From an organic pioneer, a vegan cookbook

© Scott Campbell PhotographyOne of my favorite events each year is Cooking for Solutions, a conference and food festival staged beautifully by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It’s a gathering of smart people who are passionate about food–how it’s produced, its impact on the environment and on health and, of course, how it tastes. Monterey is a great place to spend a few days and the aquarium is world-class. This year, I met some great chefs who I hope to be able to write about in the weeks and months ahead.

I also re-connected with Myra Goodman, who with her husband Drew co-founded Earthbound Farm, an organic industry powerhouse. Myra and Drew host a breakfast outdoors each year at Earthbound’s Farm Stand in Carmel Valley, which is usually followed by a panel about the organic industry.

imgresThis year, Myra made news herself. She and Drew sold Earthbound to an even bigger organic firm, White Wave Foods, and she and her daughter Marea have written a cookbook called Straight From the Earth: Irresistible Vegan Recipes for Everyone. I haven’t had a chance to try any of the recipes yet, but I did write about Myra and her book last week for Guardian Sustainable Business.

Here’s how my story begins:

Myra and Drew Goodman never planned to become farmers. They were two kids from New York City who graduated from the same high school, went to college and then made their way to northern California to take a year off before grad school. Living in a 600-square-foot home in rural Carmel Valley, they grew organic raspberries and sold them at a roadside stand. “A romantic adventure”, Myra calls it.

That was 30 years ago. Grad school never happened, but their company, Earthbound Farm, became America’s largest grower of organic produce. In January, the Goodmans and their shareholders sold Earthbound to White Wave, a Colorado-based company whose brands include Silk and Horizon Organic, for about $600m.

That’s a lot of lettuce.

I sat down with Myra Goodman last week during Cooking for Solutions, a conference and foodfest presented by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We talked about the growth of the organic food industry, the problems with meat and why the word “vegan” isn’t in the title of her new cookbook of plant-based recipes, Straight from the Earth.

Over the past three decades, Goodman, who is 50, has helped change the way crops are grown in America; now she’d like to help change the American diet. “We need to eat a lot less meat,” she says, “and a lot more plants”.

It looks like America may be moving in that direction. Last week, the organic food industry reported that it is growing again after a sluggish few years, post-recession. Sales of organic products in the US jumped to $35.1bn in 2013, up 11.5% from $31.5bn in 2012, the fastest growth rate in five years, according to the Organic Trade Association.

The story goes on to explain why eating less meat — particularly conventionally raised beef — is one of the simplest steps anyone can take to reduce carbon emissions. You can read the rest here.

The surprising roots of Earthbound Farm

goodman_revDrew and Myra Goodman never planned to become farmers. Two kids from New York City,  they graduated from the same high school and made their way to northern California, where Drew went to UC-Santa Cruz, Myra to Berkeley. (She majored in “The Political Economy of Industrial Societies.”  Ah, Berkeley. ) Grad school was next on her agenda—Myra anticipated a career in international relations—but she and Drew decided to take a year off to live in a 600-square-foot home in rural Carmel Valley. “A romantic adventure,” she called it.

But, as John Lennon once wrote, “life is what gets in the way when you are making other plans.” Drew and Myra grew raspberries on a two-and-half acre plot, selling them first at a roadside stand, then to restaurants in nearby Carmel. They didn’t know much about farming, but because they didn’t like the smell of the chemical fertilizers and pesticides, they tried organic farming, guided by Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. They grew salad greens, too, and while they made only $9,800 in their first year, 1984, they decided that grad school could wait. And then wait some more.

earthboundfarmA quarter century later, their Earthbound Farm is America’s largest grower of organic produce. Drew and Myra were the first to sell the pre-washed bagged salads that are now on supermarket shelves everywhere, and they dominate that market. Today, Earthbound processes and markets more than 100 varieties of salads, vegetables and fruit, gathered from about 150 farmers who tend 35,000 organically-farmed acres from British Columbia to Mexico. Earthbound Farm products are available in 75% of supermarkets across the country, and the firm makes store brands for chains like Costco, Safeway and Trader Joe’s. Annual revenues top $400 million.

Talk about organic growth!

“We’ve been sprinting nonstop,” says Drew, just to keep up. Things eased up a bit lately after he  [click to continue…]