Receiving the Growing Green Award from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) for my leadership role in Organic Valley is especially rewarding since I have spent my life connecting food with the protection of our natural resources. As a city-raised kid, I was always looking for any reason to get out into nature. Being involved in Audubon as a bird watcher or Boy Scouts or just on my own, I always felt at peace in nature and saw nature as my teacher. I was lucky enough to spend summertime on farms and could easily see the connection to nature that farming offers.
Organic Valley represents a pioneering effort of farmers and employees to bring organic foods and farming to a level of maturity that can compete, at all levels, with chemical-based agriculture. Organic is not only about not using chemicals, but really about working with nature to prevent problems and maximize synergy between the many elements of a farm with nature. ‘Organic’ is an old word whose roots are in ‘the parts working together’ and was a branch of philosophy in Greek times. This philosophy says collective action can change the world, which has been an inspiration to my life.
At Organic Valley, ‘organic’ is a word that is bigger than the USDA food seal and represents a philosophy that future lifestyles will be based on. We are seeing a sweeping lifestyle change amongst our young people, where values are driving their lives and not the goal of financial success. Recently on a trip to Europe, I read about the ‘post-materialism’ movement, which excited me to see yet another term for what I see as the growth of the organic lifestyle.
Working as the CEO of CROPP Cooperative, the nation’s largest farmer-owned cooperative, has been a mission to connect farmers and consumers through our brands of organic foods: Organic Valley and Organic Prairie. As a mission-based business, we have been stubborn to live by our values, and we have been rewarded for it. As we approach our 25th year, we are a pioneer in the organic field with close to 10 percent of all organic farmers in the U.S. located in more than 35 states. We will be over $850 million in 2012, serving more than 1,700 organic farmers, who produce the best food products possible through organic production, high quality standards and the best taste on the market. Our 650 employees are a huge part of our success and enjoy great satisfaction in the meaningful work that we have together. Our cooperative has a profit sharing program that shares the profits with the farmers and the employees.
Since our founding in 1988, Organic Valley has had the real job of aiding farmers in going organic, building an infrastructure to serve those farmers and their production, and managing the products and customer relationships. Today, we continue building the infrastructure to support organic agriculture. We are constantly educating potential new organic farmers, as well as supporting those who have already committed. As the market outstrips the supply, we are focused on transitioning more farmland to organic and keeping the land that is already organic in organic production. Working toward the latter goal, we created the Generation Organi program to provide leadership training, marketing education and farming mentorship for the next generation of CROPP farmer-owners.