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Organic Valley

Organic Valley

La Farge, Wis.
Founded: 1988
Employees: 530
2009 revenue: $527 million
Estimated 2010 revenue: $600 million

Organic Valley started as a small group of Wisconsin farmers who formed a co-op in 1988. Today it's a national brand that counts 10 percent of all organic farms in the U.S. as members. "We're a social experiment disguised as a business," says CEO George Siemon, one of the original co-op farmers. To that end, Organic Valley focuses on educating farmers and holding them to higher standards than normal organic certification. Members—some 1,200 farms in 32 states—commit all of their production to the Organic Valley co-op. Although the brand is best known for dairy products, the group also sells eggs, meat, and produce. Members make a one-time investment of about 5.5 percent of their annual sales to join and earn dividends on those shares over time. To Siemon, 57, the co-op structure is as important as the group's organic standards in building a company that benefits consumers and farmers alike. "It's inherently about serving the users and it has a longevity that doesn't deal with stock values or exits or anything like that. Our owners are very clear about what they want us to be doing in 50 years," he says.