Economy Re-Imagined: Tillamook Cheese and the Power of the Co-op

Nestled in the cloudy, forested crevices of the Oregon Coast is Tillamook County, home to a hundred small dairy farms that work together cooperatively. The Tillamook County Creamy Association (TCCA) has been thriving for a hundred years, and some members of the original families still belong today. One of the products they work together to create is the much famed Tillamook Cheese.

Making both quality products and ethical business practices, the TCCA is a model in how the secret of success can be integrity. Stated at their website, www.tillamook.com, are their values. Quality, cooperation, integrity, stewardship, and responsiveness are the ethical underpinnings of their business practice, and the meanings of these are spelled out clearly. There is no mistaking the vision sustained for a hundred years in Tillamook County.

Tillamook Cheese is not a corporation, it’s a cooperative. It’s owned and run by the people who live in Tillamook County, and dedicate their lives to dairy farming. Outsiders are welcome to support their vision by buying the products, but not by buying shares in the company they know nothing about. This is the difference between healthy business practice and unhealthy: personal investment vs. remote monetary interests.

“All profits from the cooperative stay in the family, with the farmers who invest in the co-op for the long run. So the proceeds go to the people who make the products to keep their dairies producing the highest-quality milk. And we think that just makes sense,” states their website, www.tillamook.com.

A culture has built up around Tillamook Cheese. The iconic orange loaf of medium cheddar, with its award winning taste, is identifiable anywhere in the country. I recall on a flight home from Europe fifteen years ago, the airline provided Tillamook Cheese samplers and I knew I was stateside. A bit of cheese had never tasted so good. I feel proud to have had a relative who worked in their factory years ago: this is my small connection with this famous local business.

Visitors flock to the Tillamook Cheese Factory to take the tour and enjoy the good tastes of their products. When family comes from out of town, the factory is a must.
When my sister and nephews were in from Minnesota recently, I couldn’t resist a trip there…in fact I insisted on it. The crowd was enormous though; summer season can be a bit hectic.



When in the dairy aisle of your local grocer, I recommend their selections. Not only are the products first rate, but the proceeds go to the people who make them so. The TCCA are the good guys in business; these are the folk who’re doing it right, and modeling best practice.

It’s simple what Tillamook Cheese does: create great products, market well, and reward the people who make them. Sometimes the answers are really this simple