Organic Valley embarks on Aroostook Initiative

10 years ago

 Organic Valley, an independent, farmer-owned cooperative founded in 1988, announced at a July 29 press conference that it was embarking on an Aroostook County initiative to support local economies and further sustainable agriculture in Maine.
According to Steve Getz, New England East regional manager for Organic Valley, the Aroostook Initiative will include new delivery routes for more Maine milk, grain initiatives, and the possibility of additional crop development, in collaboration with Maine farmers.
“The big news is that we’re rolling a stable organic milk truck to Aroostook County,” he said. “The truck comes every other day. Haskell’s is a well-established, family hauling business that we use throughout Maine. They’re a really great firm; very capable.
“They pick up milk from Chase’s Organic Dairy Farm in Mapleton and H.B. Farms in Woodland. The truck comes up from Albion, picks up milk from the two Aroostook County farms, comes down through the Dexter area, over to the Unity area, and ends up back in Albion,” said Getz. “Aroostook County is an area for new development. We’re a farmer-owned cooperative with farmers on the board of directors. It’s not a corporation, it’s a cooperative, and part of the mission of that cooperative is to create opportunities for dairy farms  — for small farms and young people. When we look at Aroostook County we see an area where they’re good farmers and good land, and a market for fair pricing for the agricultural products. That’s why Aroostook County is so exciting for us.”
Getz has recently moved from Vermont to Waterville to be closer to the dairy farms.
“I’ve been coming back and forth to The County for three years — off and on — and I’ve recently moved,” he said. “I chose Waterville — in part — so I could be close to our dairies and I can get back and forth to The County.”
Organic Valley, according to Getz, is not “just about milk.”
“We have a broad base of products including produce and eggs. We’re 1,800 farmers with about 1,500 dairies, but we’re interested in organic potatoes and feed for our members. Aroostook County, by virtue of its history with potatoes, has real expertise in growing root vegetables, so we have an interest in a market for sugar beets as an energy source for cows in New England. I don’t know of another area in New England that has the same ability to grow root vegetables with real understanding and experience like Aroostook County. From my perspective, the area is a real treasure.”
Though Organic Valley’s relationship with The County is in its infancy, Getz said the company has sugar beet seeds in the ground on three Aroostook farms.
“It’s just a test, but I’m excited about the potential,” he said. “In the dairy business, we’re all kind of hooked on corn that’s grown in the Midwest. The idea of sugar beets as a dairy supplement in lieu of corn, and grown in Aroostook County to benefit the members, would be a very worthwhile thing to pull off.”
Getz said he also hopes to attract members of the Amish community to join the cooperative.
“Thirty-five percent of our membership and farms are Amish or Mennonite. There are very large Amish communities in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York,” he said. “We’ve had a couple of meetings with the Amish there in The County to introduce our initiative, and I think they’re optimistic. We’ve actually signed one up as a member whose milk is going to be on our truck next year.”
Organic Valley has 33 farmer-owners in Maine. Six new farm families recently joined. They include Tom Drew, H.B. Farms, Woodland; Vaughn and Laura Chase, Chase’s Organic Dairy Farm, Mapleton; Donald and Katie Webb, Webb Family Farm, Pittston; Spencer Aitel and Paige Lydon, Two Loons Farm, South China; Steve Morrison, Clovercrest Farm, Charleston; and Mike and Darlene Brann, Eagle View Farms, Dixfield.
“These farm families came from the recently disbanded MOO Milk brand, and have long been our neighbors. As part of our process as a farmer-owned cooperative, we did due diligence and a feasibility test, driving the routes and interviewing the farmers,” said Getz. “Our existing Maine farmer-owners discussed the possibility of welcoming on the new farms, and reached majority support and ultimately a unanimous vote to take on the new Maine farmers.
“I like the people and the landscape of Aroostook County,” he said. “I’m thrilled that our Organic Valley cooperative could come into The County and provide opportunities for small farms.”
Vaughn Chase said he’s “quite excited” to be part of the Organic Valley organization.
“We’re looking forward to working with them, and to open up some new markets in Aroostook County — both milk and crops,” he said. “I think it’s a good thing overall for everybody to have a few more options around.
“They really want to concentrate on getting some additional farmers up here, and get some organic grain crops, as well,” said Chase, noting that his farm will “stick with the dairy.”
Chase’s first shipment of milk was picked up July 21.
“Things have been going really well,” he said. “It’s no different than before I guess … same deal [shipping milk] that we’ve been doing for 59 years now.”
Chase said the history of the family farm dates back to 1935, when his late father, Lewis, bought the homestead.
“He grew all crops and dealt cattle, horses, etc.,” said Chase. “In 1955 we started shipping milk to a commercial dairy. My late brother, Donald, took over the farm in 1975, and I took it over in 1999.”
In addition to Chase and his wife, their children Lewis, April, Brooke and Cole all help on the farm.
“You can’t milk cows without a family,” said Chase. “It means a lot that we’re a farm family operation.”
The Chases have about 110 cows. They milk between 50-60, while the others are “dry cows, heifers or calves.” Their primary breed is Red and White Holsteins.
Headquartered in Wisconsin, Organic Valley has a small Portland-based satellite office. For more information, log onto