George Siemon, C-E-I-E-I-O and a founding farmer of Organic Valley, will be the featured keynote speaker at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s (OEFFA) 34th annual conference, Growing Opportunities, Cultivating Change, on Saturday, February 16 in Granville, Ohio (Licking County).
“As one of the nation’s foremost organic agriculture advocates for nearly two decades, Siemon and Organic Valley have developed a successful business model that rewards organic farmers, keeps families farming the land, protects the environment, invests in the future, and meets the growing consumer demand for safe, transparently-produced food,” said Renee Hunt, OEFFA’s program director and the event’s lead organizer.
Siemon will speak as part of the state’s largest sustainable food and farm conference, an event which draws more than 1,100 attendees from across Ohio and the Midwest, and has sold out in advance the past three years. In addition to Siemon, this year’s conference will feature keynote speaker Nicolette Hahn Niman on Sunday, February 17; more than 90 educational workshops; two featured pre-conference events on Friday, February 15; a trade show; a fun and educational kids’ conference and child care area; locally-sourced and organic homemade meals, and Saturday evening entertainment.
In 1988, Siemon joined a group of family farmers in Wisconsin to found the Cooperative Regions of Organic Producer Pools (CROPP). Long before there were national organic standards, these visionary founding farmers pledged to farm without antibiotics, synthetic hormones, pesticides, or genetically engineered inputs; to pasture animals; and to steward the environment.
More commonly known by its brands Organic Valley and Organic Prairie, CROPP has grown to become the largest organic farming cooperative in North America with more than 1,800 organic farmer-owners in 35 states and three Canadian provinces, and 650 employees. Focused on its founding mission of saving family farms through organic farming, the cooperative sells milk, dairy products, meats, and produce at supermarkets, natural food stores, and food cooperatives nationwide.
From the outset, Siemon was determined to prove that a successful business need not sacrifice people or the environment for profits. Maintaining this commitment, Organic Valley’s farmer-owners pay themselves a stable, sustainable price, which is set by a farmer board of directors elected by the membership. The organic milk is produced, bottled, and distributed in the region where it is farmed, to ensure fewer miles from farm to table and to support local economies. And, the company also works to expand organic production by helping farmers transition to organic, and provides leadership training and mentorship to new farmers to help create the next generation of coop owner-farmers. Following this model, sales have grown and Organic Valley now provides about a third of the nation’s organic milk supply.
Siemon, who often describes Organic Valley as “a social experiment disguised as a business,” described the company’s mission this way in the Huffington Post in May: “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 Valley currently has 171 farmer-owners in Ohio and has had a presence in the Buckeye state since 2002.
Two of those farmers are Jim and Janice Gasser. They have more than 80 cows in milk production outside of Wooster, Ohio in Wayne County. When they started out, they were the only organic farmers in their area. Today, according to Jim, “Our road is like a row of organic. It doesn’t seem like much in the big scheme of things, but when you drive down our road, there’s continuous organic farming for over two miles.”
Scott and Charlene Stoller are also Organic Valley farmer-owners and OEFFA members in Wayne County. Before transitioning to organic, Scott says he would argue that “you cannot feed the world farming organically.” He doesn’t feel that way anymore. “The system has proven itself. It works.” And, the success that organic farming has brought has paved the way for his children to continue in agriculture. “There’s no question that farming organically gives my kids a better chance at farming in the future,” Scott says.
Siemon was instrumental in developing the national standards for organic certification; initiated Farmers Advocating for Organics, the only organic-focused granting fund in the U.S., which is funded entirely by Organic Valley farmer-owners, and currently serves on the boards of directors for The Organic Center and Global Animal Partnership. Most recently, Siemon was recognized by the National Resources Defense Council with the 2012 Growing Green Award in the Business Leader category and was inducted into the Social Venture Network Hall of Fame in the Environmental Evangelist category.
His keynote address is titled, “Organic: Changing a Broken Food System” and will take place Saturday, February 16 at 4 p.m. Siemon will share CROPP’s story and his vision for the future of organic agriculture, and discuss issues currently affecting agriculture such as genetic engineering.
He will also be presenting a Saturday morning workshop, “The Cooperative Model,” where he will examine how a cooperative model works and the opportunities they offer for farmers.
For more information about the conference, or to register, go to www.oeffa.org/2013.
The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) is a state-wide, grassroots, nonprofit organization founded in 1979 by farmers, gardeners, and conscientious eaters working together to create and promote a sustainable and healthful food and farming system. For more information, go to www.oeffa.org.
Conference and Pre-Conference Registration
To register or for more information about the conference, including maps, directions, workshop descriptions, speakers, and a schedule, go to www.oeffa.org/2013. For additional questions, contact Renee Hunt at (614) 421-2022 Ext. 205 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The 2010, 2011, and 2012 conferences sold out in advance, so early registration is encouraged to avoid disappointment.
Artwork and Images
For the conference art image or speaker photographs, contact Lauren Ketcham at (614) 421-2022 Ext. 203 or email@example.com. For photographs of the 2012 conference, go to http://www.oeffa.us/oeffa/conference2012photos.php.
Press Passes and Interviews with Keynote Speakers
OEFFA offers a limited number of press passes to members of the media who would like to attend one or both days of the conference. We can also help members of the press schedule pre-conference interviews with our keynote speakers. To arrange an interview or request a press pass, contact Lauren Ketcham at (614) 421-2022 Ext. 203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Event Calendar and Public Service Announcement
The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s (OEFFA) will be holding its 34th annual conference, Growing Opportunities, Cultivating Change, on February 16-17, 2013 in Granville, Ohio. Ohio’s largest sustainable agriculture conference, the event will feature keynote speakers George Siemon and Nicolette Hahn Niman; more than 90 workshops on sustainable farming, gardening, homesteading, cooking, livestock production, and business management; local and organic meals; a kids’ conference and childcare; a trade show; Saturday evening entertainment, and two featured pre-conference events on Friday, February 15. To register, or for more information, go to www.oeffa.org/2013 or call (614) 421-2022.
2013 Conference Sponsors
OEFFA’s 34th annual conference is being sponsored by Northstar Café, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, Organic Valley, UNFI Foundation, Granville Exempted Village Schools, Iroquois Valley Farms, Mustard Seed Market and Café, Snowville Creamery, Whole Foods Market Columbus, Northridge Organic Farm, Andelain Fields, Albert Lea Seed Company, Canal Junction Farmstead Cheese, Earthineer, Edible Cleveland, Green BEAN Delivery, Horizon Organic, Lucky Cat Bakery, Raisin Rack, Stauf’s Coffee Roasters, Stonyfield Farm, Appalachia Ohio Alliance, Casa Nueva, Curly Tail Organic Farm, C-TEC of Licking County, DNO Produce, Eden Foods, King Family Farm, Luna Burger, Metro Cuisine, Shagbark Seed and Mill, Two Caterers, Whole Hog BBQ, Bad Dog Acres, Bexley Natural Market, Bird’s Haven Farms, Bluebird Farm, CaJohns Fiery Foods, Eban Bakery, Equine Veterinary Dental Services, Fedco Seeds, Flying J Farm, Glad Annie’s Old World Baklava, Green Field Farms, Hartzler Dairy Farm, The Hills Market, Leo Dick and Sons, Marshy Meadows Farm, Nourse Farms, Sunbeam Family Farm, Swainway Urban Farm, Sweet Meadows Farm, and Wayward Seed Farm.