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Co-op has grown with community since 1932

October 5, 2012 12:10 am

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CFC has been manufacturing feed from local grain since Herbert Hoover occupied the Oval Office. fg100512cfcMS5.jpg

Bryanna Curley checks out greeting cards at the CFC Farm & Home Center. fg1005cfcMS3.jpg

CFC's Farm and Home Center in Culpeper (from top) is one of several it operates. Gayle Sutton, a CFC employee for two years, helps a customer. There are all sorts of items that farmers and gardeners look for; Jeanette Carlson is looking for stink bug killer.

BY DONNIE JOHNSTON

Like agriculture in Culpeper, Rappahannock and Fauquier counties, the Culpeper Farmers' Cooperative has been in a constant state of change during its 80-year existence.

Even the name has changed. It's now known as the CFC Farm and Home Center.

One thing has remained constant, however: The company has always been owned by farmers and adapted to their needs.

"We still cater to the rural lifestyle, CFC general manager David Durr says. "If it eats or grows, we can help you take care of it."

The co-op, which celebrates its 80th birthday this month and will be part of this weekend's Culpeper Farm Tour, was founded in 1932 during some of the darkest days of the Great Depression. That year, 205 area farmers anted up a total of $1,230 of their own money and borrowed $10,000 more. The Culpeper Farmers' Cooperative, which everyone called the Farm Bureau back then, was born.

In little more than a year the co-op racked up more than $85,000 in sales, an unbelievable figure for a new business in a small town during the hardest of economic times.

Last year, with stores in Culpeper, Marshall, Warrenton, Morrisville and Sperryville, CFC did about $35 million in business.

"It seems like [the company's founders] were pretty successful," Durr says.

When it opened its doors 80 years ago, almost everyone in the area was involved in agriculture in one way or another. There were dairy farms and beef farms operated mostly with horse and mule power.

The poultry business was booming. Eggs were shipped out of Culpeper by train daily, and large flocks of turkeys were fattened annually for the Thanksgiving and Christmas markets.

In those days, almost every household, even in town, had a few chickens, a milk cow and a couple of fattening hogs. People back then shopped for laying mash or hog feed the way people grocery shop today.

In the 1940s and '50s, the co-op even had its own service station. Farmers could buy gas, oil and tires there when they made their weekly trip to town for feed on Saturday.

Times have changed, of course, and today large farms predominate. As in its early years, however, the co-op still caters to both the farmer with 500 acres and the person who raises a few chickens or keeps a couple of pleasure horses on a two-acre lot.

CFC spreads lime and prescription-blend fertilizer on fields in the spring, and last fall bought 770,000 bushels of locally grown corn.

For years the co-op also sold appliances, but found it could not compete with the big chains, such as Lowe's, that moved into the area in the past two decades.

In recent years, the co-op has also offered space for about 35 community gardens on its grounds, and a farmers market is held in its parking lot on Wednesday mornings during the summer.

Durr says CFC's delivery service also attracts customers.

CFC plans to celebrate its 80th anniversary as part of Culpeper's Farm Tour this weekend.

Horsemanship demonstrations, locally made ice cream and feed-mill tours will all be part of the festivities.

"And of course we'll have birthday cake," Durr says.

As with any business, there have been good and bad times for the Culpeper Farmers' Cooperative over the past eight decades. It has survived a Depression, several recessions and a 1959 fire that destroyed its downtown location on Wausau Place.

But the company has been resilient and has shrugged off the hard times and adapted its services to the changing face of agriculture.

And, at 80, it remains as energetic and spry as ever.

Durr, the co-op's 16-member board of directors and all the farmers who own shares in the company hope that energy continues for another 80 years.

Donnie Johnston:
Email: djohnston@freelancestar.com




WHAT: Culpeper Harvest Days Farm Tour WHEN: This weekend, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days WHERE: Tour begins at Welcome Center at Culpeper Agricultural Enterprises off U.S. 29 INFO: culpeperfarmtour.com



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