Organic Valley is an HZ client, and we recently visited an Organic Valley farm in rural Maryland to learn more about what makes organic farmers tick.
For most of its first 106 years, Holterholm Farms in Jefferson, MD, was a conventional confinement dairy. The cows spent most of their time indoors, they ate genetically modified grains, and when they got sick, the first remedy was usually a course of antibiotics.
In the farm’s 107th year, everything changed. Fifth-generation farmer Ron Holter had just completed a course on soil sustainability at a local community college. “When I heard about [organic] pasturing,” he says, “it sounded too good to be true.” He talked to his wife and their son, he ran the numbers, he said his prayers—and then, Ron made the decision to go organic.
On a day when the first leaves in the valley were beginning to turn golden, HZers and their families visited Holterholm Farms. We took turns churning butter by hand, visiting with the Holters and their animals, and enjoying Organic Valley milk, cheese, and yogurt in the sunshine.
It was pretty perfect.
The Holter family is one of the few, the proud, the organic dairy farmers of CROPP, a Wisconsin-based organic farming cooperative whose products are sold under the Organic Valley brand. “We’re one of only two organic farms in Maryland,” Ron told us, and that reality is not without its consequences.
“A lot of the other farmers around us here, we don’t have as much to talk about since I went organic,” Ron says from beneath his straw hat. “They’re saying this or that is wrong with their farm, or all these cows are getting sick, and I’m like, ‘It doesn’t have to be like this!’”
The Holters’ farm is nestled below the last, easternmost foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and time seems to move more slowly here. Local folklore insists that dairy farmers should fear the mythic Snallygaster, a bird-reptile hybrid that purportedly snatches livestock from unguarded fields. But on our visit, the cows seemed blissfully content. So did the humans around them.
For the Holter family, organic farming is ethical, in line with their faith, and their best chance to preserve a family farming tradition. It’s a quintessential case of someone doing well by doing good. For HZ, the mission-driven work at Organic Valley makes it easy for us to create a compelling story. Visits like this one are important to us, because we believe that unearthing the best stories usually requires spending some time with your hands in the dirt.
We at HZ would like to thank Organic Valley and the Holter family for showing us firsthand what makes organic farms so special.