On Friday, July 2, 1948 The Milford Chronicle ran an announcement that Lynn and Jacobs, Southern States Service Agency in Milford, Delaware announced the sale of their business to The Southern States Milford Cooperative, Inc. Sixty-five years later that same Milford Chronicle announcement hangs on the wall in the office of Gary Rhodes, Manager of the Southern States Cooperative. Staying loyal to the values and principles of the Cooperative, which began in Richmond, Virginia in 1923, Gary and his staff continue to provide small, medium and large farmers with livestock and animal feed, pasture seed, vegetable seed, farm fertilizers, farm supplies, bulk fuel and crop services.
Originally started by a group of farmers in Virginia that wanted to pull together their resources to find better quality seed, Southern States came to Milford in 1933 and purchased the Lynn and Jacobs business, located in town next to the railroad off Maple Avenue. In 1948 a group of local farmers put up their own money to purchase the business and formed the Southern States Milford Cooperative. In 1951 the Co-op began construction on their current property on Williamsville Road, starting operations just one year later. As a farm cooperative Southern States Milford Cooperative is still to this day owned by farmers and members of the Milford community.
“Everything you see on the property is owned by a local farmer in this community,” stated Rhodes. “The Cooperative relationship is like a big family, we have farmers that are now third and fourth generations of co-op members. There is a lot of pride here, it is a unique business.”
At the end of each year profits are distributed in the form of a refund to the members of the coop. The Board of Directors, which is a 7 member body elected by the members, decides of the percentage of the refund and distributes it through cash and patronage refund allocation.
Growing up on a Guernsey dairy farm in Broadway, Virginia, Manager Gary Rhodes began with Southern States in 1978 and became a part of the Milford Cooperative in 1988. Always wanting to continue farming himself, Gary states that his job has been very rewarding as he now is able to see the operations of several different farms in the community including farmers that raise poultry, beef and crops. Exciting to Rhodes is the way that farming has changed over the past several decades.
“Farming has been revolutionized, the equipment has gotten bigger, farmers continue to increase their land use and technology has leapfrogged in its applications,” commented Rhodes. “Now farmers can use GPS to spread and plant seed by satellite and even use unmanned aircrafts to survey their land in search of predators such as coyotes.”
The grounds of the Southern States Milford Cooperative at the corner of Milford-Harrington Highway and Williamsville Road has set an example for Milford businesses as it was selected in 2012 by the Milford Garden Club for the Beautification Award for the month of September for its landscaping and maintenance of their commercial property. Southern States Milford Coop offers services for the local agricultural industry from equipment, supplies and service work to fuel needs for residential and commercial properties. The Milford location is the most financially successful cooperative under the larger Southern States cooperative, which operates co-ops in most states east of the Mississippi River.
“We are committed to serving the Milford community and we want people to come visit us and take a look,” commented Rhodes. “You do not have to be a part of the cooperative to enjoy our quality products and services.”