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."
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.”