A group of six Green Care farmers formed a cooperative, which grew into a regional cooperative, inspiring other regional cooperatives, which joined into a national cooperative representing 170 Green Care farmers across Norway.
Key words: Cooperative, welfare services, quality certified
Name of the initiative? Green Care (Inn på tunet Norge)
What kind of initiative Marketing, Educational/training, Community, Policy making
We began our cooperative back in 2006 because we wanted to be seen. I’ve been opening up my farm in central Norway to school children since 2001. I love the concept of Green Care – where ordinary farms can offer quality assured welfare services for participants with mental health problems, addiction, truancy, dementia, integration difficulties etc. We receive money from the government and in return our users benefit from our animals, plants and nature – learning coping skills, well-being and development. It’s rewarding but it’s a lot of work. As a Green Care farmer, you have to run the farm; take care of the animals; deliver good services – sometimes there are customers on the farm as well as Green Care participants. On top of that you must market your produce and advertise your Green Care services – it’s hard to do it all. You don’t have the time and you need other knowledge – you might be good at farming, but this is a different kind of work.
“We began our cooperative back in 2006 because we wanted to be seen.”
In 2006 six Green Care farmers in my area decided we would work together to make ourselves more visible; alone it’s difficult to make the municipality and users see us. We wanted laws and regulations to govern our working together, so it made sense to form a small cooperative. We’d each still have our independent Green Care contracts with the government, but we could hire somebody to market and sell our products and services on behalf of the six of us – me! I’d never worked with coops or organisations before, so it was very much ‘learning by doing’. My parents were able to help on my farm so I could spend a few hours each week working out the best direction for our six farms. We considered tourism and other avenues, but in the end, we decided no – this was just going to be a Green Care cooperative. It worked well. Other farmers saw what we were doing and wanted to join. By 2012 our cooperative: Inn på tunet Trøndelag had grown to fifty farmers.
The bigger we became, the more hours I had to give to the cooperative. I still had some Green Care on my own farm, but it had to get smaller to allow me time for my collective role. I love Green Care – it’s fun – but I also love organising! A big part of my job was talking with politicians and government officials, both locally and nationally, because if the municipalities are not aware of us and the services we provide, they don’t know they need us. You can make much more progress if this is done as a full-time professional job.
Other farmers in other parts of Norway saw what we were doing. Having led our project from the beginning, I was able to give advice to three or four groups wanting to start new Green Care cooperatives in other regions. I found the process fascinating: you can take ten farmers in the middle of Norway and make a cooperative that looks a certain way, then take ten farmers from the South – you have the same laws; the same procedures; the same formalities – but the journey is different because it’s different people and we find different ways of making a cooperative work. Some things that are difficult in the South are easy in the North and visa-versa.
By 2015 Norway had six regional Green Care cooperatives. In 2016 they started talking about coming together to form a single national cooperative. That was when Inn på tunet Norge was born. Each regional cooperative is owned by its farms and Inn på tunet Norge is owned by the regional cooperatives. We have existed now for three years and my job is to produce materials for the regional cooperatives, provide strategy, contact the politicians, train people, and ensure a competent service – the things that are the same for all the farmers regardless of their area.
Right now our farmers are deciding whether to keep the six cooperatives or put all the regional jobs together under Inn på tunet Norge as a single national coop. Of course, not every Green Care farm wants to join us. We talk with them about their challenges and how we can help, but some farmers think ‘I know my farm the best, and I want to do this job in the market on my own, because it’s my product, it’s my service’. We respect that. At present, of the 400 Green Care farms across Norway, 170 are members in the cooperatives.
But more are joining all the time. New or young farmers wanting to start with Green Care find it’s easier to make a living if they join a professional cooperative. They need Green Care certification from the Norwegian Agriculture Quality System to join Inn på tunet Norge so we know they have been quality assured. My dream is that Green Care farms will be ordinarily and naturally part of all the municaplities’ services for their citizens. People with needs would have easier access to farms. We would love to offer more and see more farms getting Green Care contracts, but for this we need government support. We provide dementia day care in our municipality, but due to lack of funding, other areas can’t offer this.
Since my journey with cooperatives began in 2006 I’ve become very fond of this way of organising farmers and working jointly. I’ve been lucky. I’ve learned a lot. It’s important to invite people with other knowledge and from other parts of the community whenever you are making anything new. You need people who look at the world with a different view from your own. As well as farmers we need people from schools and health care agencies, our customers, economic experts – people who can advise how we make something last more than just a year! We need strategists who can help us think about growth and ask the right questions – like where we might be in five years…
” I still believe that farmers working together is the best approach.”
There are probably a lot of things I should have done differently, but I still believe that farmers working together is the best approach. It makes life easier. We become more innovative and competitive together. We can own our own business and keep what profit is in there and we can keep professionalising market activities without worrying about it.
“It’s people who make this happen. You find the people who want to work together; who trust each other and want to go in the same direction. When you find this, you know it’s going to be good.”
It’s people who make this happen. You find the people who want to work together; who trust each other and want to go in the same direction. When you find this, you know it’s going to be good. You need people who not only think about what’s best for themselves, but what’s best for the cooperative – who understand what’s best for the cooperative today might not be what’s best for me, but may be better for me tomorrow. But for the cooperative; always the best. That’s important.
So do we feel like we’re finally being seen? Having The Norweigan Farmers Union as an owner of Inn på tunet Norge helps, because as a big national organisation, they make it easier to reach the national government and the politicians we want to talk to. Recently the prime minister visited one of our farms, so yes, they are beginning to know of us.
Repository compiled by: Hege Lindstrøm
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(Photos by Karoline O. A. Pettersen)