Iowa Public Television

 

Organic market grows a booming business

posted on May 19, 2000


ONCE THE PURVIEW OF A TINY HEALTH FOOD NICHE, SALES OF ORGANIC PRODUCE AND PRODUCTS HAVE, OVER THE LAST 8 YEARS, GROWN AT AN ANNUAL RATE OF BETTER THAN 20%.

EVIDENCE OF THE SECTOR'S REACH CAN BE FOUND IN A REPORT RELEASED BY THE FOOD MARKETING INSTITUTE. ACCORDING TO THE STUDY MORE THAN HALF THE CONSUMERS WHO SAY THEY BUY ORGANICS LOOK FOR THEM PRIMARILY AT THEIR TRADITIONAL SUPERMARKET.

MUCH OF THE GROWTH CAN BE ATTRIBUTED TO THE GROWING RANKS OF ENVIRONMENTALLY-SENSITIVE CONSUMERS IN PURSUIT OF HEALTHIER DIETS. BUT EVEN MORE OF THE GROWTH CAN BE TRACED TO ORGANIC PRODUCERS. FEW SECTORS OF AGRICULTURE CAN BOAST THE PRODUCTION AND MARKETING ACUMEN OF ORGANIC FARMERS. A CASE IN POINT, AS JOHN NICHOLS FOUND LAST WINTER, IS THE RISE OF A TINY CALIFORNIA OPERATION TO NATIONAL PROMINENCE.

THE CARMEL VALLEY, JUST EAST OF MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA IS ONE OF AMERICA'S MOST SCENIC PLACES.

WITH LUSH GOLF COURSES AND LUXURIOUS HOMES, THE REGION IS A PLAYGROUND FOR THE WEALTHY. IT'S ALSO THE SITE OF A DRAMATIC AGRICULTURAL SUCCESS STORY.

IN 1984, EARTHBOUND FARM WAS FOUNDED ON TWO-AND-A-HALF ACRES IN THE BACKYARD OF DREW AND MYRA GOODMAN'S CARMEL VALLEY HOME.

Drew Goodman: "We never really expected to be farmers. I think it just was something where we were in the right place and at the right time…"

ORIGINALLY, EARTHBOUND FARM RAISED ORGANIC RASPBERRIES, SPECIALTY SALAD GREENS AND EXOTIC HERBS, WHICH WERE SOLD TO A HANDFUL OF LOYAL CUSTOMERS.

THE COUPLE BEGAN WASHING AND BAGGING SALAD FOR THEIR OWN CONVENIENCE, AND NOTICED THAT AS LONG AS THE ORGANIC GREENS WERE PROPERLY WASHED AND DRIED, THEY KEPT THEIR FRESH-FROM-THE-GARDEN APPEARANCE.

PROCESSING THE SALADS IN THEIR KITCHEN, THE COUPLE BEGAN TO MARKET THE PRE-WASHED GREENS TO THE PUBLIC IN 1986.

THE GOODMANS HAD THEIR OWN REASONS FOR RAISING EVERYTHING ORGANICALLY.

Myra Goodman:" 'Cause we didn't want to touch any chemicals. You know at that point, it was just we didn't want to go out and buy bags of chemicals and handle them and breath them. We didn't know anything about them, but it was just like cooties."

Drew Goodman: "Yeah, I I think it just seemed like the right way to farm. I I think sometimes you have the benefit sometimes lack of experience can be a benefit, and I think in in this case, it seemed like the right thing to do and we had no knowledge, how to do it any other way."

BY 1995, SALES OF EARTHBOUND SALADS WERE BOOMING. BUT SUPPLY WAS LIMITED DUE TO THE SIZE OF THE FARM.

TO KEEP UP WITH DEMAND, THE GOODMANS FORMED A PARTNERSHIP WITH A GROUP OF EXPERIENCED, LARGE-SCALE FARMERS.

TODAY, THE COMPANY FARMS 5,800 ACRES OF NUMEROUS ORGANIC CROPS IN CALIFORNIA, ARIZONA AND MEXICO.

OFFERING MORE THAN 80 CHOICES OF CERTIFIED ORGANIC FRUITS, VEGETABLES AND SPECIALTY SALADS, EARTHBOUND FARM IS NOW AMERICA'S LARGEST ORGANIC PRODUCER.

STAN PURA IS THE COMPANY'S DIRECTOR OF FARMING OPERATIONS.

Stan Pura: "The organic approach is … is a lot more creative approach. You need progressive people working for you. You need very instinctive farmers. Farmers that are real solid in there cultural practices and there is no margin for error. And I really think that the success is a result of the team that we have in place."

ONE OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FOR EARTHBOUND FARM IS HAVING THE RIGHT PRODUCE AT THE RIGHT TIME.

THE COMPANY ALSO MUST ANTICIPATE MARKET TRENDS AND DEVELOP INNOVATIVE WAYS TO PRESENT ITS PRODUCE.

MARK MARINO IS EARTHBOUND'S DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT.

Mark Marino: "These are the Ultra Green ingredients. And ah in this configuration of pack they're known as the Neapolitan because of the stripes like the Neapolitan Ice Cream. And we have here the Red Nagoya Kale, which is hand picked each leaf. The beautiful little Kale leaf. Got the Pea Sprouts just a regular Pea Sprout that we grow and then cut them into a baby form. The White Peacock Kale which is a real gorgeous green also hand picked leaf by leaf. I think it's the finest salad product on the market today."

THE COMPANY NOW WASHES AND PACKS ITS GREENS AT ITS OWN STATE-OF-THE-ART PROCESSING FACILITY. AND EARTHBOUND ISN'T THE ONLY ORGANIC PRODUCER EXPERIENCING GROWTH.

ACCORDING TO THE ORGANIC TRADE ASSOCIATION, THE INDUSTRY GREW AT LEAST 20% IN EACH OF THE PAST FIVE YEARS, WITH '98 SALES SURPASSING THE FIVE BILLION DOLLAR MARK.

SINCE ORGANICS ACCOUNT FOR ONLY 2% OF THE OVERALL PRODUCE MARKET, ANALYSTS EXPECT THE EXPANSION TO CONTINUE.

ONE REASON ORGANIC PRODUCE TENDS TO COST A LITTLE MORE THAN ITS CONVENTIONAL COUNTERPART IS DUE TO INCREASED LABOR COSTS.

SINCE ALL OF EARTHBOUNDS BABY LETTUCES ARE HARVESTED BY HAND, THE COMPANY CHARGES A PREMIUM FOR ITS PRODUCTS.

A GREAT DEAL OF WEEDING IS DONE BY HAND AS WELL, BUT EARTHBOUND EMPLOYS OTHER WEAPONS IN ITS WAR AGAINST WEEDS.

Mark Marino: "Well the flame weeder is one of the best weapons in organic growing to combat the pesky little weeds that tend to come up and come up ‘cause we can't use any pre-emergent herbicides. We get our beds ready to plant and then we flame the tops of them with this weeder. it kills all the little sprouting weeds that are just starting to grow … the little seeds right under the surface because most weed seeds need daylight to germinate. and then we get a really good clean cultivation to start with on those crops."

WITH GROSS SALES EXPECTED TO SURPASS 60 MILLION DOLLARS THIS YEAR, EARTHBOUND FARM IS PROSPERING AT A TIME WHEN MANY CONVENTIONAL FARMERS ARE STRUGGLING TO SURVIVE.

BUT THE COMPANY HASN'T FORGOTTEN ITS ROOTS AND STILL OPERATES A ROADSIDE STAND.

Myra Goodman: "As our company has gotten so large, and we're farming all over California, Arizona, Mexico, it's nice to have a location that people can identify as Earth Bound Farms, so people feel this is Earth Bound Farm. And it's also an opportunity for us to offer the community more information about organic growing."

TERRY TERFLINGER BUYS PRODUCE AT THE ROADSIDE STAND FOR THE WHITE OAK GRILL, A RESERVATION-ONLY RESTAURANT HE OPERATES IN CARMEL VALLEY.

Terry Terflinger: "I can come in the morning and pick what I need for the day. That's special. Our bulk product we may get from some other provider, but the Swiss Chard that I picked out, the tomatoes, squash our things that I buy daily. The quality is superb and if it's not they don't sell it, which is nice for me."

DIRECT MARKETING ASIDE, EARTHBOUND SELLS ITS PRODUCTS AT THOUSANDS OF RETAIL OUTLETS IN ALL 50 STATES AND CANADA.

IN JUST 15 YEARS, THE OPERATION HAS GROWN FROM A BACKYARD GARDEN WITH TWO EMPLOYEES TO 5,800 CERTIFIED ORGANIC ACRES EMPLOYING 700 WORKERS. YET, THE GOODMANS ARE QUITE MODEST ABOUT THE GROWTH.

Myra Goodman: "Our company seems to have a life of its own. We feel like we're going along for the ride. You know it's kind of they say, "You could have a child, but you can't really determine exactly what their life is going to be like," You know we sort of have this business, and we're helping guide it, but it seems to have a life of its own, and we just try and make smart decisions along the way."

FOR MARKET TO MARKET, I'M JOHN NICHOLS.


Tags: agriculture business food health news organic