I’ve become a big fan of organic milk in recent years… I like the taste. And due to its higher purity and lower bacteria count, the “sell by date” is often six to eight weeks in the future—very convenient.
Several of my Amish friends who are dairy farmers have “gone organic” in the last couple of years. One is on the board of a local co-op, and when we attended an open house at the co-op recently, I got curious about the story behind this farmer-owned organic feed mill.
Going organic doesn’t happen overnight. The farmer has to rid his farm of any kind of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides for at least three years. But organic milk can be sold for more money. (And organic milk can always be sold as regular milk if the organic market is saturated.)
Once a farm is “clean,” it has to stay clean. One part of that is avoiding the weed killer that is sprayed alongside the roads by the local government. Signs by the road saying “do not spray” are one sign of a farm that is organic, or going organic.
Many of the Amish dairy farms in Northeastern Indiana, typically with 20 to 50 dairy cows, sell their milk to Organic Valley in La Farge, Wisconsin, one of the biggest organic cooperatives in the United States.
Going organic also means using organic feed for the cattle. For years, organic farmers in the Lagrange County area have depended on a small, 120-year-old feed mill located in Wolcottville, Indiana. When the Wolcottville Organic Feed Mill was set to close in 2011, Organic Valley wanted to help its 80 small dairy farmers in Northern Indiana (most of whom are Amish) stay in business, so it contacted an organization called the Indiana Cooperative Development Center (ICDC) to assist the local farmers in buying the mill themselves and running it as a cooperative.
According to the ICDC website (www.icdc.coop), a committee was formed, and then a board. In a few short weeks, the farmers had already raised half the $250,000 needed to buy the mill. The purchase was made in 2013, and the Wolcottville Organic Feed Mill was renamed the W.O.L.F. (Wolcottville Organic Livestock Feed) Co-Op. The old feed mill had a new beginning.
The board of five local Amish dairy farmers meets monthly with the manager and bookkeeper to go over the finances and conduct other business. The old manager of the mill stayed on to run it, and in spite of a huge fire that destroyed one of the buildings in May 2013, the mill is still humming along, producing tons of quality livestock feed every week, and helping the local Amish farmers who are "going organic."