Randy and Kim Peterson both hail from farming families. Kim comes from a 50+ year heritage of dairy farmers, while Randy grew up on a beef cattle farm. Yet, farming wasn't their first career choice. In fact, it was only after Randy had worked 20 years in the construction business that he decided to turn his full attention to dairy farming.
The Petersons' farming career began when they purchased a small herd of heifers in the early 90's, planning to raise and sell them for vacation money. But when the time came to sell their stock, Randy and Kim decided to hold on to the cows and milk them instead. Over time, their "vacation fund" morphed into a full-fledged dairy.
Randy and Kim decided to commit to dairying full time when they were afforded the opportunity to work alongside an elderly dairyman who ran a cheese making operation in Ferndale, Wash. They spent two years soaking up his expertise, and Randy credits this apprenticeship as key to the success of their farm today. "The operation was as close to organic as you could get and techniques we learned from him, we have applied to our own farm," Randy relates. "This experience ultimately made our organic transition easier."
The Petersons eventually moved their herd to Kim's parents' farm in 1997, taking over after Kim's sister moved to a farm in the Midwest. They decided to go organic a couple years later, and it took them another year to fully transition their operation to certifiable organic production. The transition period meant a shift in thinking, developing the mindset for a more holistic operation. "Throughout the process," Randy explains, "our questions changed from: 'How do we treat illness in cows?' to 'How do we prevent illness?'"
Today Kim and Randy raise 70 milking cows on the 120-acre parcel of land they call the North Fork Dairy, nestled in the foothills of Washington's Cascade Mountains. Their kids are grown, and while Randy jokes that these days "they only come back to the farm to eat," he hopes that at some point the lure of country life will bring one of them back, to carry on the family farm tradition for another generation.
The Petersons sold their first truckload of milk to Organic Valley in 2005. They continue to enjoy the benefits of being part of a cooperative-from a fair and stable pay price and a network of support, to the participatory nature of having ownership and to making provisions for the future. "You actually feel like part of a cooperative," he adds, "because you are given a chance to re-invest in what you believe in."