VERNON COUNTY, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – One of the world’s largest organic brands has its roots firmly planted in Vernon County.
Organic Valley was founded in La Farge in 1988, a time where area farmers realized a change was needed for smaller farming operations to survive.
Jerry McGeorge, Organic Valley Executive VP of People said, “Here in Vernon County and this corner of the state we had a lot of small-scale farming and multigenerational farms, they didn’t necessarily want to get big and in some cases maybe couldn’t get big.”
A group of farmers banded together to farm organically, deviating from some of the traditional farming methods.
“Organic production does not allow the use of any synthetic pesticides of any kind, no synthetic fertilizer, in the case of dairy we don’t use antibiotics, which is a real difference from conventional farming,” said McGeorge.
After organic valley was founded, the company quickly grew due to a rapid rise in demand for organic products.
McGeorge said, “The organic industry as a whole started to take off right around the time Organic Valley was founded and so I think we benefited from that, but of course I also like to think and say that we were part of creating that as well.”
Jerry McGeorge say Organic Valley partners with farms across the country and continues to have conversations with farmers in the dairy state and beyond.
“Wisconsin, as a whole, is still home to more of the farmers in our co-op than any other state, but at this point we have farmers in approximately 35 states across the country typically, and what really seemed to work well for us was to get one or two farmers in an area that were seriously interested in it, and they knew their neighbors, and then we work with them,” said McGeorge.
One of the Wisconsin farms partnered with Organic Valley is Hemstead’s Lazy Daze Acres in La Farge.
The farm’s roots trace back more than one hundred years, but its history with Organic Valley began towards the end of the 20th century.
Kristina Ralph, organic dairy farmer, said, “My mom had actually worked at organic valley since 1993 and we didn’t transition until 2003, so it took about a decade for us to make that change, and it has been really essential to the sustainability of our farm economically.”
Kristina Ralph now runs the farm with her brother, and their partnership with organic valley has proved invaluable for their operation.
“Having that farmer-to-farmer connection of a cooperative where we all have a voice is really essential to kind of keep us going through those hard days, they also assisted us with our business planning when we were getting going and making sure that this was going to be a viable operation,” said Ralph.
Despite being known on a national scale, the company’s headquarters is still located in La Farge despite some past conversations about moving to a larger area.
“I do recall at a time when we were expanding and you know now, we’re looking at okay, we’re going to have to build a significant office facility and we thought about maybe La Crosse, maybe Madison, but at the end of the day we really felt like no, actually, the impact, not only that our farms are having but that our business is having on the rural communities in Vernon County was really important.”
McGeorge says Organic Valley is strongly committed to being part of the Vernon County community.
For County by County, Alex Loroff, First News at Nine.