As the Internal Sustainability Intern, I could not have arrived at Organic Valley’s La Farge, Wisconsin, headquarters (HQ) at a better time. My first week, I was launched right into the crazy-fun world of CROPP sustainability with the commencement of World Environment Week. Traditionally, the global celebrations are only held on June 5th as World Environment Day, but CROPPies (a nickname for employees of CROPP Cooperative) know how to party and decided to show off their sustainability savvy all week long.
Organic Valley welcomed Charlie “Charbee” Koenen of Wisconsin’s own Beepods. Participants learned what the BUZZ about beekeeping is, while also discussing the benefits bees and other pollinators provide for organic agriculture and vice-versa.
Charlie explained that hundreds of the fruits and vegetables we love to eat exist thanks to diligent pollinators. He also touched on the issue of Colony Collapse Disorder, in which worker bees don’t return to their hives, leaving the queen bee to perish. Thankfully, organic agriculture maintains a symbiotic relationship with bees, as farmers refrain from using neurotoxic pesticides that inhibit bees’ homing mechanisms.
During the second half of the workshop, Charlie led a demonstration behind the HQ, where thousands of bees call a “Beepod” home. The lateral design of this hive allows for easy handling of bees and their honey combs. CROPPies were given the opportunity to practice lifting the combs and examining the bees up close and personal. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Charlie was right – the bees remained inactive while being held. The demonstration concluded with zero sting casualties, zero beekeeping outfits, and a healthy respect for one of Mother Nature’s greatest ecosystem services.
Electric Vehicle Presentation
Good timing coupled with some elbow grease allowed the employee services and sustainability departments to introduce the first vehicle charging station at HQ on the second day of World Environment Week. The installation warranted a visit from local experts to speak about electric vehicle options since many CROPPies were interested in being alternative auto pioneers.
Chris Schneider and Tom Schee of Honda Motorwerks spoke about the many models of alternative fuel vehicles currently available to consumers and their benefit to both wallets and environment. Chris and Tom also addressed the differences between plug-in cars and hybrids, the cost of using a charging station, and how to use an electric vehicle in the most efficient way.
Afterward, my fellow CROPPies and I took the opportunity to ride in the all-electric Nissan Leaf and the plug-in hybrid Honda Accord. I’m thinking my first car out of school will have to have a plug-in.
CROPPies took a break from work and enjoyed a bright and sunny day outside the Cashton Distribution Center in rural Cashton, Wisconsin, and on a two-mile stretch of nearby Highway 131 to clean up litter. After a debriefing from Akshay, the Internal Sustainability Manager, who instilled a friendly sense of competition, the two teams split up at each location to cover as much area as possible.
Both trash and recyclables were collected, and by the end of the highway cleanup the teams managed to gather multiple bags of waste. Among the more interesting items discovered was an entire sign post found in the tall grasses near the Distribution Center.
During a picnic lunch, CROPPies reminisced over past highway cleanups and memories of biking around the Village of La Farge.
Kickapoo Valley Reserve Hike
Last, but certainly not least, World Environment Week activities wrapped up with a hike in the nearby Kickapoo Valley Reserve (KVR). Guiding us was Darcy Kind, a DNR Private Lands Biologist who specializes in botany. A few days of rain transformed the KVR into a green wonderland, and a few CROPPies opted to walk through the mud barefoot.
As Darcy led us, she pointed out several plants, their origins, and their uses. Sadly, we saw many invasive, non-native weeds along the trail. A few of these, such as crown vetch, are actually used for grazing on dairy farms, as a roadside soil stabilizer, or as a nitrogen-fixing cover crop. We also spotted some wild ginger, which had beautiful brown flowers and covered the forest floor. Darcy explained that the root had a ginger flavor, much like we would expect from its name.
On the return trip along the trail, CROPPies discussed A Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold, and the role he played in bringing awareness to the beauty and complexity of Wisconsin’s ecology and the responsibility we all have to keep it that way.