What Makes Tillamook’s Co-Op Special, As Told By Our Farmers
110 years. That’s how long the Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA) has been a cooperative. During this time, the TCCA has developed a distinctive set of farmer values, which affect every part of how the company is run today. Let us explain. A cooperative (co-op) is defined as “a business that is owned and led by the people who use and benefit from its services.” So in Tillamook’s case, the TCCA is owned and controlled by dairy farmers – men and women from Oregon, specifically, who’ve prided themselves on making the highest quality dairy products since 1909. The TCCA’s Board of Directors kindly extended us an invite to chat about the things that make Tillamook’s co-op special. Featured here are the values they hold dearly, and the characteristics of the co-op they want you, their dairy-loving fans, to know.
Dairy Farmer Owned, Dairy Farmer Led The TCCA is owned by about 80 farmer families. Each year, they elect 12 farmers to the Board of Directors, to represent all co-op members. As a result, everyone has an equal amount of say in running the company. “No matter the size [of the farm], we have the same voice,” said Amy Seymour. Tillamook’s co-op structure also means, when a final decision needs to be made, farmers call the shots. Doug Barker said, “...we own it and don’t have shareholders. We’re not trying to please somebody that wants to make a quick buck today and run. Because that’s not us.”
"No matter the size [of the farm], we have the same voice...I think that’s a really unique thing.”
Tillamook’s status as a farmer-owned, farmer-led brand is part of what makes it so strong. Doug said, “It’s not very many companies where employees go right to the board members,” said Doug. “[Employees] ask [us] questions because they know us. And we will talk to them, because they’re our neighbors.”
Amy Seymour, TCCA farmer-owner and board director
Commitment To Quality, Above All Else Told to choose one word that sums up the co-op, Mike Prince and his partners on the Board of Directors proclaimed “quality!” Before the formation of the TCCA, several Tillamook County creameries were operating independently. They came together to achieve consistency amongst cheddars from the county, and craft the highest quality cheese on earth.
"We didn’t try to make it cheaper. The quality is first...We’re not going to change that.”
Over 100 years later, this commitment to quality remains at the heart of the TCCA. Doug said, “We haven’t changed our recipe… We didn’t try to make it cheaper. The quality is first...We’re not going to change that.”
Three generations of the Seals Family
Tradition Is Important As Hell When asked what makes the TCCA unique, the Board of Directors announced in unison “the brand, the longevity.” Amy said many co-ops haven’t existed as long as Tillamook’s. Dave Hale said, “It’s generations handed down, and we want it to be around forever.” The TCCA’s members are impassioned about passing on the dairy farming tradition to create a future for their children, and keep the co-op alive.
"It’s generations handed down and we want it to be around forever.” Talking about her son John, Amy said, “...[he’s] looking forward to taking on leadership roles and planning to hopefully someday be on the board...He’s really proud to be part of that tradition.”
Becky Seals, TCCA farmer
Gotta Love The Cows Everything Tillamook farmers do is for the health, comfort, and happiness of their cows. Chairman of the Board Shannon Lourenzo’s barns are outfitted with waterbeds. Many of his neighbors’ barns are decked out with backscratchers. Farmer Wendy Landolt, wife of Director Ryan Landolt, is renowned for singing country songs to the baby calves. Cows are the foundation of Tillamook’s business. Importantly, they’re also a part of our farmers’ families. So there’s no limit to the care our farmers will give, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
"They’ve [our kids have] seen us wake up in the middle of the night to go check a cow… something goes wrong, a cow is having trouble, and you just do it.”
Dave said, “They’ve [our kids have] seen us wake up in the middle of the night to go check a cow… something goes wrong, a cow is having trouble, and you just do it. Forget about dinner tonight, we’ve got to take care of this.”
Tillamook County, Oregon
Gotta Love The Land Board Vice Chairman Casey Allen has a mantra: “What you take out of the environment is what you put back in.” Tillamook’s dairy farmers, who live on or near the land they farm, understand the importance of protecting their natural resources. "We are the best at doing what’s better for the environment... Because we have to...You want to leave quality land and quality animals...for the next generation.”
Casey said, “We are on the forefront [of environmental stewardship and sustainability]...We are the best at doing what’s better for the environment...Because we have to...You want to leave quality land and quality animals...for the next generation." Dave agreed. “We’re putting the nutrients back in the ground and the ground is reproducing it. And it’s coming back to the cow in quality feed…” The environmental stewardship Tillamook dairy farmers practice, day in and day out, is all part of their long-term plan to keep the co-op in business for years to come. Casey said, “To continue in this business, as a 108 year old company, we have to be environmental stewards first and foremost every day.”
Shannon Lourenzo, Chairman of the Board
Dairy Farming Isn’t Just A Job, It’s A Way Of Life “If I won the Powerball tomorrow, I’d sink it into my farm until it’s gone,” said Casey. Shannon echoed the sentiment. “You could give me all the money in the world and I’d still do this [farming]. To work side by side with your family, and knowing that someday they’re going to take over...” He continued. “Not everybody wants to do it, but it’s just a way of life. To be here and see the end result and see the Tillamook products...it’s exciting and makes you want to do it more…”
"Not everybody wants to do it but it’s just a way of life. To be here and see the end result and see the Tillamook products...it’s exciting and makes you want to do it more…”
During the rare occasions when the farmers speak about dairy farming as a ‘job,’ it’s described as having a higher purpose and meaning. Casey said, “We have the most important job in the world...We feed people...it’s a lot of responsibility so you have to take pride in that.”
Dave Hale, TCCA farmer-owner and board director
We’re Family, We’re Friends
TCCA’s members are united by a passion for dairy farming – and also lifelong friendship and family ties. Doug said, “Our kids grow up with us. And that’s the big thing – why we continue on farming is, we grew up on the farm. We were out there with our dads and moms, building fences and doing this…” Members are motivated to remain loyal to the co-op because everything they do, and every decision they make, has a direct effect upon each other, and all their friends and family in the community.
"We’re a very small community and I think this is how our co-op is so good: because everybody is helping everybody to make sure the co-op quality is passed from one end to the other.”
“...we’re all related, we’re all neighbors,” said Dave. “We want to have a good product in the end because it helps the whole community...and I think this is how our co-op is so good: because everybody is helping everybody to make sure the co-op quality is passed from one end to the other...Everybody wants to see the whole thing go well.”
Learn more about our commitment to Thriving Farms here.