It’s a wonder Hollywood hasn’t optioned the story of how Myra and Drew Goodman met and built their hugely successful Earthbound Farm. Growing up as New York City kids and deciding to wing it as small farmers before going for real jobs has all the makings of a doomed venture. And yet their gambol, which started with the purchase of a 2.5 acre patch of raspberries 25 years ago in Carmel Valley, California, ignited a drive to build an organic farming model so successful Earthbound Farm has become America’s largest grower of organic produce.
The Goodmans shared their story with an enthusiastic lunch crowd at Social Venture Network’s Fall Conference, which I’ve been attending this week in Rye Brook, New York. Interviewed by communications expert Eric Friedenwald-Fishman, the resulting banter between husband and wife – casually interrupting each other, cracking jokes, and laughing – had all the lively energy of a Nora Ephron screenplay.
Following is a highly arbitrary version of the highlights.
Drew on why the Goodmans became organic farmers: We got a quick six-hour tutorial on farming from the guy who had sold us our raspberry patch where I think I learned how to start the tractor. Once he left I opened the barn door. The fumes were so bad I told Myra we’ve got to farm differently.
Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Farming was our Google. We set off on a journey of trial and error and along the way got so excited about organic farming we began to think it belonged in the supermarket.
Myra on landing their first big deal: After a few years we were still packing bags of salad in our living room and had tons of teeny clients. Then we saw that Costco would be at an upcoming tradeshow and I said, “Honey, go get Costco!”
D: And I said, “okay.”
M: He’s an Aries and he’s really a ram – he’s got a thick skin.
D: That means I have a great capacity for rejection.
M: The guys from Costco came in their suits and briefcases…Our baby starts crying during the biggest meeting we ever had and I start nursing him. They left, and we just laughed. But later we learned we got the deal!
Drew on the importance of compromise: Costco agreed to work with us on one condition – we take “organic” off the bag. They thought the consumer would read it to mean poor quality and overpriced.
We decided not to let perfection get in the way of progress and so we printed up some bags for them. In 1999 they realized that organic salad is what the customer wants. This was the turning point in the mainstream thinking of organic – when changed from the shriveled apple in a 1980s health food store to beautiful produce in grocery stores.
Drew on making success happen: There was one guy who bought for a chain of stores in Northern California who I kept calling. I decided I’m going to call him until he buys from us. Five years ago he shows up at a trade show and tells me, “I’m responsible for your success. You called me 300 times before I bought your product.”
I think the Earthbound story shows that persistence and determination can really go a long way.
This article was writen by Good Food Media Group, a media and marketing service for food ventures.
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