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The gates of Harvard Yard may not be used to keep cows in anymore, but the University is still keeping a hand in the bovine business.
Charlesbank Capital Partners LLC, an independent money manager which invests some of Harvard’s money, invested $18.5 million in Colorado-based Aurora Organic Dairy and its 5,000 cows this fall.
The deal was announced on October 22, according to the Denver Business Journal.
Charlesbank made the decision to invest in Aurora Organic Dairy independent of the Harvard Management Corporation (HMC)—the arm of the University responsible for investing Harvard’s $19.3 billion endowment—and the deal included some non-Harvard money.
“[Organic Dairy] is an industry with favorable dynamics, is rapidly growing, and we saw an opportunity to gain market share as well as an excellent management team,” said Maura M. Turner, communications director of Charlesbank Partners.
Some of the money will be used to finance the conversion of the farm’s current conventional milk cows to certified organic cows.
According to Turner, organic cows receive no hormones or antibiotics and graze entirely in organic pastures. The process of converting a conventional milk cow to an organic cow takes twelve months.
The Aurora investment is Harvard’s second major agricultural venture to make headlines this fall. HMC is also in the process of buying 400,000 acre logging forest in New Zealand.
“There are all sorts of investments in agriculture, some safe some risky. We don’t have a specific strategy,” said HMC President Jack E. Meyer.
Home on The Range
Harvard does not currently serve organic milk in its dining facilities, though it does serve some organic produce.
“We have organic tofu, we always serve organic tomato sauce, we have organic baby carrots, red onions and there is always one organic field green,” said Alexandra McNitt, director of HUDS marketing and communications.
According to McNitt, the factors limiting an increase in organic meal options at Harvard’s dining halls are low student demand, scarce availability and high prices.
The market demand for organic products in general appears to be increasing faster than conventional food products.
According to the Denver Business Journal, the U.S. market for organic milk is growing at 25 percent annually while the market for organic products in general is growing at 16 to 20 percent per year.
“People have an increased focus on health and well-being. Research shows the biggest deterrent for people is just price,” Turner said. “If it wasn’t too expensive I would probably buy it.”
And Harvard can’t seem to get enough of the organic food craze.
“We have a flax seed cereal in the dining halls which is organic and really good. Apparently it’s wildly popular and hard to get right now. It’s a new product and they’re having trouble keeping it on stockroom shelves.” McNitt said.
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