Another year, another Farm Aid. Man, what a hoot. Wilco, Dave, John, Willie...Neil. I love Neil Young. Shoot, I love all those guys. Wait a minute...I love everyone! That Farm Aid'll do it to a person. Anyway, I was squirming my way up to see some friends in North Dakota when I surfaced during a wet and warm October storm in Lyon County, Iowa. Must have been around five in the morning—seriously righteous soil—and along comes this guy on his way to the barn...
Me: Morning, sir. Could you please tell me what time it...hey. You look familiar.
Farmer guy: You don't. Who are you?
Me: Name's Ovie...Earthworm, I guess...if I had to give myself a last name. I sort of "work" for the Organic Valley co-op.
Farmer: Hmmm...Ovie, 'eh? And you "work" at Organic Valley? Weird.
Me: What's so weird?
Farmer: Well, I sort of "work" for Organic Valley, too—actually, I'm a farmer-owner! And I never heard of any Ovie Earthworms working for the co-op. What are you doing here?
Me: I'm on my way up from Farm Aid to the Ekberg's beef ranch in North Dakota.
Farmer: Weirder. I was at Farm Aid, too.
Me: Wait just one squirming minute...YOU are an Organic Valley farmer? AND you were at Farm Aid... CAST MY BRITCHES! It's Jason Stensland! You're the guy who gave Neil Young that GO FAMILY FARMS t-shirt!
Jason: Well, yeah...sort of. It wasn't really from me; it was from all of us at Organic Valley.
Me: That's awesome. He looks good in green. So, hey...I do interviews with cool people for Organic Valley's website. You're pretty cool. Mind if I interview you?
Jason: Well, I don't know about me being cool, but yeah, whatever. What do I have to do?
Me: Uh...just answer a couple questions. Like, well, we know your name already... How old are you? And how long have you been farming?
Jason: I'm 23. I've been farming here since '03, and I've been dairying since I was 17.
Me: "Dairying..." is that farmer-talk for "milking cows?"
Jason: Yeah, milking cows.
Me: Where were you "dairying" before here?
Jason: We were milking cows at big conventional dairies around the area.
Me: What do you mean, "we?" Are you one of those weirdoes who thinks he's plural?
Jason: HA! Nope. I have a twin brother, Justin. We do this together.
Me: DOUBLE VISION! A twin? Really? Wow...I mean...how's that work out?
Jason: Pretty good. Some days are better than others, like with anything. Sometimes I'm down, sometimes he's down...but we thrive off each other's positive attitude. It's not always easy, but we get a lot of satisfaction out of working for our own family farm.
Me: That's cool.
Jason: Totally. Yeah, if it wasn't for Justin I probably wouldn't be doing this. We bounce ideas back and forth, decide which way to go, and get on with it. That's probably why we get so much done, because we work so well together. Shoot, we've been working side-by-side since the beginning. And we split everything 50/50.
Me: You mean this is YOUR farm? You're only 23 years old!
Jason: Yeah, it's pretty much our farm. We grew up here, but it wasn't always a dairy. It was both of our idea to go into dairying with it.
Me: Was it hard?
Jason: Well, sure...but we started small just to get a taste of it—you know—see how it all works. We had 40 cows the first year, and we're up to 200 now.
Me: Think you'll get more?
Jason: Nope. No way. We have a lot of other ideas to explore on the farm besides dairying. Like getting it more green.
Me: And by getting it green you mean environmentally better? Aren't you already organic?
Jason: Organic isn't just limited to the standards of USDA Organic seal. That's a really good start, but to us organic means always making it better, trying to figure out how to get everything working in harmony with nature. We'd like to green-up our energy with wind, build a methane digester, improve our composting, you know...make more healthy soil. That kind of thing.
Me: Neat. Really neat.... So, uh...let's talk about Neil Young for a minute. That photo I saw...you were shaking his hand, man! What did he say? It looked like he was saying something to you.
Jason: Oh, uh, I don't know. Uhmm...it was something like, "We need more of you in this world," and, "Keep up the good work." Oh, hey... 'Mornin' Justin.
Justin: Mornin' Jason. Who you talkin' to?
Jason: This worm here. His name's Ovie.... from Organic Valley.
Justin: Never heard of him.
Jason: Me neither. He's pretty cool, though, for an Earthworm.
Justin: Cool. Hey, let's get milkin'. How 'bout you, Ovie? What're you gonna do?
Me: Uh...I guess I'm going to go back underground to "work" for Organic Valley.
Jason & Justin: Right on!
Farm Aid 2009 - Go Family Farms!
Neil Young wore our "Go Family Farms" shirt on stage after Jason gave it to him! See Neil on Youtube
Own an Organic Valley original, from your family farmer-owned coop! Bright green organic cotton tee, with "Go Family Farms" on the front and the Organic Valley logo on the back.