In celebration of its growing network of fresh-faced farmers, Organic Valley, the nation's largest cooperative of organic farmers, has honored three of its youngest with Generation Organic (Gen-O) awards. Generation Organic is what Organic Valley calls its young organic farmers, aged 16 to 35, who represent a new generation of sustainable agriculture leaders and who believe in the power of organic agriculture to change the world. The Gen-O Award was presented to the young farmers at the cooperative's Annual Meeting, held earlier this month in La Crosse, Wis.
The Gen-O Awards were created in 2008 to recognize individual young Organic Valley farmers who have chosen organic farming as a career path, demonstrated an outstanding commitment to organics, and are preserving the family farm and rural community through leadership, stewardship and innovation.
One young farmer from each of the western, central and eastern regions was awarded $1,000 to further their farm development and leadership. The winners also received an all expense paid trip to attend the 2011 Annual Meeting, where they met with Organic Valley leadership, attended workshops and participated in Gen-O activities.
"Organic Valley provides a stable support network for the betterment of all involved in our cooperative, from farming veterans to those just off a college campus," said George Siemon, one of the founding farmers and C-E-I-E-I-O for Organic Valley. "As we look to the future, it is vitally important that we support the farmers of tomorrow who will carry on the organic tradition. Our Generation Organic award winners represent a new crop of farmers and sustainable agriculture leaders, and we are proud that they are part of our co-op."
According to the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture, America has lost approximately 4.5 million farms since 1935, and most of the 2.1 million farms that remain are operated by farmers with an average age of 57. In contrast, the average age of Organic Valley farmer is 44. For more information on Generation Organic, visit www.organicvalley.coop/GenerationOrganic.
Recognized during a special presentation on April 8, the three winners were:
T. Garin and Sarah Smith of Grassland Farm in Skowhegan, Maine (East)
James Frantzen of Frantzen Farm in Elma, Iowa (Central)
Ross Bansen of Double J Jerseys in Monmouth, Ore. (West)
Garin and Sarah Smith own and operate a diversified organic farm in Skowhegan, Maine, where they live with their two young children. Garin grew up in Charlotte, N.C., in a house with a yard big enough for a greenhouse and a vegetable garden, which he worked with his dad. He was drawn to the physical sciences in high school, particularly ecology, which led to his attendance at nearby Warren Wilson College, where he majored in environmental studies with a concentration in sustainable agriculture. There, he also met his wife, Sarah. Even before college, Garin worked on vegetable farms near his home, drawing gratification from the meditative aspect of farming. Together, Garin and Sarah herd 40 cows, which thrive on rotationally grazed pastures, raise chickens, beef, and devote about six acres to vegetables and cut flowers, operate a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, and sell at five nearby farmers' markets, including one that they founded in their home town of Skowhegan. Garin is also a board member of Maine Organic Milling (MOM) and Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA).
Raised on one of the first hog farms in the U.S. to earn organic certification, James Frantzen of Elma, Iowa, has committed his professional and personal life to the success of responsible hog farming. At the young age of 23, James has become a "pork prodigy." As a teenager, James partnered with his father to research, design and build a state-of-the-art gestational hoop building for sows. Individual feeding stalls, plenty of water, and deep bedded loafing pack ensured a comfortable and humane environment that promoted herd health and productive litters of piglets. For the past 2.5 years, James coordinated the production of the pork "pool" of Organic Prairie (the meat division of Organic Valley), and just last month, he made the leap to full-time farming at his recently purchased acreage in Northeast Iowa, where he maintains a farrowing house that he constructed. Closer to home, he is the President of the Alumni Chapter of his high school's Future Farmers of America program, and he is involved in his community's "Character Counts" task force, which promotes trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship throughout New Hampton and Chickasaw County, Iowa.
Ross Bansen, age 22, remembers feeding calves bottles in his family's milking parlor as a six-year old boy living in Monmouth, Ore. He was raised in a family that is dedicated to what they call the "3Hs"—the Health, Happiness and Harmony—of cows. As a young man, his on-farm contributions focused on implementing sustainability systems that have helped his family's operation conserve water and energy, and he is interested in wind power as an alternative energy source. Currently a senior at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, Ross led the fundraising efforts for the campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity. He also spent time in Arusha, Tanzania, helping schools build chicken pens and gardens to alleviate their community's food shortage. Graduating this spring with degrees in business and biology, Ross will be the fourth generation in his family to embrace the dairy business, a journey that will focus exclusively on organic farming. Later this year, Ross will further his experience and exposure to organic dairying practices through an apprenticeship in New Zealand.
Last Fall, Organic Valley's young Generation Organic farmers conducted a two and a half week road trip, the Generation Organic™ 2010 "Who's Your Farmer?" Tour. On a bus fueled by sustainably produced biofuels, the young farmers toured much of the Northeast, stopping at college campuses and other locations along the way to educate and inspire people about their food choices. For more information about the Generation Organic "Who's Your Farmer?" Tour, please visit www.organicvalley.coop/GenerationOrganic.
Organic Valley Family of Farms: Independent and Farmer-Owned
Organic Valley is America’s largest cooperative of organic farmers and one of the nation’s leading organic brands. Organized in 1988, it represents 1,617 farmers in 35 states and three Canadian provinces, and achieved $619 million in 2010 sales. Focused on its founding mission of saving family farms through organic farming, Organic Valley produces a variety of organic foods, including organic milk, yogurt, soy, cheese, butter, spreads, creams, eggs, produce and juice, which are sold in supermarkets, natural foods stores and food cooperatives nationwide. The same farmers who produce for Organic Valley also produce a full range of delicious organic meat under the Organic Prairie label. For further information, call 1-888-444-MILK or visit www.organicvalley.coop, www.organicprairie.coop and the cooperative's farmer website, www.farmers.coop. Organic Valley is also on Twitter @Organic_Valley and Facebook www.facebook.com/OrganicValley.