Episode #177
Arnie and Ron Koss: Changing Organic From The Inside Out

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Our Arnie and Ron Koss interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Dave Chapman interviews Arnie and Ron Koss, September 2023:

Dave Chapman 0:00
Welcome to The Real Organic Podcast. I am talking with Arnie and Ron Koss today, two people I’ve known for a long time, really since I came to Vermont. These twin brothers started Earth’s Best Baby Food back in the day. A long, long time ago. What, what year was that guys?

Arnie Koss 0:23
Well, 1984 is when we started to work on developing it, came to market in November of 87.

Dave Chapman 0:28
Beautiful. So 84 was the year I moved to Vermont. And so we’ve kind of been running in parallel tracks for a while. I’d like to talk about Earth’s Best first. And then we can talk a bit about, about Real Organic. And just, I’d like to get your thoughts about, about what we’re doing. And you both been involved in the Real Organic Project since we began, the first year we were working, Ron, you, you work with a group of people as we tried to focus on our, our mission and how we were going to do this and Arnie you were our first contract inspector.

Arnie Koss 1:09
I didn’t know I was the first!

Dave Chapman 1:10
You were the first, in Hawaii. We were, that was our pilot year, and Linley did all the inspections. Except for a couple, and you did, you did our work in Hawaii.

Arnie Koss 1:20
That I found that farm on the Big Island was a miracle. Some of the most gnarly, volcanic-type of roads you could imagine. But they were great people.

Dave Chapman 1:30

Arnie Koss 1:31
Great people, great farm.

Dave Chapman 1:35
Okay, so. So let’s talk about Earth’s Best. It started as a dream. What was the dream?

Ron Koss 1:44
1976 I was working at a natural food store in Albany, New York. I was reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, I thought to myself, I’m never gonna see a bald eagle. And I just was like, overwhelmed by pesticide use. And you know, and I would work in the natural food store. And I thought, well, what would be a way to change this? And I thought, amazingly, without having children at the time, or even being married, I thought, baby food. Parents will care the most for organic food for their babies for their children. And it’s a way of using fruits and vegetables and everything that doesn’t have to be perfect for market,

Arnie Koss 2:29
fresh market,

Ron Koss 2:30
fresh market. And, and that was kind of like the impulse. It was like, organic baby food. But at the time. I was heating, cooking, on a wood cookstove. And I couldn’t even imagine where to begin. Eight years later. Arnie and I had been making brooms, shaker-style brooms, and Arnie drove up to…

Arnie Koss 2:30
the Ronald McDonald House.

Ron Koss 2:30
That’s right.. And he said to me, I’m, I’m doing organic baby food with you or without you.

Dave Chapman 2:43
It was time.

Ron Koss 3:10
It was time.

Arnie Koss 3:01
Because I had thought that was such a good idea. And that organic at the time was, it barely had a pulse. It was, it was in its infancy, no pun intended. And I just couldn’t believe we couldn’t believe that someone didn’t see that organic baby food was a door that could open and, and spark what became an organic revolution. So in 1984, eight years after Ron first talked to me about this idea, I was making a shaker-style broom, which is a beautiful, handmade broom that’s utilitarian, and artful, and I just finished that broom and I said, That’s it. I’m gonna try to do this. I had no idea how I didn’t have any background in food science or manufacturing. It was just somehow, I’m gonna give it a shot. And then I drove to Burlington. Ron was working at the Ronald McDonald House. And I said, this is what I want to do. And he said, how?

Ron Koss 4:01
Right. And that began a journey of, of working with a university professor at the University of Vermont, who specialized in infant nutrition, finding food processing experts. And amazingly, the person who owned the, the mall, the rental space that already were making shaker-style brooms, and he was, he kind of observed us from afar. And Arnie approached him probably sometime in 1986. and asked him if he would be interested in investing in this organic baby food idea. And he did.

Arnie Koss 4:46
But he didn’t invest, he said, “I’ll make it a loan.”

Ron Koss 4:50
Yeah, he made it a loan.

Ron Koss 4:51
$25,000 And that, that guy, Ray Pecor, was good hearted, and he wanted to see things happen in Vermont, and he saw us as people with potential. Young people with potential and he got he put that money up. And that allowed us to move forward. There’s one other thing that comes to mind the building that we had our first office in was in the cupola. Next, in the same building that Ben and Jerry’s was in, their store – on what street was in on? St. Paul? No, Cherry Street.

Ron Koss 5:25
Cherry Street.

Arnie Koss 5:32
In the cupola. Actually…

Arnie Koss 5:36
Below us was an optomostrist, and it was called the True Vision building, which was, I mean, and our rent was 25 bucks a month. So that’s how we got started.

Ron Koss 5:45
Three years of research, development, running hither, thither, everywhere. And we ended up building a 10 or 11,000 foot concrete Tilt-Up building that we leased in Middlebury, Vermont, and we started production in November 87. And, and we found in the ag community in all these amazing small organic growers, relatively small organic growers, who were excited to have the opportunity to bring their, whatever they were growing, into the market as baby food. It was an amazing experience of people who kind of like joined hands with us, and said, How can we help this succeed? And we had an amazing adventure.

Arnie Koss 6:35
Right. So, one thing that Ron said, we built this baby food plant. But why did we start by building a brand new state of the art baby food plant? We started that way, because we could not find anyone, anywhere in the country that would consider co-packing for us. When we approached them about making organic baby food they about laughed, laughed us out of the room. And so we couldn’t find anyone that would take any interest in us. So in the end, we built this beautiful building. We had to hire and train 30 or 40 people before we had $1 in sales. And that was the craziness of it is that this is, this is what it took to start the nation’s first organic baby food company.

Dave Chapman 7:14
So, so this is important, because of course, I was talking to somebody the other day and I said, Can you remember a time? She was young. She was younger. I said, Can you remember a time where you didn’t have a smartphone and people didn’t have smartphones? She said no, I cannot. That, my point is the world changes. Everything changes technology. So when you were starting this, there was no organic industry. There was no market for organic food. If I wanted to grow food for processing, tomatoes or apples, there was no market.

Ron Koss 7:50
Virtually none.

Arnie Koss 7:51
Virtually none. The only organic products that were out there, they weren’t certified.

Dave Chapman 7:55

Arnie Koss 7:55
Were juice, California Juice Company. There were a couple of companies that were pioneering. And people like Gene Kahn of Cascadian Farm, he was an early pioneer of organic, so he was out there way before most people and, and there were a small group of people, but more than anything, what, when we said organic, anything organic baby food, people just said, What’s organic or who? It was just, we really had to build from the ground up. There was nothing It was all it was all pioneering and educating.

Ron Koss 8:34
And the Keenes, you know, Paul, were really pioneering as was Rodale. I mean, there are people out there doing some amazing things.

Dave Chapman 8:44
was Erewhon in action at that point?

Ron Koss 8:48
It was in that period of time.

Arnie Koss 8:50
Erewhon had started. I’m not sure if they were, I think they started even before. But you know, Ron mentioned Paul and Betty Keene, you know, and that’s Walnut Acres. And, and, you know, you could say, Paul and Betty Keene, they’ve been forgotten for many people, but they were, you know, in many ways, you know, some of the earliest adopters to organic soil fertility in the marketplace. And we actually went to visit their farm, because we thought maybe they could be co-packers. But you know, they had a soup line, and they were the most wonderful people. And, but, they couldn’t make baby food for us. But, they were so encouraging and supportive. And it was, I would call that one of the highlights of my life was spending time with Paul and Betty Keene.

Dave Chapman 9:38
Yeah, that’s great. Such an exciting time when this, this new way of thinking about things very different from conventional that the fact that you would go to a co-packer and say, I want you to process organic baby food and they would laugh you out of the room. This was something new and exciting and political. It was already quite political.

Ron Koss 10:02
It was because, because the large established food companies today, they’re, they’re using organic, organic, they want organic because they understand that it works in the market. But back then, you know, the prospect of organic baby food. Or, organic food in general was threatening, you know, it’s like, you know, Gerber, Beechnut and Heinz were not rooting for us at the time.

Arnie Koss 10:26
And they were the only three baby food companies in the entire United States. There were no small companies like starting like Ben and Jerry’s did a small ice cream company or jam company. I mean, baby food is complicated. You know, there’s a lot of rules and regs. And, and the idea of competing with Gerber, Beechnut, and Heinz, it was laughable. So we, we had to, we became the fourth baby food company, and the first organic baby food company.

Dave Chapman 10:53
All right. Now, when you imagine this, I want to go back to Middlebury in a minute, because I remember the opening very well. But when you imagined this, were you immediately immediately aiming for a national market? Or were you thinking northeast, something regional?

Ron Koss 11:11
National, because the idea was to grow the organic foods world and the way to grow it was to create a big market, demand a lot of organic, diverse, you know, organic food supply, carrots, plums, peaches,

Arnie Koss 11:26
Bananas, I mean, grains, dairy.

Ron Koss 11:29
Everything. So the idea was, how do we, how do we create something where there’s this demand that’s going to pull people into growing and into being in relationship to something that might address some of Rachel Carson’s angst, and my angst at the time.

Arnie Koss 11:49
And I’ll tell you something, David, that people would say to us when we were trying to raise money. You guys should be really worried that if you have any success, Gerber, and Beechnut, and Heinz are going to try to enter the market and squash you. And Ron, and I would never really talk about this in a loud, you know, way. But, you know, privately, our thought was, if we pull Gerber Beechnut and Heinz into the organic marketplace, it’s going to change the marketplace, and it’s going to be our greatest success.

Dave Chapman 12:23

Arnie Koss 12:24
Much greater than Earth’s Best.

Dave Chapman 12:26

Arnie Koss 12:26
Which was amazing. But anyway, that’s what happened. Gerber entered, Beechnut entered, and Heinz entered. And HJ Heinz acquired Earth’s Best in 1996, to sort of, you know, so there you have it, is it, they saw, the marketplace was undeniable.

Ron Koss 12:41
But there’s something we didn’t see, you know, we, we thought that would be our success. But what we didn’t see is the reality of today, where are these large corporations, you know, have essentially not just adopted organic, but changed organic, to meet their own needs. And, and that’s something that we didn’t anticipate, we were celebrating the idea of these large companies coming in and demanding organic, but we didn’t understand the impact that that would also have on standards of organic.

Dave Chapman 13:15
This is such an important thing. It’s one of the, for me, it’s one of the great debates in the organic movement right now. I won’t say the organic industry, it’s not such a debate there, but in the organic movement. And the question is, how do we change the world without us being the ones who end up being changed? And in other words, how do we make it that organic is widely available, which is what we want and make it to the land. The farms are growing organically, which is what we want. Everyone’s winning, but we see that in order to ramp that up, we enter into a commercial battlefield, in which the rules get changed pretty dramatically.

Arnie Koss 13:58
Right., so this commercial battlefield that you reference. So before there was OTA, the Organic Trade Association, there was what OFPANA, the Organic Foods Production Association of North America. OFPANA was like Ron and I were there at the founding of what is now OTA and, and within the early adopters, and, and the people that were entering the organic foods industry, there was a divide already. There were, there were a group of people that wanted there to be a one year standard to become certified. And there were another group of people that wanted a three year standard, because one year wasn’t going to cut it in terms of people being sincere and really working to improve their soil fertility etc. A real commitment. And, and we we knocked heads, or in the early days, we had meeting after meeting after meeting, arguing about things like that, what is the organic standard going to be? And fortunately, we prevailed. And the three year standard became a part what, what was the Organic Foods Act? Right, the 1990, the 1990 Organic Foods Act. So that battle went on for years. And I remember, and I told this, I mentioned this to Ron the other day, somewhere along the line, the first acquisition that I know of, of a major food producer, Heinz buying a natural foods company, Heinz, that I recollect bought the Chico-San Rice Company, they were making rice cakes. And that was like, oh, you know, Heinz is getting into this, who else is going to follow? And what does this mean? You know, what happens when some of these other major companies get in, what’s going to happen to the organic foods industry? And at the time, we were also hungry, to get traction and survive, that we didn’t obsess about it. We said, We’ll deal with it when it happens. And obviously, it’s happened in a big way. And now, and now, you know, we’re trying to deal with the issues that have arisen in terms of standards and, and people getting into, into corporate America, multinationals getting into it. And, and really not living up, in my view, to the standards that we had idealized and we fought for.

Dave Chapman 16:29
Yeah, you know, it happens over and over and over. And it’s what happened in the climate movement. And there was this moment at this big conference in Rio, where the oil companies came in. And they said, We get it, we get that climate change is real. And they actually did, their scientists knew it before anybody. And they said, We want to come and help. And we want a seat at the table, and they took a seat at the table. And they said we’re going to create voluntary standards for industry, which they did. And it set back climate movement by a generation. And it’s happening right now in regenerative agriculture, where you have Bayer Monsanto, and Syngenta, and Pepsi and McDonald’s, and they’re all coming -Cargill, they’re all coming in, saying, “We love regenerative.” Syngenta has got this beautiful, eloquent statement in praise of regenerative agriculture, and that this is their future. And down at the very bottom, there’s this one little paragraph about the use of chemicals, of course, will need to be allowed. Well, they’re not going to get rid of chemicals they’re going to change what they’re doing, in terms of what they call it, not in terms of what they do. In my opinion. This is mostly what’s going to happen. And it’s very confusing. Right, and you guys were right in the belly of the beast at the beginning for organic food.

Ron Koss 17:58
Right, in the very beginning, you know, the idea, the notion of a slippery slope was already known, it wasn’t, so this is what we’re on, it’s like from the very beginning, the slippery slope was there. But in the very beginning, we were just kind of on the plane, the plateau. And then the slippery slope was there as a choice. You know, we didn’t have to go on the slippery choice or get on the slippery choice as a movement, but the powers of economics and personality and, and connection to, to what organic really means to any given person allows for the slippery slope to come into, into the experience. And so, the whole organic foods movement started moving up the slippery slope. And that’s the slope that we’re sliding down because the standards are diminishing. Because there isn’t any base, there isn’t any foundation that enough people are connected to, committed to, and willing to fight for. And in a way, that’s not to say that people aren’t working unbelievably hard to, to to get off the slippery slope or to find alternative to the slippery slope. But when all is said and done, you know, when a movement gets on the slippery slope, it often means that something very, very fundamental needs to change because it’s, it’s, it’s a hard slope to, to recover from it right.

Arnie Koss 19:37
So, you know, the way I hear what Ron saying where we were coming from, in that time period, it was values driven. It was heartfelt. And, and we were committed to the standard. We were not committed to just making money, and, turning our heads the other way to look away from what wasn’t right. It was all about executing and implementing, and supporting those values. Over time when big business has gotten into the whole organic foods industry, those values more than anything, I think, are either given lip service, and they’ve become marketing slogans, and they become a way to sort of appease the consumer, or the consumer has become so trusting of organic and certified, that they’re not paying attention to what might be happening on a farm, a dairy farm, where they’re, you know, milking 1000s of cows, and, and so, but in the corporate America doesn’t care about that. Because they’re volume driven, they’re dollar driven. I’m not saying that the economics of this aren’t a part of the story. But I am saying is, if the economics are the story, then the values and the integrity of the label become less and less meaningful, and we end up with either fraud or farce,

Ron Koss 21:10
Or hydroponics as organic.

Arnie Koss 21:13
Or things that just really aren’t, in my view, what Ron and I fought for.

Dave Chapman 21:19
Yeah. I’m, I’m struck by the fact that you both have a strong entrepreneurial spirit, but I wouldn’t describe you as business people.

Ron Koss 21:30
Nor would I.

Dave Chapman 21:30
I would describe you as people who were working with business as a platform to do, to create change, positive change. Do you agree with that?

Ron Koss 21:40
Totally. I mean, business for service. It’s that simple. I mean, what’s the point of the exercise? I mean, there are many, many ways to make money. And we’re surrounded by ways, ways that people make money that have nothing to do with values. But, but, you know, the organic foods effort was, the foundation was values, the foundation was soil. You know, that’s why the idea of hydroponic organic, is, is kind of like, it doesn’t make any sense. But that isn’t to demonize the people who are using, growing hydroponics. People. You know, it’s a technology that people have learned to develop. And it’s, there’s nothing to condemn there. It’s just that it’s not connected to organic, per se. But it doesn’t mean that…, hydroponic doesn’t have its place in the world. So, you know, we tend to kind of say, you know, they’re with us or against us, I’m not against hydroponics at all, I’m not against whatever people are doing, trying to find their way in this world. Fantastic. But, but, you know, when you try to marry things that shouldn’t be married, like organic and hydroponics, you create a divide in and, and I think that divide needs to be addressed. I mean, if I, if I have a spring water company, and I say, okay, you know, this is the spring water, but we’re going to take 20% of our product, and we’re going to get filtered water from the municipality, is still going to be 80% spring water, so we’re still gonna call ourselves spring water? No, no, and that’s kind of what’s happening with organic, it’s like, you know, it’s like, how impure, or how far away from the original impulse should we go before, it’s not organic. And I think we’re there.

Dave Chapman 23:31
I know of some people who are in the big hydroponic organic, producing camp. And some of them are very good people, I like them, they’re my friends. And they don’t believe in organic. They think it’s a bunch of woowoo. But they see a market that they can legally enter, and they don’t see anything wrong with that. So if, if, if people want to call this organic, and we can see a premium for it. This was kind of typified by a marketing director of one of the big hydro-tomato companies was testifying at the NOSB. And he said disparagingly, and it was me he was disparaging. He said, People talk about the soul of organic, and the magic of soil. And this is just a bit of marketing fluff. And I felt wow, you know, that to call soil health to be a bit of marketing fluff. I think he was telling the truth. That’s what he saw it as was marketing fluff. So we see that people come into this with very different motives. We don’t have to make them evil. Some of my friends would call that evil, but I don’t feel that need but I’m just saying they’re looking at this as a totally as an economic equation, not as a moral question. They’re not breaking the law. They’re willing to work to change the law to be what they want it to be.

Arnie Koss 25:04
Right, and this is, this is where people like yourself, and, and many other people that have been in the organic foods, farming community or processing community, wherever they are on the spectrum, where they have to become the champions to protect organic, and that’s what you’ve been trying to do. And, and many other people that are part of the Real Organic Project, what I see is that the marketplace is where all the attention is. And, and all of that attention, you know, shows up in packaging and flowery language. But we don’t really see most of us don’t see, or even here, but what’s behind the curtain? What’s happening in that chicken processing plant that’s organic, what’s happening on the dairy farm, you know, what’s happening, you know, and, and what we need to do is we need to be, I think we need to raise the profile of this information campaign. And, and be fearless around, bringing into focus what really is going on. And, to your point, to Ron’s point, not with the intention of turning people into demons or, but to explain why we’re making the case for real organic, why we’re making the case, to insist that whatever is going to enter the market, when you kick the tires, and really look under the hood, and you do all the things you’re supposed to do, it’s legit. It isn’t superficial, it isn’t almost there, it isn’t some rationalization. so you can go to market and make money. It’s real. And that’s good. That’s a good feeling. thing to be a part of, and I think we’ve lost our way, we’re, we, I think a lot of people are just checking the boxes and getting the certification and going to market and creating their packaging. And they’re not necessarily connected. I think they’re obviously a bunch of growers that are connected, but the consumer, the people that are shopping in Whole Foods, and wherever they’re shopping, they’re not connected. And I think that part of the challenge is to connect them. And that’s education, information, high profile. And, and obviously, you know, that takes money, and it takes a vision. But you know, I mean, I can say this, because I’m not, in this moment, trying to figure everything out. But, you know, full page in the New York Times talking about this stuff, videotapes, you know, YouTube, this is what’s happening, this is what, this is what we’re up against, this is why we have a concern. And I would be trying to work with whomever is out there, the Costcos, the Walmarts, whatever, you know, and saying, This is what we’re and I don’t know, everything that you’ve been doing. You know, I don’t know how many meetings you’ve had with the Costcos is of the world, or, or if you have, but what I believe is that, we, this challenge has to be elevated in the visibility of what’s trying to be accomplished even more so. I mean, maybe you’ve done more, maybe you’ve done more. And what I’m talking about – that’s historical, I can show you what we’ve done. There’s 20 examples of it. And I can show you what that became of it. I don’t know. So I could be out of date. And I could be, you know…

Dave Chapman 28:42
Well, we’re all trying to figure it out Arnie. I mean honestly, we’re trying to understand how to do this, how to even see if people can care about the food that they eat and how it’s grown. And I will say that, I think that in general, there is a growing awareness of the negative impacts of the food system and the positive, the positive potential. Like if we could change how food was grown, that there’d be great positives for all of us. At the same time, I think the food system is getting worse, not better. You know, the herbicide use is growing almost exponentially.

Arnie Koss 29:30
I agree. I agree.

Dave Chapman 29:33
So, how to turn that around is complicated, especially because we really are in a battle. And some of my friends don’t like that talk. You know, like to be negative. They don’t want to, they don’t want to be confrontational. They want to find the positive because that’s what people gravitate towards. But we are actually threatening the economic model of the biggest companies in the world.

Arnie Koss 30:00
Right. You know, Ron said to me today, when we were driving down here, he said, and I’m paraphrasing, he said something like, it’s not about influencing, just influencing the powerful, it’s becoming the powerful. And I think that that is exactly what needs to happen. The Real Organic Project, other people that are in this arena, doing battle, trying to maintain standards, strengthen standards, you know, there’s, there’s kind of like looking at all of the giants that are having so much influence. And because they have, they’re the powerful, but I think becoming the powerful is where the focus should be. And raising your voice and raising visibility, as I said a minute ago, to me, is essential.

Ron Koss 30:51
And there was a period of time where there, there was a brief period of time where the values driven organic foods effort movement, was the powerful, you know, we were, we were able to say, these are the standards, you know, and if you’re, whatever company you are, if you want to be organic, or do something organic, these are the standards. But what happened over time is that it’s human nature to, and this is why there’s this whole idea of beginner’s mind and coming back to the original impulse to something so that you, you get re-grounded to what’s essential. And if you don’t do that, you start slipping away from it,

Arnie Koss 30:51
and that assumes that you are grounded at all. That’s the beginning, right?

Ron Koss 31:33
In the beginning, I think there was a, you know, great effort to ground the organic foods effort, movement, into something that had integrity, that was really connected to the soil, that was really connected to the environment, that was, that was connected to the farmer, etcetera. I think that was real. And I think there was a brief moment in time, where that, that whole group of people were the power.

Arnie Koss 32:00
I’ll give you an example. Ron, and I were at Expo West, the year that Gerber got into organic baby food, they had this big booth. And there were a bunch of gray haired guys standing around the booth. And, and Ron and I walked up, and we introduced ourselves. And this senior guy, he kind of looks at his cronies, his friend, not cronies, his colleagues. And he said to Ron, me, Oh, so you’re the guys that pulled Gerber into the organic baby foods marketplace. And it was a big deal. And… and I think that, that in that moment, there was a certain, Gerber and many other companies knew they had to play by the rules that hadn’t come to the point where they begian, and I’m not saying Gerber did, I’m just saying in general, large corporations, where they could begin to bend and dilute, you know, and… and maybe technically adhere to the rule, but not the spirit of the rule. And there’s a lot of that. And so, over time, it’s just become bigger and bigger business. And over time, the people that are making decisions are less and less connected to what organic is. So it’s just more of a thing. It’s a marketing tool, than it is a way of being in the world.

Dave Chapman 32:07
You know, let’s go back to Middlebury when you had the big opening for your processing plant. And I was there that day. And you had Madeline Kunin, the governor. And it was a real day of celebration, it was amazing of like, look, look at what we’ve done, this community led by you guys. And we, you’re creating a market for organic farmers to grow more, and to be able to sell it for processing. And there was also a guy there speaking, who was the Category Manager for a supermarket chain? Dave. And I remember David speaking very well. And he talked about the 98% of human motivation, which is fear and greed. Ron, do you remember what you said?

Speaker 1 33:38
I do remember, I listened to that and I just said to myself, Wow, this is not what Earth’s Best is about. This is not the whole point of the exercise of spending years, trying to bring this idea to life. And I remember gravitating towards the edge of my seat because I just wanted to, and I stood up and I said something to the effect.

Arnie Koss 34:55
You walked to the podium.

Dave Chapman 34:56
You went to the mic!

Ron Koss 34:57
That I don’t remember.

Arnie Koss 34:58
Yeah, you did! I was there.

Dave Chapman 35:00
I remember.

Ron Koss 34:59
Okay, you remember better than me. And I just remember saying something to the effect that…that the reason that, that Earth’s Best is here is because, is that it’s about love. It’s about love for our planet. It’s about love for babies and children and parents in and, and that’s the reason to devote a life to reducing pesticides and herbicides, and, and building soil. And that’s the reason that that our Arnie and I have spent these years of our life doing what we’ve done to bring Earth’s Best to the world.

Arnie Koss 35:04
That was a highlight moment.

Dave Chapman 35:09
It was.

Ron Koss 35:11
Did I capture it?

Dave Chapman 35:42
Yes, you actually were even, even – I remember the first words you said was “I’d like to speak about the other 2%, which is love.” And I thought, so well said, Ron. And I also thought, this is on display for us, this clash of two cultures. And one is the culture of fear and greed. And when he said that, honestly, it seemed very intentionally cynical, like, “oh, you hippies, I can’t believe I even have to deal with you really, and, and you’re so naive, let me tell you about the real world.” And you are saying, there’s another reality than the one that you live in.

Arnie Koss 36:25
Right? Right. And, you know, that guy that day, took Ron and I by surprise, we had no idea that someone that was coming to this event would be so cynical, and, and unmoved by

Ron Koss 36:41

Arnie Koss 36:43
to the manifestation, the…the miracle that was Earth’s Best. And, and it is almost like that guy was one of these people that was told by his boss, you gotta go, you know, say something, I don’t care what you say, just stand up there, say something. And, you know, and we’ll be there. But, you know, Ron handled beautifully. Yeah. And, and, you know, that was a memorable moment, for every person, probably that was there.

Ron Koss 37:14
And we’re back to that point, again, we’re back to that, like, losing touch with that love, losing touch with that connection. And…and seeing this erosion of standards and seeing that, that, you know, it’s becoming more, organic is becoming more and more of a marketing tool, than it is a tool for transformation. And it’s a tool for reclaiming, you know, the environment and…and so that’s kind of where we are, it’s like, it’s not surprising, you know, it happens to companies, they, their founders started, and then the founders leave, and then there’s this kind of, period of time where there’s, what’s gonna happen to the company, you know, and some companies compromise themselves so they’re not even recognizable, some companies find a way to continue to build on the founder’s vision, the..

Arnie Koss 38:17
The pedigree of it.

Ron Koss 38:22
Yeah, you know, and it’s, it’s the same with with the organic foods movement. Industry today, it’s like, will it find its way back? Not backward. But back to…to representing the, the things that were considered crucial to, to what makes organic different than conventional agriculture? Or will it morph itself into something that’s still called organic? But so what.

Arnie Koss 38:44
Right. So So, yeah, so I, I think it raises the question, you know, what can what more can we do in this moment? And, and, you know, Ron, and I, from time to time brainstorm about this. And…and I have to, you know, acknowledge that I’m not up to speed, you know, in what’s been happening in the way that I was engaged and involved, you know, when Earth’s Best was birthed, and, but one thing that I see is that is that if we’re actually going to save, organic, where organic means something, then we’re going to have to find more ways to collaborate with people that are like-minded, for example, and I am I’m about to say something, I don’t even know if it’s true. So I’m sure you’ll let me know if it is. Okay. When I think about the Real Organic Project, my understanding is is that it you can you need to be USDA certified, and then Real Organic certified? You can’t just be Real Organic certified, you have to be USDA certified. Is that, is that accurate?

Dave Chapman 40:13
It’s true.

Arnie Koss 40:13
Okay. And it’s my understanding with some of the other certifying entities. The regenerative program, it’s also true.

Dave Chapman 40:23
For regenerative, organic,

Arnie Koss 40:25
Yes, regenerative organic,

Dave Chapman 40:26
it’s also true.

Arnie Koss 40:27
When Ron and I talked about is that two things two really like, you know, like, how could they ever do this is the question that anyone would ask. I think that it should not be a requirement to be USDA certified to be Real Organic certified. I don’t think it should be. You can be USDA certified and Real Organic, but I don’t think you should have to be. That’s two certifications, I think. And that would free a lot of things up now. Here’s, here’s like, the kick in the butt. That, you know, like, no, Arnie, they’re gonna say, Arnie, what? What were you thinking? I think if you want to be Real Organic certified, and you’re not…you’re, you are USDA certified, it should be free. Let’s get money out of the way of, oh, I can’t afford certification. It’s another certification, you know, what we should be doing is making this incremental, this Real Organic, or whatever it’s going to be easy, as easy as it could possibly be because a lot of small farmers are watching their dollars, and there’s also the administrative part and all the things that you are aware of, and, you know, like, there are farmers that are great growers, you know, but they can’t stand the admin part or the marketing part. And they they, so, you know, so they can’t overcome some of this stuff. Free. How many people might be interested? So some combination of how it’s marketed, free, not a criteria to be USDA certified. I think that could be a part of shifting the paradigm and making it easier to become Real Organic.

Dave Chapman 42:31
We are free.

Arnie Koss 42:33
You are free?

Dave Chapman 42:33
Certification is 100 % free.

Arnie Koss 42:36
So I didn’t know that.

Dave Chapman 42:37
Yeah. Yeah. So great.

Arnie Koss 44:49
Well, good job.

Dave Chapman 42:40
Well, everyone listening will, will see that we’re free. And that was part of our vision, from the beginning. We didn’t know if we’d be able to pull that off. But people have been generous enough that we’ve been able to still build a program and keep it free for the farms. So, the question about being an add-on or standalone, it’s so complicated. You know, at that first meeting in Vermont, after Jacksonville, where the Real Organic Project was born, it was just an impromptu, spontaneous meeting I mean, we called around two days ahead of time. And 30 farmers came together at the NOFA office. And we said, what are we going to do? And we had lost, it was clear that the USDA had embraced hydroponic and that, and that they were not going to get rid of it very easily. I won’t say never, but I will say it would take a very different president and a very different Secretary of Agriculture for that to happen. So it was 100% unanimity that we should create our own label, which shocked me. 30 farmers. The majority of them wanted to create a standalone. That also shocked me. But honestly, all those farmers were going to be farming three months later and too busy to do anything. And, to create a standalone label is two things. One is, it is a lot more administration and paperwork and all of that because not everyone who says they’re organic is organic. I mean, there is a reason for certification. Also, we almost certainly would be in a lawsuit with the USDA if we use the term organic without being USDA certified. Some of us would welcome that, that fight, but it would be the fight and, and it would be a big lawsuit. And we again take a lot of money to hold up to that. So, we didn’t feel that we had a lot of money. There’s a third reason that we didn’t do that, which is that there are 1000s and 1000s of real organic farmers with the small “r” are real, they’re real. They’re really organic farmers, and they’re certified with the USDA. And there are these organizations that have grown around them, to certify them. And if we said, we’re going to be a standalone, in essence, we, those organizations that feel like we’ve just declared war on them. And they’re, some of them are very good organizations. Some of them, we think, are very misguided, but some are not. They’re our friends and allies. So it was a tough choice. But that’s where we went for now. Right?

Arnie Koss 45:51
And understandably so. However, if Real Organic, or the legitimacy of the organic claim, is going to be a value going into the future. The slippery slope that Ron alluded to, we have to find a way to confront, now confront is an adversarial way, you know, I could probably find another word use, challenge, right? Or look for more collaborators, where we can build something. But you know, I’m thinking, this is an aside, but when Ron and I were looking at Earth’s Best, and what, and organic, we were discouraged about how to claim, how to make the organic claim in the beginning, because there were all of these territorial fights. And it was very contentious. And we actually coined the phrase whole-ganic. And we actually went through a period of time where we were debating, should we should we introduce whole-ganic, instead of organic, so we could steer this in a way where we weren’t trying to work it out. With people, with I’ll say, different agendas, some of them well meaning, some of them, I would say, saboteurs that just want it to fail. But in the end, we stuck with organic and we stuck with, would be, you know, certification and…and all of that. But today it just seems that, and I don’t know if this is even true, again, you know, correct me, I love being corrected. I just think that we have to raise the profile where we can, and invest it in the marketing of what needs to happen. So this doesn’t become co-opted and diluted in a way where, you know, where people, I mean, I have friends, they go in, they say, oh, it’s organic. You know, they’re looking at, you know, milk from a chain. It’s organic. And I tried to talk with them. Well, let’s, you know, let’s look at this, what does this mean? You know, and they’re, they’re not educated. They have no understanding of it. And, but these are people that would care if they knew, these are people that would vote with their dollar if they knew. So, it’s not just, there’s a lot of people that just don’t understand. But they’re people they care.

Ron Koss 46:48
And if I could go back in time, and I had a voice in it, the whole process, I would say, I would welcome that lawsuit from USDA, and I would never for a second think that there wasn’t the money, there wasn’t the money, because there is money, for things that are important. You just have to find your way to it. But, you know, it’s like, no, there are many people who have resources that don’t want to be found, but when they want, when there’s something that they’re connected to, that they value, they they appear. And this fight, even if, even if the fight was last would have been a tremendous opportunity to

Arnie Koss 48:41
raise the profile,

Ron Koss 48:43
raise the profile, bring into the light, why this fight, or why this suit happened. Because, because it’s really, it’s really about like, trying to stay true to something that isn’t just an ideal but actually has value, you know, in this world. That we live in a world where, you know, where, where breast milk is contaminated with pesticides, where, where there are many, many uncertainties about genetically modified organisms, where you know, there’s climate change issues, there’s so many places where the values that…that were birthed over the years that brought the organic foods movement, you know, into into a higher profile. I mean, those things are not just kind of like, they’re important. And…and in order for them to live, people have to be willing to, to continue to breathe life into them, and to bring them into this high profile. And, and yeah, it’s…it’s, you know the though I can just imagine a lawsuit what an incredible opportunity to say, hey, here’s what we don’t like we don’t like 15,000 cows, you know, in this environment where there’s, there’s minimal amount of grazing, we don’t want all these chickens, we don’t you know, this is it’s like, why not? Why not? Why not? Why not like,

Arnie Koss 50:56
take’ em on.

Ron Koss 50:56
take them on.

Dave Chapman 53:14
You know, I’m, I’m, I’m not against it. I’m not It’s not sure how my wife would feel about it. But it was my my goal, it still is my goal to create a vibrant enough add on label that it becomes the only labeled it’s respected. And because the other one is going to continue to spiral down. How

Speaker 1 53:42
many farms are in the Real Organic 1100?

Ron Koss 53:47
Have a how many days? There’s retentive, organic, who have maybe 80? Is there a divide there? Is there a kind of like, you know,

Unknown Speaker 53:57

Ron Koss 53:58
Is there a divide AD AD? Now is there like, is there a is there like kind of like, are we different? Yeah. Are we are we divided? We’re different.

Dave Chapman 54:11
We’re, we’re friendly to each other. When we when we started, we invited Rodale to come to our very first meeting, because we didn’t know what we’re going to do. And Jeff was unable to so we met without him. And we looked at their standards and their standards were basically no till. So rock was about no till agriculture. And we were diversity of farms, but we had a lot of vegetable farmers and they believed that they were doing a good job with tillage. They’re building the organic matter in their soil. Eliot Coleman is a good example. He just think cuz it’s crazy talk to say what he’s saying that we’re not building healthy soil? Of course we are. So one can build healthy soil with tillage without a doubt. And one can kill the soil without tillage without a doubt not to say that Paul’s hotel is bad, or that all tillage is good because neither one of those statements is true. But we did not agree with their position that that Real Organic farming met no-till. And, and so and so we created ourselves and and you know, we were quite different in our in our standards on worker welfare we didn’t have any they have standards for we do now but we didn’t when we started. And animal welfare we were in continue to be about identical. They have pretty much moved to our standards on tillage. So that was a big show.

Ron Koss 56:01
So what keeps it from what keeps it from coming together? I mean, is this an ego thing that you’re, I’m trying to understand, like, this is the thing it’s like, it’s like, you know, it’s like, if you’re, you know if Goliath is out there, yes. And, and you’re, you’re David, it’s like, you know, are you going to be? Are you going to be David, are you going to be David’s? Right? You know, it’s like,

Dave Chapman 56:28
I don’t consider us to be enemies. But I do consider us

Unknown Speaker 56:32
to be different competitors.

Dave Chapman 56:35
Sometimes we are competing, but look, we share farms of they’re at whatever farms. Probably a third of them are Real Organic,

Speaker 1 56:48
too. So I’ll tell you something that I just became aware of, and it bothered me. I don’t know where I was in Hawaii. I bought Lundeberg. Rice. Yes. Roc Yes. Very well done on the package. Yes. And I looked at that, and I said, Why is this so prominent? And it’s not connected to the Real Organic Project. And to me, it was a dilution of energy. Yes. And it was frustrating because, you know, maybe in part because I knew the Lundberg, you know, like in the 80s you know, and hanging out with them. And, you know, and, and a lot of these people, good people, good people, good people. It’s just like nature’s path. You know, the Berliners Amy, Amy and Andy. Yes, Amy, Rachel and Andy Berliner. And Radha and Erin.

Dave Chapman 57:56
They’re great, Steve. Yeah,

Unknown Speaker 57:58
I mean, they have a farm on Maui.

Dave Chapman 58:01
They have a farm in Canada. We certify? Yeah, yeah, no, we can’t certify their product. And we can’t certify Lundeberg. Either. They don’t qualify.

Speaker 1 58:09
I can’t help it. They don’t qualify because they’re

Dave Chapman 58:13
split farm. So lots of Lindbergh’s is not even organic, let alone Real Organic. We have standards. And one of our standards and this might not be right. was we decided for a farm. We weren’t going to certify parallel production. And meaning I can’t have 500 acres of conventional broccoli, chemical and 500 acres of organic broccoli, all being sold as Chapman’s broccoli. Right. And that which happens all the time in California. And in organic in, in National Organic Program USDA certification. They don’t care. We’re just certifying the product, the field. We’re not certifying the farm. So are you

Speaker 1 59:04
saying that those two different broccoli fields owned by the same farm are lumping it all under the same umbrella as being organic? No.

Dave Chapman 59:15
I’m saying that when organic began, it was much more in the biodynamic ideal of a farm, that we are going to create an organic landscape, not an organic field in organic landscape in which it’s all organic. Right.

Speaker 1 59:35
So so like I have a slightly different view. I think that and and this is looking back a long time. But we realized in the beginning in the 80s is that there were a lot of farms that had an interest in maybe moving towards organic. They were assessing the risk, but they wanted to transition and they didn’t want to go cold turkey organic. They wanted to Take this part of their operation and turn it into organic, see how it went? And then if it went, Okay, they wanted to move into the into the next area. I supported that. Because it was the beauty of the organic program. Right. It was a running start. Yeah, right direction. I agree. And and so. So using the broccoli example. Yes. If you have 500 acres of organic broccoli, and 500 acres of conventional broccoli, yeah. Okay. You said that you couldn’t certify

Dave Chapman 1:00:33
we couldn’t certify that farm? Because Because because they

Speaker 1 1:00:37
had two things going on. I went by but but but like, again, I don’t know, the standard. But back in the day, there used to be, like, separation of fields to help you so much distance, how to be there was like very specific. I mean, I was on so many farms there in California. And there were no, maybe it’s changed. But there used to be separations. Yes. And you could have an organic buffers, thank you buffers. And what you’re saying is there’s no such thing and the Real Organic is a buffer?

Dave Chapman 1:01:13
That’s right, we do. We do allow certain kinds of split farm. Like let’s say that you had 500 acres of vegetables and, and a 10 acre orchard. And the 10 acre orchard wasn’t organic. Okay, we could allow that. But not if you’re using prohibited substances on the 10 acre. It’s fine. That’s USDA are good. Right, but how does it feel? Yeah, yeah. So we were trying, that’s why it was called Real Organic. It was trying for that initial vision. If someone is transitioning, if they say, Well, we got these 500 acres of broccoli, but it’s in transition. In three years, it’ll be organic. Great. Come on in. If we say we got 500 acres that conventional and five acres of organic broccoli, we say, good luck, you might be able to get rocks certified on that five acres. Right? brockwitz certified the five acres, if it meant their standard,

Speaker 1 1:02:27
right? But how about this? How about, I’m the grower, I’ve got 500 acres of organic, and it’s great, nice. The Real Organic standard is beautiful. Okay, and I have another 500 acres, that’s conventional. And I’m waiting to see how it goes with my organic broccoli, you know, is there a market cannot kind of grow it without it being run by pests or whatever, yeah, et cetera, et cetera, right? I mean, directionally, you’d much rather have 500 acres of organic, knowing that that grower might be transitioning the other 500 Over the next five years or whatever.

Dave Chapman 1:03:01
And the moment they start the transition, they qualify.

Ron Koss 1:03:06
Okay, well, you see,

Dave Chapman 1:03:07
that’s my point. Look, it’s not a judgement, I consider the USDA Organic Program to be the transitional program. It’s like, whatever, give me you’re hungry, and you’re poor. You know, you want to certify two acres, great. USDA will certify two acres. And hopefully, it’s real. And I’m not I’m not questioning that. I’m just saying, there’s a thing that’s happened. And I can’t tell you how cynical it is. But, I mean, they’ll even do this thing of transitioning in and out. They’ll do thing, for example, where they’ll transition this, this orchard is conventional, this one’s organic. And after five years, we’ll change places. So we’ve kind of wiped out the problems with a lot of chemicals and stuff. And we figured we can go without it for five years before it becomes a problem. The first three years we’re in transition, the last two years, we’re getting our, our, our fee.

Speaker 1 1:04:08
Right, so what you’re describing is familiar. And, and, and but the question I have is, are those examples anomalies, or are they common?

Dave Chapman 1:04:22
Well, those are tried and true practices. But

Speaker 1 1:04:26
the people that are basically wiping out the problem, and then transitioning to organic.

Dave Chapman 1:04:32
It’s a great question, Arnie? I don’t know. I don’t know at what level that happens. I know in greenhouses, there is no transition time for a greenhouse. And it happens a lot. What

Speaker 1 1:04:50
do you mean no three year? No. Three? Is that USDA organic, USDA Organic. Is that new or is that the way it wasn’t thinking

Dave Chapman 1:04:58
forever? So for example, let’s say I grow started plants for all those organic farmers in California. But I also do a lot of started plants for the chemical growers. So I got big greenhouse operation. And I’m saying, Well, this block this year. I’m not spraying that block that year, this, these are organic starts. But maybe even later in the year, I’m gonna put, I’m gonna put chemical stuff.

Speaker 1 1:05:27
So are you saying that the three year standard doesn’t exist across the board for? And you’re saying that’s the way it’s been since the the organic foods act?

Dave Chapman 1:05:38
Yeah, if you’re growing in the ground, like if you’re growing a greenhouse vegetable, I don’t know. But for hydroponic, certainly there’s no transition.

Unknown Speaker 1:05:46
But what about for you? For me? Yeah.

Dave Chapman 1:05:50
I don’t know, because we’re never not organic. So we build a greenhouse over organic fields? It’s a great question. If you put a hoop house over it, can you skip the three year transition? I don’t know. That’s

Unknown Speaker 1:06:05
interesting. That is interesting, I would be really disappointed.

Ron Koss 1:06:11
Makes me want to go into the hoop house business,

Dave Chapman 1:06:13
there was a major conflict that we had with the USDA, about the use of herbicides. And the hydro growers, were spraying the ground, covering it with plastic, putting the pots on and it’s certified organic, a week later, not even a one year transition. And

Speaker 1 1:06:34
that was certified USDA organic, certified by the USDA organic. And that’s in the in the organic foods act that behavior.

Dave Chapman 1:06:41
It’s not in the act, but it’s in how they were interpreting the act. So so. So it was never a regulation one way or the other. But when when inspectors certifying agencies would ask them, they simply wouldn’t respond. And so this is what was happening. It was happening. And I brought it up, because I knew it was happening. And I was basically told to shut up and be quiet. And the head of the OTA said to me, if you have proof, file a formal complaint. And I thought, gosh, if I heard of an allegation like this, I would take it really seriously and do a lot of research.

Speaker 1 1:07:27
Why would the OTA take it on? Why are they putting the onus on you to?

Dave Chapman 1:07:31

Speaker 1 1:07:32
why would they do that? Yeah, that’s just not right. I mean, that’s, that’s like an abandonment of a quasi

Dave Chapman 1:07:39
public. That was a public statement, because I asked the question at a panel, that it was not invited to be on it at Eco farm of, of Laura bacha. And I said, Well, you know, you said that we’re not using herbicides, herbicides aren’t allowed in organic, but of course, they are in this case. And she said, if you have proof, file a complaint.

Unknown Speaker 1:08:03
So that’s outrageous, actually,

Dave Chapman 1:08:05
I did get proof. I didn’t file a complaint. That’s the way to, like regulatory death. I just wrote a big letter about it. And four days after the letter came out, USDA had prohibited that practice.

Unknown Speaker 1:08:21
So you were successful, almost,

Dave Chapman 1:08:23
almost. But the wording was very strange. They said over and over in this. In this notice that they posted? That, of course, no prohibited substances may be used for crops grown on the land. On the land. I kept saying on the land, I’m like, where else you’re gonna grow crops. Everything’s on the land. And so we asked, we asked the head, I had asked the head of the of the National Organic Program in a big meeting, would this be permitted to spray herbicides? And she ducked it, and she ducked it, and I pushed and I pushed? And finally she said, Yes, I’m sorry to say it would be allowed.

Speaker 1 1:09:07
You know, what? I don’t understand this. It’s like it’s inconsistent with everything that we fought for, how could that be acceptable and be certified organic? mean, what certification organization would approve that? And I guess it goes back to the question about the spirit of maybe what was intended or some parsing of words, that leaves a crack in the door where someone could do something like herbicide spraying,

Dave Chapman 1:09:39
they’re still doing so in that, in that clarification they gave. We said What does that mean? And we they won’t answer the question. If you write a letter to the USDA asking for clarification, they won’t they say we won’t address hypotheticals. And you say you mean I have to show a specific case and film footage and say Is this allowed? And, but what we’re seeing in the fields a lot is the containers are on these little six inch stands.

Speaker 1 1:10:11
So they’re Yeah. Oh my gosh, right, that is so messed up. And

Dave Chapman 1:10:16
of course, if you’re hydroponic on a bench, you could spray under the bench if by this interpretation.

Unknown Speaker 1:10:23
Well, the,

Ron Koss 1:10:25
the metaphor or yoga comes to me as a metaphor. You know, it’s like, and I know, this is definitely applies to me, you know, and probably already, too, but, you know, it’s like, it’s like, in business. And, you know, whatever it is that that that, um, is being considered in relationship to organic standards is like, it’s like, it’s it’s incumbent to understand, you know, whether it’s incumbent for me to understand whether what I’m endeavoring to impose, or to create, you know, is actually, it’s actually something that that is requires flexibility, you know, not just my flexibility, but asking the flexibility of others, or whether I’m asking myself to do something that I can’t do, because it’s impossible to do I have the flexibility to do it, or whether it’s impossible for other people to do because they don’t have the flexibility. And there’s it’s this kind of like this stance of what’s know how, what, what can we allow for bending? You know, how much bending can we allow, without breaking?

Speaker 1 1:11:45
This is what Ron is saying, I’m gonna give you an insight into how far we were into getting this right. We were the first company Earth’s Best to analytically test everything that we bought, before we shipped, or like 100, pesticides and herbicides, we had every craft, like the first analytical testing program. And it was zero tolerance, and the parts per billion zero. And, and we had, leaving the plant before it went out before we shipped analytical testing on finished product. So the commitment to the standard was intended to be an example of what’s possible, if you’re committed, but

Ron Koss 1:12:36
we didn’t know. We didn’t know whether we were creating something that that that would cause us a break, because we didn’t know

Speaker 1 1:12:45
could we even get to zero. Right. And we ended up not, we ended up like we had all of our apples sourced out of Canada in our first year. And we found detectable pesticide, fungicide, Fungicide, and all of those, whatever was how many trucks 1618, tractor trailer loads of apples. And I scrambled. And I went to California into the Sebastopol area, which was at that time, a lot of Gravenstein apples, and made, introduced myself and became a major buyer of apples in California. And then we had to ship all of those loads of apples to Vermont, which was insane. And it was a part of the financial troubles that we entered into early on in the California standard allowed 10% of the EPA

Ron Koss 1:13:36
level of pesticides. And so we, you know, we wanted better than that, but but, you know, did we, I mean, did we create an impossible standard because what happened is that, I think it was a 9090 in the in BeechNut territory. The FDA or the USDA contacted us and said that they found Bo transpo Tran in our sweet potatoes, you know, the allowable limits was within the California standard. But now, Bo Tran and this is something I knew from the very beginning we couldn’t test for every chemical. You know,

Unknown Speaker 1:14:14
we did test for 100 chemicals.

Ron Koss 1:14:15
Oh Tran was one that was just we didn’t test for there was no end and it turned out the sweet potato grower, really wonderful guy by the name of Peter Carey. You know, I call them up. I said Peter, he said Mr. Cos, I promise we never use anything like that in our crop. And so, so, so the, the FDA required us to change our label, because our labels had no pesticides or no detectable detectable pesticide herbicide. And we had to we had to take them off of our label, because they they say the FDA said that our label was inaccurate. We were still within the California 10% Yes. So we’re the Votrient came from it. came from the it was residue left within the washing fleet potato washing equipment that they the sweet potatoes go through a brush washer. And it was residue in, in that brush washer in the packing house. Packing us nothing to do with the grower. Yeah, but then that was beached on coming after us and trying to wreck us. That

Dave Chapman 1:15:24
was that was a target. You had to target. Yeah,

Ron Koss 1:15:28
definitely. And, and that hurt us. Yeah. But so anyway,

Speaker 1 1:15:36
I guess, you know, the point of that story is that, this standard to fight for, you know, to care about,

Ron Koss 1:15:42
you know, is worthy, it has to be carefully considered, you know, it’s like, and I think that the you have really, really strive to consider carefully consider so many things impressively trying to figure out, you know, where to drive a stake in the ground and where to bend or where to, and, and it’s really, I don’t know, if you have the experience, maybe it’s a thankful task, or maybe it’s doesn’t feel like a thankful task, I wonder.

Dave Chapman 1:16:12
You know, I, I get to work with great people, I get to talk to you guys, this is the job, right? I get to talk to all kinds of amazing people I work, I meet all these amazing farmers. So that part is is wonderful. It’s it’s a challenge for me to to face the scale of the opposition to what we actually are doing is so such a, you know, you we know you

Speaker 1 1:16:44
and we do know, and there’s some stories that I’m not going to share here today that would even put three exclamation points on that challenge, and what with what came at us from large companies, but that challenge that you’re describing? That, you know, is imposing intimidating, that is the challenge that has to be met? Yes. You know, and I don’t know who is in your, on your board, who is, you know, how you get to a decision, you know, but and I’ve said this to a lot of people, I’ve said this to the sugar companies in Hawaii, I was trying to get them to convert to organic, before they went out of business. The same thing with the pineapple company, I tried to get them. Macadamia there is a way I believe there’s a way it’s sort of like Ron says, if the possible is failing us what is the impossible that would not. And that’s where we’re at, we are at that place in our timeline on this earth, where we have to look at the impossible, because in too many moments, the possible that’s failing us. And that’s why I say how, however big it is, however imposing they are. They’re fallible, they’re vulnerable, right? They’re, they’re afraid, you know, because they’re, they’re so fixated on one thing, making money, you know, and what their shareholders are going to say. And there’s an advantage that I feel that, that projects like this could have, because it’s not a big organization, it’s flexible, its values driven, heart centered is all of the things that ultimately lead to something that you can be passionate about. But you need to get the benefit of how do you fight that fight? And I encourage you to pull people in. In your process, if you ever get to the point where yeah, let’s How can we fight that fight? I encourage you to pull people in, that have either been in that arena, you know, have been ruined by that arena. And and use that as a part of the resource that might be invaluable. Yeah. Thank you. So I agree with what Ron is saying. And, you know, just one of the lessons like when we when we were starting or as best, we had no money, no family money, and we’d never raised money. And we we didn’t have a pedigree. You know, I didn’t have a rod didn’t have a Harvard MBA, or we had worked for some big company like Nestle or Gerber. And now we were doing something. You know, I was a broom maker. I mean, they screwed Zeiss brooms. Thank you. I mean, I mean, that’s a stretch to go from broom making to baby food, right. But what I learned is that if we start I go to raise money. And in struggling to raise money, we learned, I learned that, and it took a long time that there is all kinds of money out there. And it’s hidden. You know, in the Earth’s Best Story that Ron and I wrote the book that we wrote, you know, there’s a chapter about angels and demons, Angel, angels, investors, and demons, who are looking to exploit, take advantage. Whatever is the vision for the Real Organic Project, or something else that would be supportive of protecting the organic claim, in my view, is not going to be money that stops it from happening, it’s going to be either nerve, vision, leadership or something else, but not money, because with leadership and vision and nerve, it will attract the right money. This is the way I see it.

Dave Chapman 1:21:05
Right, it really makes me feel bad. If it doesn’t work. Well,

Ron Koss 1:21:08
that was my, what’s that? Well, actually, let

Speaker 1 1:21:11
me let me take that on you. Okay. Right. How you could say it was your fault, would would to fail to recognize all that you’ve done. And, and what you’ve done with the money that’s have been available, which I think is heroic and amazing. And, and, I mean, you know, there are people that show up, they’re champions, you know, and they divert so much energy, they take it away from their business, they take it away from their family, they take it away from themselves. And they, and they invest in something that they’re passionate about, that’s connected to their heart and soul. You’ve done that. You’ve done that. So, you know, but the idea of, it’s a journey, right? I mean, and this journey keeps evolving, right? And the idea of the whole process, and the journey is we get we get smarter, we learn, we make mistakes, and we keep building on that, and it becomes something and then it becomes something else. You know, so I mean, look at the organic foods industry. It was it was, it was a way there was nothing, you know, and I don’t know how many billions of dollars it is today. But it kept building and building and building. Yeah, so. So I just think that, you know, we’re roleplayers

Dave Chapman 1:22:35
Thank you. Thank you for what you just said, let me ask you, we’re probably getting there. But let me ask you. We didn’t really talk about the story of vers best and, and the bittersweet part. And, you know, the company came to a point where it passed out of your control. And how do you feel about that, in terms of? I know, you’ve said, it’s wonderful that you brought gerbers into this, and it is, and all of this is this very complicated conversation that we have. How do you feel about what what’s happened to Earth’s Best as accompany?

Ron Koss 1:23:21
Well, you know, I would say is that, that, um, you know, it’s like, it’s a, it’s a gift, to have the opportunity to actually use hindsight in your life, to do anything else, or to be in relationship to what’s happened, you know, Earth’s Best was a dream, it was a vision. We, I think, had the advantage of being you know, twin brothers eight minutes apart time, birth time, on the older brother, by the way, in case you were wondering, you know, and, and, you know, and it’s like, it’s like, like, you know, it’s like, it’s like running for a fly ball in baseball, you know, you’re running and you’re trying to catch it, and you just run and run and run in run. And you’re not thinking about okay, is there is there a pothole is there, you know, is that you know, you know, am I gonna get stung by a bee, you’re just running and running. And it’s an amazing opportunity, and to have that experience in life where you’re, you’re running for something that you see that you want, all in is, is just a, it’s just like, it’s a gift. And, and that’s what first best was, and so, for everything that it wasn’t, like enriching, like, you know, in because we aren’t, and I lost control of the company, and that’s a whole story. I mean, still, it’s like to have the personal experience of running as hard as you can, and believing that you can come Catch the ball, even if you can’t. I mean, that’s, you know, that’s, you know, one of the ways that I’ve lived my life that I feel very grateful for. And I think that no matter what, you know, what is tried in relationship to organic or anything else, you know, if there’s a strong belief and connection, then I’m, I’m glad that I took the chance to catch the ball, and to start the company, and we did, you know, and then, but you don’t know how the rest of the game is going to work out. It’s like you caught the ball. Okay, we started the company now, but the game is ongoing. And so if you’re lucky, if you’re lucky. And so the only thing I can say is that, that even if Earth, the Earth specif, today isn’t the company that I dreamed, diverse best being, you know, back when, when I was, you know, important to it, it still has done a lot of good, and it still has a potential to do more good. And you never know who’s going to come into, to the life of it into and what will happen with it. And, and, and then there’s the the experience of knowing that it is possible, to run with gusto for something, it is possible to catch it. And it is possible to do it again. And it is possible to pass that along to other people. Yeah. So yeah, I

Speaker 1 1:26:29
mean, I see it similarly, but slightly different. You know, in one way, Ron and I were screwed, by investors that were greedy investors that were just focused on the money, investors that used us, I mean, there’s all different ways to look at it. However, and there were lots of people, lots of investors that criticize running me, oh, those guys didn’t, you know, they didn’t have their feet on the ground. They didn’t know what they’re doing. And I say to those people, you haven’t spent one minute in the shoes that Ron and I were wearing, what we pulled off despite everything, you know, is is like the kind of thing that it’s like winning the lottery. It was it was just like, so unbelievably unlikely. And there were multiple conversations Ron and I had over the years where it was never about the money. It was about changing the world. Okay, and, and when I think about the bittersweet part of this, you know, did we make the decision to sell or asbestos hides in 1996? No, we didn’t. That was made by a bunch of venture capitalists and investors. And they decided, you know, they weren’t in it, for the reasons we were in it. And they made a financial decision, we had no control over it, you know, and that was very disappointing. But what I tell people is that is that there are people that end up with millions or 10s of millions of dollars, but they didn’t do something necessarily. It was enriching to, like Respess, with the richness of the experience of being a part of it, sharing that with Ron, and the employees that are assessed that were so amazing and so devoted, and then the millions of parents and babies that have grown up on asbestos, that’s the riches. That’s, there’s nothing that is more rich than that. And that is why I come out feeling just totally satisfied, and not stuck in lament or bitterness. Not at all. Earth best was a manifestation of an idea. We crossed the wasteland that separates fantasy and reality, where there’s the wreck of countless great ideas, smart people. But Ron and I navigated that wasteland came through the other side. And I still walk into a store, and I stand in the baby food aisle. And I watch a parent pick a jar, pick out a jar, verse Beth, and I’m a satisfied by today’s I was 30 years ago.

Dave Chapman 1:29:17
Yeah. Well, there’s somebody who went to that aisle and got Earth’s Best for my kids. I think both of you. Because indeed, there were no choices. And I actually don’t know of any choices now. So it was something that I’m grateful to have had an opportunity that it was available. It’s easy, you know, Larry Jacob said to me, it’s easy to take incredible food for granted and it can go out and you never get it back. You never get back. That peach grower ever again if you lose them and us Oh, I think that’s true of what you did as a business. So

Speaker 1 1:30:05
one quick aside, you said peach color. There was a peach grower, our first organic peach color and, and his he became an organic grower. He was a generational farmer, his two year old son was diagnosed with leukemia. And this is in California. And so there was a battle to fight for his child’s life. And when they found the contamination in the well, on his farm, he that was his last day of being a chemical farmer, he became an organic farmer, he became certified. And Ron and I bought, I think it was around 40,000 pounds of peaches from him. And, and for one season one season, and, and we were running out of money, and I called them. And I said, Paul, you’ve got to send me an invoice because, you know, I’m not gonna be able to pay you. And he didn’t send me the invoice and I would keep calling him. And I said, Paul, please, I don’t. And then one day, I called them and he said, It’s a gift. Whatever you owe me is a gift because of Earth’s mass succeeds, right? It’s going to change the face of farming. And so he he gave us all those peaches as a gift to support. What became the nation’s first organic baby food company? Pretty amazing. It’s pretty. Yeah. Great peaches. Oh, Henry’s.

Dave Chapman 1:31:38
Alright. Ron, and Ernie. Grace, thank you very much for talking today.

Unknown Speaker 1:31:43
Thanks for talking with us. Thanks for bringing us into this moment.

Dave Chapman 1:31:46
It’s a great pleasure.

Linley Dixon 1:31:51
Thank you for listening to the Real Organic podcast. Our movement is growing because you’re subscribing and sharing these podcasts with your friends. So keep it up and leave us a rating and review as well so that others can find us. You can find a video version of this interview on our newly designed website Real Organic project.org or on our YouTube channel. And yo