by Dulcy Hooper

Southern States Cooperative has an impressive history, going back to 1923 when 150 Virginia farmers met in Richmond with “$11,000 in capital, two employees and a second-hand typewriter.”

The farmers gave a name to their cooperative:  Virginia Seed Service (VSS).  They believed that by combining their resources, they would be able to purchase better seeds, and particularly seeds better suited to Virginia’s agricultural conditions. Middleburg’s Southern States outlet remains an extension of that philosophy.

A few years later, VSS began looking beyond the confines of Virginia, and in 1930, it changed its name to Southern States Cooperative.  It has continued to grow in the intervening years, from helping establish a chain of research farms across the U.S. to participating in the formation of a national seed-breeding research organization, FFR, which remains the largest such operation anywhere in the world.

Southern States has now evolved to more than 200,000 member/farmers and 1,200 retail outlets in 23 states, mostly across the mid-Atlantic and South, including its bustling outlet in Middleburg.  Along the way, it’s become one of the country’s largest agricultural cooperatives.  A recent article in Crop Life ranked Southern States Cooperative as No. 9 among the top 100 largest U.S. agricultural retailers.

Cooperatives are formed by their members “when the marketplace fails to provide needed goods or services at affordable prices and acceptable policy.”

By combining their purchases, cooperatives such as Southern States facilitate the ability of farmers to indirectly own and operate feed mills, fertilizer plants, test farms, and farm supply warehouses.  Cooperatives adhere to internationally recognized principles:  voluntary and open membership; democratic member control; member economic participation; autonomy and independence; education, training and information; cooperation among cooperatives; concern for community.

Southern States provides not only products and services, but expert advice.  It makes or offers just about everything agricultural, including animal feed and fertilizer, seed processing, grain marketing, equine health supplies, farm supplies and, of course, a myriad of gardening products. Most recently, Southern States has launched a new “precision ag” program.  This is a three-tier approach (Discover, Evaluation and Analysis) to helping farmers by providing options at the beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.  

Southern States’ comprehensive website includes an online store, “how-to” pages, and, in keeping with a commitment to education, training and information, numerous “how-to” articles and videos geared toward both experts and amateur hobbyists.  The articles and videos are on a wide variety of subjects, including lawn, garden, farm, home, livestock, horse, and pet.  There is an entire portal dedicated to articles about caring for pets, selecting the right food, grooming and other general pet care advice.

And then there are recipes—from canning tips and recipes to home-made ice cream to catnip toys you can make for your cats.  There are “Harvest Home Recipes,” a collection of “farm to fork” recipes, all done by professionals with hands-on experience.  Articles and videos are updated frequently with new and seasonal information.

For those who recognize and appreciate the friendly helpfulness of Southern States Cooperative’s Middleburg staff, that same key ingredient holds true for the company in general.  In Middleburg, store manager Dan I. Virts III, has over 29 years of experience and knows many of his patrons by name.

“We’ve surveyed our customers a lot over the last five or six years, and the No. 1 reason when you ask why they love Southern States, it always comes back to the people,” Steve Patterson, SVP corporate marketing and communications, told ed in Crop Life).  “They’ll mention the products and say they like them too, but it’s the people they like the most.  We’ve got good people and that’s easily half
the battle.” 

Southern States Cooperative in Middleburg is located at 201 West Washington Street. Southern States is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday; from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.