This Co-op Month we’re so excited to join our Neighboring Food Co-ops in congratulating Ben Burkett into the Co-op Hall of Fame! Ben is a long-time advocate for Black farmers in the South and has spent the last 40 years as a farmer and co-operative organizer in Petal, Mississippi. To fight the ingrained discrimination that denied Black farmers open markets for their crops, access to federal and state programs, and even retention of their land, Ben organized neighboring farm families to sell their crop in Chicago and later helped to develop the Indian Spring Farmers Association. More recently, Ben and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives have been working with the Neighboring Food Co-op Association to explore how we can link food co-ops in the Northeast with Black farmers and their co-ops in the South.
In 1978, Ben joined the staff of the Emergency Land Fund (ELF) where he identified and worked with other Black farmers and landowners to protect their landholdings. When EFL merged with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Ben’s role expanded to include spreading the word about the co-operative business model and teaching diversified crop development for conservation and marketing purposes.
Ben was later appointed to the USDA’s Farm Service Agency Committee for Mississippi where he helped raise the profile of agricultural and handicraft co-ops throughout the South, and work he continues to do as a State Coordinator for the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives. As a tireless promoter and advocate for the co-operative business model, Ben’s knack for connecting farmers globally and bringing them together for a common cause has made him a sought-after speaker, trainer, organizer, and a true example of the co-operative spirit. Ben’s work was recognized with a leadership award from the James Beard Foundation in 2014.
Learn more about Ben and more inductees into the Co-op Hall of Fame.