By- Keith Loria
It was a little over four decades ago when a small group of food activists in Eugene, Oregon asked a simple, yet profound question: How do we help grow food that is healthier for the planet and people? The answer that emerged centered on an idea to create and grow infrastructure and a market for that food.
So, in 1978, Organically Grown Co., was formed as a nonprofit that acted as a support organization for Oregon organic farmers with organic growing methods and education.
As OGC evolved to include more farmers in actively serving the market, it determined that the best course was to convert the non-profit to an agriculture marketing coop and hired a professional staff to perform crop production coordination, marketing, distribution and shared agronomic services.
By the late 80s and early 90s, in response to the growing market for a complete full-round product line of organic produce, OGC was sourcing from beyond its co-op farmer base products from other U.S. bioregions and internationally. To create trust in their product line, OGC worked across the trade to develop third-party organic standards and continued to invest in organic research to improve the quality and integrity of production.
Over the last 20 years, the company has become a recognized leader in organic produce distribution, and continues to deeply engage in organic advocacy and broader issues around sustainable business practices.
Elizabeth Nardi, CEO, Organically Grown Company
“OGC’s DNA and 40-year history is about being a ‘change agent’ and a business vehicle to grow the organic foods trade by providing distribution and marketing infrastructure and services that help our partners’ mutual success,” says Elizabeth Nardi, CEO of OGC. “We are active in the field and at grower gatherings, endeavor to be a partner to understand growers’ challenges and co-create opportunities to help farmers of all scales be successful in the marketplace.”
For example, OGC partners on a wide range of efforts from seed breeding programs to crop coordination, to support with certification, to support with infrastructure for small and medium-sized farms, to developing and supporting two branded lines—Organically Grown & LADYBUG. In total, the company distributes greater than 95% organic produce.
“We recognize that organic is not only a trade, but a movement to transform food and agriculture to healthier systems for people and the planet,” Nardi says. “We are passionate people who are active in organic trade leadership, innovation and advocacy; we spend time visiting accounts to discuss trend in the organic marketplace and what we can do to help them be more successful with their organic programs.”
Some examples of that are it provides accounts customized pricing and promotion support, product development and education and facilitates connections through conferences and farm tours.
“These commitments position OGC to source/offer a broad and diverse organic product line,” Nardi says. “We are one of the oldest certified organic handlers, we are third-party GMP certified, we have leading sustainability programming and public reporting, and we have cold chain custody and warehouse management systems to improve quality/shrink.”
Ladybug Brand of Organically Grown Company
Today, OGC offers a full line of organic produce including convenience packs, superfoods, avocados, unique and heirloom varietals.
Nardi notes challenges the company face include retail saturation, technological disruptions and market disruptions, though opportunities for growth abound.
“The customer response is resulting in increased interest and demand for supply chain transparency and sustainability, particularly about social equity, organic integrity, food safety, fair labor and climate change,” she says. “There’s also a preference for vendors who can prove sustainable practices.”
Organic Blueberries from Organically Grown Company
Additionally, there’s an interest in the duality of increased packaging requirements in conventional retail channels and movement away from plastics in the natural foods sector, and OGC serves both.
To solidify its commitment into the future, OGC recently pioneered a new corporate structure that protects its mission by transitioning the company to be owned by the Sustainable Food and Agriculture Perpetual Purpose Trust.
“This groundbreaking structure enables OGC to remain permanently independent and to continue to deliver on its positive environmental, social, and economic goals without pressure to demonstrate short-term quarterly profits or produce exit-value for shareholders,” Nardi says. “Furthermore, it enables a broad range of stakeholders—including farmers, employees, customers, investors and the wider community—to share in the ‘stewardship’ of the company through governance of the trust.”