Spotlight on Organic Valley®
Halal Consumer Magazine
Back in 1988, only seven farmers were a part of the Coulee Region Organic Produce Pool (CROPP) Cooperative. Now, Organic Valley features nearly 1,800 family farms. Though the brand name has changed, and many new members have been added, Organic Valley hasn’t abandoned its roots. The focus remains the same: treat all farms and farmers with respect, and create delicious, healthy, and organic products.
Organic Valley features all sorts of dairy products, and some of their most popular products are the half gallons of 100% Grassmilk®, their gallons and half gallons of Pasture-Raised White Milk, and their Salted and Unsalted Butters, Half & Half, and Heavy Whipping Cream—all three of which have won awards. Many of their products are also IFANCA® halal certified, including their famed Grassmilk.
When asked why Organic Valley pursued halal certification, the response was simple: “Halal consumers want organic products!” In addition, Organic Valley representatives noted that getting halal certified “enabled us to expand our distribution to urban markets around the country and was one more differentiator of Organic Valley products from other organic dairy items on the shelf.” That makes the decision a win-win: halal consumers have more healthy dairy products to choose from, and Organic Valley benefits from a growing market of halal consumers.
The growing interest in organic products doesn’t just apply to halal consumers, however. According to Organic Valley, organic food grew 9.5% in 2020, which is on par with other evidence pointing to a surge in interest in nutrition brought on by pandemic concerns. Luckily, Organic Valley has an edge in this area since its products have been organic ever since the company got its start. In fact, that’s one of its three main requirements: each dairy farm must follow National Organic Program (NOP) rules and receive an organic certificate from an accredited United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-certifying agent before joining the CROPP cooperative.
The Organic Valley family takes the idea of organic very seriously, noting that they “have been and always will be organic. Everything from Organic Valley is produced and made without synthetic pesticides, artificial or added hormones, antibiotics, or GMOs.” They even helped spur the movement towards organic food decades ago in the United States. In their words, “We helped to write the standards for organic farming, because we wanted the word ‘organic’ to maintain its integrity.”
Organic Valley has members from farms all over the United States. Its headquarters are in La Farge, Wisconsin, and its distribution center is in Cashton, just down the road from All Seasons Farm, where Becky and Tucker Gretebeck live with their two children. Their farm is one of over 200 producing Grassmilk, though they have the distinct honor of being one of the first nine to try it out.
The Gretebecks are fourth-generation farmers that have been farming organically since 2006. Surprisingly, Becky didn’t think she would ever become a farmer and received an undergraduate degree in food science, working at Organic Valley for over a decade. Tucker was a teacher, and the two of them practiced farming on the side. Now, they are committed to farming and caring for their animals full time: 50-60 dairy cows (about 125 cows total), goats, cats, and several working dogs.
Because Becky worked for the company previously and because the headquarters was so near to both Becky and Tucker’s family farms, they knew all about what Organic Valley had to offer. There wasn’t enough income for the two of them on a small farm on its own, so shipping their milk to a co-op provided the perfect solution. Though Organic Valley wasn’t the first co-op they sent their milk to, it is the one they have stuck with for years. Organic Valley prides itself on aiding its farmers and has an entire team devoted to farmer resources, such as soil help and assistance in drought or flood years. The company even helps farmers during the winter if they are running short on hay—an important aspect since Grassmilk depends on the cows being fed grass all year round.
What makes Grassmilk so special? Besides the fact that producing it allows cows to enjoy fresh air and green pastures, as well as enjoy delicious grass or hay, Grassmilk is also high in nutrients. A study by Charles M. Benbrook et al. published in the Journal of Food Science and Nutrition shows that Organic Valley Grassmilk® from 100% grass-fed cows was dramatically higher in omega-3 fatty acids than the milk from cows that eat mostly grain. The authors wrote, “Because of often high per-capita dairy consumption relative to most other sources of omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid, these differences in grassmilk can help restore a historical balance of fatty acids and potentially reduce the risk of cardiovascular and other metabolic diseases.” According to many, it tastes better, too!
Making sure the cows are 100% grass-fed is more complicated than you might think. While it’s easy for farmers to let their cows graze during the spring and summer months when grass is plentiful, it’s not possible when temperatures plunge and snow covers the ground. Therefore, making sure that the cows get the same treatment in the winter requires a lot of preparation.
The Gretebecks spend the warmer months preparing so that they can give their cows a mix of dry grass and baleage (fermented wet grass) in the winter. To keep the grass dry, the Gretebecks need to cut the grass, let it sit and dry out, then rake it together to help the grass dry faster. Then, to properly dry the grass, they need to have enough sunny days between the rainy ones, which can be tricky in years with more rainfall.
The content of the grass that cows eat differs depending on the season. The seed mix is made up of 20 different blends of grasses, and the grasses have different root lengths, an important factor when considering how much watering is necessary. There’s a bit of long grass, fescue grass, clovers, and even some high-protein alfalfa. The dairy cows on the All Seasons Farm enjoy a diet comprised purely of grass, no matter the time of year.
The extra care taken to make sure that the cows get the best treatment they can year-round is part of what makes Organic Valley and its farmers so special. Tucker and Becky pride themselves on their care for the environment and love showing others that running a sustainable farm without pesticides is possible. This is at the heart of the Organic Valley mission. None of its products have pesticides, added hormones, antibiotics, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The Organic Valley website notes, “Sustainability is at the core of what it means to be organic, and that includes both environmental and economic sustainability. Organic Valley is all about preserving a way of life that values both the land and the creatures—two-legged and four-legged—that live upon it.”
That commitment to the health and well-being of the animals and creating delicious, nutritious products that are good for the planet is what Organic Valley is known for, and it’s what keeps customers coming back. “Consumers tell us that they choose Organic Valley products because of the high quality and because they trust the brand to do the right thing for consumers through farming practices that support the health and well-being of people, animals, and the planet,” says Kelly Gibson Wolff, Marketing Business Integration Lead at Organic Valley.
Want to stock up on your own Organic Valley products? Find out which stores sell them using the store locator on the Organic Valley website and check out the list of halal-certified products on the next page.