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Roots Agriculture

| 12/6/2011 3:56:09 PM

At first glance George Siemon and Doc Hatfield don’t appear to have a whole lot in common. Siemon has the look of a Berkeley anthropologist. He wears wire-rimmed glasses and grows his hair long. Hatfield is an Oregon rancher straight from central casting: tall, lean and dressed for the part, complete with hat. A white Stetson.

But George and Doc and a bunch of conspirators are revolutionizing North American agriculture in the most traditional way possible. They are putting consumers back in touch with the people who grow their food.

Organic Valley logo

Siemon runs the Organic Valley Family of Farms, a network of about 1,700 farmers in 29 states who own the food company as a cooperative. He was one of the cooperative’s original seven farmer-members. He likes to call himself the C-E-I-E-I-O.

Doc and Connie Hatfield spearhead Country Natural Beef, a network of over 100 far-flung beef ranchers organized according to the same principles: When ranchers and their customers get together they pretty much agree on how our food should be produced, with health and humanity the top priorities. Farmers and ranchers are eager to protect their property and their way of life. Educated consumers have proved they are happy to pay for the improvements.

Food producers and food consumers want a food industry that respects human health, nature and animal welfare. People may disagree on the relative value of these virtues but everyone acknowledges that they have some intrinsic worth. When you bring the producers and the consumers together they support agriculture that is more environmentally responsible and more compassionate. That business model is more sustainable, economically, than the conventional industry in which food processors, distributors and other middlemen take most of the profit.

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