Organic Valley has sponsored the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) national conference’s Business Plan Competition for many years now, and it’s always a pleasure to see the creativity that comes from the talented entrepreneurs who attend this inspiring conference.

This year in Oakland, California, our chief financial officer, Mike Bedessem, attended on Organic Valley’s behalf to be one of the judges of the competition. He had an opportunity to address the 600+ conference attendees, and his words so perfectly and concisely reflected Organic Valley’s mission that the message gave us goosebumps. We want to share his message with you. Please, enjoy.

Organic Valley is very happy that it can help support the great work of this BALLE conference and sponsor the Business Plan Competition.

Organic Valley is an independent farmer-owned marketing cooperative representing 1,850 organic farmers — 1,850 small businesses — in 32 states producing dairy, eggs, meat and vegetables.

The primary missions of the cooperative are:

  1. Creating a stable and sustainable pay price for family farmers – maybe a version of “prosperity for all” that work the land.
  2. Providing nutritious organic food for consumers
  3. And less spoken about: Creating sustainable rural communities. Urban or rural, small businesses need to provide the economic glue to bind communities.

Organic Valley was founded as a response to the farm crisis in the 1980s. Farmers were told there was no room for small farmers – get big or get out. Consumers were told to eat the food that was produced, no matter how it was produced. The organic industry is an example of the BALLE principle of “interdependence.” One of our earliest marketing tag lines was “Farmers and consumers working together.” Consumers wanted the choice as to how and where their food was grown, and farmers needed consumers to reward them for their organic farming practices so they could stay on the land. Interdependence.

Organic Valley is where it is today because we have practiced many of the principles and ideas that were presented at this conference. Being a cooperative allowed us to see beyond ourselves and created an atmosphere of unselfishness. Ownership matters.

A central foundation of our business model is the principles of organic farming – working with nature vs. in opposition to it. Nature matters.

We are the home of the 30 cow farmer. Most dairy cooperatives wish they would just go away. We feel that a 30 cow farmer is just as emotionally invested in their farm as a 3,000 cow farmer and maybe more so. Opportunity matters.

The cooperative was founded in one small region in southwestern Wisconsin. We quickly realized that our approach to organizing farmers and creating local supplies of milk to be processed in local processing facilities and marketed regionally was in dire need throughout the country. Farmers from Vermont, Ohio, Washington, and California called and said, “Please help us organize.” Each group of farmers made us stronger and our voice louder. Place matters.

Organic Valley, its farmers and staff believe that we have a responsibility to make the world a better place. Whether that is through organic farming practices or the daily activity of treating each other with dignity and respect.  We are just one member of a larger community. Relationships matter.

George Siemon, the CEO and founder of the cooperative, describes Organic Valley as “a social experiment disguised as a business.” Organic Valley has become a united voice of local farmers trying to change the face of American agriculture. We feel blessed that we have this opportunity. We want to thank everyone who supports our mission. Without your support we cannot continue our work.

Thank you for allowing me to share our story today.