As a boy, I loved life, school, and friends. I had a somewhat frail body so whatever I could read about health, diet, exercise; I used to create a fitness program for myself and friends. First I started in my garage and then when there were too many of us, we moved to the local YMCA! We had found the ability to gain strength, overcome the seeming inadequacies of the body. We found new alternatives like this that opened a world of discovery and the power of making choices for ones own benefit.
By 1977, a small food store my partner and I created, had become one of the first natural foods supermarkets in the country and an innovator in the natural food industry. An entire store – NO chemicals, preservatives, artificial ingredients, sugar; we read the label for the customer! The energy and joy, that same thrill of finding healthy alternatives I found as a boy, is what all our customers found every day at the store.
I learned about herbs, botanicals, spices, teas and grains. It was a challenge to find sources, but we did! We really wanted organic products; ideally we wanted all our products to be organic, but unfortunately at that time there weren’t many...BUT, that was very powerful. And THAT was the seed and the blessing that really made everything happen.
Herbs really intrigued me. We moved to California and I had an opportunity to grow them. Fresh Herbs at the time were just row crops and of a mediocre quality. Our goal was to produce the highest quality on the market with nationwide distribution. I learned from growers of diverse crops in Southern California and developed innovative growing, harvest and packaging methods. It was the right time and place because by 1986 we were considered the ͞Fresh Herb͟ experts and had pioneered the fresh herb category in supermarkets nationwide. Slowly we converted our processes to organics, and expanded with a full line of high quality dried herbs that made their way to all the best spice companies in North America. With unique growing and drying techniques, we knew we could create programs around the world and bring the very first, full line of organically produced herbs, spices and botanicals to North America.
In the mid 90’s, this quest coincided with the world recognizing the need for social responsibility, sustainable agricultural methods and products. At this time, the tobacco industry was facing many challenges and unfortunately many tobacco farmers were losing their livelihood. We saw an opportunity. Partnering with villages in Turkey we collaborated with them to covert what had been tobacco farms to cultivated oregano, rosemary and other ingredients that up till then were only grown in the wild. These villager farmers were really inspired and successful.
We expanded from Turkey to the newly open societies of Eastern Europe, to Egypt and Africa.
Over 60% of the population in India lives in rural farms. The government and large companies recognized they had to develop opportunities for sustainable livelihoods. It was a time of rapid transformation. The growth of technology and its use would benefit business and farmer with advances in supply chain, infrastructure and the exchange of real time information. The first Government initiatives linked rural farmers with suppliers via the Internet for procurement of products like soybeans, wheat and coffee.
The diversity of our intended product line would procure products from the southern mountain forests to the central dry land farms. We would offer method and market for organic production in rural and semi-urban areas. Organic farming could utilize available skills and resources and at the same time improve agricultural productivity, safety and sustainably, and most important, a fair price for the farmers and their families.
We began what would become our legacy – connecting growers in remote regions of the world to the expanding organic markets in the U.S and Europe. Connecting customers to products directly sourced from growers; the direct link!
By the late 90’s, along with the growth in origin and product, we saw the need to organize all the farming details, harvest and production information. Organics still did not have the rules and definition as an industry. We saw the potential to market not only the high quality of our products, but the validation of true organic production. We developed what was an early version of traceability documentation.
By the year 2000, we grew to an extensive product line. We were the first and only company with an all organic herb and spice line. As committed and determined to organics that we were, the organic market still had a very small footprint, and we had to derive most of our income from the conventional product line we had maintained. As it was, we supplied the major chain of warehouse-style food stores based in Southern California with these products. However, it was apparent that we could never be a meaningful player in the conventional market. Therefore, a bold decision to become 100% organic as a company was made.