In 1937, Albert and Frances Lundberg left their cattle and grain farm in Nebraska and headed west to California. The Dust Bowl had ravaged the American prairies, and like many of their neighbors, they left to find a better place to farm and raise their four boys. In California, they set roots in Richvale and began to farm rice, a crop that had been grown in the region since 1912. But what differentiated them from their new neighbors was an understanding of the importance of soil health.
“My grandparents, my dad and his brothers came out of the Dust Bowl experience seeing the value of soil and what can happen when it’s not taken care of. It made them think it’s important to take care of the soil for the future, and if you don’t tend or sustain it, it can be depleted or fall apart,” says Grant Lundberg, CEO of Lundberg Family Farms. His father, Eldon, was the eldest of Albert and Frances’s four boys.
The chemical-free methods and soil-supporting practices Albert and Frances employed placed them on a path to organic farming long before it was a thing. When they were asked to produce organic brown rice in the late ’60s, they were able to do so, solidifying the trajectory of the company’s future, which is now known for its rice products the world over.
“Our neighbors thought we were crazy, because we didn’t burn the crop residue or use pesticides. My grandparents were following values and convictions that were counter to what their neighbors thought was the way to farm,” explains Lundberg, who grew up on the farm helping his dad irrigate and drive a tractor.
Lundberg saw his grandparents’ values and their focus on farming that is good for people and the planet being passed down to his parents, uncles and aunts and ultimately to him, his cousins and now their children. Following these values, he says, gave the ensuing Lundberg generations, who now farm the land and run the company, the confidence to stand up for what they believe in.
“In good or bad times, it has given us a sense of what is important,” he says.
Today, soil health is proving to be more important than ever. As awareness grows around organic farming’s potential to offset climate change by pulling harmful carbon dioxide out of the air and into the soil, keeping it healthy, more consumers are looking for organic products.
“That idea is winning over consumers. Once people understand the positive impact it has on the planet and health, they want to make that purchase,” Lundberg says.
The pandemic, too, has also helped drive awareness. “The pandemic has reinforced the value of healthy food. More people are spending time cooking and seeing the importance of their food supply. That reinforces the idea that this is really essential to our society. It’s a great opportunity to get people to prioritize what is important in their lives, and food is one of those pieces,” says Lundberg, whose hope is that more awareness and more organic purchases translates to more organic acreage being farmed across the country, which will continue the cycle of healthy soil, healthy planet and healthy people.