Co-founder, Earthbound Farm
Myra Goodman is the Co-founder, Executive Vice-President, and Chief Creative Officer of Earthbound Farm. Originally from New York City, Earthbound Farm started in 1984 when Myra and her husband Drew began farming organically on their 2 -acre backyard garden in Carmel Valley, California. Today, their organic produce is farmed by more than 150 farmers on 30,000 acres and is available in 76% of American supermarkets. Annually, Earthbound Farm’s organic farming avoids the use of more than 10 million pounds of conventional agricultural chemicals.
“Starting our family brought the value of eating organic food into even sharper focus. Children are more vulnerable to developmental damage from pesticide residues on food; their bodies are still growing, their metabolisms are faster, and because of their smaller size, they eat more fruits and vegetables per pound of body weight than adults do.
When we first started farming, Drew and I knew instinctively that we didn’t want conventional agricultural chemicals in our backyard or on our food. We wanted to grow food we’d feel good about, and so we taught ourselves to farm organically. It’s my personal passion to bring the benefits of organic food to as many people as possible and serve as a catalyst for positive change. We’re trying to change how America farms and how Americans eat, because we believe organic food is the healthiest choice for people and the planet.”
Why I am so passionate about organic food and farming
By: Myra Goodman
Until I became a farmer myself, I never thought much about how my food was grown. When I bought produce in my local supermarket, the chemicals that were used to grow the items I purchased were odorless and invisible, so I had no idea they were there. But when Drew and I moved onto our farm in 1984 and were taught how to apply all the synthetic fertilizers and potent pesticides stacked in the shed, we both knew without a doubt — in our minds and hearts — that we didn’t want to handle these chemicals, apply them to our soil, or eat food grown with them. There was absolutely no question about it. We felt certain that there had to be a way to grow healthier food in cooperation with nature — we just needed to commit to figuring out how! And so began our lifelong journey as organic farmers.
For most of agricultural history, people grew crops using practices we would call organic. Not until the second half of the 20th century did the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides become common. Today, this type of farming is called “conventional,” meaning that any other practices are outside the norm. At first, these chemical inputs seemed to be extremely effective. They increased yields and decreased crop damage from insects and disease, and farmers saw the potential to be more successful and earn a better living. But like so many things that seem to be silver bullets at the outset, there were unpredicted consequences: health hazards that emerged with the persistence of chemical pesticides in our soil, water, air, and bodies; “dead zones” in major waterways; widespread erosion of topsoil due to a lack of productive organic matter; and ultimately a system of farming that has become dependent on more and stronger chemicals to sustain yields and viability.
In contrast, the principles of organic farming revolve around working with the biological and ecological systems that exist within nature. So rather than add synthetic fertilizers to increase fertility, we build the health of our soil in natural ways. We take advantage of the nutrients in things like compost and cover crops to improve soil quality over time. Instead of using toxic chemical insecticides, we work to build populations of beneficial insects that eat the “pest” insects that damage our crops. Each organic field has flowering habitats nearby, so that beneficial insects will have a place to make their homes. We also practice crop rotation, which means that we don’t plant the same crop in the same place season after season. Crop rotation breaks the cycle of pest infestations naturally, without having to resort to poisons. This practice also helps prevent plant diseases from building up in the field and takes advantage of the fact that different crops need different nutrients from the soil. And when it comes to weeds, we deal with them with tractors or by hand — not with toxic herbicides.
Organic farmers use natural methods to enrich the soil and create a healthy ecosystem in which the farm can thrive and produce delicious food. Organic farming complements the local ecology and does not expose our land, air, and water to toxic synthetic chemicals. It’s safer for the environment, for the people who farm the land, for the homes and schools nearby, and for those of us who eat the harvest.
Organic for the Health of the Planet
Because atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) contributes significantly to global warming, it’s more important than ever to find ways to reduce our “carbon footprint” in everything we do. According to the Rodale Institute, the leading researcher on this topic, organic soil can convert carbon from a greenhouse gas into a food- producing asset. Their studies have shown carbon increases of almost 30 percent in organic soil over 27 years, while conventional farming systems showed no significant increase in soil carbon in the same time period. It is thought that in the conventional system the application of soluble nitrogen fertilizers stimulates organic matter to decay more rapidly and completely, sending carbon into the atmosphere instead of retaining it in the soil as the organic systems do. Organic soils that are rich in carbon also conserve water and support healthier plants that are more resistant to drought stress, pests, and diseases.
Today, land that is farmed organically represents a small percentage of the United States’ agricultural output. Even so, the 2.4 million acres managed organically in 2005 — just 0.5 percent of all U.S. farmland — captured an estimated 2.4 billion pounds of atmospheric carbon. Imagine the effect if 25 percent, or even 50 percent, of U.S. agricultural farmlands converted to organic production. The land could potentially sequester 120 to 240 billion pounds of CO2 per year, the equivalent of removing up to 42 million cars from the road.
Organic growers, like the 150 dedicated farmers who grow organic produce for Earthbound Farm, understand the benefits of using natural methods to grow healthy crops and protect our ecosystems. It’s hard to believe that the idea of growing food effectively without agricultural chemicals seemed so radical when Drew and I started farming in 1984, even though people had farmed that way for centuries. To me it seems much more irrational to think that we can introduce all these toxic and persistent synthetic chemicals into the environment without significant adverse effects. Organic farming is a passion I’ve followed and will continue to follow because the stakes are so high—for the future health of our planet with its fragile resources, and for the health of our children. Organic farming produces safer, more nutritious, and more flavorful foods while protecting our precious natural resources for generations to come.