George Siemon: Organic Valley
This dairy farmer’s intention in starting a cooperative with a few neighbors in Wisconsin’s Kickapoo Valley was not to generate $700 million revenue (in 2011), but that’s exactly what he did. Still at the helm today—he calls himself the CEIEIO in homage to Old MacDonald—Siemon says one of his favorite axioms is: “None of us is as smart as all of us.”
"It's like a catch 22 thing, you feed less grain, but then when you feed less grain you make less milk, so you make less money," said Brunner.
Brunner's bottom line is about to get a boost.
The company Brunner produces for, Organic Valley, plans to start paying farmers more for their milk beginning in March.
It's been a tough few months for dairy, with Norway's butter shortage and now an ominous cloud looming over 2012 for organic milk drinkers. Consumers across the country can probably expect to see retail prices increase by as much as 10 percent this month.
So what's behind the squeeze on organic milk? ...organic grain and hay for animals — are now dramatically more expensive for farmers, but farmers aren't getting paid more for the milk. As a result, cows are getting less food and producing less milk. (As with lots of other troubles in agriculture these days, corn for biofuel has something to do with it.)
There is a shortage of organic milk across the country, and it has become so bad in areas like the Southeast that Publix stores from Florida to Tennessee have put up signs in dairy cases anticipating the shopper’s frustrated refrain: “Where’s my organic milk?”
In terms of taste, OV’s eggnog is the best on the market. But purchasing OV products also helps local farmers earn a fair wage for their dairy. And now, along with Stonyfield, OV is helping to ensure access to organic food for all through their Celebrate With Organic campaign. You can also enter to win a year’s worth of Organic Valley and Stonyfield products. For every entry, 20 cents will be donated to Wholesome Wave, which improves accessibility of locally grown fruits and veggies. (Around $5 per quart, grocery stores nationwide)
Knowing your farmer is about understanding his or her practices, motivations, challenges and ideas, but it's also about transparency. Transparency in agriculture means better practices, and better practices results in better food. I truly believe that if all Americans were able to meet their farmers, we would have a much healthier population and society.
I am fortunate enough to have met many of the lovely farmers who provide the organic meats, dairy, and produce for my restaurant, GustOrganics. And a few weeks ago, I got an invitation from Organic Valley to meet organic dairy farmers Susan, Aaron, and David Hardy on their farm in Mohawk, NY.
I completely understand that most people don't have the chance to personally meet their farmers and visit their farms; therefore, I decided to ask the Hardy family some questions and share their answers here with you.
For many years Full Circle Farm’s milk had been sold to make cheese; a small amount went to the Wisconsin Dairy Grazers Co-op, and the rest was sold to a small employee-owned cheese factory about 60 miles away. Rick and his family chose this factory because it was employee owned and operated under principles they believed in. Both employee-owned and co-operative businesses are built on democratic values and personal responsibility.
Then in 2003, to take advantage of better prices and better marketing services, he moved the family milk output to CROPP Cooperative, which sells dairy products under the Organic Valley brand. His milk now is sold as fluid milk rather than made into cheese.
It's a boost to a brand that has the word "organic" in its name, but this is about more than conveying a green image, Wright said.
"One of the main reasons we did is that it'll help manage and fix our costs," Wright said. "We're not just doing it because it's a nice thing to do. The higher the price of electricity goes up, the better we'll do at paying off our project quicker, and that'll be a profit center for us," he said.
"In addition to providing renewable energy to Cashton and Organic Valley, the wind turbines will serve as a 'living lab' for research and education for students at Western Technical College," Wright said.
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."