Organic Valley, the nation’s largest cooperative of organic farmers and a leading organic brand, celebrated its next generation of organic farmers by awarding three of its young farmer-owners with Generation Organic™ (Gen-O) Awards. Generation Organic is a group of Organic Valley farmers aged 18 to 35 who represent the next generation of sustainable agriculture leaders and who believe in the power of organic farming to change the world. The 2013 Gen-O Awards were presented at the cooperative’s annual meeting award banquet on April 10 in La Crosse, Wis.
The Gen-O Awards began in 2008 to acknowledge these young individuals’ dedication to organic food and farming through stewardship and innovation that fosters the development of the organic movement’s next generation of leaders. Organic Valley supports its young farmers with a variety of initiatives from educational programs, scholarships and regional gatherings to resources such as a farmer support hotline and on-staff veterinarians. For more information about Generation Organic and the Gen-O awards, please visit ov.coop/geno.
"The Generation Organic program exists to further the future of sustainable agriculture and safeguard the future of our cooperative," said Sarah Holm, a member of Generation Organic in Elk Mound, Wis. “Organic Valley is revolutionary because it is farmer-run and farmer-owned. The experiences and connections I have gained from Gen-O have given me an invaluable depth of knowledge."
Approximately 40 Gen-O members from Vermont to Oregon attended the annual meeting to honor the winners and engage with hundreds of other farmer-owners to discuss the cooperative’s direction for 2013. America lost 4.7 million farmers since 1935, and most of the 2.1 million who remain are over 55 years old. In contrast, the average age of Organic Valley farmers is much younger, with a growing number of farmer-members under 35 years old. An increasing number of Gen-O farmers are indeed the second generation of farmers growing up organic in their family's cooperative. But there are also young people coming fresh into farming from all types of backgrounds. The Organic Valley co-op even counts several college agriculture programs among their membership.
Recognized during a banquet on April 10th in La Crosse, Wis., the three 2013 Gen-O Award winners are:
- Julia Hudyncia of Fort Plain, N.Y.
- Sarah Holm of Elk Mound, Wis.
- Kevin and Erin Donnay of Kimball, Minn.
Julia Hudyncia of Montgomery County, N.Y.
Julia Hudyncia thinks that farmers need to tell their story. As an agricultural science teacher, she is doing an excellent job of that herself.
Julia grew up milking cows with younger brother Ryan, her parents, and her grandfather in Fort Plain, New York. Organic Valley farmer-owners since 2006, the Hudyncias farm 450 acres and milk 60 cows. The entire family has a passion for agriculture and a special affection for registered Holsteins. Julia was active in 4-H, the Junior Holstein Club and won the title of 2007 New York State Alternate Dairy Princess. Julia still lives on the farm and does farm work on breaks and weekends.
Julia is in her third year teaching at a local high school after earning a bachelor’s degree in animal sciences and a master’s degree in biology and agricultural education from Cornell University. Julia’s goal as a teacher is to help her students discover a personal connection to agriculture.
This year, her class took a leap of faith and transitioned two acres that had been used to grow conventional corn into two acres of organic sunflowers. She is encouraged to see that her students are excited at the prospect of using the sunflower seeds to create bio-fuel for three school tractors.
In the future, Julia sees herself back on the farm. “I believe that my job in education is very important, but my heart lies with the farm. I am trying, at a very young age, to give back to the agricultural industry and community as much as I can.”
Sarah Holm of Dunn County, Wis.
Sarah Holm joined Generation Organic at just 16 years old. Sarah is now a member of the Gen-O Executive Committee (formed in 2013), which will be instrumental in creating the farmer-owned cooperative’s leadership succession plan.
The oldest of eight children, Sarah worked daily on their Organic Valley dairy farm and continued to help out on the farm throughout college. She graduated with a B.A. in political science with an emphasis in legal studies from the University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire. She graduated magna cum laude and debtfree. Presently, Sarah is working for Organic Valley before entering law school in the fall of 2013, where she’ll study international business law.
“I want to be a farmer with the educational legitimacy to be in co-op governance and be politically active on behalf of all farmers. There’s a huge disconnect between government and the needs of farmers and the importance of a rural infrastructure. The system isn’t doing conventional farmers any favors, either, and more of them will be squeezed out if we don’t all step up. I want farming to flourish, and that means government and cultural attitudes have to shift so that farmers can still be working on their land 100 years from now.
“Someone said, ‘We’ve taken the culture out of agriculture.’ Part of that is because of policy, and part is because of the modern world. But we still have to eat. And the best way to ensure that we’re able to eat good food that doesn’t ruin the world is if sustainable agriculture is a vital sector of our society.”
Kevin and Erin Donnay of Stearns County, Minn.
Kevin and Erin Donnay of Stearns County, MN, are the third generation on Kevin’s family farm. Kevin began operating the farm in 1999 after graduating from UW-River Falls with a bachelor of science in agriculture. At school he heard about organic agriculture and encouraged his dad to begin transitioning, and in 2000, the farm was certified organic.
The Donnays’ 330 acres are home to 65 mixed-breed cows of Holstein, Jersey, Ayrshire and Milking Shorthorn lineage. They’ve grazed their cows since 1999, but the herd is now 100% grass-fed. They milk seasonally, meaning they only milk during the spring, summer and fall months rather than year-round.
To care for the land, they minimally till the fields every five years in an effort to retain the soil life and structure, recycle all of their farm plastic and oil, and recently signed a contract to be a future site for a windmill.
Being farmer-owners of Organic Valley has given the Donnays more than a stable pay price for work. It has also given them a platform to tell their story. “It’s all about real food, sustainability and farmers,” says Kevin.
Organic Valley: 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 1,834 farmers in 35 states and three Canadian provinces, and achieved $860 million in 2012 sales. Focused on its founding mission of saving family farms through organic farming, Organic Valley produces a variety of organic foods, including organic milk, soy, cheese, butter, spreads, creams, eggs, produce and juice, which are sold in supermarkets, natural foods stores and food cooperatives nationwide. With its regional model, milk is produced, bottled and distributed right in the region where it is farmed to ensure fewer miles from farm to table and to support our local economies. For further information and to learn about Organic Valley's 25 years of sustainable agriculture as it celebrates its anniversary in 2013, visit www.organicvalley.coop.