Organic Valley began in 1988 with a group of Wisconsin farmers who shared a love of the land and a belief that a new, sustainable approach to agriculture was needed in order for family farms and rural communities to survive. Frustrated by the loss of nearly 2,000 family farms each week and the staggering number threatened with extinction, these farmers set out to create a solution: organic agriculture.
With this mission in mind, the farmers formed CROPP Cooperative (Cooperative Regions of Organic Producer Pools), which today is the largest organic farming cooperative in North America with more than 1779 farmer-owners in 33 states and four Canadian provinces. In addition to providing farmers a way to stay in business, organic agriculture fulfilled their vision for a sustainable agriculture: farming without antibiotics or synthetic hormones and pesticides, pasturing animals, and ensuring the land would be preserved for future generations.
In order to market their products, CROPP created the more commonly known brand Organic Valley Family of Farms. Organic Valley has become one of the largest organic brands in the nation, offering milk, cheese, juice, eggs, spreads, produce, and soy, as well as meat labeled under the sister brand, Organic Prairie Family of Farms. As the co-op continues to grow, they prove that it is not necessary for a business to sacrifice people for profits: today, the cooperatives farmer-owners represent approximately 9 percent of the entire nation's certified organic farming community.
Despite Organic Valley's growth, it remains true to its roots and unique business model. Part of Organic Valley's success is due to the fact that the farmer-owners pay themselves a stable, sustainable pay price, which is set by a farmer board of directors elected by the membership.
"The success of Organic Valley proves that organic agriculture can be a lifeline for America's struggling family farms," says George Siemon, Organic Valley's C-E-I-E-I-O. "In an era of rising and falling agricultural prices, Organic Valley farmers can count on a stable, living wage to stay in business on their land."
Just as Organic Valley strives to support family farms, it is also committed to its local communities. In 2004, Organic Valley chose to build its new company headquarters, which accommodates 400 employees, in La Farge, Wis., the small town the co-op has called home since its inception. In 2007, they opened a distribution center in a neighboring small town, Cashton, Wis. By maintaining relationships with businesses and other partners nationwide, and contracting with production plants and shipping companies, Organic Valley has minimized investment in "brick and mortar" while simultaneously supporting local communities where their farmers live.
In 2009, the co-op expanded upon their partnership with Stonyfield Farm and HP Hood, saving 275 organic farmers in a year of recession and incredible hardship for farmers worldwide. CROPP agreed to license the Stonyfield fluid milk brand, and manage sales and distribution, and invited the farmers supplying that milk into the cooperative starting January 1, 2010. Stonyfield would continue marketing the fluid milk products, and HP Hood would continue as primary processor for the brand.
Being farmer-owned and independent has allowed Organic Valley to stay true to its original mission of keeping family farmers farming. Organic Valley customers can be confident that the food they purchase was produced under standards that meet or exceed the USDA national organic standards by farmers who are stewards of the earth and at the heart of the organic revolution.