Organic dairy saved this family farm
Growing up, spending time on a grandfather’s farm, Mike Petherbridge started dreaming of being a farmer too.
“The most important occupation on Earth,” he calls it.
But his dream almost died, a few times, as he struggled for several years to keep his dairy farm running. He even worked a factory job by night as he managed the farm with his wife, Julie. The expenses and fluctuating milk prices nearly did them in.
But instead of giving up, Petherbridge decided to take a risk.
He started transitioning to organic in 2004. It was a move he knew would be difficult and costly, over three years.
It saved his family’s farm.
“There was just so much more promise to make the transition, even though I was going to go backwards financially doing it, initially,” he says. “I knew that the need for our milk was going to be there in a growing organic market, so I decided to take the risk.”
Petherbridge appreciates the chance to share his story in the brand’s video with other farmers, and with consumers.
“We gain strength by knowing that there are other farmers who have gone through the same thing and they made it, so we can encourage each other and help similar farmers that want to try and do it,” he says. “I also think a lot of consumers will take a great appreciation from this video in knowing that their purchase is affecting families who want to farm organic, and keeping them on the land, and that they’re supporting the small family farmer.”
Liberté converted its U.S. yogurts to using organic milk this summer. As you can tell, its video showcasing the Petherbridge farm has a unique theme.
“We really wanted to take a different angle on how we told Mike’s story,” says Evan Shuster, associate marketing manager for Liberte. “Transitioning to organic is about taking risks and taking leaps of faith. This video perhaps has more of a dark tone from what you typically see from brands who feature farms, but we thought it was important to focus on how hard a farmer’s work is. I think often consumers forget about that part of farming and we thought it was a really important story to tell.”
Petherbridge, who farms near Dresser, Wisconsin, belongs to Organic Valley, the largest organic cooperative in the U.S. of farmers who produce organic milk, cheese, butter and more.
“Mike’s farm shows the dedication and devotion that it takes to be an organic farmer,” says George Siemon, CEO, Organic Valley. “Each of our 1,800 farmers has an inspiring farm story. Mike’s story shows how deep the desire for farming goes and how much of a lifeline organic farming can be. He shows that all the drive and hard work in the world sometimes still isn’t enough to farm conventionally and his story highlights how Organic Valley helps to make small family farms viable again.”
General Mills announced a strategic sourcing partnership with Organic Valley in June, which includes building relationships with the organic farmers who will support yogurt production for Liberté, Yoplait, Annie’s and Mountain High.
Through Organic Valley, General Mills is helping transitioning farmers with financial assistance that will support them until they are certified organic by the USDA. It typically takes three years for a farm to transition its soil, crops and pastures from conventional to organic production, to become a certified organic farm.
“We offer many kinds of assistance, from consultation on farm plans to on-staff agronomists that can help with pasture grass composition and soil quality. We also offer the farmers an organic transition payment during their last year of transition, once they have agreed to join our cooperative,” says Siemon.
“Seeing the health of Mike’s livestock and crops and soil today, it just reaffirms to us that our commitment to organic is really important and it goes right down to the family level,” Evan says. “He has a vision for his kids taking over the farm one day. That only happens if brands like Liberté and companies like General Mills make commitments to growing organic.”
In addition to using organic milk from farmers across the U.S., Liberté is sourcing the fruits and flavors for its eight organic yogurt flavors from areas known for expertise in that ingredient. For example, the flavors of Philippine Coconut, Ecuadorian Mango and Californian Pomegranate.
“We’re investing in our farmers and our agriculture,” says Evan. “These are people’s lives and we’re very committed to organic’s future.“
And by partnering with Mike Petherbridge, and Organic Valley, the brand’s future is directly tied to the day-to-day work in dairy barns and the fields.
“We’re happy to be working with Liberté. We’re excited every time we find another partner who is committed to bringing healthy organic food to as many people as possible,” Siemon says. “We believe that organic agriculture is the best, most sustainable way to feed a growing planet.”
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