability. You’re not always going to get the product you want for the price you want, Rapposelli explained.

“I always have to have a backup plan,” he said. “It’s one of those things that, once you do it a little bit, it’s really easy.”

A community built around food

What Rapposelli refers to as “real food” is becoming more of an “everyday thing” in Morgan County, according to auction regular Mary VanHorn.

“It’s my garden during the summer,” said VanHorn, who lives just a few miles away. She, like many buyers, freezes enough produce from the auction to last through most of the cold months when the auction isn’t open.

Before the auction opened, she said, there wasn’t a comparable community gathering place anywhere in the county. VanHorn has helped to transform it into a community hub by organizing potlucks about three times a year. The result is a place where “everybody knows everybody else.”

Fedyski agreed that the auction has become a place for people to meet and families to gather. “A lot of families go there together, husbands and wives, and because it’s a communication hub they’ll get there and they’ll split up. … They’ll end up across the auction floor bidding against each other.”

Erin L. McCoy wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Erin worked as a newspaper reporter and photographer in Kentucky for almost two years. She is now a Seattle-based freelance writer specializing in education, environment, cultural issues, and travel, informed by her time teaching English in Malaysia and other travels. Contact her at elmccoy [at] gmail [dot] com or on Twitter @ErinLMcCoy.

Read more:

B-Corp Best for the World Awards: Employee-Owned Winners

Congratulations to all of the companies named Best for the World by the B Lab. Several of the honored companies are employee owned.

King Arthur Flour Company in White Junction, VT

King Arthur Flour is the oldest flour company in America and has been 100% employee owned since 2004.The company has also been honored as one of Wall Street Journal’s Top Small Workplaces and attributes its success to employee ownership.

Namaste Solar in Boulder, CO

Namaste Solar is an employee-owned cooperative that began in 2005. Their business model has gained attention, and the company has also won a “Top Small Company Workplace” award, Winning Workplaces; a “Best Place to Work” award, the Boulder Chamber of Commerce and Denver Business Journal; a #56 ranking on the “Inc. 500”; and a “Most Democratic Workplace” listing, Worldblu.

New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, CO

100% employee owned New Belgium Brewing makes a wide variety of award-winning beers and is the third-largest craft brewery in the country. New Belgium began in 1991, and has placed a priority on creating quality products as while addressing environmental, community, and employee concerns.

Dansko in West Grove, PA

Dansko shoe company became 100% employee owned in 2012 because the company believes that the employees are essential to making the business work and keeping it going for future generations.

Check out the profiles of these and the other companies honored as Best for the World, to see what they’re doing for their employees, the environment and their communities.

Upcoming Employee Ownership Events: September

If you’re seeking an opportunity to learn more information on Employee Ownership, here is a rundown of events coming up soon.

OEOC September Events

We will be hosting two forums to answer questions on the impact of the Affordable Care Act on employee-owned businesses. Employee Ownership Forum: Health Care and the Employee-Owned Company–What Your Company Needs to Know will take place on September 9 at Oswald Centre, Cleveland, Ohio and September 24 at the Crowne Plaza Cincinnati Blue Ash. The forum will be co-sponsored by Oswald Companies and Paycor.

On September 25, we will host the 4th Annual Southwest Ohio Employee Ownership Forum also at the Crowne Plaza Cincinnati Blue Ash. This day long meeting will feature keynote speaker Greg Pitner, Vice President & Business Development Officer Quadrant Financial Inc. / Certus Bank and presentations throughout the day from other experts on fundamental ESOP guidelines, appraisal, communication and administration, and issues faced by mature ESOPs. This forum will be co-sponsored by Dinsmore & Shohl LLP and ComStock Advisors.

Other Notable Employee-Ownership Events

The Rocky Mountain Employee Ownership Center will be hosting the Community Wealth Building Conference in Denver, CO on September 7.  The conference will feature keynote speaker Steve Dubb, one of the strategic planners behind Cleveland’s pioneering Evergreen Cooperatives and Research Director at the Democracy Collaborative. The day-long conference will also offer breakout sessions on how to obtain capital to start a business, how to start a cooperative business, urban agriculture as a community wealth-building strategy, emerging collaborative models in the local food system, and more..

October & Beyond

Become A “Friend of the Center”

Become A “Friend of the Center”

And join the OEOC as we work for a stronger economy…for all of us, with a tax-deductible contribution to the OEOC

Dear Friend of the OEOC,

I can’t help but believe that in the future we will see in the United States and throughout the western world an increasing trend toward the next logical step, employee ownership. It is a path that befits a free people.

-President Ronald Reagan

Employee-owned businesses reinvest in their employees and their local community.  Employees are considered as assets, not just an expense.  Each employee shares in the rewards (and the risks) of being an owner. We are asking you now to join us in creating a new economy by making a tax-deductible donation to the OEOC through its Friends of the Center program.

Studies consistently show that employee-owned companies outperform companies that are not employee-owned and that, during the Great Recession, employee-owned companies remained more profitable and productive than their conventionally owned counterparts.  Employee ownership is simply a better way of doing business.

As a supporter of the OEOC, you can be proud of helping make these accomplishments possible. But there’s more to do in Ohio and throughout the country. Be a part of it. With the continuing strain on federal and state budgets for supporting the OEOC, your willingness to become a Friend of the OEOC is more important than ever.

Please consider making a contribution to the OEOC. Your contribution is tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. Join us in creating a new economy!

All of us at the OEOC wish you and your family a happy holiday season and all the best in 2013.