June 12, 2017|By Jonathan Reinbold and Stephanie Brady| Partnerships

Stephanie: Tell us about some of the innovative approaches Organic Valley is taking to balance environmental leadership with market competition.

Jonathan: We really look at it as a system in which we are working with nature to improve the entire ecosystem while producing a delicious and nutritious byproduct of organic food. 

Rewarding and acknowledging companies that are making substantial commitments in this space is an important, innovative approach. Instead of competition, “coopetition” helps motivate companies in the same market with similar interests, so they can come together to help the environment. 

For example, earlier this year the organic food industry hosted the first “Climate Day” at Natural Products Expo West. Climate Day was the kickoff to engage the organic food industry so that we as a whole can eliminate our contribution to climate change and ultimately become net positive for the climate. Organic Valley committed to four different areas of work: 100% renewable power, energy efficiency, policy engagement on climate, and carbon farming. We’ve committed funding for the first couple of years of that work and we have allocated staff resources to help get that effort off the ground.

In addition, we’ve made some great progress in regards to energy efficiency and renewable energy within our own facilities and would love to help others do the same. We have many of our own solar panel installations on our facilities, and right now those systems are producing 60% of all the electricity within our owned facilities and we are looking to expand that. 

Organic Valley also provides resources to our farmers and employees to install solar at their own farms and across our supply chain, including collaborating with our processors and partners. It all goes back to the “coopetition” mindset—actively engaging with our partners to help to eliminate their contribution to climate change so that all of our kids have a thriving world to live in 30 years from now. 

6 12 solarCopyright 2017 David Nevala Photography for Organic Valley

Stephanie: What role does conservation play in sustainability for working farmlands, especially organic farms?

Jonathan: Conservation and land stewardship are pivotal and essential to organic farming so that we can work in harmony with nature rather than against it. 

We are pleased that our members are able to provide environmental stewardship for the lands they manage because of the sustainable pay price that they receive as a co-op member under Organic Valley. 

For example, many of our member farmers voluntarily set aside areas for pollinators or for bird habitat because they recognize that biodiversity is an important component on farms. Others establish perennial prairies in the midst of a longer crop rotation that included some hay, corn, and oil seeds. 

We also know when ruminants (mammals like cows, sheep, and goats with the ability to convert plants into high quality protein in the form of meat and milk) are on a piece of land and managed in an intensive rotational system, that it's better for the environment. Intensive grazing actually pulls down carbon from the atmosphere, improves soil, and works to reverse climate change. So whether you consume dairy or animal products at all, it's in all of our best interest to have ruminants in landscapes and doing what they do naturally to reap the benefits of improved air quality, water filtration, decreased erosion, increased biodiversity. 

6 12 Pearl VT 09 16 304Copyright 2017 David Nevala Photography for Organic Valley

Stephanie: How is Organic Valley addressing the exploding popularity of organic food in the United States? 

Jonathan: The recent trend of double-digit growth in organic food sales is fantastic, yet organic still represents less than 10% of the total market for groceries in the United States and only around 1.5% of all the farmland in this country is farmed organically. So we still have a long way to go before organic practices really influence or lead how farmland is managed. 

In order to for the land to become certified organic you have to farm organically for three years, but during that transition time the crops are sold conventionally, so you have higher costs and lower revenues. 

At Organic Valley, we directly manage some of our own farmland, and in several instances, we’ve bared the cost to transition leased farmland properties from conventional to organic farmland. Once we recoup our investment, which takes three to six years, we make that land available to other organic farmers. 

Stephanie: What major food systems challenges do you feel the industry needs to address? 

Jonathan: Global population increases are significant and we will need to double food production by 2050. Some people don’t believe that we can successfully do that through organic farming practices. 

There is great opportunity to increase production on the existing land base while improving the health of that land through biodiverse, organic farming practices, rather than just essentially extracting the nutrients out of the soil and then moving on. 

One important first step would be to address food waste in a systematic way. Our global food system wastes 40% of what's produced today and we need to first fix inefficiencies in the system to eliminate waste. Then we can turn to the question of how we farm available land. 

6 12 Huftalen NY 10 16 123Copyright 2017 David Nevala Photography for Organic Valley

Stephanie: Organic Valley partnered with The Conservation Fund for the release of the 2016 Sustainability Report. Can you tell me more about why you chose to work with the Fund and the outcome of our first collaboration? 

Jonathan: We chose to work with The Conservation Fund because it had projects near to our own Organic Valley farmers and stories we felt would really resonate with our consumers, employees, and other stakeholders. 

So instead of paying to print and ship the 2016 update to our sustainability report, we decided to use those funds to invest in carbon offsets at the Fund’s Garcia River Forest and then communicate its release via a compostable seed postcard. This was our first offset initiative and we looked to The Conservation Fund to guide us through the process. 

Now, we are continuing to explore opportunities to expand our relationship with the Fund for future collaborations that meet both organizations’ missions.

6 12 Organic Valley PostcardWhen you plant this compostable postcard from Organic Valley it will grow into fresh thyme!

6 12 GarciaRiverForest California MatthewGerhart014Sustainable forest management of the 23,780-acre Garcia River Forest in Northern California enables the storage of more than 77,000 tons of carbon emissions annually. Photo by Matthew Gerhart.