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Profits with Purpose: Organic Valley

43 entrepreneurs who are changing the world
Social Capitalist 2008 Winner

Profits with Purpose: Organic Valley of Farms

George Siemon, CEO
La Farge, Wisconsin

In 1988, seven Wisconsin farmers, frustrated by the loss of nearly 2,000 farms in America each week and the staggering number of farms threatened with extinction, set out to save family farms.

Led by George Siemon, the farmers determined that organic agriculture was the solution. The demand for organic products was growing steadily, and they yielded a higher price because it costs more to produce without antibiotics, pesticides, herbicides or artificial fertilizers. The practice also fulfilled the farmers' commitment to a sustainable approach to agriculture, ensuring their land would be preserved for future generations.

The farmers formed an organic cooperative, known today as Organic Valley, and they did the unimaginable: They set Organic Valley's pay-price to farmers for their organic milk at about twice the pay-price of conventional milk. And they kept the pay-price at a fixed amount for an entire year, an unprecedented move in the dairy industry.

The model has paid off. Today Organic Valley is one of the largest organic brands in the nation, offering milk, cheese, juice, eggs, spreads, produce, soy and Organic Prairie meat. With 1,183 organic farmers in 32 states and one Canadian province, it is the only national organic brand solely owned and operated by organic farmers. Most importantly, Organic Valley farmers are making a stable living wage and staying in business.

Despite Organic Valley's growth, the co-op remains true to its roots and business model. A board of farmer-owners, together with Siemon, Organic Valley's C-E-I-E-I-O, sets Organic Valley's annual milk prices. They oversee every aspect of the organic process, from the moment the products leave the farm to the moment they appear on grocery shelves. And they uphold sustainable farming practices, such as pasturing animals and treating them humanely, ensuring Organic Valley farmers meet and even exceed USDA organic requirements.

"The success of Organic Valley proves that organic agriculture can be a lifeline for America's struggling family farms," Siemon said. "In an era of rising and falling agricultural prices, Organic Valley employs a model that is unmatched anywhere on earth."

Just as Organic Valley strives to support family farms, the co-op is committed to growing local communities. In 2004, Organic Valley chose to build its new company headquarters, which accommodates 250 employees, in La Farge, Wis., the small town the co-op has called home since its inception. Likewise, Organic Valley's relationships with businesses and non-profit organizations in other regions where their farmers live embody the co-op's "grow local" philosophy.

Being farmer-owned has allowed Organic Valley to stay true to its mission and what its customers expect they are getting when they buy an Organic Valley product: food produced by a farmer who is a steward of the earth and at the heart of the organic revolution.