Meet Earthbound Farmer John Romans
“I just love going out there to the ranch. The dirt is my canvas, you know? And you’re like the artist out there. That work is my art. And I get to be a good steward of the land and the water. That’s what keeps me coming back.”
A Defining Moment
In 1987, John and fellow farmer Stan Pura came together with a few other local farmers to form Growers Express. It would be the beginning of decades long partnership. “Partnering with Stan was a defining moment in my career.”
While the early days were all about conventional farming, the story of John Romans’s career can’t be told without his embrace of organic farming, which started just eight years later when they joined up with founders Drew & Myra Goodman to help grow Earthbound Farm in 1995.
“I’m sorta like Eeyore (the pessimistic donkey of Winnie-the-Pooh stories),” said John. Meaning he was initially wary about farming organically. But his trusted partner Stan had met Earthbound Farm co-founders Drew & Myra Goodman and Stan was very enthusiastic about helping Earthbound Farm make fresh organic produce available to many, many more people. In short order, they became partners in Earthbound Farm, bringing Earthbound just what it needed at a critical juncture: more land, more resources, and most of all, the dedication of farmers who could help them scale organic agriculture with integrity.
“It was pretty tough early on,” remembers John. “We didn’t have any aphid resistant varieties and it was a lot of work cleaning up the new ranches as we transitioned the land into organic. But it was a good partnership. We really grew that thing.”
This group of visionaries radically changed the complexion of California’s Salinas Valley (aka The Salad Bowl of the World). Because Earthbound Farm’s passionate farmers who knew consumers would buy organic produce were also sophisticated in their ability to scale up organic production, they created incentive for other farmers to convert land to organic production. Today, a significant chunk of the fertile land in the Salinas Valley and San Benito County is certified organic, and it all started when John and Stan started transitioning prime farm ground to organic. “We put our necks on the line…all of us,” said John. “And eventually it all paid off.”
The Beauty of Organic Soil
If you want to see John light up, ask him about the organic soil, especially on the ranches he’s been farming organically for 25 years. “Organic farming does amazing things to the soil,” said John. “Soil becomes a lot more friable. It’s a lot easier to work. It’s a beautiful color and it actually smells like soil. But it takes a long time to get there. [The USDA organic regulations require] three years to transition ground to organic. But it takes a lot longer before you really see the difference between conventional and organic, you know?” How long? “At least eight years.”
Today, John’s son Alex is in the family business, too, and it’s extremely gratifying for him to watch Alex honing his skill as an organic farmer on the Las Colinas Ranch that he’s managing. In a way, it’s a validation of John’s life’s work to see Alex embrace the art of farming.
Sustainability is a Way of Working
John’s commitment to sustainability goes beyond organic farming. He has sought out ways to minimize the ranches’ dependence on fossil fuels by making the case for investing in solar energy, which Earthbound Farm’s parent Taylor Farms CEO Bruce Taylor has long embraced. “Once it’s all up and running, it will produce enough energy to run all of our wells,” said John. “It’s really a big deal. I’m excited about it.”
John has also installed Variable Frequency Drives (VFD) on the electric irrigation pumps on his ranches so that they are using less energy when they’re pumping a lower volume of water. You might think that’s standard, but a typical pump uses the same amount of energy regardless of the volume of water it’s pumping. This is a significant energy conservation measure.
“Sustainability is profitability and profitability is sustainability,” said John. “And that’s the truth.” You have to be resilient. “Every new challenge that comes up forces you to be resilient. You have to be flexible. That’s farming.”
They also have a grant to replace some of their diesel engines with electric and that’s moving along. The electric well pumps will ultimately be powered by solar.
And then there’s the most basic ways to conserve precious resources, such as being attentive to the irrigation infrastructure and ensuring leaks are fixed quickly so we’re not wasting a drop. “To me that’s a big deal,” said John. “I hate wasting water. I really watch my water.”
One thing John wants everyone who buys Earthbound Farm organic produce to know is, “How much care and love and attention we give to our work to give them a safe, tasty, reasonably priced product. And that we’re good stewards of the land and water.”
“When I go into a store and I see products that we grew, I just feel so proud.”