White County Farmers Exchange in Cleveland, Georgia was founded in 1928 by farmers in and around White County. Because White County was so remote and farmers in the area needed a place to buy bulk goods at competitive prices, the cooperative was formed. The cooperative was guided and promoted by Mr. E.J. Huff, county extension agent at the time. The cooperative did not have employees and was looked after by the Extension office. In the beginning, White County Farmers Exchange (WCFE) was set up as a vehicle to handle TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) fertilizer demonstration farms.
During the depression years, Mr. Huff, virtually alone, kept the organization going. He had an old truck which he loaded with potatoes from farmers in the area. Once the truck was full, Mr. Huff would take the potatoes to Atlanta, sell them, and return to give the farmers their share of sales.
The year 1935 proved to be a changing year for the cooperative as it secured its first “home base”, a railroad depot. The depot had once serviced a rail company operating between Gainesville and Helen. When the railroad was discontinued, the Cleveland Depot was purchased for $100 through farmers donations.
Six years later, in 1941, WCFE became incorporated. During this time period, WCFE bought goods through the Georgia Mountain Co-op, and mainly stocked chicken feed, fertilizer, and other basic farm supplies.
The early 1950’s provided yet another major change for the cooperative as it purchased a warehouse just off Cleveland’s city square. Once the depot was sold, the warehouse was remodeled and expanded to include an office for the county agent and an inside loading dock.
WCFE undertook another service in 1960s with the Cotton Producers Association, later known as Gold Kist. Inc. On a contract arrangement, Gold Kist placed feed and baby chicks at the store. The feed and supplies were a commission basis, and the store continued this service to its customers until the poultry integration movement was well established in the 1970’s.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s, sales continued to increase as did volume of goods warranting a larger facility. In 1969, the Exchange purchased land one mile south of the city square in Cleveland and constructed its present structure.
More diversified growth came to the Farmers Exchange during the 1970’s and ’80’s. Custom fertilizer and lime application services as well as custom spray services were added. A hardware line was added to the inventory, and a new floor plan was constructed. The 1990’s brought a new fertilizer storage warehouse, and the property was fenced as the cooperative continued to grow in sales and customers. In 1999, White County Farmers Exchange became an independent Southern States dealer.
Y2K brought several changes to the cooperative. In October 2002, the board implemented a new management approach. They hired a new manager, Gilbert Barrett, who later became President/CEO. The management team implemented a new marketing and customer service plan which has progressively moved the Farmers Exchange forward. Over the last nine years, sales volumes have significantly increased. The cooperative has expanded its product lines to offer one of the most complete one stop shop for agricultural supplies in Northeast Georgia. In addition, the co-op has added many new services such as crop consulting, soil testing, nutrient management planning assistance, customer purchasing reports, delivery service, rental equipment, and farmer educational and networking events.
Granted, White County Farmers Exchange has changed over the years to meet the ever changing needs of the agriculture community. However, the cooperative is still a true locally owned agricultural cooperative serving Northeast Georgia. We pledge to continually look for better ways to serve our members needs.