Jerome McGeorge has been a part of Organic Valley’s journey from the very beginning — he even wrote, by hand, the fledgling cooperative’s very first annual report in 1988. Today Jerome is a cherished friend and keeper of wisdom and wide perspective.
In 1988, after a crisis of conscience had propelled him to leave his corporate job in New York City, Jerome became head of finance at CROPP Cooperative in the middle-of-nowhere southwest Wisconsin. Fast-forward to today and the co-op, now better known for its Organic Valley brand, has more than 2,000 farmer-owners and is a $1.2 billion business.
“Every new farm was a victory—was an accomplishment. And it is a rich memory to think back on those days, when the essence of cooperation was going to grow into something we had no dream would be the eventual Organic Valley reality,” says Jerome of the cooperative’s earliest days.
Of course, these victories felt especially glorious because, at the outset, many of them were hard-won. Jerome explains, “There was great skepticism that we would ever create a meaningful designation—a food category—out of organic.”
So what magic formula led to the success of CROPP Cooperative and Organic Valley? A group of people with strong conviction and great determination. “We were mission-driven, we did have great purpose, and we were convinced that we needed to depart from agricultural norms,” says Jerome.
A visionary advocate for sustainability, cooperation and ecological stewardship of the land, Jerome has spent a lot of time thinking about how agriculture and its related social systems can and must depart from current norms. “A great realization that needs emphasis and further development is, more of the world’s food producers are women than men.” This is significant not only at the agricultural level regarding the people who—very literally—feed the world, but also at the social level because many women around the globe are disempowered, and this affects many systems, including agriculture.
“The empowerment of women and the reduction of population are the most significant factors in not only humans feeding themselves, but bettering themselves,” concludes Jerome.
A refreshing sentiment to hear expressed, especially in the current climate around gender in our country and around the world.
To hear from Organic Valley’s first CFO on the intersection of agriculture, world population, women’s empowerment, bioregionalism and more, listen at the link above, on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play or wherever you get your podcasts.
Transcript coming soon.