US Coop Organic Valley launches "Generation Organic"
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"Generation Organic," a campaign to save the family farmer from extinction by bringing new farmers into organic agriculture, was announced in December 2005 by Organic Valley Family of Farms, America's largest cooperative of organic farmers and one of the country's leading national organic brands.
"Generation Organic is the 'Endangered Species Protection Act' for the American family farmer. U.S. farmers have disappeared from the land at the rate of 195 per day for 70 years. We have worked to protect the bald eagle and the grizzly bear. Now it's time to save the family farmer. The health of our food, our environment and our future generations is at stake," said Travis Forgues, 32, the Organic Valley dairy farmer from Alburg, Vermont whose concern for the future of family farming gave rise to Generation Organic, or "Gen-O."
Forgues noted that the average age of the remaining family farmers is getting older, even in the organic community where the percentage of younger farmers is high. The majority of U.S. farmers today are 55 years and older. Forgues announced a five point "Gen-O Agenda" for developing the next generation of organic farmers:
1. Save the family farmer, an endangered species—Five million family farmers have been lost since 1935 and most of those remaining are 55 years or older. Gen-O will bring new farmers into the fold and plant the seed for future generations of organic farmers.
2. Keep diversity in agriculture—Do we want all our food from factory farms? Gen-O will educate about the risks of allowing our food to be sourced from chemically-intensive factory farms where profit is the goal, and work to promote a sustainable and diverse organic agriculture that works in harmony with nature to produce healthy food.
3. Preserve farmer wisdom and knowledge—Farming is a time-honored craft whose technical and intuitive knowledge is passed down from generation to generation. The Gen-O movement will not let this vital treasure become extinct.
4. Unify rural and urban communities—Fostering the connection between city and country dwellers will increase our appreciation for the people who grow our food as well as the people who eat it. Gen-O will tell the story of America's family farmers.
5. Offer hope for a safe and healthy future—By supporting farming methods that work in harmony with nature, Generation Organic promises to deliver food that is safe and healthy, protects the environment and nurtures a sustainable way of life.
Forgues, who chose to become an organic farmer despite earning college degrees in psychology and computer science, speaks on campuses and community gatherings throughout the country to urge new farmers to enter the field: "Nothing is more satisfying than the organic farmer's life work. We produce safe, healthy food, protect the environment, enjoy a rich family and community life, and protect time-honored knowledge that is vital to the survival of our species: how to grow the food we eat."
Organic Valley: Farming for Future Generations
Organic Valley has spearheaded a full program of Gen-O initiatives to nurture the next generation of organic farmers and will be adding more in this year. Offerings include a nationwide program of "barn meetings" and organic educational workshops, a farmers speakers bureau, web resources, educational literature, a farmers hotline, financial and technical support for farmers transitioning to organic, partnerships with university-based farmer training programs, organic school curriculum, a farmer ambassador program to heighten public awareness of organic farmers and, starting in 2006, an organic farmer mentoring and internship program.
"Organic Valley's job is to help create balance between skyrocketing consumer demand for organic products and the number of farmers available to produce them," said George Siemon, CEO and a founding farmer of the co-op. "Fortunately, the resiliency of the Organic Valley cooperative business model enables us to provide our farmers with a stable, sustainable pay price and invest in future farmer education and support."
Siemon noted the following highlights of the cooperative's success in 2005:
Sales rose 17% to $245 million in 2005 and will climb to $285 million in 2006.
The number of farmers in the co-op doubled over the last three years from 361 farmers in 15 states in 2002 to 723 farmers in 22 states in 2005.
The estimated average national organic price paid by the co-op to its farmers ($21.80 per hundredweight) was more than 40 percent higher than its conventional counterpart ($15.35 per hundredweight).
ORGANIC VALLEY 2005 FACT SHEET
Number of U.S. farmers: 6.8 million in 1935; 1.8 million in 2004
Number of U.S. organic farmers: 10,000 (according to Organic Farmers Research Foundation)
Percentage of U.S. organic farmers in Organic Valley cooperative: 7.23 %
Number of Organic Valley Farmers: 723 in 23 states (2005)
Organic Valley farmers by region: East (157); Midwest (621); West (41)
Organic Valley new farmers by region: East (13); Midwest (83); West (9)
Organic Valley farmers by type or "pool": Dairy, 533; Produce, 86; Egg, 57; Beef, 36; Pork, 8; Broiler, 1; Juice, 1 cooperative representing 14 farmers; Soy, 1 cooperative representing 12 farmers
Age of U.S. farmers: 37 % are 55 years or older in 1954. 61% are 55 years or older in 1997.
Age of Organic Valley farmers (2005): 67% are 50 years or less.
* Figures in parentheses are based on farmer memberships, not individual farmer members.