Organic Valley sends young farmers on international exchange

Wisconsin State Farmer

LA FARGE -  Organic Valley, America's largest cooperative of organic farmers and one of the nation's leading organic brands, today announced it will send a group of young organic farmers to the U.K. to connect with fellow organic farmers and share best practices in organic farming to address the broken food system.

Organic Valley

From July 22 to 29, The Gen-OT Exchange will visit farms, share ideas and experience plenty of cultural interaction with organic farmers their own age.

Gen-O is a group of young Organic Valley farmers aged 16 to 35 who believe in the power of organic to change the world. Currently, there are more than 150 young farmers on organic farms from Maine to California enrolled in Organic Valley's Gen-O program.

Since 1935, America has lost approximately 4.5 million farms, according to the 2012 USDA Agricultural Census, and of the country's 2 million farms remaining, the average age of farmers across the country is 58.

In contrast, Organic Valley has an average farmer age of 45, and more than 15 percent of its farmer-owners are under the age of 34.

Farmer-owned and independent, Organic Valley founded Gen-O in 2006 to cultivate the organic movement's next generation of leaders, the future faces of sustainable agriculture.

"We've always been farmer-owned and independent, and that means helping our farmers help each other," said George Siemon, CEIEIO of Organic Valley and one of its founding farmers. "I'm heartened by the passion of Generation Organic to create real change in our food system. It's rewarding to see the future in the hands of a group of
young farmers with such a strong, sustainable vision for our future. As elders, we need to do everything we can to help them, and the next generations to come."

Like other Gen-O's on the upcoming exchange, 21-year-old Lauren Perkins, a fourth generation dairy farmer from West Virginia, views the tour as a mission-driven responsibility.

"Ideally, our responsibility as farmers is to leave the farm better than we found it," said Perkins,  "In my family, we've been fortunate enough to do that for four generations, and I intend to do my part. But a succession plan for the next generation is not always easy or guaranteed. It can be isolating as a young farmer, and now more than ever we need to problem-solve for the future."

An increasing number of Gen-O farmers are third, fourth, fifth and even sixth generation farmers growing up on their family's farms. However, there are also young people coming fresh into farming from all types of backgrounds.

Six U.S. farmers are participating in the Gen-O Exchange: Lauren Perkins, 21, fourth generation dairy farmer from Frankford, WV' Jordan Settlage, 28, new dairy farmer from St. Marys, OH; Carley Schaller, 24, third generation dairy and beef farmer from
Chaseburg, WI; Derek Riesgraf, 29, third generation dairy and beef farmer from
Edgar, WI; Max Flaig, 29, fourth generation dairy farmer from Sparta, WI; Jesse Martin, 25, sixth generation dairy farmer from Williamsburg, IN.

The six Gen-O farmers will fly into London and then travel across the southwestern English countryside from Bristol to Birmingham, learning from expert veterinarians, observing cheese making and touring seven diverse organic farms.