The bus: artsy and sustainable. The passengers: passionate and ambitious. The food: organic and wholesome. The miles: 6,390. The memories: Everlasting.
On a mission to educate consumers and promote organic agriculture, the Generation Organic bus, vibrantly painted with cartoon cows and vegetables, rolled out of Organic Valley's headquarters in La Farge Sept. 28 destined for the Pacific Northwest.
The second annual Generation Organic Tour was sponsored by Organic Valley and funded in part by the company's Farmers Advocating for Organics fund.
Eighteen young farmers from 10 states took part in the three-week tour, which featured nearly two dozen stops, beginning at the Community Food Co-op in Bozeman, Mont., and wrapping up at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.
Among the self-proclaimed "Gen-Os," members of the next generation of organic agriculture, was Blaise Knapp of Cobblestone Valley Farm in Preble, N.Y.
"We've lost so much on basic thinking on biological farming, and it's coming back," he said. "What they're doing is going back to the turn of the century and reading the books and learning what they learnt then."
Jeff and Sheila Koester say they've always been intrigued by solar energy. That's why, when they received some information from Organic Valley, their milk cooperative, on sustainable energy efforts, including solar initiatives, the Koesters did some more in-depth research and went to work.
Organic farming improves the soil and the environment, lets animals grow in harmony with nature, and provides consumers with healthy, wholesome food. But what really makes me believe in organic agriculture is that the premium goes to the American family farm. However, no business will stay afloat if it isn’t profitable. The reason organic agriculture has survived for over 25 years in the marketplace is because people recognize the importance of knowing where their food comes from and who grows their food. I am an optimistic member of Generation Organic, Organic Valley’s initiative to usher in the next generation of young organic farmers. I see organic farming playing an important role in years to come as the planet evolves to cope with challenges of the future.
I believe in the idea that profitable companies should work toward more sustainable practices, and that companies whose focus is sustainability should work towards consistent profitability. However, too often companies offer little more than a token nod toward sustainability without real action. Not all companies are this way, however. There are good examples of food companies whose missions incorporate both health and sustainability, such as Clif Bar or Organic Valley.
By Johan Doornenbal, Organic Valley Generation Organic Farmer & Photographer
While people on both sides of the debate are passionate, George Siemon, CEO of Organic Valley, wants to leave aside the arguments for now to focus on what seems like it would be an obvious compromise in a democracy: label GMO foods.
“Most people don’t even know there’s an issue to discuss, so we have to go back to building the awareness that genetically modified or engineered foods are now part of our diet,” Siemon said. “It’s one thing to be aware of it; another is choice. Labeling is not an issue of right or wrong. It’s just about having a choice.”
My name is Ceara Westaby and I’m a fifth generation farmer. I grew up on my family’s 150 year-old dairy farm with my sister and two brothers in Northwest Illinois in a town called Stockton. Today, we have 81 milking cows and we farm 645 certified organic acres of land. But back in the 1990s, my family’s farm almost didn’t survive selling milk in the conventional market. We decided to transition to organic—no pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or synthetic hormones—and in 2002 our farm was certified organic. We were able not only to preserve our five-generation, 150-year farm but also to raise a healthier herd, contribute to a safer environment, and ultimately, produce better milk.
Two years after the recession cut demand for higher-cost food products, organic farming is on the rebound, with prices at record highs.
But the industry is still not as strong as it was just a few years ago, and no one knows if organic sales will return to the double-digit growth of the pre-recession years.
A bio-fueled, muti-colored school bus rolled onto the campus of the University of Portland earlier this month, carrying a troupe of young organic farmers touting their trade.
The visit was part of Organic Valley’s Generation Organic 2011 “Who’s Your Farmer?” tour. Gathering at the dining hall, the farmers met students and encouraged them to consider their personal food choices. They also offered samples of organic produce.