Organic Valley: Our Co-op

Co-op of the Month: June

In recognition of the International Year of Cooperatives, we will be sharing the stories of different cooperatives throughout the year.   This month, we're highlighting National Farmers Organization. Read on and enjoy!

National Farmers Organization (NFO)

Forgive us if we get a little teary on this one, because this month’s profile highlights a partnership with an organization that was there for us from the get-go. While our partnership today with National Farmers Organization (NFO) is more equitable, we are nevertheless “joined at the hip,” as CROPP CFO Mike Bedessem likes to say.

NFO, a non-profit organization, began in 1955. Rooted in earlier agriculture movements such as the Grange and the Farmer’s Alliance, NFO began as a way for farmers to communicate agricultural and rural concerns to congressional and local leaders. Today, NFO is defined by its sophisticated commodity marketing and agricultural risk management programs and services. The organization’s members represent a cross section of conventional and organic production who are grain growers, cattle producers and dairymen and women. National Farmers delivers Maximum Marketing.

The first year of CROPP’s existence underscored the power of partnerships when NFO agreed to be what is known in the dairy industry as a “handler” for the milk produced by the fledgling Co-op’s farmer-owners. There were only seven farmers-owners at the time. Of those seven, five were already members of NFO.

Jim Wedeberg, CROPP’s Dairy Pool Director today, explains the nuts and bolts of the business relationship. “Milk is heavily regulated in Wisconsin. When we started in 1988, the farmers had to be paid within 20 days of receipt of the milk. As far as regulations, inspections and licensing goes, that had to be handled by somebody that’s recognized by the State. We needed that “somebody” to provide that service, known as handling. As our handler, NFO wrote the milk checks for our farmers, funded those checks up to $50,000, and covered our milk processing and start-up costs.”

“All of a sudden,” CROPP C.E.I.E.I.O George Siemon recalls, “when I went looking for an organic cheese maker, I was no longer some unknown guy with a wild idea. Now, I was some unknown guy with a wild idea and NFO backing. This partnership carried the day for CROPP. The NFO paid the big costs and without them, we never would have survived.”

As CROPP evolved, it absorbed some of NFO’s DNA:

  • Keep the brick and mortar to a minimum and partner with other providers.
  • Bargain collectively for members.
  • Manage supply to meet demand.

NFO’s current president, Paul Olson, is a dual member of NFO and CROPP Cooperative. He joined NFO 43 years ago when he was 18, and has been a member of CROPP Cooperative since he transitioned his family farm to organic 10 years ago.

“We’re proud to be part of the Cooperative, and pleased to see its continuous growth over the decades. It’s been a very good relationship.”

Today, over 50% of CROPP Cooperative members are NFO members, as well, and nearly one half of NFO milk shippers are CROPP members. We are, in other words, still joined at the hip.


Previous Co-op Features

Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op

All of our cooperative partners who work to get Organic Valley and Organic Prairie products from farm to table are crucial to our success. However, consumers don’t see the result of that hard work until they walk into stores like the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op and find our products on the shelves.

April: Farmers Cooperative Creamery and Darigold

Organic Valley's Northwest Pastures™ Milk goes from farms to tables across the northwest via a network of cooperatives that work with each other in spite of the fact that they are also competitors. This month we spotlight two fellow cooperatives who make our own regional milk program possible.

March: Equal Exchange

Who knew the purchase of some of the tastiest chocolate on earth or the finest “cupping” coffees could be so deeply satisfying? Equal Exchange fans tend to sum it up perfectly: “It’s easy to choose organic and fair trade when it tastes great!”

February: La Montanita Co-op

Founded in 1976 by 300 families seeking healthy food, La Montanita Co-op Food Market now tallies about 15,000 members and serves New Mexico out of six locations in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Gallup. Learn what sets La Montanita apart from your basic grocery store.

January: CROPP Cooperative

Most folks think of Organic Valley and Organic Prairie as sources of delicious and healthful organic foods. What they don’t know is that the key to our success is our cooperative business model known as Cooperative Regions of Organic Producer Pools (CROPP).

Everything's Better Together!

In recognition of the International Year of Cooperatives, we will be sharing the stories of different cooperatives throughout the year. Please join us this year to celebrate the benefits of working together!
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