Delaney and I were invited to an Organic Valley retreat last week. And if you follow me on Instagram you were probably seeing stories of cows, farms, rolling hills of Wisconsin, and the Organic Valley offices. I will be sharing a lot more from my trip soon, but the first thing I wanted to share is the most important thing.
If you’ve been reading my blog or following me for a while then you know I am constantly calling out Organic Valley for ingredients. I was using their products in my bake shop since day one. But my personal relationship with Organic Valley dates back way farther than that.
Some of you may know the story as I’ve mentioned it on my post Food Labels and What They Mean. But I’ll give you a little refresher here. When I was first living on my own when I was 17 years old, I was poor and had to grocery shop on a budget. I love chocolate milk, I grew up drinking it regularly because I’m from the Midwest and we all drink milk! And chocolate milk could double as a breakfast, snack, or even dessert. And that is a great thing, especially when I was on a budget.
One day while shopping I saw that Organic Valley Chocolate Milk was on sale, so I bought it. And then I realized it was the best damn chocolate milk I’d ever had. I didn’t know what their organic labeling meant at the time. I just knew that it tasted better, so why would I want to drink a chocolate milk that didn’t taste as good as theirs? I didn’t. I never bought conventional chocolate milk after that day. And their chocolate milk inspired me to go fully organic as I experienced the taste difference in other products, even beyond dairy.
For me, organic meant better tasting food, at first. It was later into my organic journey that I started to realize the health benefits, the way I felt after eating organic food versus conventional food, the environmental benefits, and the humane treatment of animals. I care about all of these things immensely, and they all factor into my decisions for buying solely organic food.
Caring about your food, how it tastes, where it comes from, and how it was made is the foundation of Organic Valley. They are a co-op and that stands for cooperative. A co-op means that the members are the owners. And for Organic Valley that means that the family farmers own the company, make decisions together, and their goals and mission are all based around the health and welfare of people, animals, and the earth.
So what does that mean for farming? It may seem like this is a marketing tool to use, and you may be thinking “well everyone wants the the best for people, animals, and the earth”. And if you think that then I applaud you for a moment because I think that too. But then I have to come back to reality and realize that many people and many many companies don’t. They put profits before anything else. And they take shortcuts or do things to maximize the bottom line without even considering the impact it has on people, animals, and the earth. And I can tell you that Organic Valley does not do that.
As an entrepreneur myself, and one that founded the first organic bakery in the country I can tell you it’s not easy. It would have been incredibly easy for me to order food ingredients from Sysco for many reasons. Some of those reasons are it would have been easy to get, I would have had more options for things being in stock, and I would have made probably double the amount of money on every single sale or more. Just think about that for a moment – doing the same amount of work (or less) and selling the same thing for about the same amount of money. You can make a lot more money in the long run. Think about how hard it may be for some people to not do that!
But, those things didn’t matter to me because I wanted my friends, family, and customers to experience desserts in a way that I had experienced them. In a way that made me fall in love with them even more. I wanted them to taste real ingredients made the right way without pesticides, preservatives, and additives – all these things take away from your food experience, not to mention are harmful to your health, the environment, and the animals involved in making your food.
Organic Valley has been thinking this way since the beginning. When they started the co-op their farmers made something like $5 per hour. And I feel them because when I started the bake shop I bet my hourly wage was close to it! Making food is a lot of hard work, but when you care about it then that takes precedent over everything else. You can become blinded by your mission of creating something that’s worth experiencing, sharing, and enjoying. And you can work yourself into the ground doing it.
If you’ve watched the movie Kiss the Ground then you may be familiar with organic and regenerative farming practices more than others. If you haven’t watched it, I highly recommend it (it’s on Netflix)! And, Organic Valley has been using these methods and practices since the beginning. Maybe they didn’t know the environmental benefits back then, but they did know that they were making food the best way possible. They knew that by working with the land they could treat their animals with respect and care. And they knew that their dairy would reflect that hard work by the way it tasted and made you feel. And now Organic Valley has 189,000 pasture acres that are sequestering carbon, and they have kept over 440 million pounds of chemicals off the land since 1988.
So I have I always felt connected to Organic Valley as a brand because they introduced me to a new kind of food. I’ve known for a long time that they care because I’ve known many people that work there, and some that were even part of the creation of the co-op. I’ve seen their passion for what they do and it’s matched my own. It’s a big reason why I’m constantly supporting them and hyping them up. Because, sometimes they can be too humble to hype up themselves.
But this past week I got an even a deeper look inside and all it did was make me want to shout this from the rooftop. We visited one of their family farms, met the cows, dogs, goats, chickens, ducks, bunnies, and llamas. We saw their Grassmilk being made first hand, and we listened to Tucker and Becky talk about why they make it that way and why it’s important to them and their family. When you see a photo of a cow in any marketing campaign, ad, or social media post from Organic Valley – that is one of their cows. And if you see a farmer, that is one of their farmers. And if you see a farm dog or farm kid – they all work on that farm. That is what the farm looks like, and those families live right there. This is Yoshi below, he works on Tucker and Becky’s farm, and he’s amazing!
So good tasting food aside, organic labeling aside, the animal care is a huge part of Organic Valley farming practices and standards. 95% of conventional farmed dairy cows never see the outside, in their entire life! And Organic Valley cows go outside every day (weather permitting). And Organic Valley cows are outside 50% more than even the national requirement for organic dairy cows! Just think about that for a moment. Organic Valley farmers herd size is 3.5 times smaller than the national average. This allows them to connect and get to know their cows. And they even name them all, my favorite one on the whole trip was Brownie. I mean c’mon her name just spoke to me!
Cows are a lot like dogs, they’re social, they’re funny, they bond with each other, and also with humans. So if you’re a dog person this should resonate with you hard. Just take a minute think about that. Think about the dogs in shelters, the shelters you donate to so people can give those dogs a better life, a refuge. Think about the dogs you rescue and bring home, think about the way they change before your eyes and become part of your family. And think about how your dog changes you. There are just as many cows out there who need our help too.
On conventional farms cows can have no room to move at all. Not only are they stuck inside all day but they can be incredibly close together and treated just like a machine. Think about when you fly on an airplane and you’re in that TSA line. You’re so close to people and it’s so crowded. You’re being pushed around and told what to do and you have no choice but to listen and move with the pack. How do you feel? I feel claustrophobic, trapped, sweaty, annoyed, unhappy, and so much more. I also just want to hurry up and get the fuck out of there. That is probably how 95% of cows in this country feel for their entire lives! So I ask you, do you want to support that or be part of a revolution that can change that?
There’s no rescues for cows (that I’m aware of at least, please correct me if I’m wrong!). But, change can be made by simply choosing a different milk at the grocery store. If you think it’s too much money, look at the price difference as a donation. You’re donating to a small family that is helping treat cows right. And, you’re actually even getting something in return for that donation. You’re getting a better tasting milk that will nourish you in a way that conventional milk can’t.
When I say that, I mean that cows that forage outside and eat grass produce milk with more nutrients. But, what does that mean for you and your family? Milk from grass-fed cows has more omega-3 fatty acids than milk from cows that eat mostly grains. So, when you buy milk from grass-fed cows, that just means you’re getting essential nutrients that contribute to brain and eye health. Grassmilk is my favorite kind of milk because not only do I want all the benefits, but I also think it tastes the best!
I am not vegan, as many of you know. Though I do cook and bake vegan whenever I feel like it as I eat all food, and I believe in everything in moderation. But because I grew up in the Midwest, dairy, meat and cheese have always been staples in my diet. And I still choose to eat those things. So if I am going to eat those items, I sure as hell am going to eat the best tasting ones. And I’m going to support the farmers that treat their animals with respect and care, so they can enjoy the life they have before they become part of our food system and nourish and feed us. That is what I hope to inspire in you. If you make the choice to eat meat, dairy, and cheese that you choose the best possible options you can.
Organic Valley didn’t ask me to write this post or take any of these photos. They didn’t as any of us who visited last week to do anything – except listen. They didn’t ask us to do anything because that’s not their style. And many of us even brought that up in some of the meetings that they should be bragging more about what they do, because they do so much! They do so much more than they’re required to do simply because they care. But they don’t brag enough because they are farmers, and they will always be farmers. The farming comes first.
That resonated with me in so many ways. I recently just retired from the bakery industry and many of you may have read my post about why. And in it I talk about not wanting to brag about owning a bake shop because I am just a baker, I opened it because I wanted to bake and share what I baked with the world. And I will always be a baker. So I understand having a passion for the food above all else. And while I was able to retire from running my bake shop and pass it down, I have the luxury to still be able to bake daily at home. Yes my friends and neighbors may have more desserts than they need at times as a result, but if a farmer wants to farm they have to have a market to sell to because it’s on such a bigger level.
This is where Organic Valley’s mission really comes in. They are saving small family farms. And if you follow Organic Valley on Instagram then you may have seen this message before, but maybe you didn’t know exactly what it means. So here’s an example.
Horizon Organic just dropped 90 family farms from their program because they were too small. What did that mean for the famers? It meant that their paycheck just went away. Not just a portion of it, but the entire thing. And it meant that they might not have a farm in a year. Farming is a lot like the restaurant industry. The majority of farms don’t make much money, they live month to month with the expectation that they will sell food. They have insanely high expenses to keep it going and even more expensive tools should something break down. They have people that work for them that work long days and do difficult and challenging labor so you can enjoy the products that they create. And they do it because they love what they do, and because they care about doing it right.
Think about how many restaurants struggled during Covid, think about all those families and stories. The stories that The Barstool Fund helped shine light on and helped make it through. These family farms are experiencing this but on a much bigger level than just loosing a brick and mortar shop. The farm is where they live as well as where they work, and for many of them, it’s all they’ve ever known to do.
So, when Organic Valley heard about these 90 family farms getting dropped from Horizon, they reached out to every single one of them. And they offered to pick them up as long as they met their standards for organic practices and animal care. This is Organic Valley, and this is how they care.
So when you’re reaching for the milk, the cheese, the eggs, the hot dogs, pepperoni slices or whatever it is that you buy I am asking you to look at Organic Valley. Look at them as you stand in the refrigerated section, and think about what they do. Think about their cows, their farmers, and their values of wanting the highest quality for people, the animals, and the earth. And ask yourself, do you want those values for yourself?
While I am incredibly happy if you’re buying anything with a USDA Organic seal as that means you’re making a better choice for your health, your family, and the environment – but if you’re reaching for Organic Valley then you’re making a much bigger impact than you even think! And if you can’t afford to buy all Organic Valley products, email me or DM me on Instagram and I’ll help you choose which ones will make the most impact on your lifestyle and health based on your needs and budget (don’t threaten me with a good time!). That’s how much I care, and how much I believe in what Organic Valley is doing.
If you ever need help or want to talk about going organic, my email and Instagram DM is always open. If you feel intimidated by labels or packaging and aren’t sure what to look for or what is important to you, then read my post Food Labels and What They Mean. Or maybe you need help finding your why. Why is organic food important to you? Why will it help you or your family? Or why should you change? I’m always happy to talk! My goal is to help as many people cook, bake, and eat better so you can feel good, enjoy your food, and live long happy lives. Long live the organic revolution.
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