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Week One – On To It

Organic Valley is a company I have been familiar with since 2001, when was 13, after they started buying and marketing milk from our farm. In 2008, I began marketing activities with the co-op. I represented them as farmer-ambassador and went to consumer events and trade-shows to talk about my farm, the cooperative model of business, and the ideology of Organic Valley. After internalizing dozens of talking points and having various types of media training, I possess considerable knowledge of the how the co-op works. So, upon beginning my internship, I had a significant advantage as I already understand the co-op spirit and ideals. I understood entering the project though, that the day to day running the coop would be different and would surprise me as someone who had a considerable connection with the coop from the “farmer’s side”. I have been surprised, admittedly, at how much work the employees complete to make sure that things look like they’re going smoothly from the farmer’s end. In the world of marketing, some opportunities present themselves far in advance, giving employees lots of time to prepare. Others fall on the doorstep and demand that the marketing department scramble to ensure Organic Valley’s presence.

What I am doing
I have been tasked with running something a little bigger than a simple marketing project. This is not how to get consumers to know the coop, this is not to increase the brand value. I am working on the Generation Organic program. This is Organic Valley’s initiative to usher in the next generation of young farmers. Gen-O provides current OV farmers and the sons and daughters of OV farmers with resources to educate themselves in the real world market of organic food, leadership and professional development, and a network of young farmers to connect with. However, this is not a living project that I had placed in my lap with no prior knowledge. In 2008 I joined the leadership team of Gen-O as a representative from the East Coast. Since then, we have organized three regional meetings and launched a bus tour around the Northeast with other Gen-Os. Since March, I have been acting as the East Coast Regional Director. For a rather new program, it has gained lots of recognition within the coop as a viable marketing tool as well as a way to bring new leadership to the coop. The problem with Gen-O is that while the leadership has been officially placed with the young farmers from around the country, the organizing has been left to HQ staff, which are generally overburdened with other jobs.

As an intern already with considerable knowledge of the program, and with 8 hours a day to devote to moving this projects within Gen-O ahead, I feel only motivation and optimism to draw from my past and the resources of the co-op to move the program ahead. Currently, I have a few main projects. The Gen-O West Coast Bus Tour, the Gen-O Newsletter, and a grant proposal for Gen-O to receive more funding over the next three years. The bus tour will take place this fall, after my internship ends, but I will be on the tour and speaking at a conference where the tour makes a stop. Although I am excited for the what the tour will bring, I do not look forward to organizing it. Not because it will be hard, simply because it will be a kind of organizing that might not be a wise use of my time, from my point of view. But these are only my expectations, and expectations don’t usually turn out as one predicts. The Gen-O newsletter will be getting people to write about what they are doing on the their farms, what sorts of news things are happening in their area, and what interesting projects they are taking on. I look at it as a way for Gen-Os to get some exposure of their own, and for others in the coop to see that Gen-O is really cool. The grant proposal is something that has needed to happen for a long time. Gen-O was plopped into the hands of young farmers busy with their own farms or high education. It needs concrete direction, and having a staff member at the HQ is the way to move things like this forward. Gen-O needs some starter fuel before it can burn on its own.

There are 14,000 organic farms in the United States, and 1,636 of are members of the Organic Valley cooperative. Undertaking the project to train and prepare the next farmer-leaders for an organization that leads more than 10 percent of the nation’s organic farms is intimidating. But the nature of the mission garners only support, both within Organic Valley and in the organic market place. I have a cubicle (with a window, apparently a luxury in cubicle world), a computer, and resources to make these things happen. I have been part of Gen-O for a while, so it is exciting to see these things taking place as a result of my knowledge and hard work. It is a bit unconventional, but I think that I am going to make a really good impact during my time here. The first week has gone by, and I am receiving praise from my supervisors on my hard work and willingness to move projects forward. The mistakes I have made so far have not been huge, and mostly are basic Outlook skills. My motto is act first, seek forgiveness later. I have been acting quite a bit, and it looks like people mostly like to see someone who is eager to push things forward. I am excited to continue working, I find my work truly enjoyable, only feeling eustress in the office. I can’t wait to see the things I can say I changed after my 9 weeks has concluded.

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