Why We Believe in Giving Back to Our Communities

by Elizabeth McMullen

Nov. 16, 2020

by Elizabeth McMullen

Here at Organic Valley, we take the word “cooperative” to the next level. What some companies call “corporate responsibility” we simply call being good neighbors. We believe in the power of community; we’re not driven solely by profits, but by principles.

It’s important for a business to make money, but the difference with us is that we use this money to serve people—our farmers, our employees, and communities in need. We are dedicated to supporting organic family farms, growing organic food systems, and doing good in our local communities. Our main facilities are in smaller towns and rural areas that might have higher rates of food insecurity, so when we have excess product, we donate it to food banks and pantries around our communities. We also donate to communities around the U.S. that might be in need of some good food, like food banks in big cities like New York City and New Orleans.

" Since 2015, Organic Valley has donated about 17 million pounds of food."

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Making a Local Difference

As the COVID-19 pandemic thrust millions of Americans into uncertainty, Organic Valley delivered over 35,000 pounds of whole and 2% milk to Second Harvest Food Bank of New Orleans and over 36,000 pounds to New York City food banks. The products donated to these food banks were “short code,” which is a product that’s still perfectly good but is simply nearing its expiration date and can’t be sold to stores. So instead of throwing it into landfills, we donate the product to local food banks and shelters—places that can distribute it within a short time to those who need it.

“Shelf stable products work really well for donations because they don’t require refrigeration and are easy for volunteers to pass out. We provide some refrigerated products like half gallons or cheese when we can because those are so well received by community members,” said Stacy Wrobel, Organic Valley public affairs manager. Although we have a strong focus on disaster relief, which tends to be seasonal, we also provide short code products to food banks all over the U.S. year-round.

Two women hold packages of Organic Valley cheese and other food.

Photo courtesy of Grassroots Aid Partnership.

Our Farmers Give Back

Our Farmers Advocating for Organic (FAFO) grant program is entirely funded by annual voluntary contributions from our farmers. The farmers on the decision-making committee take their role of stewarding their fellow farmers’ money seriously—with the result of funding some truly excellent projects that support organic research, education, and advocacy to protect and promote the organic industry and livelihood of organic farmers.

About 80% of Organic Valley farmers donate to FAFO, and people are often shocked to learn that it is the largest farmer-funded grant program in the U.S. and one of the few focused solely on organic! FAFO has awarded more than 300 grants since 2007 to nonprofit organizations and universities. Notably, FAFO supported an educational outreach campaign for the groundbreaking dairy research conducted by Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, in collaboration with The Organic Center. The study compared levels of antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides in organic and conventional and found that organic milk showed no contaminants and is a safe and healthy choice for consumers.

Recently, FAFO funded CCOF Foundation’s Future Organic Farmer Grant Fund which supports the study and teaching of organic agriculture to students across the nation. The fund reached more than 65,000 teachers and students in 2019, building a strong pathway for the next generation of organic leaders.

The projects and programs FAFO has supported over the years all combine to make a great impact on the organic industry and help it grow in size and strength.

Young child hands food to those in need.

Photo courtesy of Grassroots Aid Partnership.

Giving Back with a Cooperative Spirit

Being part of a cooperative also means we care for one another. To support our farmer-members and employees affected by natural disasters, family tragedies, and other catastrophes, we created the Art Wedig Disaster Relief Fund and CROPP Catastrophe Relief Fund. We understand that money can’t make up for loss, but easing the burden of financial distress during a time of need is one thing we can do to help our fellow members and employees and show we’re here for each other.

“We believe that doing these things is part of being a responsible business and a caring community member,” Wrobel said. “Things are tough right now, and it’s in our DNA to give back more than we take out and to support our communities near and far.”

Organic Valley was started in times of crisis—during the 1980s’ recession and farm crisis—by our farmers who believed healthy, organic food could change the world. We continue to live our mission daily by being a good neighbor and helping where we can, in the communities we belong to.

Because we believe, as Mr. Rogers said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people that are helping.”

Donated food products sit on a table in a warehouse.

Photo courtesy of Grassroots Aid Partnership.