Local Producer Profile: Organic Valley
October is Co-op Month! In celebration, we are featuring a local farmer-owned cooperative – Organic Valley! Organic Valley (CROPP Cooperative) has humble roots inVernon County that date way back to 1988 and extend through today. This year they celebrate their 30th Anniversary producing and selling high quality organic dairy products, eggs, meat and produce. They employ over 900 people, a majority of which work at their offices and production facilities in La Farge, Cashton and Chaseburg, as well as have over 2,000 farmer-owners across the United States.
VFC is a champion for Organic Valley products. We love to stock our favorite organic milk, meat and dairy products from OV, but it goes further than that. Organic Valley and VFC are partners in strengthening the cooperative model in our communities. We’ve served together on co-op projects, and through the years a variety of OV Staff Members served vital roles on the VFC Board of Directors.
All Seasons Dairy is just one of over 400 Organic Valley farmer-owners located in Wisconsin (of which 110 reside in Vernon County).
Calling All Seasons Dairy a “family farm” doesn’t quite do it justice. Four generations and two sides of the family, plus friends and neighbors, contribute to the care of Becky and Tucker Gretebeck’s farm in Cashton, Wisconsin. Becky calls it a “community farm.”
When asked how Tucker and Becky decided to farm, Tucker responds, “We never quit farming. Both of us grew up farming. Once we got married, we did things together. We grew tobacco, tried organic pullets, and many things before we began transitioning Becky’s family’s farm to be organic.” The farm was certified organic in 2006, and they bought and began milking cows that same year.
A few years later, they took it a step further and decided to add 100% grass-fed to their farm management style. So the milk from 50 mostly Red Holstein and crossbred cows is destined exclusively for Organic Valley’s Grassmilk label.
Over 150 acres of the farm are dedicated to pasture, with additional forages coming from the hay fields and special grasses such as sorghum, Sudan grass, oats, and barley. The oats and barley are harvested as grasses before they form grain heads.
Over the years the Gretebecks have refined their grazing practices to include intensive rotational grazing. This means the cows are moved to fresh pasture more frequently to ensure they’re eating plants that are at maximum nutritional and taste profile and getting the complete nutrition they need.
As most all-grass farmers will tell you, without the heavy carbohydrate load cows get from all-grain or supplemental-grain diets, they don’t produce quite as much milk, but Becky feels they are more than compensated by the fact that the cows have far fewer health issues because they’re consuming their natural diets. Studies show that milk from 100% grass-fed cows has appreciably higher levels of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), too. Apparently it’s true that what’s good for cows is good for people. With a degree in food science, Becky understands this all too well.
The Gretebecks’ energy and enthusiasm for their way of life are reflected in the scope of projects on the farm. In addition to the dairy, a pick-your-own pumpkin patch means that every fall several thousand people pass through to get a pumpkin and have a wagon ride. For fun, Becky raises dairy goats to show and sell. Oh, and did she mention the llamas? “I keep them on the farm to guard the goats.”
Thank goodness plenty of friends and family live nearby and are willing to help. Because in addition to working the land on Becky’s home farm, the Gretebecks are also working Tucker’s home farm ten miles away. The two farms pool labor and machinery on occasion, and Tucker’s friends help frequently with field work.
But, Tucker says, “The heart of the farm is the organic dairy. The way we farm is very similar to what our parents and grandparents did; the difference now is we are entirely grass-based. There is still plenty to learn. We’re going to be experimenting for a while.”