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.
Laura Boere, part of Organic Valley since 1998, said there are multiple benefits to the program, including a steady paycheck.
"Bankers love it," Boere said, "because you have a long-term plan. Dairymen love it because we can farm and make plans (for) the long run."
"These early 20-somethings — in many cases fifth-generation farmers — are bringing a new energy and new vision to agriculture," said Leslie Kruempel, social media specialist for Organic Valley.
Arriving in their colorful, bio-fueled bus, Generation Organic's farmers spoke about labeling of genetically modified foods. Polls show more than 90 percent of Americans favor food labeling.
His title is CEO, but George Siemon likes C-E-I-E-I-O better.
It's fitting for the man at the helm of Organic Valley Family of Farms-CROPP Cooperative.
Today the business is the nation's largest co-op of organic farmers and produces more organic milk than any other company. Not bad for a business only 23 years old based in small-town La Farge.
"This is a very dynamic business that represents a lot about social change," Siemon said.