Aug 19, 2021
Earthbound Farm thriving under Taylor Farms ownership
Crystal Nay

When Monterey County, California-based Taylor Farms acquired neighbor Earthbound Farm and Mission Ranches in 2019, it was the ultimate opportunity to bring Earthbound ownership back onto its home turf on California’s Central Coast.

The two companies complemented each other – Earthbound Farm has been an organic produce leader for nearly four decades, and Taylor Farms has always sought to be a responsible steward of the resources it uses.

With both of these companies sharing a mission not only for the land but also in business, the merging of the teams seemed a very natural fit. The merger also provided a rare opportunity for Taylor Farms to reflect on the “how” and “why” behind its method of operation.

T. Bruce Taylor
T. Bruce Taylor

“We wanted the best ideas and processes to win, and we learned a ton from each other along the way,” said T. Bruce Taylor, vice president of organic at Taylor Fresh Foods.

With the organic produce category remaining on an incredible growth trajectory, the combined teams from Taylor Farms, Earthbound Farm and Mission Ranches are putting forth their best ideas and processes with the goal of better serving the needs of their customers, consumers and communities. This synergy is seen in Earthbound’s knowledge and expertise in organic farming and experience building authentic relationships with consumers, and in Taylor Farms’ operational excellence, leadership in food safety and investment commitments in sustainability from seed to shelf.

“These combined strengths have manifested themselves in a series of projects across our business today,” said Taylor.

Of those projects is the first consumer-facing marketing campaign to drive category growth for chopped salad kits, a campaign Taylor Farms recently launched. Another is the almost unrecognizable legacy Earthbound facility in San Juan Bautista, in which Taylor Farms invested significantly for new wash lines and facility upgrades that were all focused on improving quality and food safety.

“By challenging our assumptions and our processes, we were able to build a stronger combined team that is equipped to tackle the opportunities in front of us,” Taylor said.

Taylor Farms in 2020 announced three California facilities had achieved a 90% energy independence from the utility grid through unique microgrid solutions, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Photos: Taylor Farms
Taylor Farms in 2020 announced three California facilities had achieved a 90% energy independence from the utility grid through unique microgrid solutions, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Photos: Taylor Farms

In terms of food safety, Taylor Farms manages a risk-based preventative control program, where the company identifies and assesses all aspects of growing, commodity, inputs, adjacent land use and much more, and then executes a risk-based prevention plan. Each planting is closely monitored and has strict compliance metrics to ensure the integrity and safety of each product, and plants are tested prior to harvest to verify that all measures taken have been successful in providing a wholesome and nutritious product.

“Our suppliers, who ultimately are our partners, are one of many key factors to our success in food safety. We may not be the experts in absolutely everything, but we partner with the right people with common goals and priorities,” said Kari Valdes, director of food safety and quality assurance at Taylor Farms. “We challenge what we don’t know and find solutions that have practical means of application and monitoring.”

Partnerships with experts in sanitation, water source and treatment in the field are also an important part of this organization.

Innovation and sustainability

Taylor Farms' San Juan farm
Taylor Farms in San Juan. Photos: Taylor Farms

From salad greens to commodities to ready-to-eat vegetables, Taylor Farms offers the broadest portfolio of organic items in the industry, and the focus is not only on delivering premium quality organic produce, but growing and packaging these products in innovative and sustainable ways.

To meet the demand for organic fresh produce, Mission Ranches continues to transition organic ground, which requires continued efforts in using organic seed and encourages the breeding of additional leaf and head types. The company has also been working with input suppliers to calculate reduction in nitrogen leaching and carbon sequestration from their naturally occurring inputs, which is important to watershed conservation, agricultural orders for water management and for sustainability programs.

“As tenants of organic and sustainability movements, we are working toward third-party social accountability certification and are signatories to the Ethical Charter, and continue to develop measurable on-farm factors around energy and materials use,” said John McKeon, director of organic integrity at Earthbound Farm.

Taylor Farms in 2020 announced three California facilities had achieved a 90% energy independence from the utility grid through unique microgrid solutions, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Photos: Taylor Farms
During the pandemic, Taylor Farms worked with the National Guard and the Yuma County Department of Public Health to vaccinate 1,200 employees at its Yuma, Arizona, facility.

The Ethical Charter on Responsible Labor Practices was adopted by the Produce Marketing Association and United Fresh Produce Association in 2018. It provides an accountability and transparency baseline, and a framework on producing and buying fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers responsibly.

Since 2009, Earthbound Farm has used 100% post-consumer recycled plastic on its clamshells. Now, the facility in San Juan Bautista produces the company’s own clamshells that are made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic and are No. 1 recyclable. There is also a series of projects underway that focus on reducing plastic usage and increasing recyclability, which will be announced at a future date.

Taylor Farms has also achieved TRUE Zero Waste certification at three of its retail facilities – a certification with a goal to divert all solid waste from landfills, incineration and the environment, and pushes for environmental responsibility, resource efficiency and for diverted materials to be “reduced, reused, recycled, composted and/or recovered for productive use in nature or the economy,” according to TRUE’s certification requirements. To earn this certification, facilities must meet seven minimum requirements of the program and 31 points on the application, and must also show an average of 90% or more overall diversion for solid, non-hazardous waste for the most recent 12 months.

The certification process recently began for the Earthbound facility in San Juan Bautista. Taylor Farms expects all of its retail production facilities to be Zero Waste Certified by 2022.

“From zero waste to renewable energy to organic farming, we work diligently to lighten our environmental impact,” said Taylor. “Together, we’re thrilled at the opportunities before us to continue to innovate and provide leadership in organic produce.”

Crystal Nay is Organic Grower's Western Editor.

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