On the Road to Sustainability
The following are some of the many leaders in the organic trade who are moving toward sustainability in their operations.
*** Indicates companies that are sponsors of the Food Trade Sustainability Leadership Initiative.
Home Delivery Service
As a long-time leader of the organic farming movement, family-owned and –operated, Cal-Organic lives up to its motto: “Farming with Pride and Integrity.” Cal-Organic is justifiably proud of the amount of acreage it farms, and continues to convert, to organic agriculture. The company started with 1⁄4 acre of lettuce in 1983 and now farms 60 vegetable crops year-round on close to 22,000 certified organic acres. It is one of just a few organic farms in California’s Southern San Joaquin Valley, which is one of the world’s premier agricultural regions. To ensure year-round harvests, they also farm acreage in the Tehachapi Mountains, and the Antelope, Coachella and Imperial valleys.
Cal-Organic Farms uses methods of growing and processing foods that rely on the earth's natural resources. The company works hard to be on the forefront of innovative farming methods and technologies that help reduce the amount of environmentally harmful materials in soils. Pests and weeds are managed using earth-friendly means such as beneficial insects and mechanical controls. They don’t use petrochemical pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides or fumigants, or genetically engineered, genetically modified, or irradiated materials. Through these choices, they have successfully prevented the use of hundreds of thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals.
In addition, Cal-Organic Farms was the first shipper to use totally recyclable lettuce bags, and they’re working toward using only non-waxed, recyclable cardboard boxes.
“Our ideas and values are limited only by the technology available to us,” says Todd Linsky, director of sales. “We are aware of our role as an industry leader and strive to set a high benchmark for our competitors for the benefit of future generations.”
Cal-Organic maintains an informal work environment where creative thinking, respect, family values, and camaraderie are promoted. “We realize and acknowledge that our co-workers are just as much a representation of who we are as the produce we sell,” Linsky said.
Contact: Todd Linsky, TLinsky@grimmway.com,
(661) 845-2296, http://www.calorganicfarms.com
Fir Oak Farm
Fir Oak is a perfect example of small-scale sustainable organic farming. "We consider ourselves post-modern day pioneers striving to help develop sustainable methods of doing business and living lightly on the earth," say owners Jim Chambers and Patti Rieman. The couple farms about three acres of blueberries and heirloom and cherry tomatoes.
Fir Oak, nestled in hills about 35 miles south of Roseburg, is miles away from electric power and telephone lines. Because it’s too expensive to extend the utility lines to their farm, for 10 years, Jim and Patti relied on 12-volt car batteries, kerosene and wood as their energy sources. In 1986, they installed photovoltaic panels to create solar-generated electricity to run everything from their household appliances to their irrigation pump greenhouse lights and produce coolers, and a 12-volt cell phone.
Jim and Patti are committed to nurturing wildlife. They converted 10 of their 35 acres to a native-species forest that provides habitat, heating fuel and building materials. All of their buildings are pole structures because they require less material, which they can produce onsite. They received funding through the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to dedicate 10 acres that border the meandering Cow Creek to vibrant riparian plantings that support salmon. Cow Creek is a designated salmon spawning tributary of the South Umpqua River. Jim said they worked closely with the USDA to test unconventional forestry techniques. Their results – diverse, thick and healthy vegetation – proved their argument that herbicides were an unnecessary management tool.
To conserve fossil fuels, Jim and Patti have switched from machine to hand labor when possible. Jim says the most fuel they consume is to deliver produce to Organically Grown Company (OGC). “We used to make a 200-mile round-trip to OGC in Eugene,” Jim explains. “But OGC runs trucks to its distribution center near Ashland six times per week. They’re committed to efficiency, including filling their trucks on back-hauls, so we, and several other OGC growers near I-5, meet their trucks on the highway, and they carry it back to Eugene. That has cut our fuel use by almost 80%!”
Contact: Jim Chambers and Patti Rieman, Fir Oak Farm,
Jacobs Farm/ Del Cabo***
Founded in 1980, Jacobs Farm grows 200 acres of culinary herbs, edible flowers, and specialty vegetables on the California coast, 45 miles south of San Francisco. In 1985, the Jacob’s family founded Del Cabo, a grower cooperative, to teach small growers in Baja California organic growing practices, management and organizational skills, and connect them to markets in the US, Canada, Europe, and Asia.
Jacobs Farm and partners recently created Farm Fuel Inc, (FFI) to supply biodiesel from mustard seed. FFI will press the seed into oil and convert the leftover meal into organic herbicides and biocides. Growers who commit to growing the seed may buy FFI shares; they’ll receive revenues from the sale of the oil, and access to the oil and other organic products. FFI’s goal is to have one million acres of mustards planted in California to replace approximately 2% of California’s diesel fuel use.
Contact: Marina Pace, Jacobs Farm / Del Cabo,
Marina@jacobsfarm.com, (650) 879-2330, http://www.delcabo.com
New Harvest Organics***
New Harvest Organics is a grower, packer, shipper and growers' agent based in Rio Rico, Arizona. It is one of OGC’s major citrus suppliers. New Harvest partners with over 25 organic growers, many of whom have been growing organically for more than a decade.
“New Harvest Organics' growers consider ourselves stewards of the land,” says Philip Ostrom, owner. “We use natural agricultural practices such as crop rotation and cover cropping to improve soil fertility and to control weeds and pests. Our growers produce their own compost, rich in nutrients, and then add it to the soil to create a healthy harvest. Significant attention and concern is given to the cultivation of New Harvest Organics' produce. We feel the effort is well worth the food safety assurance and the sustainability of the land.”
When the company remodeled its 4,000-square-foot office, it used locally-manufactured paints derived from clay, soy, and casein (made from milk) that are colored with earth minerals; replaced all carpeting with low-VOC bamboo flooring and clay tiles; and made counters and desks from pressed sunflower hull panels. In addition, they super-insulated all coolers, and installed energy-efficient lighting fixtures, instantaneous water heaters and HVAC units. These energy-conservation measures have cut their energy use 40%.
The company also is committed to waste reduction. Their Patagonia Farm composts 100% of its organic waste. Aggressive recycling has reduced waste from the warehouse by 80%. The company also uses wax-impregnated cartons that are 100% recyclable, and is replacing all plastic citrus bags with compostable soy-based bags. In the past six months, they have doubled the amount of fruit that is packed in reusable plastic containers. Finally, New Harvest Organics runs its trucks on 90% biodiesel.
Contact: Philip Ostrom, Owner, New Harvest Organics, Philip@newharvestorganics.com (520) 281-0231, or http://www.newharvestorganics.com
Elanor O’Brien and Jeff Falen’s Persephone Farm is nestled between the south fork of the Santiam River and the foothills of the Cascade Range. They have been growing organic vegetables and premium Northwest strawberries in this stunning location for 21 years. According to Jeff, the farm was founded on “a desire to create a balanced farm ecosystem,” a place where they work with the elements as opposed to against them.
That extends to their vision of growing truly “seasonal organic produce.” They don’t try to extend the normal growing season, in part because their soil is too wet to work during the rainy months, and because they work hard to reduce the amount of plastic on the farm. Therefore, they use small greenhouses only to start their seeds; they don’t grow anything to maturity in larger plastic-covered greenhouses.
In addition, they produce as much of their fertilizer onsite as possible. One rich source is a flock of hundreds of free-range laying hens. The chickens live in a large, mobile coop called the “Eggmobile”, which is moved monthly. The chickens also reduce weed seeds and “bad” bugs – and their eggs are quick sellers at farmers markets.
Jeff and Elanor also create habitats specifically to attract beneficial organisms. Their “insectary” plantings encourage helpful insects to move to – and stay on – the farm. In addition, they are participating in an OSU-led study to establish “beetle banks.” These are raised, grassy areas that provide winter habitat for predaceous beetles.
Recently, the couple added sixty-four photovoltaic (solar) panels to provide about two-thirds of the farm’s electricity. That includes the power for the eight-battery electric motor on their 1950s Allis-Chalmers model G tractor, which they converted from gas. The electric tractor is now quieter and less polluting, and has plenty of oomph. (Step-by-step conversation instructions are available on the Internet.) Persephone plans to heat their greenhouses and other buildings with heat pumps that run on solar instead of propane.
Contact: Jeff Falen or Elanor O’Brien, Persephone Farm
Spring Hill Farm
With what Jamie Kitzrow calls a "passion for plants" and an environmentally conscious desire to “do some positive work for the world,” he and Lisa Schwartz, of Spring Hill Farm, have been growing certified organic produce on 25 acres near Albany since 1995. Today, they grow over 45 varieties of crops and place a strong emphasis on creating a good workplace –a place people want to come back to year after year. It has worked; their foremen have been on the farm since 1999. The couple also runs all of their trucks on biodiesel, and purchases all of their electricity through Pacific Power’s Blue Sky wind energy program. Recently, they began participating in Organically Grown Company’s tests of reusable produce shipping totes; they also use reusable boxes for deliveries to local stores.
Contact: Jamie Kitzrow and Lisa Schwartz,
email@example.com, (541) 967-8726
Food Front Cooperative Grocery
Food Front is a consumer cooperative in Northwest Portland. Its mission is “building a vibrant community and a healthier world by selling wholesome food and empowering people.” Food Front builds from the vision of its members to strengthen and extend the social fabric by democratizing capital ownership (social, natural and economic) to create a sustainable community.
“As a natural expression of our mission to create sustainable community, we operate our business to use resources wisely, reduce waste, and encourage everyone to be conscious of their impacts on the Earth,” says Holly Jarvis, general manager. “We volunteer for pilot programs to develop new ways for businesses to reduce their impact on the environment.”
Here are some examples of this dedication:
Waste reduction: By participating in Metro’s ‘Fork it Over’ program, and as a test site and ongoing participant in the ‘Portland Composts’ programs, they have prevented tons of organic materials from going to the landfill. “Fork it Over” donates food to hunger-relief programs. Through “Portland Composts”, Food Front sends produce and deli waste, food-contaminated paper, and yard trimmings to a commercial composting facility in Washington.
The co-op also recycles business-generated paper, cardboard, tin, aluminum, glass, metal, plastics and scrap metal, and reuses Styrofoam peanuts. They offer onsite recycling for customers’ plastic bags, bottles, and containers, and aseptic containers. Food Front also properly handles hazardous materials, such as fluorescent bulbs, batteries, ballasts, scrap metal, paint and electronics. To encourage reuse of shopping bags by customers, they donate $0.05 to local non-profits.
Energy: The co-op sponsors Portland General Electric’s Clean Wind program for businesses.
Air Quality: Food Front has been an Air Quality Monitoring Site for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, to test air quality monitoring technology.
Stormwater: Food Front installed a small bioswale adjacent to their parking lot, and raised funds to create a bioswale at the Metropolitan Learning Center School in Northwest Portland.
Contact: Holly Jarvis, Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org,
(503) 222-5658, or http://www.foodfront.coop
LifeSource Natural Foods
LifeSource Natural Foods in Salem, Oregon, has been proactive on issues of sustainability since it opened in 1994.
Organics: They’ve maintained a 99% organic produce section throughout its history. Many suppliers are local.
Energy: LifeSource uses energy-efficient lighting, and meets 100% of their electrical load through clean wind power from Portland General Electric.
Waste reduction and recycling: LifeSource reuses and recycles extensively, chooses recycled-content paper products, composts all produce department and deli vegetable spoilage and trimmings, and rewards customers for reusing their own shopping bags.
Community involvement: They publish a monthly newsletter to educate about sustainability and organics. (They encourage customers to receive it via email; they print hard copies on recycled paper with soy-based ink.) In addition, they donate “day-old” food and produce to local charities, and support and donate to local environmental initiatives and organizations.
Employee sustainability: According to store manager Jeff Watson, the store's "humanistic approach" with employees features a comprehensive compensation and benefits program, including “livable wages and a good balance of work and personal time.” For these commitments, LifeSource’s owner Alex Beamer received Provender Alliance’s “Four Nickels” Award in 2003 for “minting new paradigms of holistic business operations and balancing the equation between quality of life, human need, and financial success for the strength and betterment of all."
Contact: Alex Beamer, Owner, LifeSource Natural Foods, email@example.com, (503) 361-7973, or http://www.lifesourcenaturalfoods.com
New Seasons Markets***
New Seasons Market is a locally owned and operated chain of neighborhood grocery stores with 1,500 employees in the Portland area. New Seasons Market’s commitment to innovation, sustainability and community involvement have won it numerous awards. Here are some highlights:
Energy: New Seasons uses 10% wind power at all stores, ambient light sensors, energy- efficient motors, T8 fluorescent bulbs, and selective lighting at night, and captures waste heat from refrigeration systems to heat its stores.
Alternative transportation: New Seasons uses Flex Cars, powers its delivery vans with biodiesel-blend fuel, subsidizes employee bus passes and Flex Car use, and supports bicycle transportation in myriad ways. The delivery vans prevent up to 30 trips to the grocery store per day.
Water/stormwater: Knee-operated hand-wash sinks reduce water for hand washing in food preparation areas. Bioswales absorb rainwater.
Waste reduction/pollution prevention: Food scraps are composted through Metro’s Commercial Compost Program. Deli-to-go containers are made from 100% biodegradable, 100% recyclable and home-compostable waste sugar cane fibers. Disposable cutlery is made from fully compostable potato starch. The company uses salvaged and recycled-content building materials and reconditioned equipment extensively. All stores offer recycling for some of the hard-to-recycle items that aren’t picked up curbside. Most office waste is source-separated for easy recycling. New Seasons even recycles customers’ used scrip and gift cards.
Buying local: New Seasons gives first priority to local, sustainable farmers, ranchers and manufacturers. The company’s visible “Home Grown” label identifies products that are grown, caught or produced in Oregon, Washington, or Northern California. The company’s “Pacific Village” brand expands the Home Grown ingredients’ reach. Already, the program is increasing the number of sustainably farmed acres in the region.
Commitment to organic: New Seasons was the first grocery store in the nation to have certified organic bakeries.
Extensive customer, supplier and peer education about sustainability: This includes farmer videos, a Sustainable Seafood Program, and the company’s website, www.newseasonsmarket.com, which provides diverse information, from recipes to sustainability issues and legislation.
Contact: Claudia Knotek, Community Relations Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org, (503) 473-8714, or http://www.newseasonsmarket.com
PCC Natural Markets***
PCC Natural Markets began as a food-buying club of 15 Seattle–area families in 1953. Today, it's the largest consumer-owned natural food cooperative in the US, with eight stores – five in Seattle and three in outlying suburbs – nearly 40,000 active members, and almost $110 million a year in sales.
PCC is owned by its members who shop, along with thousands of non-members, in their neighborhood locations and value PCC’s commitment to advocating high-quality food standards, supporting local and sustainable agriculture, educating consumers about timely issues, operating in an environmentally friendly way, and building community.
PCC has worked hard to incorporate “green” building features into their stores. They expect that their newest store will be only the third grocery store in the US to receive the prestigious Gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the US Green Building Council. To bring ample natural light into the sales area, they installed 28 skylights with special diffusing glazing. This allows 65% of visible light to enter, while blocking 64% of the sun’s heat. A mixture of fluorescent and ceramic metal halide lighting achieves full-spectrum lighting. General lighting consumes only 0.21 watts per square foot, which is 86% lower than the already low Washington State Energy Code; and accent lighting uses just 0.94 watts per square foot, which is 37% less than code. Daylight sensors turn off the general lighting in the sales area when there is sufficient sun, thereby reducing lighting wattage by an additional 40%. The space heating, water heating, and refrigeration systems use the same refrigerant loop, so waste heat from the refrigeration system is utilized by the other functions. The major exhaust hoods at the stovetops operate only when they sense smoke or steam, instead of running continuously. The results? Lower energy bills, improved equipment efficiencies, and enhanced customer comfort.
PCC members are especially concerned about packaging, especially plastic, so PCC buyers give preference to products that come in non-plastic and/or minimal packaging. The co-op prohibits so-called “bioplastics” made from genetically engineered (GE) corn, because they believe that supporting GE crops in any form is not sustainable. PCC is looking for much “greener” options. Soon, they will introduce either a potato-starch- or sugarcane-based “plastic” coffee cup lid and/or deli utensil.
Contact: Trudy Bialic, Director, Public Affairs/ Editor,
PCC Natural Markets, email@example.com,
(206) 547-1222, or http://www.pccnaturalmarkets.com
Home Delivery Service
Environmental responsibility and community accountability are of paramount importance to Pioneer Organics. They run their business in a way that respects the planet and the people who inhabit it. How?
Contact: Ronny Bell, firstname.lastname@example.org,
(206) 632-3424, or http://www.pioneerorganics.com
CF Fresh is a respected leader in the organic community, volunteering their expertise to ensure that organic regulations for organic produce remain strong and continue to meet the needs of both farmers and consumers. The company sells a large variety of certified organic produce, from apples and pears to potatoes and onions, from more than 75 growers in North America and South America.
Their sustainability efforts include:
Energy: They purchase Green Power as part of the Green Power Partnership. In addition, the company is actively researching solar panel options for the office. To reduce fossil-fuel consumption, some staff members walk and bike to work, and carpool as much as possible. Many work at home.
Waste reduction/sustainable packaging: CF Fresh uses degradable EPI plastics and clamshells, and recycled wood for pear boxes and pallets. They sell in bulk as much as possible. They’ve converted to EDI billing (electronic) with as many customers as possible, which reduces paper consumption dramatically. In addition, they buy recycled materials, and recycle cans, bottles, paper and folders, and copy machine toner. Employees even use actual plates, glasses and silverware in the office kitchen, and cloth towels.
Green cleaning: CF Fresh chooses green products for regular weekly maintenance.
Employee sustainability: The company offers employees profit sharing and bonus programs.
Community support: CF Fresh donates thousands of dollars of materials to community events and food banks.
Contact: Maureen Royal, email@example.com,
(360) 855- 3191, or http://www.cffresh.com
Organically Grown Company***
Based in Eugene, Oregon, Organically Grown Company (OGC) is the largest organic produce wholesaler in the Pacific Northwest. In November 2006, Oregon Tilth named OGC “Outstanding Visionary of the Year” for their “innovation and creativity in forwarding the vision of a sustainable future.” The award highlighted OGC’s leadership in encouraging the organic-foods industry to address major issues collaboratively, from global warming to social equity.
Guided by a 2004 analysis of the company’s environmental impacts by Resource Innovations at the University of Oregon, OGC meets 100% of its electrical load with clean wind power, remodeled its facilities to feature state-of-the-art energy-efficiency measures, runs its truck fleet on 20% biodiesel and is testing 99% biodiesel. Between 2004 and October 2006, OGC displaced 27,547 gallons of diesel with pure biodiesel. Most of it came from SeQuential Biofuels, which sources 95% of its biodiesel from used cooking oil from Northwest restaurants.
In 2005 OGC began buying bananas exclusively from Organics Unlimited’s (***) “Giving Resources and Opportunities to Workers” (‘GROW’) program. In the first quarter of 2006, GROW donated over $61,000 to educational programs in communities in southern Mexico from which Organics Unlimited draws its labor.
Finally, OGC donates 2.5% of its previous year's net profit to organizations focused on organic agriculture and sustainability.
Contact: David Lively, Marketing Director,
(541) 689-5320 or http://www.organicgrown.com
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