When Delmar and Theresa Westaby saw the Organic Valley milk truck in their driveway for the first time, Theresa was so excited that she took a picture of it. To the Westabys, the milk truck was a symbol of their farm’s survival, and it was worth a photograph or two because not long before that, they realized that if they didn’t make a big change, their fifth-generation dairy farm wasn’t going to make ends meet.
In the late 1990s, the Westabys sold milk from their herd of 80 registered Holstein cows on the conventional market where the pay price rarely resulted in enough income for them to break even. “We were losing money every year,” Theresa recalls. “Our debt was rising as our income dropped.”
Forced to choose whether to stay on the beloved farm that had been in Delmar’s family for 141 years or walk away from it, the Westabys felt that their only option was to make a change.
Theresa called Organic Valley and learned that since their operation was nearly organic already, the transition would only take one year, compared to the three-year transition period for most conventional farmers. Delmar and Theresa’s farm was certified organic in April 2002.
Today, the Westabys’ 600-plus-acre farm is a self-sustaining, certified organic farm. The Westabys grow and harvest crops of organic hay, corn and oats to feed their cows.
Since joining Organic Valley, the Westabys have been able to pay down their debts, pay everyday expenses, and pay for long-overdue improvements to their 100-year-old farmhouse and their barn. “When the bills come, we’re not as stressed out, and we’re confident we can pay them,” Theresa said.
Delmar and Theresa appreciate the benefits that the environment, their cows and their family reap from organic farming. For example, the Westabys’ cows, which graze freely in pastures, are much healthier and require fewer visits from the veterinarian. The national average number of lactations for a conventional cow is one-and-a-half, which means it is not unusual for four-year-old conventional cows to be sent to slaughter. The Westabys have 14- and 15-year-old cows that continue to produce milk.
“It feels good to be an organic farmer,” Delmar added. “If the chemicals you spray on your crops have a skull-and-crossbones on it, they can’t be good for you. With organic farming, I know that the things my children touch on the farm and the food we produce are safe.”
By farming organically, the Westabys have not only been able to preserve their fifth-generation, century-and-a-half-year-old farm, they have preserved a cherished way of life that is also profitable and can be passed on to their children, Kaleena, Austin, Ceara and Braden.
“We couldn’t farm without the kids’ help, and they’re learning so much out here,” Theresa said. “Our sons are farming with us full-time as the sixth generation. It makes us feel good to know that when they take over the farm, they’ll be able to make a good living.”
“We can’t imagine selling our milk to anyone else,” Theresa said. “With Organic Valley, our opinions are valued, and everyone at the co-op, including our milk-truck drivers, are committed to saving rural farms like ours. We are so thankful to Organic Valley for giving us a voice and hope for the future.”