Nebraska farmer David Vetter of Grain Place Foods is often described by his friends as quiet and humble—a typical low key and unassuming Midwesterner. But as a mentor to others in the organic industry, he has been an inspiring and tireless giant.
Selected to receive the Organic Trade Association’s 2016 Organic Leadership Award for Growing the Organic Industry, Vetter has unselfishly mentored and shared information about organic to countless numbers of farmers transitioning to organic production, from Canada to Central America, from Europe to Australia.
“It is our honor to recognize David for his significant contributions to growing the organic industry through his collaborative leadership and action,” says Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association (OTA). “We have been recognizing organic leaders who inspire and innovate for 20 years, and David definitely deserves to take his seat among these inspirational honorees.”
Vetter grew up working on his family’s farm in central Nebraska. In the 1950s, his father began questioning the ethics and science behind emerging agricultural practices that were part of the Green Revolution, and the family farm began to adopt organic farming methods. Vetter left the farm and went to college to earn a bachelors degree in agronomy and soil science and a masters degree in divinity. He returned to the farm in 1975 and helped achieve organic certification.
“Taking care of the environment and our natural resources is one of my core values, and something I have always strived to do,” says Vetter. “Organic agriculture is an integral part of that mission, and it’s been especially fulfilling to help other farmers adopt organic and see organic agricultural practices become more common.”
Over the years, the farm has grown into Grain Place Foods, employing three generations of Vetters, and helping steward other farms into making the transition to organic. It has been certified organic since 1978. In 1987, the family operation took the next step of processing its own grains into value-added products onsite. Today, it employs almost 25 people, several of whom have worked there for more than 15 years. The farm produces organic heirloom barley, soybeans, popcorn, corn and grass-finished beef in a nine-year rotation.
Today, Grain Place Foods also sources organic grain to supplement what is grown on the Vetter farm because the family business has expanded so much. The company purchases organic grains from 128 organic farm families, including 46 neighboring farms.
Vetter also shares the family’s strong land stewardship ethic through working to develop sound and sustainable farm policy. Grain Place Foods emphasizes fair trade practices in addition to requiring organic when sourcing ingredients that it cannot grow on its farm.
“One of Dave’s greatest strengths is developing and maintaining long-term relationships. He is known for his honesty, information sharing, and the way he honors his commitments. He is a man of deep ethics and faith,” says Kelly Shea of WhiteWave Foods and a member of the Organic Trade Association’s board of directors. “I believe it was the influence of a few men such as Dave Vetter and his father that led to what is now USDA certified organic.”
Vetter was honored at OTA’s 2016 Organic Leadership Awards dinner, along with the farmers of the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative who received the Organic Leadership Farmer of the Year Award, and organic hemp entrepreneur Mike Fata of Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods who received the Organic Rising Star Award.