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.
Twenty-five-year-old "Generation Organic" (Gen-O) farmer Julia Hudyncia thinks that farmers need to tell their story. As an agricultural science teacher, she is doing an excellent job of that herself.
Julia grew up milking cows with younger brother Ryan, her parents, and her grandfather in Fort Plain, New York. Organic Valley farmer-owners since 2006, the Hudyncias farm 450 acres and milk 60 cows. The entire family has a passion for agriculture and a special affection for registered Holsteins. Julia was active in 4-H, the Junior Holstein Club and won the title of 2007 New York State Alternate Dairy Princess. Julia still lives on the farm and does farm work on breaks and weekends.
Julia is in her third year teaching at a local high school after earning a bachelor's degree in animal sciences and a master's degree in biology and agricultural education from Cornell University. Julia's goal as a teacher is to help her students discover a personal connection to agriculture.
At first, the general response to many of her initiatives was "That's not the way it was done before." Today, she is happy to see increasing curiosity about the human connection with food.
This year, her class took a leap of faith and transitioned two acres that had been used to grow conventional corn into two acres of organic sunflowers. She is encouraged to see that her students are excited at the prospect of using the sunflower seeds to create bio-fuel for three school tractors.
In the future, Julia sees herself back on the farm. "I believe that my job in education is very important, but my heart lies with the farm. I am trying, at a very young age, to give back to the agricultural industry and community as much as I can."
To honor her hard work in the name of organic farming, sustainability and as a representative of the young farmer community, Julia was awarded Organic Valley's 2013 Generation Organic Award.
Young "Generation Organic" (Gen-O) farmers Kevin and Erin Donnay, both 35 years old, of Stearns County, MN, are the third generation on Kevin's family farm. Kevin began operating the farm in 1999 after graduating from UW-River Falls with a bachelor of science in agriculture. At school he heard about organic agriculture and encouraged his dad to begin transitioning, and in 2000, the farm was certified organic.
Erin grew up on a farm that raised Angus beef cattle. As a career woman managing a newspaper, she thought she would never marry a farmer and that she would never have kids. Then she met Kevin. They were married in 2004, and today she home schools their five children.
The Donnays' 330 acres are home to 65 mixed-breed cows of Holstein, Jersey, Ayrshire and Milking Shorthorn lineage. They've grazed their cows since 1999, but the herd is now 100% grass-fed. They milk "seasonally," meaning they milk during the spring, summer and fall months rather than year-round.
To care for the land, they minimally till the fields every five years in an effort to retain the soil life and structure, recycle all of their farm plastic and oil, and recently signed a contract to be a future site for a windmill.
Being farmer-owners of Organic Valley has given the Donnays more than a stable pay price for work. It has also given them a platform to tell their story. "I can say that our cooperative has reached almost $1 billion in sales," says Kevin, "and other farmers hear that and it gives me a credible foundation to tell my personal story. It's a great story about real food, about sustainability and about farmers."
To honor their hard work in the name of organic farming, sustainability and as representatives of the young farmer community, the Donnays were awarded Organic Valley's 2013 Generation Organic Award.
At 16 years old, Sarah Holm joined a group of young farmers who came together to create a program at Organic Valley for young farmers called Generation Organic (Gen-O). Sarah is now a member of the Gen-O Executive Committee (formed in 2013), which will be instrumental in creating the farmer-owned cooperative's leadership succession plan.
"We want to help the co-op move into the next generation, whether that's on the individual farm level, or within the business and industry," Sarah says of the Gen-O Executive Committee members. "We are all dedicated to the future of the co-op."
The oldest of eight children, Sarah worked daily on their Organic Valley dairy farm and continued to help out on the farm throughout college. She graduated with a B.A. in political science with an emphasis in legal studies from the University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire. She graduated magna cum laude and debt-free. Presently, Sarah is working for Organic Valley before entering law school in the fall of 2013, where she'll study international business law.
"I want to be a farmer with the educational legitimacy to be in co-op governance and be politically active on behalf of all farmers. There's a huge disconnect between government and the needs of farmers and the importance of a rural infrastructure. The system isn't doing conventional farmers any favors, either, and more of them will be squeezed out if we don't all step up. I want farming to flourish, and that means government and cultural attitudes have to shift so that farmers can still be working on their land 100 years from now.
"Someone said, 'We've taken the culture out of agriculture.' Part of that is because of policy, and part is because of the modern world. But we still have to eat. And the best way to ensure that we're able to eat good food that doesn't ruin the world is if sustainable agriculture is a vital sector of our society."
To honor her hard work in the name of organic farming, sustainability and as a representative of the young farmer community, Sarah was awarded Organic Valley's 2013 Generation Organic Award.