The mission of our Cooperative is to offer sustainable markets to family-sized organic farms through organic production. Defining a “family farm” is a longstanding debate in the farm movement because family farms are different depending on what products they produce or in what region their farm is located. Today’s family farm is much larger than the farm of 20 years ago due to changes in machinery, lifestyles and the loss of other family farms. To us it is pretty simple: a family farm is one where the family members provide the primary workforce and the farm is their livelihood.
That being said, we do not believe that a definition alone can determine a family farm. Most important is the on-site visit by our staff and other farmer-members. Their recommendation is a critical part of the selection process. We are not just seeking family farms; we are looking for farmers who embrace organic integrity and who want to be part of our cooperative.
The majority of Organic Valley’s farmer-members are dairy farmers. In addition to being audited yearly for USDA organic compliance by a third-party organic certifier, our staff visits all member farms on a regular basis to ensure compliance with CROPP Cooperative’s additional standards, including Animal Care Guidelines that address humane animal treatment on their farms. View our Organic Valley Dairy Herd Chart, which shows the ranges of herd sizes among our dairy members' farms.
In 2012, Organic Valley introduced “Grassmilk™,” non-homogenized milk exclusively from 100% grass-fed, organic cows. This means that the cows are fed only fresh pasture grasses, dried forages and approved nutritional supplements—no grains. Grass-fed farming methods require intensive pasture management and close attention to the cows’ nutrition, to keep the animals healthy while producing high-quality milk. The cows feed on alfalfa, clover, legumes and other grasses before seed formation. Approved nutritional supplements include molasses, kelp, salt, vitamins and minerals, and apple cider vinegar. The cows are outdoors grazing on fresh pasture for as many months as the farm’s climate will allow.
Soil fertility is crucial to maintaining high-quality, nutritious pasture, so Organic Valley has a soil agronomist on staff, who helps Grassmilk farmers improve and maintain their soils and pastures. The cooperative also employs two veterinarians and an animal care specialist, who provide herd-health education and other animal care services to farmers, and a ruminant nutritionist, who advises farmers on creating a feed ration balanced in energy, fiber and protein. Organic Valley Grassmilk farmers’ close attention to grass-feeding, nutrition and soil quality results in healthy cows that produce a unique, high-quality and nutritious milk. In fact, Grassmilk has been shown to contain a better-than-ideal* 1:1 balance of beneficial omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, which supports better human health and contributes to a reduction of harmful inflammatory responses in the body**.
Organic Valley’s average egg flock size is approximately 5,300 birds—very small when compared to conventional caged bird houses that often have between 100,000 and 250,000 hens. We have always preferred houses with 10,000 birds or fewer, and for farmers who want to have more, our Farmer-Owner Egg Executive Committee must approve. Some farmers opt to build two separate houses to allow for smaller flock sizes and to offset production cycles. View our Organic Valley Egg Flock Chart, which shows the ranges of flock sizes among our egg members' farms.
Organic Valley agrees that the National Organic Program needs to clarify their access to the outdoors standard for poultry. We believe access to the outdoors is an important tenet of organic production, and we have our own standard that goes above and beyond the National Organic Standards. We require our egg farmer-owners to provide 1.5 square feet per bird indoors and 5 square feet per bird outdoors. Organic Valley egg farmers have implemented a set of Animal Care Guidelines that address humane animal treatment practices on their farms, and they are audited by Organic Valley staff regularly to ensure compliance. All Organic Valley egg farmers provide scratch areas, roosts, plenty of nests, a mixed organic food ration and constant access to clean water. We encourage our egg farmers to be as feed self-sufficient as they can, growing as much of their own feed as possible on their farms.
An exception to our access to the outdoors standard is made for our egg farmer-owner in California, where California Department of Agriculture veterinarians strongly advocate that birds not have free-range outdoor access because of the serious risk of Avian Influenza and Newcastle Disease transmission. Their organic certifier, Oregon Tilth, approves of their outdoor access practices: screened houses with exceptional air quality, lots of natural light, roosts for the birds, and the houses meet Organic Valley’s standard of 1.5 square feet of indoor space per bird. Our staff have also visited the farm and have found the birds to be healthy and look great. It is important to note that our farmers take responsibility for setting their own farm standards and policies, and they are the ones to approve exceptions.
Some of our egg farmer-owners raise their own pullets but most purchase them from farmers who focus on raising pullets. Organic Valley has a set of recommended practices for raising pullets, and our farmers have elected to keep pullet sourcing outside of the cooperative. All pullet farmers that our farmers source from are certified organic.
*An ideal ratio of omega-6:omega-3 fatty acids is 2.3:1. Source: Artemis P. Simopoulos. “The Importance of the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio in Cardiovascular Disease and Other Chronic Diseases.” Experimental Biology and Medicine. doi: 10.3181/0711-MR-311.
** Source: Artemis P. Simopoulos. “The Importance of the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio in Cardiovascular Disease and Other Chronic Diseases.” Experimental Biology and Medicine. doi: 10.3181/0711-MR-311.