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Awards for organic pioneers: national milk cooperative honors two dairy farmers from Salisbury

Staff report

Two Salisbury dairy farmers, the first in North Carolina to be certified organic, have been honored for their pioneering efforts from the nation’s largest and oldest cooperative of organic farmers.

Rick Parker and Chris Hoffner were presented certificates from George Siemon, CEO and a founding farmer of Organic Valley Family of Farms/ CROPP Cooperative, at an awards celebration dinner at the Salisbury Holiday Inn on Thursday. CROPP Cooperative stands for Cooperative Regions of Organic Producer Pools and markets under the Organic Valley Family of Farms label.

Other members of the state’s emerging organic community were in Salisbury for the presentation.

“Organic Valley is honored to be working with this group of innovative and courageous dairy farmers to spearhead the organic milk movement in North Carolina,” Siemon said. “Together with our partners in the region we are creating a new source of local organic milk for the market and a hopeful new trend for North Carolina dairy farmers.”

Parker and his wife, Dorcas, milk 108 organic cows on their 365 acre dairy in Mount Ulla. It had previously been a conventional operation milking more than 300 cows.

“I really like the direction in which Organic Valley is taking us,” Parker said. “It’s important to me to be producing milk in a way consumers like and to be able to supply the local market. I support buying local and want to see my milk in local stores rather than producing for an anonymous commodity market.”

The Parkers live in the farmhouse built by Rick’s great-grandfather. Their six children represent the fifth generation of farmers on their land. The Parkers began shipping to Organic Valley on Dec.14.

Hoffner and his wife, Tara, milk 83 organic cows on their 600 acres in Mount Ulla in partnership with Chris’ parents, Alan (Buddy) and Connie Hoffner. They have certified 226 acres as organic and the remainder is in transition to organic. Chris is a fourth generation dairy farmer and the third generation on this farm.

“My primary objective is to keep farming and to keep this land from being developed,” Chris said in describing his motivation for going organic. “Producing organic milk is the best way we found to do that. We’re grateful to the consumers who are willing to pay us to farm organically so we can keep the tradition of the small, independent family farm alive here in North Carolina.”

The Hoffners began shipping to Organic Valley on Jan. 31, 2006.

Rheinheimer said others involved include North Carolina State University, Center for Environmental Farming Systems, Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association, Piedmont Milk Sales, Milkco, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Orange County Economic Development Commission and North Carolina Crop Improvement Association and Cooperative Extension.

George Konovalov, Organic Valley’s Eastern division sales manager, added, “Southeast Regional consumers and retailers have been asking for locally produced, pasture-based organic milk products. We are excited about the opportunity to begin offering organic milk from our newest family of farmers in the North Carolina market to our retailer partners and their customers.”

He said the organic milk produced by the Parker and Hoffner farms, and other local Organic Valley farmer-owners, will ship to Milkco, an Asheville-based processing facility.

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