What did you two want to be when you grew up?
Tom Lively: I never had any idea of what a job or career even was. But growing up in Glendale, Arizona, I was a fruit hunter, so to speak, from a young age. We knew where just about every gleanable tree was for several miles around. Our grandparents owned a property with lots of fruit growing on it and our uncle owned a citrus orchard with a farm stand.
David Lively: As a kid, I wanted to be a soldier. By the time I was an early teen, President. I admired how John and Robert Kennedy worked together in government and imagined Tom and I doing some similar kind of collaboration. Which in a way, we did in OGC.
How did you find your way to organic produce and to OGC?
Tom: I moved to Oregon in ‘74 and started gardening in ‘76. We planted our first “commercial” crop in ‘79. It was the second year that the Sugar Snap pea was out and it was a huge hit in our small city. People loved them and still do. That got us thinking we could make a living growing food. So naïve!
David: I dropped out of social work school to join Tom in Oregon. To really make money, we had to scale up. When we scaled up, though, too much of our time was spent off-farm doing sales, delivery, collections. OGC was the answer to that. We put pros in place to do the off-farm work and we could stay on farm. But I ended up working with the other growers on production issues and Tom became lead sales. We ended up exactly where we didn’t intend to be — behind desks, on phones, in meetings.
What has changed in organic produce over the years?
Tom: The whole enchilada — quality, post-harvest handling, seasonality, variety, broad customer support. It’s just a totally different ball game! So many incredible growers and stunningly beautiful organic produce departments.
David: Yes. Organic farming is now at a scale that feeds mainstream retail. Growers have gained expertise that results in great quality and there’s so much better post-harvest handling. On the flip side, unfortunately there’s lots of stupid plastic packaging that almost undoes value of organic production.
What do you see as the most positive impacts of organic farming and food?
Tom: We haven’t changed the whole world, but we have at least changed it for those with environmental values.
David: Reduction in degradation caused by conventional agriculture. And the fact that conventional ag has learned more than a few tricks from organic (as we have from conventional, as well). Also, reduction in pesticide exposure up and down the line.
Tom: Probably the most positive impact is the amount of poisons that aren’t being used and the availability of clean wholesome food for folks that value that.
What keeps you in this business? What’s most gratifying?
David: It’s the amazing people we work with, learn from, draw inspiration from.
Tom: Yes, we work with incredible people at OGC and in the trade. They’re my kind of peeps!
David: My goal is to Save the World and I believe sustainable ag is crucial to that outcome.
Is there an event or an accomplishment that feels like a defining moment in your career so far?
David: Getting the Sustie Award for OGC at Eco-Farm. It was incredible to be honored by our peers and join the list of previous winners – all people we really admire.
If you hadn’t chosen this life, what do you think you might have done for work?
David: I was in school studying social work. I’ve always wanted to change the world, so I would have pursued a master’s in social work and taken on those systems.
Tom: At one point I thought my direction was going to be in Biology. Maybe as a naturalist working for the Nature Conservancy or a land trust. Then produce happened.
What would you want consumers to know about the work you do?
David: That the farmers behind the Ladybug Farms brand have been at this for 20-40 years and are outstanding farmers.
Tom: Consumers can’t even begin to know the blood sweat and tears and the hopes and dreams that are in every single piece of produce they buy and eat. It’s a huge incredible food chain created by dedicated folks.