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Grimmway continues lead role in organic production

It was in the 1990s when Rod and Bob Grimm determined that organic produce was a sector that deserved exploration.

Initially, the visionary founders of Grimmway Farms in Bakersfield, CA, devoted one-quarter of an acre to the experiment and set out to see how viable it was. The experiment obviously proved to be a success.

Today, Grimmway produces 45 organic commodities on a year-round basis and another 20 seasonally, according to Bob Borda, vice president of organic sales. One of those seasonal crops is an organic potato deal from the firm’s home Kern County district, which has been synonymous with potatoes for more than 100 years.

In early June, as Borda was speaking to The Produce News, potato production was well under way. Grimmway has a well-rounded organic potato program this year with offerings in red, gold and russets. He said the early returns show excellent quality.

 DSC7082-Edit-WebGrimmway Farms produces 45 organic commodities on a year-round basis and another 20 seasonally,“We’ve just transitioned to Kern for the reds and the golds and our russet program will start in July,” said Borda.

There are very few russets coming out of Kern this year, so Grimmway is one of the few grower-shippers that will be able to offer that longtime California tradition.

“California” in fact is a key word for almost all of Grimmway’s production, including its organic-focused “Cal-Organic Farms” label. While the two Grimm brothers launched the firm down the organic path in the 1990s, it was after purchasing Cal-Organic Farms in 2001 that the company’s involvement grew exponentially.

Borda said Grimmway is unique given that all organic items are grown in California year-round.

“We have premium organic farmland in the greater Bakersfield and surrounding areas for our spring through fall plantings, and have equally extensive land holdings throughout the greater Coachella and Imperial valleys of Southern California,” said Borda. “All organic items are farmed, harvested and marketed by our in-house professionals.”

Borda said the firm’s organic sector evolved naturally. As Grimmway grew its involvement, a number of retailers used carrots as a gateway to introduce their consumers to organic production. Some of those retailers shifted their own merchandising so that they only offered their consumers an organic option.

Today, about 27 percent of the U.S. carrot category is organic, according to IRI FreshLook data.

As the carrot acreage increased so did the need to expand the offerings. Borda explained that carrots can only be grown on a specific piece of ground every three years. In between, that land must be planted with other crops. That reality creates a robust supply of other commodities on a continual basis.

He added that the cover crops are also part of the mix, grown to be turned back into the ground for sustainable soil nutrition.

With a portfolio of 65 different organic crops over the course of the year, those commodities run the gamut and included all the leaf items, many different kales and chards, and a complete lineup of bunching greens. The seasonal items include sweet corn and the aforementioned potatoes.

Grimmway is bullish on the future of organic produce. Borda said future increases could certainly be driven by millennials, who are extremely interested in what’s in the food they eat.

“They are all about education and transparency,” he said. “They are willing to spend more of their disposable income on quality organic food.”

He said growing organically does have its challenges, as there are “fewer tools in the toolbox” for growers to use as they confront production problems and challenges.

He said decreased yields is a fact of life, but indicated that Grimmway’s more than 20 years of production experience plus its use of prime land has helped the company thrive in the organic environment.

“Still the future is bright” for the category, Borda, said. As far as Grimmway Farms is concerned, he noted that the company is “always looking to innovate,” and there are a number of opportunities they currently are exploring in the organic sector with regard to packaging and ease of use by the consumer.