Cooperative Organic Farming is Helping Ohio’s Family Farms Flourish

By Mary Kuhlman
Public News Service-Ohio
January 9, 2013

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Succeeding in agriculture these days can be a tough task given the rise of mega-factory farms. However, many family farms in Ohio are finding another way to flourish – through a co-op.

More than 170 farmer-owners are part of the largest organic farming cooperative in North America, known under the brand Organic Valley. Unlike the typical business model of a public company, says George Siemon, its founder and chief executive, Organic Valley’s goal is to serve farmers and consumers instead of the stock price.

“Ours is more about how do we hit a sustainable profit level which is quite low. It allows us to focus more on our day-to-day business and serving our mission, which is to offer family farmers a sustainable living and to offer consumers the greatest food.”

Farmers establish equity when joining a cooperative and are supported in various aspects of their business including production, certification and farm planning, all while staying on their own land. By combining the model with organic growing, Siemon says, family farms are seeing their finances stabilize and their businesses become more sustainable.

The organic industry is expanding at a healthy clip, he says, with almost 20 percent growth every year. He says it’s a great time to get involved.

“The enthusiasm in the organic farmer community is very high, and it’s just infectious to see that kind of excitement about farming. Something we always see is how organic breathes life back into people’s farms and their excitement about their future.”

Concerns about food quality, the use of chemicals, healthier living and animal welfare all can be attributed to the growing success of organics, he says.

Siemon will speak more on these topics and the future of organic agriculture on Feb. 16 at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s conference in Granville. More information is online at oeffa.org/2013.

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