Ever since seven dairy farmers from Wisconsin founded Organic Valley in 1988, supporting small-scale operations and keeping family farmers on their homesteads has been the company’s raison d’être. “It demands higher administration to have forty 50-cow farms versus two very large farms,” says George Siemon, a founding co-op member and current CEO of Organic Valley. “You have higher hauling rates and more checks to write, but it’s part of our mission to serve the family farm.”
The company calls its all-organic dairy products “values added” and has stricter pasturing and animal-welfare standards than those set by the USDA’s organic dairy-farming guidelines. For example, farmers are asked to meet increased minimum pasture times and to test cows’ drinking water for coliform bacteria and nitrates. Plus, the co-op plans to implement biodiversity standards, encouraging farmers to maintain wildlife habitat, such as ponds or wetlands, on their farms. And a green distribution center, powered by renewable energy, is already in the works in Wisconsin.
“There’s often a disconnect between what a company is marketing and what they’re actually doing,” says Idaho farmer and co-op member Dave Roberts, who runs a 150-cow farm with his wife and six children. Not so with Organic Valley, he says. Organic Valley’s fair and stable prices for milk allow him to stay tied to the land he inherited from his father and grandfather, work with his family, and carefully maintain his cows’ health.