Couple's organic food revolution still growing

September 23, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
If you have ever eaten one of those ready-made salads in a bag, you owe that easy meal in part to the vision of a couple in Carmel Valley. It was 25 years ago that they came up with the idea for Earthbound Farm. It all stemmed from an unlikely duo who dared to dream on a plot of land in Monterey County.

Drew and Myra Goodman took a simple chore and transformed it into an extraordinary journey. The adventure began when they decided to take care of raspberry bushes. The year was 1984. The New York natives had landed in Carmel Valley.

"We fell in love with growing food and enjoying fresh food and breathing fresh air and not living in this concrete jungle," said Myra.

In exchange for free rent, the Goodmans took care of the rustic property. Myra was a Berkeley grad; Drew got his degree from UC Santa Cruz. Somehow spraying the berries with chemicals just didn't feel right.

"When we began farming we were not scared by what we did not know," said Drew.

They began growing their food organically and set up a little roadside produce stand called Earthbound Farm. They were so busy during the week, they stored their baby greens in Ziploc bags to enjoy at night.

"So every night we'd be sitting there eating our delicious organic salad and saying this is the most amazing product," said Myra. "Imagine if you could get this in New York, everyone would buy this."

The idea of pre-washed bagged salad started out slowly with a few local stores in 1986, but the pioneering product quickly took off. In 1993, Earthbound Farm landed a contract with Costco. It was a deal that transformed local organic farming into big business."

Earthbound Farm is now the largest grower of organic produce in the United States. It supports 150 growers cultivating 37,000 acres of land. The produce stand, although now more elaborate, remains a tribute to the company's humble beginnings.

"I've actually been coming here since they first opened years ago and it was just a little shed," said customer Katharine Riordan.

There have been challenges along the way. The E. coli outbreak involving bagged spinach in 2006 killed three and sickened more than 200. The spinach did not come from an Earthbound Farm grower, but it was processed at their San Juan Bautista plant.

Since then, the entire industry has faced stricter regulations. Earthbound Farm, which was always on the forefront of food safety, now tests leafy greens before and after the washing process.

"We've done things like implemented a raw product test and hold program where we're actually testing all the raw materials before we process them for pathogens specifically," said operations vice president Will Daniels.

More than 70 percent of supermarkets nationwide now carry Earthbound Farm salads. Sales this year are expected to approach nearly $500 million, and Myra has published two cookbooks celebrating her passion for organic.

"We avoid the use of more than 11.5 million pounds of synthetic chemicals every single year by farming organically and so that's something I just feel so good about," said Myra.

They also feel good about the new products they're creating to promote healthy eating. Earthbound Farm has just introduced a protein infused salad line called "power meals."

"Yes to entrepreneur, yes to innovator, yes to environmentalists, but I think moreso we're just inspired by this idea of organic farming and healthy eating," said Drew.

Drew and Myra had no idea, more than 25 years ago, their raspberries would launch an organic revolution that's still growing.


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