Organic Valley

Organic Valley (also known as CROPP) is a relatively young co-op in the agricultural producer model. Darigold, a big dairy co-op here in the PNW just celebrated its 100th anniversary and Land o’ Lakes will turn 100 in 1921. Organic Valley formed in 1988 just 31 years ago! It still has a founding member as its CIEIO.

Organic Valley’s history tells about farmers working together to offset a dairy pricing regulations that have generally not been favorable to Wisconsin or to small farmers in general (the price of milk that a farmer could receive used to be based on the distance from La Crosse, WI). Today, the policies of pricing dairy products have produced a very real crisis that has seen the number of family farms plummet and the suicide rate for farmers increase. A sad part of the co-op advantage is dairy co-ops providing counseling and developing suicide prevention plans.

Organic Valley works hard to help their farmers succeed, but the co-op also strives to be a force in the world, engaging in public policy, promoting the value of small family farms over corporate production lines, and  building community throughout their network. The Co-op’s website is unique even for producer co-ops. It is farmer centric and pushes the co-op model. You can, of course, find their brands and product lines, but your first image is the farm (and at least on my browser a note that tells me how close the nearest OV farmer-owner is to me: 18 miles).

There is a story that as organics were becoming more popular, that WalMart made a deal with Organic Valley and then, as part of their practice, when the intro contract was up, Wal Mart demanded a price cut. Organic Valley said “no” and walked away. Walking their talk, Organic Valley put the needs of their members first over fast growth that would ultimately cause them to lose any market power.

Organic Valley mixing traditional producer co-op support with small farmer advocacy. It sets them apart from the herd (sorry, not sorry).

About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-op in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration and Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary's University. He has served on the board of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and the Board of Governors for the late, great Democracy at Work Network. He currently sits on the Co-op Circle for Sociocracy for All. He has taught on worker co-operatives and democratic management in the summer at The Evergreen State College and Presidio Graduate School.
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