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Generation Organic tour brings UP a taste of the farm

Organic Valley’s tour bus stopped by with sample products and activities to promote organic faming

Published: Thursday, October 6, 2011

Updated: Thursday, October 6, 2011 11:10

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-- The Beacon

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-- The Beacon

Organic Valley's "Generation Organic Tour" made a stop at UP on Tuesday to promote family farms and regional eating. Pulling up in their multicolored mural painted school bus, the team of age 20 something farmers gave away free samples of organic milk and string cheese to students to show off the taste of regional dairy products.

Senior Frances Dyer worked with a PR firm that promoted local and sustainable restaurants over the summer and worked with Generation O as a part of her job.

"The tour is about keeping up organic farming through the generations," Dyer said. "The sustainability factor they present is so important for your personal health and the environment."

Organic Valley, a food distribution co-op, which works with 1,643 family farms nationwide, organizes their products into regional "pools" which provide a local option for restaurants and consumers, according to Generation O farmer Allison Bates.

"All of (Organic Valley's) milk is produced in Oregon and Washington and distributed in Oregon and Washington," Bates said.

Consumers that chose Organic Valley gain a piece of mind most people in the country cannot obtain according to Bates.

"The average consumer has no idea where their food comes from," Bates said.

The farmers on the tour are from all around the country and have been brought together by their common upbringing on family farms.

"Growing up on a farm doesn't mean you don't get to participate in regular activities. I was in band and drama as well as working," Generation O farmer Joanna Kohnen said. "I had a bigger appreciation for hard work than most kids growing up."

Salem farmer Johan Doormenbal knows how important his work is for his community. Growing up, Doormenbal saw the impact he made locally.

"My family's 276 acre farm has 160 cows and supports four families as well as contributing to the Northwest (dairy) pool," Doormenbal said. "I learned about responsibility growing up on a farm because you can't put off the animals until the next day."

UP's environmental science department forged a friendship with the Generation O farmers after last year's "Food For Thought Conference," which included a keynote address from food activist and author Michael Pollan. When Organic Valley announced a 2011 Generation O Tour, the farmers made sure to stop at UP.

"Not only are (the farmers) organic, but they come from family farms and they operate regionally," environmental studies professor and organizer of the "Food for Thought Conference" Steve Kolmes said.

The Generation O farmers also gave a presentation in Kolmes environmental science class and spoke on the changing landscape of agriculture.

"I learned that many conventional farms are converting to organic and that it's becoming profitable to be organic," sophomore Jason Celino said.

To some, the farmer's generational message of struck a chord.

"Their presentation was cool because they'll be the people to take over the farms and eventually their kids will take over," freshman Melelani Makanui said.

The farmers are also teaching the need for alternative fuel sources while on tour. The multicolored school bus that the farmers travel in has been converted from traditional diesel to run on biodiesel and vegetable oil.

"We use biodiesel to heat up the veggie oil then we flip a switch to burn veggie oil," Generation O farmer James Frantzen said. "The veggie oil has to go through an intense filtration in order to be used."

The next stop for the Generation O farmers is Coos Bay, Ore., before heading to California, but their message leaves consumers with poignant questions that eventually everyone will have to answer.

"Who's your farmer?" Bates said. "Where will our food system be in 20 years?"

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