Organic creativity nets honor
Lundberg: 'A lot of your tools are just the knowledge you have'
By TIM HEARDEN
RICHVALE, Calif. -- Jessica Lundberg's grandparents likely didn't think of themselves as innovators when they escaped the Dust Bowl in Nebraska in 1937 and came to California.
However, in instilling the value of caring for the land in their four sons, Albert and Frances Lundberg laid the groundwork for one of the state's most successful organic farms.
Today the 250-employee Lundberg Family Farms puts sustainability into practice, growing about 5,000 acres of rice in the Sacramento Valley and producing and distributing organic brown rice, rice chips, rice cakes and other products.
With organic farming, Jessica Lundberg said, you have to keep experimenting and trying new things.
"Organics require you to not sit back," she said. "It's a changing system ... A lot of your tools are just the knowledge you have."
The farm's efforts have earned it recognition as one of California's top 25 agricultural innovators -- a group that includes other businesses as well as universities and nonprofit programs.
Sponsored by the business-promotion group Grow-California, the awards ceremony culminated in naming 13 of the entities "Game Changers of the Year" during an inaugural conference on ag innovation July 20-21 at the University of California-Davis.
The purpose of the conference and awards was to facilitate investment in agriculture by Silicon Valley companies, Grow-California spokesman John Segale said.
"We're looking for an opportunity to create an incubator in the Davis area much like what goes on near the Stanford campus, where companies can be reviewed and receive funding to create new technologies and continue to grow the industry in California," Segale said.
A panel reviewed several hundred businesses and other entities that had been nominated by dozens of California-based investors, investment bankers, professional services firms and others and came up with the 25 finalists.
Categories include sustainability, science and education, community initiatives, energy, food safety, technology, raising capital, marketing and sales, distribution and logistics, water and irrigation, manufacturing and processing, and organics.
As examples, the Musco Olive Co. in Tracy dealt with challenges surrounding wastewater in producing olives by installing a solar-based reuse system for energy, while Marrone Bio Organics in Davis has done research and development of new bio-pesticides, noted Jon Gregory, founder and CEO of Grow-California.
Gregory said he's been doing industry-specific conferences for companies looking for investment opportunities for the last 10 years, and that agriculture is often under-recognized and underrepresented.
"You always hear about the Googles and the Pandoras of the world, but the reality is ag innovation is a huge player in the California economy," he said. "We view this as kind of the first-ever prom for agriculture in California."
For Lundberg Family Farms, being featured at a conference held to attract investors shows that organic food production isn't a passing fad, as some would believe.
"I don't think it's a fad," Lundberg said. "For us it's a way of life. I think organics is going to give us the tools to continue agriculture into the future."
Top 25 innovators
Here are California's top 25 agricultural innovators, according to Grow-California:
Sustainable agriculture: Driscoll Berries, Watsonville; SureHarvest, Soquel
Science and education initiatives: Robert Mondavi Institute Teaching and Research Winery, Davis; California State University-Chico College of Agriculture; Taylor Farms, Salinas
Community initiatives: National Ag Science Center (Ag in Motion), Modesto; Foster Farms, Livingston; Center for Land-Based Learning, Winters
Energy and agriculture: Musco Olive Co., Tracy; Grills Onions, Anaheim
Food safety: Western Growers, Irvine; Natureripe Foods; PurFresh, Fremont
Ag tech: Agrian, Fresno; the Morning Star Co., Woodland
Raising capital: Marrone Bio Organics, Davis; WeatherBill, San Francisco
Marketing and sales: Earthbound Farms, San Juan Bautista; Paramount Farms, Lost Hills
Distribution and logistics: Blue Diamond Almonds, Sacramento; E&J Gallo Winery, Modesto
Water and/or irrigation: PureSense, Fresno; Red Rock Ranch (John Deiner Farms), Five Points; John Deere Water, San Marcos
Manufacturing and processing: Creative Research Management, Stockton; Lyons Magnus, Fresno; Leprino Foods, Tracy
Organics: Grimmway Farms. Bakersfield; Lundberg Family Farms, Richvale