We try to stay cheerful here at Organic Valley. Our animal care standards go above and beyond national organic standards. We love our animals but there was a change in mid-April that left hundreds of Organic Valley cows temporarily feeling sad.
You see, cows have friends—bovine and human.
“They get used to being around the same humans every day,” said Ashley Wurzel, an Organic Valley Grassmilk® dairy farmer from Wisconsin. “When I’m milking, they’ll turn their heads to look at me and lick me, and when someone new comes in the barn, they don’t respond the same way.”
Why the Sad Cows?
Nearly 1,800 Organic Valley farms are speckled across the United States from Maine to Washington, and hundreds of these Organic Valley farmers left their farms in mid-April. (No need to worry, their animals were in the hands of temporary caretakers or the farmer’s family members.) The farmers said goodbye to their animals, packed up vans or hopped on planes, and made their way to La Crosse, Wisconsin, for Organic Valley Annual Meeting.
The name may not be fancy but farmers and employees know exactly what “Annual Meeting” is. Co-ops must hold annual meetings, but Organic Valley’s is more than just any old meeting. It’s an exciting co-op event that is 1. Annual and 2. A meeting—but it’s also a time to connect. It’s a big deal.
In total, more than 800 farmers, Organic Valley employees, and special guests gathered to celebrate each other, share challenges, hear about the state of the co-op, eat delicious organic food, learn from one another, take in the beautiful city, and maybe even relax a bit!
The event also included board elections and fundraisers to help farmer-members and employees who have experienced natural disasters, accidents, and other catastrophes.
Being part of a cooperative, like Organic Valley, means having a group of like-minded people behind you and it’s nice to see each other’s faces and smiles. It’s inspiring for farmers and employees to come together around a shared purpose: to give family farms an opportunity to thrive.
Farmer Leadership Awards
The co-op awarded numerous farmers for the quality of their products, and the co-op also gave out Farm Leadership Awards during the three-day event.
Jane Siemon was awarded the Heart of the Co-op Farmer Award. The award goes to a person who has demonstrated their commitment to the co-op and inspired others to be a part of it. Siemon is the wife of Organic Valley’s founding CEO George Siemon.
Jane gave relentlessly to the nearly heroic effort that building a dream demands, said Julia Ugo, Organic Valley Cooperative Stewardship and Governance director. “Meetings, fundraisers, farming, raising children, starting schools, planning, selling cheese, traveling, feeding farmers and staff, and caring for all the details in between. Jane, like so many women in our cooperative, held the heart of her family while allowing for the heart of this cooperative to grow,” Ugo said.
The Heart of the Co-op Employee Award, which recognizes qualities that keep the cooperative strong and honors those who embody the cooperative’s values and shared mission, went to 30-plus-year Organic Valley employee Wanda Lewison. Lewison has been described as courageous, willing to challenge, fun-loving, passionate, and compassionate.
Jonathan and Ella King, Ohio, received the Generation Organic Award which recognizes young co-op farmers who have demonstrated commitment to organic farming and to preserving the family farm and rural communities through leadership, stewardship, and innovation.
The Leadership in Sustainability Award went to the Choiniere family of Vermont. The family has been involved in initiatives and projects that illustrate their commitment to stewarding a sustainable farm including tree plantings, riverbed restoration projects, solar installation, and using compost-bedded pack barns for manure management. Soil health is also a priority on their farm.
John and Meghan Palmer and family received the Farmer Ambassador of the Year Award. The Iowa family is always willing to help with any adventurous request the co-op asks of them.
The Ray Hass Organic Pioneer Award goes to a farmer who embodies the cooperative spirit, care for the land, and commitment to organic principles. This year’s award went to Al and Lisa Hass from Wisconsin.
You, the consumer, are also top of mind at our Annual Meeting. Organic Valley is able to celebrate because of you. You have chosen Organic Valley products and your support allows us to grow and offer more farmers opportunities.
After three days at the co-op Annual Meeting, and a renewed sense of community, farmers once again packed up vans or hopped on planes. This time they were headed home to make their cows, their friends, happy again.