Co-operative provides unique opportunity for Ontario farmers to collectively store, process and market organically grown products.
For almost 25 years, Organic Meadow Co-operative Inc. has helped local organic farmers market grain, dairy and eggs. Today, Organic Meadow is one of the most successful organic farmers’ co-operatives in Canada, with over 160 members including over 100 family farms.
“Our goal is to unite small family farms under one brand, letting them share in the benefits of our marketing efforts,” says Jenny Butcher, Member Relations Manager, Organic Meadow Co-operative Inc. in Guelph, Ontario. “What started as a small group of organic grain farmers in 1989 developing a market and access to international markets has grown to include a full line of organic milk, dairy products, eggs and grains. The Co-operative owns Organic Meadow Inc., a fluid milk processing plant in Guelph, as well as several co-packing partnerships for other organic dairy products and frozen vegetables all marketed under the Organic Meadow Brand.”
In the early 1990s when the organic industry wasn’t as mainstream, an agreement was made with the Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) to allow the segregation of organic milk. Under the Ontario Milk Act, the DFO markets milk on behalf of all Ontario dairy farms to the processing industry. “Organic Meadow had a very unique position and took on the administration role for organic milk, and matching the supply and demand for organic milk to fill consumer demand,” explains Butcher. “However, five years ago the DFO took over the administration of organic milk as part of their overall obligations under the Milk Act.”
The transition has had its challenges, but Organic Meadow has worked with their members to streamline the process and continue expansion of their line of processed dairy products. Butcher notes that Organic Meadow basically produces every dairy product with any popularity either in their plant or co-packed with other partners. Being the “first in” brand has allowed Organic Meadow to become a national entity, with products in stores from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Vancouver, British Columbia. As a producer owned co-operative owning its own dairy processing facility and brand, the co-operative and its members are well positioned for the future.
“As a marketing co-operative, a large part of what we do is market products on behalf of the producers,” says Butcher. “The benefits to our members include being part of an organic farming community, co-operative marketing, dividends and ownership of a successful brand. Although some of the benefits are less tangible, one of the very important things we offer members is extension and education specific to organic production. When farmers move to organic production, they initially lose some of their conventional farming support system in the transition to organic production.”
Organic Meadow is open to new members who are organic dairy, grain or egg producers. The co-operative continues to explore opportunities for adding value and potential processing of grain products. Overall the goal for Organic Meadow remains simple: organic farmers across Canada supplying locally-raised organic products to Canadians.
Organic Meadow Celebrates International Year of Co-operatives
The United Nations proclaimed 2012 “International Year of Co-operatives” (IYC) to recognize the contribution of co-operatives to economic and social development. “IYC has given Organic Meadow the opportunity to promote co-operatives as a whole, as well as more specifically to our brand through leveraging specific IYC-based opportunities such as the stories.coop website, IYC related tweets and Facebook posts and through our website,” says Butcher.” These promotional opportunities have allowed Organic Meadow to get our name out to not only our Canadian Market, but through international audiences.”
IYC also gave Organic Meadow the opportunity to celebrate and mingle with other co-operatives in their local community with events such as the International Day of Co-operatives celebrated in Guelph. Organic Meadow partnered with various other co-operatives to create banners that were displayed around the city and to host an event at Guelph City Hall to help promote co-operatives to the general public.
“At Organic Meadow, the IYC gave our staff and members the opportunity to learn more about the different types of co-operatives around the world, their structure and missions, and the way in which they follow the Seven principles of Co-operatives in their specific organization,” adds Butcher. “Social media has been a great tool in connecting with and learning more about these different co-operatives throughout the world.”
“Organic Meadow Co-operative is committed to ensure fair, consistent financial returns to farmers while maintaining quality at every stage from soil to table,” says Jenny Butcher.