First, let it be said that I do not follow a 100% organic diet. I do not follow a 100% local or regional diet. Organic foods do cost more (although for a very good reason), some foods may be difficult to source organically, and frankly, sometimes I just want a scoop of Baskin-Robbins Baseball Nut ice cream! That said (and I realize that I am very fortunate here) I do try to follow a largely organic and/or local or regional diet.
So where does Organic Valley come into play? It’s an organic cooperative—and a true cooperative. Founded in 1988 in La Farge, Wisconsin as the Coulee Region Organic Produce Pool (or CROPP), it was a way for a group of southwestern Wisconsin farmers to survive, it has grown into being the largest organic farmers’ cooperative in the world (as of 2013). Remember that the 1980s saw a continued decline in the number of smaller family farms going bust (recall that Farm Aid’s first concert was in 1985), a phenomenon that really gained momentum after World War II. By combining numbers in a cooperative, smaller organic farmers could hold on to their farms while providing chemical-free dairy, eggs, and produce to satisfied consumers. Today, over 1800 farmers and 400 employees comprise the Organic Valley family, although the original Flyover locus has expanded, as these farmers come from across the United States and Canada now.
An organic farmers cooperative can be a saving grace for small family farmers committed to producing healthy products free of chemical pesticides. The iconic Midwestern farmer is largely a relic of the past—today farming is increasingly monopolized by large conglomerates. The likes of Tyson (and Perdue in the east) contract farmers to raise chickens for them (and have detailed rules on exactly HOW to raise those birds). Other corporations (e.g. Monsanto) own patents and supply genetically modified seed for crops like corn and sugar beets. The thoughtful decisions a farmer used to make are being lost as corporate rules become the new farming. Sure, Big Ag may try to foster an image of wholesomeness and family, but make no mistake—farming is moving out of the hands of farmers and into the hands of bottom-line-only corporate executives. That’s part of the reason an organic cooperative like Organic Valley is so important.
If I can’t purchase local dairy, I feel confident in buying Organic Valley1. I trust the products. Organic Valley’s mission, which you can read on their website, fosters diversity in agriculture and fair prices paid to farmers; these are worthy goals. And I feel a sort of pride that it all started here in Flyover Country!
1Their butters—both cultured (especially unsalted) and the lightly salted pasture butter are excellent and mainstays in my refrigerator or freezer. I’ve used their heavy cream for numerous recipes, including ice creams. One caveat—the cream is ultra-pasteurized, so I use Meijer’s store brand heavy cream when I make crème fraiche; crème fraiche is best made with plain pasteurized, not ultra-pasteurized, cream.