Jim Wedeberg's sons, John and Jake, are the 5th generation of Wedebergs farming the land Jim's great grandparents immigrated to in the mid- and late 1800's. "This area of southwest Wisconsin looked a lot like Norway to them," Jim says. Jim, his sons, and his wife Julie live on one of their home farms, and his brother lives across the road on the other. Together, they are a family who is passionate about organic agriculture, but it wasn't always that way.
In 1976, the State of Wisconsin passed a law that required farmers to get licensed to apply the pesticides and herbicides they used on the farm. "We didn't need pesticides because we rotated our crops, and we only used herbicides occasionally," Jim says, but he attended a certification workshop anyway, just to be safe. The slide show was a real eye-opener. A farmer near Madison lost half of his cows when they got onto a field that had been sprayed earlier that day. Another farmer's hands and arms were covered with blisters and sores when the chemicals leaked into his gloves and wicked up his sleeves. Jim thought, "This is crazy. I've got to find another way." And he made a u-turn. By 1980, he and Julie were using more organic methods on their farm. "It was a matter of keeping our family safe," he says. The 490 acres farmed by the Wedebergs have benefitted from that decision ever since, as has their herd of 50 Holstein and Swiss cows, and the milk they produce for Organic Valley Family of Farms.
Jim wasn't finished making big changes. In January of 1988, Jim saw an announcement in the local paper about a meeting for organic farmers who were interested in forming a cooperative that would enable them to market their products. Jim and Julie attended the meeting and what they talked about that night made sense to them. If small family farms would pool their products, they could get the transportation and marketing advantage they needed to sell what they produced without falling prey to the industry standard at the time: "Get big or get out." They were intrigued, but nobody there was talking about dairy. Jim proposed that they consider adding dairy to the cooperative, and seven months later, they became one of the founding members of the CROPP Cooperative, which markets its products under the Organic Valley and Organic Prairie brands today.