By Stephanie E. Ponder
THERE’S A COMMON adage among organic-food buyers: Pay now, or pay later. The implication
is that organic food might cost more than conventionally grown food. But what price—in terms
of health or the environment—might consumers pay later for not eating organic food?
For Myra and Drew Goodman, co-founders of Earthbound Farm in Carmel Valley, California,
the goal is to make organic food both affordable and accessible.
“Our mission,” says Myra, “is to bring the benefits of organic food to as many people as
possible and serve as a catalyst for positive change.” Backed by great ideas and well-planned
partnerships, Earthbound Farm has been able to do just that. The underlying key to their
success is an unfaltering belief in the importance and viability of organic farming.
An idea takes root
The Goodmans didn’t harbor any idealistic
dreams of becoming organic farmers, but it’s
obvious the lifestyle suits them, as both are
tanned and trim. Although they attended the
same high school in New York City, they formally met and began dating as college students
in California. Drew majored in environmental
studies, while Myra studied political economy
of industrial societies.
They moved into a Carmel Valley farmhouse in 1984, agreeing to take care of the
farm’s two and a half acres in exchange for rent.
Their passion for organic food ignited when
the owner instructed them how to spray the
raspberry plants with pesticides. Myra says her
instincts kicked in: She knew she did not want
to ingest those chemicals.
The couple opted to grow their raspberries organically and began selling them, along
with specialty greens and herbs, primarily to
local restaurants and at their roadside stand.
“We were charmed and seduced by living on
the farm,” Myra tells The Connection. “It was a
very lovely lifestyle, especially coming from New
York City. Once we realized there was business
potential we thought, ‘I guess this is what we’re
doing,’ and we scrapped our other plans.”
At that time, organic food was nowhere
close to the $20 billion industry it is today, with
at least 73 percent of consumers buying organics
at least occasionally Most people viewed it as a
byproduct of the hippie culture. By the time the
Goodmans began selling organic raspberries, the
term “organic,” for most shoppers, had evolved
to mean overpriced and low-quality food.
Drew says that, as non-farmers, making
the leap to organic farming wasn’t difficult.
Raspberries aren’t that hard to grow, he claims,
and they had only two and a half acres—
conveniently located in their backyard. “Within
five years we could have accepted that no one
wanted organic produce,” he says. “But we
For the young couple, organic farming
meant not using any chemical herbicides,
fumigants or synthetic fertilizers. Over the
years, organic farming has become more regulated, with a list of criteria (see sidebar on page
25) to meet before becoming certified.
How their garden grows
The Goodmans’ next big idea came two
years after the decision to pursue organic farming. It changed the way people purchase salad.
In 1986, they began bagging pre-washed lettuce
to sell to local specialty markets. After realizing
that lettuce packed on a Sunday was still fresh
a week later, they started selling bagged lettuce
across the United States.
“This was before convenience was a trend,”
says Drew. “With our city background, we
knew how hard it was to get fresh salad.”
The next step to fulfilling their mission
statement—bringing “the benefits of organic
food to as many people as possible”—came
in the early 1990s, when Myra asked Drew to
look for the Costco buyers at the Foodservice
Conference & Exposition. He managed to find
them, and a few phone calls and meetings later
Costco asked Earthbound Farm to supply
some of its California warehouses. By this time
Myra and Drew had purchased a bigger farm
in nearby Watsonville. However, at that time
organic food still had a reputation of being
low in quality and high in price, and the word
“organic” was removed from the Earthbound
Farm label for Costco.
All the while, Myra and Drew continued
expanding how much land they had for organic
farming—mostly in California. Earthbound
Farm acquired even more when they partnered
with Mission Ranches—which has land in
California, Arizona and Mexico—in 1995. The
extra acreage helped Earthbound Farm supply
the growing demand for its produce.
In 1993, the first year of the Costco partnership, Earthbound Farm had sales of $4.8
million. This year, Earthbound’s 23rd anniversary, the company is anticipating sales of