Drew and Myra Goodman at Earthbound Farm's Carmel Valley operation.
November 8, 2004
Alum brings organic produce into the mainstream
By Jennifer McNulty
Drew Goodman and his wife, Myra, didn't know they would contribute
to a culinary revolution when they cofounded Earthbound Farm
in 1984, planning to grow organic raspberries and greens for
Today, Earthbound Farm's signature organic salad mix is available
in more than 70 percent of supermarkets in the United States.
With annual sales expected to top $300 million in 2004, Earthbound
Farm is the largest organic produce brand in North America.
The Goodmans have come a long way from their roots on a two-acre
parcel in Carmel Valley.
"We were going to spend a year living on a farm and then
get on with our lives and careers," recalls Drew, who earned
a bachelor's degree in environmental studies from UC Santa Cruz
But customers quickly developed a taste for the Goodmans' mixed
baby greens, and they loved the convenience of buying prewashed
salads in resealable bags, an innovation the couple came up
with when a sale fell through and they were faced with a field
of lettuce that was going to go bad.
Demand for the salad mix outpaced supply, prompting the Goodmans
to team up with large-scale, Salinas Valley-based farmers whose
winter operations in Arizona and Mexico enabled Earthbound Farm
to satisfy consumer demand. Today, Earthbound Farm produce is
grown on more than 15,000 certified organic acres. Higher volumes
dictated the development of new ways to harvest, clean, bag,
and ship delicate baby greens, putting Earthbound Farm at the
forefront of organic farming, processing, and packaging.
"It wasn't until a few years ago that we realized it wasn't
going to slow down. It's like we've been sprinting nonstop to
keep up with it," says Drew. "People say 'That's a
good problem to have,' and I say, 'Easy for you to say!' It's
not like we planned to have a business on this scale. It just
evolved, and we grew along with it."
Drew and Myra Goodman grew up a block apart in Manhattan and
attended the same high school, but they reconnected at a Grateful
Dead concert during their college years in California. Myra
was at UC Berkeley, and Drew was enrolled at UCSC, where he
appreciated the freedom to try new things. "You can't be
afraid to fail, and that was the nice thing about UCSC,"
recalls Drew. "You learn by experimenting and succeeding
and failing. Education is about being taught how to think, rather
than how to do something." It's a lesson the couple hope
to convey to their son and daughter.
The Goodmans share a strong commitment to growing organically,
avoiding chemical pesticides and using compost to enrich the
soil. Drew, who worked in the field every day until the mid-1990s,
now devotes most of his energy to running the company's business
affairs, splitting time between the company's headquarters in
San Juan Bautista and offices in Carmel. But he still enjoys
spending time on a tractor at home, in the two-acre backyard
garden where they first began growing produce. The success of
Earthbound Farm has opened the door to organic food at big-name
retailers like Costco, Wal-Mart, Safeway, and Albertsons.
"Costco was an interesting progression, actually,"
says Drew. The big-box retailer initially shied away from the
organic label, afraid it would "send the wrong message."
But times have changed. Now customers embrace organic products,
which Earthbound Farm is able to offer at a price similar to
conventionally grown greens. "Now, if they substitute conventional,
they get a lot of comments from customers and requests for organic,"
Earthbound Farm now markets more than 100 organic products,
from salads to a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables, including
carrots, potatoes, apples, tomatoes, and grapes. The Goodmans
hope to build on their relationships with farmers and major
retailers to expand their distribution and make organic food
as available as conventional fruits and vegetables, at an affordable
price. If a high-quality organic option is available and the
price is competitive, many shoppers will choose organic, says
"We really feel like people should have the option available
to them, regardless of location and income level," says
Drew. "And that means getting organic into mainstream stores
where people shop. Most people are not going to go to another
store to buy organic produce."
Growing food organically costs more, but the Goodmans are able
to offer a competitively priced product by pursuing economies
of scale in farming, harvesting, transportation, and distribution.
They're constantly expanding their farmland, facilities, and
partnerships with farmers, enabling them to broaden the range
of products they offer.
"We've learned enough about farming to know we're not set
up to be the best carrot grower or the best citrus grower,"
says Drew. "But we distribute products under our brand
to all these retailers who do business with us because we have
the volume, variety, and quality they need. What's important
for the retail industry is being able to rely on their suppliers
In addition to giving people more choices when they buy their
food, the Goodmans take pride in seeing conventional farmers
adopt organic techniques simply because they work so well. "Our
success shows that organic farming is viable on a large scale,"
says Drew. "We've proven that it's possible to produce
top-quality produce without relying on chemical pesticides.
We're helping to protect the planet for future generations.
That's a very satisfying accomplishment."
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