In July 2008, Organic Valley acknowledged four young farmers with our inaugural Generation Organic Recognition Award. The Gen-O Award has been created to recognize individual young farmer-members who have demonstrated their commitment to organic farming and preserving the family farm and rural community 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.
After working with Oregon Organic Valley farmer Jon Bansen for five years, Pete and his wife Kelly began their own organic farm in Coos Bay. For three years now Pete and Kelly have raised their cows using the rotational grazing methods that Pete learned along the way.
Instead of keeping the cows on a large area indefinitely, the Mahaffys move their cows after each milking. The herd grazes a small section of pasture for half a day before being moved to a fresh paddock. The grazed paddocks are then rested for two weeks or more. Not only does this produce healthier grass, it makes way for dozens of wild plants, many of them natives.
The land benefits: The dense vegetation of their pastures filters runoff, prevents erosion, and retains more precious water. The cows also benefit: Whereas the average dairy herd eats only four foods, the Mahaffys’ animals eat close to 100 plants over the year. “Nearly everything out there is nutritious to those cows at the right time, even the weeds. There might be beautiful grass below, but sometimes they want something in that blackberry leaf,” Peter says. “They’re the ones who know what they need. We just let them have the choice.”
In addition to running his farm, Pete is always willing to share his farming practices with others and Kelly often helps with CROPP marketing and educational activities, as well as local community food groups.
Clint Welsh comes from good stock. His grandfather, Bill Welsh, certified their farm organic in Lansing, Iowa, back in 1980. And it’s a good thing, as far as Clint is concerned. “I wouldn’t have been able to keep working on the farm if we hadn’t been organic. Kids I went to school with were farming with their dads but had to have another job off farm because the farms weren’t profitable. Being organic, I make a living farming full time.”
Clint’s Dad, Gary, ran the farm with Bill, and now Clint and his Dad carry the mantle for Welsh Family Farm, a classic diversified stock farm consisting of beef, pork, poultry, and crops. It’s an unusual situation, one that has given Clint the confidence, at age 22, to sit on the Young Farmer’s Advisory Committee for the Farm Bureau. He’s the only organic farmer on the board. “I get turned down a lot,” Clint says. “But we keep trying to give them another way to look at things. I’ve got a lot of support and experience behind me.”
Recently he worked to construct a manure storage pit on the farm to control manure runoff from contaminating groundwater. “In organic production, manure is your fertilizer. With this new system, we prevent runoff and we control the fertilizer so we can spread it in the fall when it’s drier and we can incorporate it right away.”
“Folks are still skeptical about organic agriculture. They think you get nothing but weeds if you don’t use chemicals.” But the Welshs' regularly get close to 204 bushel-an-acre corn. “We’ve got the plaque to prove it. We can compete.”
Ethan Richardson has been farming with his family in Sugar Grove, Virginia, his whole life, which is to say 14 years. Ethan’s Dad, Jay, confirms this as literal. Ethan’s been out and about on the farm with his Dad and Grandpa since he was just a few months old. Of course, he was long out of diapers when his Dad decided to transition the farm to organic. “I did it for my boys,” Jay says. “It’s the best thing I ever did.” While the farm was largely pasture-based before, the Richardson farm is now 100 percent seasonal grassbased dairy.
When the Richardsons first looked into organic, Dad and Grandpa took nine-year-old Ethan to a meeting for potential organic farmers. On the drive home, Ethan said “Daddy, I don’t want to do this because I like making hay.” Jay laughs. “Ethan was under the impression that we couldn’t use any equipment if we went organic. So Dad and I explained to him a little more and by the time we got home he was sold on it.”
As a seasonal dairy, the Richardsons’ 200 cows all calve in the spring. Ethan has the responsibility for raising calves, and, following Organic Valley Staff Veterinarian Dr. Paul’s recommendations, he hasn’t “lost” a calf in over 2 years. He manages his chores before and after school and still maintains straight A’s. He also helps with the milking. In addition to being a fine athlete, he also likes to hunt.
Ethan’s into grazing and he wants to continue farming. His Dad says, “We want him to go to college, even though he would prefer to stay right here. He just loves it.”