The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Organic Valley

Organic Valley

Sustainability

December 26, 2010

Farmer owned more than 20 years, Organic Valley is a cooperative of farmers whose central mission is to support rural communities while working toward both economic and environmental sustainability. Their label boasts over 200 premium quality products, all certified organic, from milk, cream, cheese, butter, yogurt and eggs, to juice, meat, soy and produce. We talked to Chief Marketing Executive Theresa Marquez, who recently received the OTA Organic Leadership Award in the “Growing the Organic Industry” category, about how a group of small farmers, by banding together, can both compete with the big guys and protect the environment.

How did you come to form Organic Valley?

Organic Valley formed in 1988 during a terrible farm crisis. Two thousand dairy farms a week were going out of business. Suicide rates went up. Seven farmers started Organic Valley with the mission to save family farms and help strengthen rural communities. One of the original farmers is now CEO (CEIEIO), and another is President of the Board. We grew from seven in 1988 to 1,600 today.

What are the benefits of marketing your products through a co-op?

The Cooperative Regions of Organic Producer Pools (CROPP) is about "pooling" our raw supply by regions and marketing together. We are small and midsize professional farmers who know that when we pool together we can do things we cannot do alone. We can service large retailers for example. Because of our size and professional approach, we can convince plants to "co-pack" with us. Because we pool our resources, we can have a professional website and a professional marketing and sales department.

How have you been able to merge commerce with sustainable business practices?

Organic by nature is sustainable as organic soil sequesters carbon and can help reduce GHGs. But sustainability is also good business. When farmers grow their own fuel and feed they save money. We have a LEED certifiable green building that recycles air and saves money in heating and cooling. It is good business. Our trucks run on biodiesel. As an organic company, our citizen partners (consumers) appreciate it, and it creates loyalty in the marketplace – not to mention they expect no less from us. We have to deliver as it is imperative for businesses like ours to walk our talk.

Tell us about your national college campus farmer campaign. Is farmer the new “doctor” or “lawyer”?

We are putting forth the notion that it is okay to think about being a farmer. But we especially want to bring awareness to this population segment to KNOW WHERE YOUR FOOD COMES FROM. We want young people to be connected to food and farming. This is the secret to good health while assuring a healthy environment for the future. Finally, the “Gen O” tour was about giving future farmers the opportunity to develop their leadership skills. Who are the next farm leaders? How are we nurturing them and training them to take the awesome responsibility to fix a very broken food system? So the tour had multi-faceted goals.

What can retailers learn from your success?

Retailers are being given an option, and they can learn that there is a segment of the population that really wants to know where their food comes from and be connected. We are the farmers and can provide choices for the retailer and the consumer. We can provide very professional service. We can act like a big company while being true to our mission. We can show that a model that is thinking not only of economics but environment and social/cultural issues can work, can be successful in their stores and still be true to a higher mission.

 

In upcoming issues, we will continue to feature interviews with companies that are taking innovative steps toward the creation of sustainable products and services. If you are interested in telling us more about what your company is doing please contact Allison Bloom at allison@foodnutritionscience.com.