March is Women’s History Month and if you appreciate the ability to grab some organic spring mix, baby spinach, arugula, or other organic salad greens pretty much any day in any supermarket, you need to know that these three women each had a big hand in making that possible.
So raise your fork to these Green Grrrrrrls (mostly from Earthbound Farm’s history) next time you enjoy an organic salad or really any other organic produce. We are grateful to the heavy lifting these women did to expand organic and make it more available to us all.
#1: Earthbound Farm Co-Founder Myra Goodman. Myra was just weeks out of college when she and her husband Drew decided they wanted to take a back-to-the-land break before grad school. They wound up on two and a half idyllic acres in California’s verdant Carmel Valley, which was already home to an heirloom raspberry patch and dozens of fruit and nut trees. Neither of them had farming experience, but they decided to work this beautiful land organically. They pretty much figured it out on their own and started the business (such as it was at the time) by selling the organic heirloom raspberries from a folding table at the roadside. Soon they were growing baby greens for restaurants. That turned into washing them, drying them and bagging them for sale at grocery stores. And that started a chain reaction that eventually popularized spring mix and brought certified organic produce to supermarkets and corner stores across the country and the conversion of thousands of acres of farmland to organic. With Earthbound Farm now part of the local, family-owned company Taylor Farms, the Goodmans are focused on other projects. In addition to starting Earthbound Farm, Myra is the author of three cookbooks as well as, most recently, a book about her father’s search for light as a Holocaust survivor. You can watch her TEDx talk, “In Praise of Big Organic” here.
#2: Tonya Antle led the charge to bring organic onto mainstream supermarket shelves. Tonya grew up in California’s Central Valley on her family’s farm. As a young mother, she would drive hours from her Central Valley home to the closest “health food” store (Mrs. Gooch’s in Los Angeles) so she could buy organic food for her young children. She was an organic believer from the get-go. After successfully breaking the organic barrier by convincing Stop ‘n’ Shop to buy organic grapes in the late 80s, Tonya came to Earthbound Farm as Vice President of Organic Sales in 1998 and pretty soon, Earthbound Farm organic spinach, spring mix, and other salads were available in nearly 80% of all American supermarkets. Which is not to say it was always easy. Tonya was always good at busting down barriers – barriers to women in the very male world of produce, barriers to organic in mainstream retail – and doing it with wit and humor. After Earthbound Farm, Tonya has gone on to mentor many other young women in organic produce and also co-founded Organic Produce Network.
#3: Kathleen Merrigan could be called the mother of USDA Organic Certification. While not directly attached to Earthbound Farm, her impact on the world of organic is profound. If you’re a bit wonky, you might remember her as the U.S. Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 2009 to 2013. While in that role, she worked to integrate expertise about organic food and farming throughout the USDA, into programs such as research and education, marketing orders and promotion, and crop insurance. As a result, organic was no longer relegated strictly to the National Organic Program and the rest of the USDA came to understand its value and importance. But even before that, she was a legislative aid to Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont where she helped draft the law (the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990) that led to the establishment of the National Organic Program, and played a pivotal role in drafting the USDA Regulations, as well. Currently, she is Executive Director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University.