OPN Connect Newsletter 309 · March 2, 2023

Homegrown Organic Farms Supports Growers and a Healthy Planet

In 2020, Homegrown Organic Farms launched its Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) program with the certification of all its stone fruit. That was just the start of the company’s EFI efforts as last year it announced its Northwest organic blueberry farms earned EFI certification.

The Equitable Food Initiative is a certification process that is designed to encourage partnerships between farmworking employees and farm management teams. The goal is to foster trusting work environments that improve working conditions, cultivate confidence and teamwork between farmworkers and management, and build an overall culture of commitment and collaboration.

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Homegrown Organic Farms organic blueberries

The most recent step came in late 2022 when Homegrown Organic Farms became the first company to earn EFI certification in the citrus category. Homegrown has partnered with its sister company, AgriCare, to achieve and roll out this new certification. The companies represent nearly 11,000 acres of EFI-certified fresh produce crops.

“We’re working with the people who do the work—all the professionals out in the field, who do the pruning, the irrigating, the packing of fruit,” said Scott Mabs, chief executive officer of the Porterville, CA-based company. “We’re continuing to build better communication and really recognize those people as the professionals that they are. We want to work in a manner that creates much more unity and cross-company communication.”

Vitalis June 2024

Scott Mabs, Chief Executive Officer, Homegrown Organic Farms

Homegrown is also making big news with its Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) stonefruit program, the first ever. It’s another step that fits the company’s commitment to caring for the land. The certification builds on a foundation of organic principles with strict standards to earn one of three levels: ROC Bronze, ROC Silver, or ROC Gold. Homegrown’s program features multi-generational farmer Vernon Peterson and his family who have been farming for more than 100 years in Kingsburg, CA, where they grow ROC Gold peaches, nectarines, apricots, and plums.

“Vern has always been looking at new methods of farming, new ways to really create soil health,” Mabs said. “With this new methodology in regard to increasing organic matter back into the soil, Vern saw that was having a positive impact within his ranch, so he’s adopted a lot of those farming methods and is continuing to build on that new methodology.”

John and Cindy France, Founders, Homegrown Organic Farms

Founded by John and Cindy France, Homegrown Organic Farms transitioned to an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) in 2021. The company strives to exceed its customers’ expectations and provide growers with the best possible returns.

That’s been the mantra from the beginning, dating back to 1998, when John France was an organic grower who was providing customers with high-quality organic fruit but struggled to find partners who would market his crops. So he decided to take matters into his own hands by hiring a salesperson and selling his fruit himself.

“With this new methodology in regard to increasing organic matter back into the soil, Vern saw that was having a positive impact within his ranch, so he’s adopted a lot of those farming methods and is continuing to build on that new methodology.” - Scott Mabs

Cal-Organic June 2024

France next decided to collaborate with his fellow organic growers and treat them the way he wanted to be treated. All of that sparked his decision to build a company on a foundation of trust and transparency.

“There’s a phrase that we use, ‘no surprises,’” Mabs said. “If there’s something that went wrong or is not right, we say, ‘Let’s talk about it; let’s not wait until four months later when you get the check and it’s not what you’re expecting.’ A lot of that foundation was built by just dealing with people in a transparent way.”

Homegrown Organic Farms organic red grapes

The team at Homegrown Organic Farms is dedicated to family farmers and to being stewards who take pride in properly caring for land. The company is also devoted to providing people with safe, high-quality food. Those principles have resulted in an employee-owned organization that represents over 100 farmers who farm organically on more than 7,000 acres.

“The major crops that we handle are blueberries, citrus, tree fruit, and grapes,” Mabs said. “Those are the items that we’re focused on, and we’ve done a lot of different items through the years. We used to be involved in vegetables also, but as the company has grown, we have focused more on what we ourselves grow and the items that are in our wheelhouse.”

Homegrown Organic Farms organic Cara Cara oranges

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Homegrown's philosophy has always been extremely grower focused and grower centric, ensuring that it's able to supply consumers with the healthy, delicious products they desire.

“We like to say our growers are our rock stars, and we’re trying to help people get more connected with them,” Mabs said. “In the end, if the growers are not successful at what they’re doing, then consumers aren’t going to get the fruit that they want.”

Homegrown Organic Farms organic nectarines

One way the company connects consumers to its growers is by sharing their stories in its YouTube video series, "GROWN by," which follows four of Homegrown's farmers through their growing and harvest seasons. The series features the Peterson Family, Agustin Cardenas, France Ranch, and Pipco Fruit Company.

“We’ll be providing short video clips that realistically show their life in farming,” Mabs said. “It’s not scripted; it’s more showing what the lives of these individuals are like, and the challenges that they’re facing.”

Homegrown's "GROWN by" YouTube video series

Those challenges in 2023 include inflation and the reality that prices will have to be increased.

“Retailers are going to have to pay more for fruit, and there’s really not a choice,” Mabs said. “There’s just a lot of change happening really quickly right now, and it’s hard to make the necessary moves that have to get made when those changes are happening so quickly.”

“We like to say our growers are our rock stars, and we’re trying to help people get more connected with them.” - Scott Mabs

Conversely, he sees opportunities in automation in all areas of the organic farming business. Another positive for organic growers is that more and more people are recognizing the benefits of organic food, including its role in supporting the environment.

“People are continuing to develop farming methods, ways of doing things, in a better way for the soil and for the land,” Mabs said. “It impacts people, and I think people are recognizing just how important farming is to the general health of the earth and in their lives.”

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