The Gen-O Award has been created to recognize young farmers in CROPP Cooperative who have demonstrated their commitment to organic farming, and preserving the family farm and rural communities through leadership, stewardship and innovation. As we look to the future of farming, we feel it is vitally important to acknowledge the farmers of tomorrow who will ensure that delicious, local, and sustainable organic food choices exist for generations to come. The Gen-O Award goal is to identify and foster the development within our co-op of the next generation of leaders of the organic movement.
When Adam Holter was 17, his dad, Ron, said in an interview that he didn’t think Adam would be interested in farming if they hadn’t quit confinement dairying and started grazing and transitioned to organic.
“There hasn’t been a time since then that I thought twice about wanting to farm. The roadblock would have been if we were still confinement. That’s a method of farming that I can’t wrap my head around.”
Adam’s 21 now, with a business degree from Shepherd University, and he’s about to get married and start his own family. He and his soon-to-be wife, Ali Blickenstaff, will raise their children—the seventh generation on their farm!—in the same house Adam’s great grandfather started out in in the 1820s (with a few updates, of course).
Adam joined the 2010 Northeast Gen-O tour briefly at their Washington D.C. stop, and was a part of the whole 2011 west coast tour where Organic Valley Gen-Os visited food co-ops, universities, culinary schools and farms in Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and California.
While Adam’s dad will continue as owner and manager, Adam will start building equity in the family farm so that he’ll develop an earning share and be able to take over when his dad is ready to retire.
To ready the farm to support two families, the Holters plan to diversify production. Since their dairy is already 100% grass-fed, they can easily ramp up a grass-fed beef program. The farm’s scrupulously managed pastures support pastured pork production, too, using Guinea hogs, a heritage breed particular to the southeastern U.S. The Holters raise pastured poultry and maintain produce gardens that feed the family aplenty with enough left over to sell at the farm stand. “All of this can come together and allow us to maintain a diversified stock farm, the way agriculture used to be,” Adam says.
Growing up, Laura spent her days on her family’s dairy with her dad, Organic Valley farmer-owner John Boere, and she figured that was where she would stay. There was a brief period of time that Laura thought she might be interested in a different career, and she went away to college with thoughts of getting into dental hygiene. But in her second semester she started taking ag classes, and it clicked. She quickly changed her major to dairy science.
“I was born and raised on this farm, and I grew up in a farming community, so it seems like nothing to me,” Laura says. “But meeting people who think it’s incredible and who wish they could do it makes me see it in a different light.
“I guess I just have the heart for it. When I was 20, my grandfather asked me if I wanted to be a dairy farmer, and I said, yes. He said I had to commit to it 110% or I’d be miserable. That’s not a problem for me. I love farming. I love working with my dad and brother and being out here in the country and continually learning about the land. It’s amazing what you get back from it.
“I can honestly say that being involved with Organic Valley has made me appreciate the dairy even more. Being organic and knowing that we have a future here in California because of that is a big deal. I love being involved with the co-op and meeting other Gen-O farmers. They inspire me as much as my dad does. When we get out there and meet our consumers and see their smiles…it makes me appreciate what I do even more.”
Jared Luhman’s dream goal is to farm successfully for the rest of his life. He’s 18 years old and already deep into his career. The next four years will be the ultimate juggling act, but he’s up to the challenge. During that time, he’ll be getting a degree in agricultural education at University of Minnesota in St. Paul, holding various leadership positions in Future Farmers of America (he’s currently running for Minnesota state officer) and working on the farm weekends and summers.
It won’t be very much different from the schedule he’s held himself to through high school. He’ll just be sleeping in St. Paul instead of on the home farm in Goodhue, MN, about an hour south of the Twin Cities.
The family raises grass-fed, red Angus beef, and organically certified corn, beans, and hay. As members of Organic Valley’s Grower Pool, the Luhmans sell some of their organic corn crop to the cooperative.
One of his favorite things about farming is working with his dad and grandfather.
“My dad and Grandpa couldn’t be more supportive. We pull weeds a lot, so we often walk the fields and talk as we weed. I love it. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”