farmer and child feeding cows
Photo Credit: Nancy Wright

Meet the Dairy Farmers Behind Your Food

Meet farmers in Ohio who bring organic milk from their farm to your table.

By Nancy Coulter-Parker

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Meet: Ernest & Norma

Mennonite Dairy Farmers, Richland Farms, Ohio

The martin family (l to r): bonita, leonard, mom norma with janae ann, eric and dad ernest, alvin rae and melinda.

Curious where your food comes from? We continue our series on farmers from around the country—and the world—who work with well-known natural brands to supply healthy options to grocery stores…and to you!

As far back as he can trace, Ernest Martin’s family has been in agriculture. His grandfather was a beef and tobacco farmer in Pennsylvania; his dad was a dairy farmer. Today, Martin is following in his father’s footsteps in dairy, yet his version of farming is a bit different. 

In 1994, Martin and his wife, Norma, followed his brother from Pennsylvania to Richland County, Ohio, where they found farmland they could afford and a place to raise their family. Although the dairy farm they bought was a conventional confinement operation, the young farmers switched it to a grass-fed venture.

“When we started grazing the cows, we saw that the cows were healthier. You take them off of concrete and put them on grass for most of the year, weather permitting, and they were healthier,” he explains. Not only was there improvement in herd health, but there was also improvement in soil health. From there, transitioning to organic was a natural fit. “We try to farm as closely to nature as we possibly can,” Martin says.

In 2000, the Martin farm became certified organic. In 2002, they joined the Organic Valley co-op and have been thrilled to be a part of it ever since. Now, with 150 acres and approximately 90 cows, the Martins, who are Mennonites, say the values of their community align very closely with organic and Organic Valley.

“I see the small farms that produce products for Organic Valley as some of our elite farmers in the country,” Martin explains. “We care deeply about the earth and how we produce things. And we care about our animals. We put a lot of time and effort into making sure we do things in harmony with nature. We have to be profitable, but it’s not all about making a profit. It’s about living in harmony with nature.”

At the time the Martins transitioned their farm to organic, there was no other organic dairy in Ohio. But the Martins connected with a small group of farmers and made the switch together, becoming organic pioneers for their region. Since then, Martin says, the movement has blossomed, with now close to 200 certified-organic dairy farmers in the state of Ohio.

Martin has found that organic is a good place for owners of small farms, who tend to have less of an advantage in the farming playing field. “We can’t buy in quantity. Huge scale brings advantages, and we don’t have that. But as smaller farmers, we are able to take better care of our acreages. Organic doesn’t fit as well with the mega-farms. So it aligns with our small-farm philosophy.”

In addition to organic aligning with Martin’s values on nature, it also supports his idea of community. With 10 kids, three of whom are married and living in his community, two of them on farms, and seven children at home, ranging in age from 3 to 18, community is important to the Martins. “We focus very much on community, which aligns closely to what Organic Valley believes in. We are in this together—all for one, one for all,” Martin says. Or, he adds, in the words of Benjamin Franklin, “We must indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” Martin says his Christian community believes that “we are here to help each other. This is why we embrace organic.”

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