Organic Valley, America’s largest co-operative of organic farmers, is set to become one of the largest food companies in the world to source 100% of its electricity from renewable sources.
The co-op is collaborating with the Upper Midwest Municipal Energy Group (UMMEG) and OneEnergy Renewables to create the solar community partnership. Together, the partners will initiate over 12 megawatts (MW) of solar installations in Wisconsin.
The electricity created by this partnership will not only enable Organic Valley to cover 100% of its electric energy needs from renewable sources by 2019 but also increase overall solar energy use in Wisconsin by 15%. Beyond the 12 MW project portfolio, an additional 17-plus MW expected to be constructed as well, resulting in nearly 30 MW of new solar in the region. Organic Valley will purchase renewable energy credits from the solar projects near their headquarters and distribution centre enabling the co-operative to be fully renewable-powered.
It is hoped the partnership will deliver lower and more stable electric costs for all participants, alongside the environmental benefits of renewable power.
Additionally, the solar community partnership will adopt pollinator-friendly solar standards, which Organic Valley says reflects its commitment to “animals, people and the planet”. This means pollinator-friendly meadows will be incorporated into the design, instead of using turf grass or gravel.
Once complete, these meadows, filled with native flowering plants and grasses, will create as much bee and butterfly habitat as if 30,000 families were to each plant 6×12-foot pollinator gardens, says Organic Valley.
George Siemon, chief executive and a founding farmer of the co-op, said: “Our future demands bold new thinking about our sources of energy, and there is nothing more natural to a farmer than harnessing the power of the sun and the wind. So our co-operative is committed to achieving 100 percent renewable power, and doing it in partnership with the rural communities where we live and work.”
Founded in 1988 by seven farm families with the mission of keeping farmers on the land, Organic Valley today has convened more than 2,000 family farms and converted over 40,000 acres of organic agricultural land. Thanks to its farmer-owned co-operative model, it has provided a lifeline to farm families from Maine to California and achieved over $1 billion in annual sales.
“Organic Valley was built on an environmental ethic, promoting ecological and economic sustainability,” said head of sustainability Jonathan Reinbold. “As leaders in food and farming, it is our responsibility to pioneer change for good.
“Our hope is that this partnership to install community-scale solar will be replicated by municipal utilities around the country and propel more rural communities toward economic stability and energy independence.”
Leading up to this new community solar partnership, Organic Valley has demonstrated its commitment to the environment year-by-year, from implementing on-farm biodiesel to now adopting pollinator-friendly solar standards. In addition to investing $6 million in its renewable energy systems over the past six years, Organic Valley key sustainability achievements include:
- Pioneering organic production practices and helping create the National Organic Standards in 1990, which included specific criteria for livestock on pasture and were adopted by the organic industry.
- Keeping nearly 300 million pounds of persistent pesticides and synthetic fertilisers off the land since 1988.
- Leading the creation of Cashton Greens Wind Farm in 2012, a 5MW community wind farm, the first of its kind in Wisconsin, producing enough electricity to power 1,000 homes.
“To keep farmers on the land, you need to be good stewards of the land,” added Mr Siemon. “Working in co-operation with nature has always been at the heart of our work, and we look forward to partnering with these rural communities to bring us all a stable source of renewable energy.”