LAFARGE, Wis. -- "Generation Organic," a campaign to save the family farmer from extinction by bringing new farmers into organic agriculture, was announced today by Organic Valley Family of Farms, America's largest cooperative of organic farmers and one of the country's leading national organic brands.

"Generation Organic is the 'Endangered Species Protection Act' for the American family farmer," said Travis Forgues, 32, the Organic Valley dairy farmer from Alburg, Vt., whose concern for the future of family farming gave rise to Generation Organic, or "Gen-O."



"U.S. farmers have disappeared from the land at the rate of 195 per day for 70 years," he said. "We have worked to protect the bald eagle and the grizzly bear. Now it's time to save the family farmer. The health of our food, our environment and our future generations is at stake,"



Forgues noted that the average age of the remaining family farmers is getting older, even in the organic community, where the percentage of younger farmers is high. The majority of U.S. farmers today are 55 years and older. Said Forgues, "Gen-O will work to reverse the trend and keep family farmers on the land."



Forgues announced a five point "Gen-O Agenda" for developing the next generation of organic farmers:



1. Save the family farmer, an endangered species -- Five million family farmers have been lost since 1935 and most of those remaining are 55 years or older. Gen-O will bring new farmers into the fold and plant the seed for future generations of organic farmers.



2. Keep diversity in agriculture -- Do we want all our food from factory farms? Gen-O will educate about the risks of allowing our food to be sourced from chemically-intensive factory farms where profit is the goal, and work to promote a sustainable and diverse organic agriculture that works in harmony with nature to produce healthy food.



3. Preserve farmer wisdom and knowledge -- Farming is a time-honored craft whose technical and intuitive knowledge is passed down from generation to generation. The Gen-O movement will not let this vital treasure become extinct.



4. Unify rural and urban communities -- Fostering the connection between city and country dwellers will increase our appreciation for the people who grow our food as well as the people who eat it. Gen-O will tell the story of America's family farmers.



5. Offer hope for a safe and healthy future -- By supporting farming methods that work in harmony with nature, Generation Organic promises to deliver food that is safe and healthy, protects the environment and nurtures a sustainable way of life.



Forgues, who chose to become an organic farmer despite earning college degrees in psychology and computer science, speaks on campuses and community gatherings throughout the country to urge new farmers to enter the field.



"Nothing is more satisfying than the organic farmer's life work," he said. "We produce safe, healthy food, protect the environment, enjoy a rich family and community life, and protect time-honored knowledge that is vital to the survival of our species: how to grow the food we eat."



Organic Valley has spearheaded a full program of Gen-O initiatives to nurture the next generation of organic farmers and will be adding more in the year to come. Offerings include a nationwide program of "barn meetings" and organic educational workshops, a farmers' speakers bureau, Web resources, educational literature, a farmers hotline, financial and technical support for farmers transitioning to organic, partnerships with university-based farmer training programs, organic school curriculum, a farmer ambassador program to heighten public awareness of organic farmers and, starting in 2006, an organic farmer mentoring and internship program.



"Organic Valley's job is to help create balance between skyrocketing consumer demand for organic products and the number of farmers available to produce them," said George Siemon, CEO and a founding farmer of the co-op. "Fortunately, the resiliency of the Organic Valley cooperative business model enables us to provide our farmers with a stable, sustainable pay price and invest in future farmer education and support."



For further information about Gen-O and the Organic Valley cooperative, prospective farmers are invited to call the Organic Valley Farmer Hotline at 1-888-809-9297 or visit the Organic Valley Farmers Web site



Organic Valley Family of Farms is America's largest cooperative of organic farmers and is one of the nation's leading organic brands. Organized in 1988, it represents 723 farmers in 22 states and realized a record $245 million in 2005 sales. Focused on its founding mission of keeping small and mid-sized farmers farming, Organic Valley produces 200 organic foods including organic milk, soy, cheese, butter, spreads, creams, eggs, produce, juice and meats which are sold in supermarkets, natural foods stores and food cooperatives nationwide.



SOURCE: Organic Valley via PR Newswire.