Co-ops in the Miracle Mile

One of the more interesting projects that I have had the pleasure of working on over the last couple years is in southern Idaho. The town of Buhl is about 50 miles from the Nevada border along the Snake River. It is sometimes referred to as the “Miracle Mile” and resides within the Magic Valley. The area has geothermal heated water at 130 degrees and mountain spring water, which means hot and cold running water using gravity. As a result, at least one farm in the region grows bananas and winter produce.

A group of the residents/farmers in the area have formed the Snake River Earth Arts Institute. One of the leaders of the group is James Reed, who also manages Onsen Farm. The farm’s mission informs on the SREAI: “Onsen Farm’s mission/vision is to create a model of a permaculture based way of living using sustainable, regenerative and ethical practices in raising healthy food for vibrant people.”

The idea of the the institute will be to function as a teaching farm methods using permaculture as well as metalworking and other skills needed for self-sufficiency. In addition to reaching out to those who plan on going into farming as a life profession, the project also hopes to offer a means to teach youth the arts and craft of living of the land and the value of a life with limited screen time. This may even include wellness spas and classes for non-farming urban dwellers wanting a more self-engaged life.

The project is using sociocracy as a governance/decision-making model. Once the farms get going, a co-op model will also be incorporated for marketing the farms product and management of the wellness center, the school, and the co-op.

When I started working with these folks, I thought that this is really a novel idea, but since then we have found several other similar projects in Oregon and even close to home with Vets CAFE and in nearby Mason County. Great ideas tend to rise in many places simultaneously. As the factory farming method struggles to maintain livelihoods for farmers, new ideas are cropping up based on the co-op values of self-help and self-responsibility. It will be exciting to watch this new generation grow.


About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-ops in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration and Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary's University.
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