“If we had listened to my Mom,” Dennis says, “we would have been organic 30 years ago. She was always leery of chemicals, and when the herbicide Roundup [glyphosate] hit the market, it really upset her. There were farms around that didn’t use chemicals back then, but there was no industry standard for organic at that time.”
At the time, Dennis and his older brother were pretty much running the farm with their mom since their father died in 1975, so they continued to use chemicals, although not excessively. What got them to transition to organic in 2003?
“When you have kids, the way you think changes,” Dennis says. Ruth adds “We watched our organic neighbors and saw that they could do it. We went to the annual MOSES Conference [Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service] in La Crosse to learn everything we could about organic. One of our biggest concerns was what to do for sick cows if you can’t use antibiotics. We talked to so many organic farmers who said that the vet didn’t come to their farms anymore, because their animals were so much healthier. By the time the conference was over, we decided to go for it.”
For a decade now, the Bucks have farmed 560 organic acres just a few miles west of the Mississippi and an hour south of the Twin Cities. The home farm has been in the family for three generations, and the Bucks’ six children, ages eight to 18, make a fourth generation to grow up on the farm.
They milk 140 Holstein cows. “We didn’t select for the production genetics so prevalent in Holsteins today, so our Holsteins aren’t that big,” Dennis says. Ruth adds, “Our cows are sturdy and strong because they have to walk a ways to their pasture. Our heifers are so happy going out to pasture they actually jog!”
“Even though we always pastured to a certain extent,” Dennis says, “the animals were healthier once we transitioned, and the calves were healthier. I think it’s because of the higher forage, organic diet we feed the cows now. The conception rate is better, too, because the cows are less stressed.”
Along with 140 acres of hay, the Bucks grow corn, barley, triticale, oats and peas that they harvest for forage and winter feed.
Everybody helps out on the farm, though Ruth laughs about her part in that equation. “I always said I would never marry a farmer. Dennis only calls on me when he’s in desperate need of help because I’m not good at running machinery. It’s better now that our kids are older, because they can help and they love it.”
The kids are proud to be organic farmers, Ruth says. “Our oldest son is in his senior year of high school this week and ended up in a biotech class. The teacher said they were going to study genetically modified crops, which are the vast majority of crops grown in this country. He’s switching out of that class.”
For years Ruth used her accounting degree as a tax preparer, mostly for farmers. “When we were in the process of transitioning to organic, the older generation farmers would say ‘I’m too old to change now, but I think you’re doing the right thing going organic.’ The cool thing about the Organic Valley farmer-owners is that they all stepped up, young and old, to make that change. That’s one of the many reasons why we love being a part of this co-op of family farmers.”