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Young organic farmers recognized for dedication to ag

Alisa Anderson Published on 07 October 2009

Casey Knapp, a 20-year-old from Preble, New York, has been very involved in promoting agriculture – on the organic side.

Some of Knapp’s activities include speaking in behalf of Organic Valley at the Young Farmers Conference in Tarrytown, New York, and at the Baum’s Youth Forum in Chicago, Illinois. In May of this year, Knapp went to the U.N. to lobby for the Commission of Sustainable Development. He is currently attending school at Onondaga Community College and helping his father on their 75-cow dairy.

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To encourage young people like Knapp to continue farming, Generation Organic awarded three young dairy farmers from different regions of the U.S. the Gen-O Award in July. Generation Organic, a program set up by Organic Valley, is for young people 18 to 35 who farm with their parents or on their own.

Every year, Generation Organic reviews its members and chooses one winner from the East, West and Midwest regions of the U.S.

“We try and choose three that are really superb models and an inspiration for the other kids,” Theresa Marquez, chief marketing executive at Organic Valley, says.

Knapp, Matt Fendry of Lanesboro, Minnesota, and Mitch Lucero of Richfield, Idaho, were the winners. The three winners received $500 to donate to a charity of their choice and an all-expenses paid trip to the Kickapoo County Fairy in La Farge, Wisconsin.

“My mom had nominated me, and she hadn’t told me that she had nominated me,” Lucero says. “She kept saying, ‘Have you got anything in the mail?’ Finally, I got something in the mail that said I had won this award and they were going to fly us back to Wisconsin to accept it. It was a great honor and a great surprise.”

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Lucero works on the family dairy with his wife and his parents. He received his bachelor’s degree from Whittier College, and his master’s from Northwest Nazarene College. Their 300-cow dairy, Morning Star Organic Farm, was established by Lucero’s great-grandfather. They transitioned to organic in 2007, something that Lucero says he is proud of.

“It’s a four-year process to get where we are today, and it’s also a very costly venture. I think we’re one of the only dairies in southern Idaho that ships to Organic Valley. We have done things differently, and I think that’s what someone would recognize if they came to our dairy. Our cows are out on pasture, and they’re healthy. There’s kind of a peace about that,” Lucero says.

Lucero is on the board of directors for Leadership Agriculture and is involved with the Dairy Ambassador Program and the Generation Organic program, as well as other programs and organizations.

“I have really strong beliefs in agriculture. It’s where my passion is,” Lucero says.

Later on, Lucero and his wife will take over the dairy. But for now, they help out at the dairy and raise their own flock of organic turkeys.

“My favorite part of dairying is that it’s really a lifestyle. You go outside every day, you take care of animals, you’re working in the environment, you’re working off the land – that’s something that’s pretty true to our hearts and something that we really believe in,” Lucero says.

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It’s pretty obvious that Fendry would agree on this point. Fendry, a first-generation farmer, began farming just out of high school. During his senior year, Fendry completed the Farm Beginnings course, which is sponsored by the Land Futures Project in Minnesota.

“It’s a one-year course. It teaches you finances, how to put together cash flows for bankers, then it goes on to a mentoring program where you work on farms or have some farmers that you can go to with questions when you’re farming on your own,” Fendry says.

Fendry started out with 20 cows, 15 of which he bought with the help of the Heifer Project, also sponsored by the Land Futures Project. The Heifer Project gave him a zero-interest loan for five years to buy some Jersey heifers, and he rents his parents’ facility to house and pasture his cows.

The first year he was milking he transitioned to organic production. He expanded over the years and now milks about 35 Jersey cows. Fendry uses rotational grazing during the summer and grows all his own feed for the winter on about 200 acres.

“I always enjoyed farming. I grew up in the country. I was always out helping neighbors hay and stuff. I’ve always wanted to farm since I was a little kid. So I went through all my options and worked on a couple of dairy farms, and kind of decided that was the direction I wanted to go,” Fendry says.

Fendry says that what he’s most proud of is that he is a young producer, especially since the majority of U.S. farmers are over 60 years old. Knapp, a fifth-generation dairy farmer, agrees that it’s important for young people to be involved in organic dairy farming.

“My friend had heard about the award, and he said, ‘Hey, that’s great. You’re riding the green wave.’ I didn’t really like that metaphor he used. I don’t think I’m riding the green wave, I think I’m cultivating the metaphorical organic farm of the future. I think that the wave implies that it will eventually break and go back to the ocean, but I think that the Generation Organic award winners, and all the young organic farmers working with and outside of Organic Valley, are building the farm of the future. That’s what I’m doing,” Knapp says. PD

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