Things were very different back in 1986…
This November marks 25 years since our very first packaged salads were introduced. As I think back, it’s hard to believe that Drew and I were the first to successfully launch packaged salads for retail sale. In 1986, the whole concept was radical — few people believed it would be successful. The world of salads was very different back then. Americans were mostly eating iceberg lettuce, bought by the head and usually served with a heavy dressing like ranch, Thousand Island or blue cheese. Most people had never heard of, much less tried, the specialty whole leaf baby greens we were growing. And organic farming wasn't considered realistic for anything more than a hobby.
We didn’t start with any grand schemes of doing anything big. We starting farming organically because we were afraid to handle potentially toxic agricultural chemicals and we didn’t want them on our food. We starting washing and bagging the lettuces for our own use; we found we ate a lot more salad when the greens were conveniently ready to eat right out of the bag. We started selling “pre-washed salad bags” to local stores when overnight we’d lost the main restaurant customer for our baby lettuces and gourmet greens, and we needed to sell them to pay our bills. We loved living on our little farm in Carmel Valley, and we hoped this new product might actually take off if other people appreciated it as much as we did. We really just wanted to be able to support ourselves.
Fast forward 25 years: Now packaged salads are one of the mainstays of the produce department, and the whole leaf gourmet salads we started outsell both iceberg- and romaine-based salads. Even more exciting, almost half of all those sales are organic, while on average only 4% of the food sold in the US is organic.
When we first started packing salads, it was just me and Drew and a handful of employees on our small farm. Today, more than 1,200 employees work in state-of-the-art processing plants to produce more than 22 million servings of Earthbound Farm organic salad each week. It’s truly mind-boggling. I’m living proof that packaged salads encourage you to eat more salad — I eat more salad now than ever. If I skip a salad for even just one day, I don’t feel quite right. Every time I open an Earthbound Farm clamshell I’m thrilled about how easy it is to have a fresh, delicious salad, and I’m grateful to our farmers and employees who make it possible. For us, this is a big anniversary that’s worth celebrating!
Myra Goodman is co-founder, with her husband Drew, of Earthbound Farm. A prolific and creative cook, she's also authored two cookbooks: Food to Live By and The Earthbound Cook.