John Shegerian: This edition of the impact podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy. It is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit eridirect.com.
John: Hi, this is John Shegerian. I never could have imagined when we started the GreenIsGood radio show back in 2006 that it would grow into a big podcast called the GreenIsGood podcast. Now, we’ve evolved that podcast into the impact podcast, which is more inclusive and more diverse than ever before. But we did look back recently at some of our timeless GreenIsGood interviews and decided to share some of them with you now. So enjoy one of our great GreenIsGood episodes from our archives. And next week, I’ll be back with a fresh and new episode of the impact podcast. Thanks again for listening. I’m grateful to all of you. This is John Shegerian.
Mike Brady: Welcome to Green is good. Raising awareness of each individual’s impact on the environment and helping to create a more beautiful and sustainable world. Now, here’s John Shegerian, chairman and CEO of Electronic Recyclers International, and Mike Brady.
John: Hey, welcome to GreenIsGood and Mike Brady it’s great to be in the studio with you today.
Mike: Well, John Shegerian the pleasure is all mine, sir. I mean every week we get a chance to talk to some really cool people. We get to learn stuff, we get to share we get to learn together just you and me as his partners on the show and our audience gets to find out all this cool stuff. It’s just like we’re actually doing something that makes sense.
John: Mike I got to tell you on the weekends I catch up well with my regular work and then also on my social stuff and I got a lot of emails this last weekend.” Thanks for the show, John. I love the show. I’m on Apple, iTunes listening to it, or I’m on your website or clear Channel’s website, listen to it.” And it’s so fulfilling. What we’re doing together when I get those little emails and thank you’s from people. I’m really excited because today we got 300 emails today. Someone had written about our show somewhere. We got 300 requests in the last 24 hours or so for people just to be on the show.
Mike: You’re kidding.
John: No. I mean, I know we’re onto something great. I know the Green Revolution is here to stay and also I bow down to you Mike because I’m so excited about our one-hour format because you and I get to have now two great guests. Every time we do a show together and that to me is really delivering the goods for the people out there listening to us.
Mike: Well, there’s so many people like you say John the want to make a difference did know that every change starts small. We get overwhelmed. We see so many problems, so many things that need to be addressed and we think how in the world are we going to be able to do this? I can’t possibly do it. Well, that’s why there’s such a thing as teamwork.
John: That’s right.
Mike: Because nobody’s got it all has the entire skillset in and of themselves, but when you get people together doing small things on a global scale, that’s really what affects a lot of change.
John: And this is like a reset on our society. Almost everything that we do in touch can be made green or greener. We’re proving with all the different guesses we’re having from so many different backgrounds that everything that we do in our daily lives can be rethought and be made greener and I think we get to share that with our audience and make them rethink everything we’re doing.
Mike: It’s really cool too. It’s like a renewal. If you will of our sense of interconnectedness, you would think that that would be a no-brainer because you were talking about social networks and all this stuff. We’ve got so many different technologies that supposedly are there to bring us closer together, but still, sometimes people feel more disenfranchised and more alone than ever. So, what’s up with that?
John: Well, it’s the paradox of social media and social networking. In one way it democratizes information…
Mike: That’s right.
John: Which is wonderful.
Mike: That’s excellent.
John: It’s wonderful for us. It’s wonderful for our children and our grandchildren. But also, as you said, you could live almost on the social network and not have real personal relationships in terms of one-on-one, like yours, yours, and my friendship and partnership. And then you’re missing out, you’re missing out on the personal touch. I tell this to people who work with me all the time. It’s wonderful to text message people, and wonderful to email, but you can’t email a handshake. Nowadays, the personal touch is worth more than it was even when we were kids.
Mike: That’s a great point. So it’s a really social networking and all our technology should add to rather than replace it.
John: That’s right.
John: And or push us apart. Well, today’s show we’ve got again two great guests today instead of just one, because of this new one-hour format you’ve taken us to Mike. We have two great guests today. We have the first up top today. We got Rich Littlehale from YouRenew.com, which reaches one of these green youth entrepreneurs who has come up with… As you just pointed out, the word renew. He’s come up with a website concept to help people recycle their electronics using technology.
John: And using the power of social media, and social networks, to help connect people with solutions to recycle their cell phones, their laptops, and other small electronics that need to get recycled.
Mike: How cool is that?
John: And then we have Jessica Lundberg coming on after that on the second half of the show and Jessica’s from the famous Lundberg Farms, who are one of the biggest rice producers in America if not the world, and they’ve been green and sustainable back way before it was cool.
So, she’s going to be a generational legacy speaker and futuristic speaker on just our food and what we eat and the importance of eating green and sustainability when it comes to farming practices. So we’ve got two amazing guests today and that’s why we’re so glad all our listeners are out there listening to GreenIsGood.
Mike: Well, I can’t wait, John. So we’re going to take care of a little business and then we’ll get back to what promises to be a great show. So stick around for more of GreenIsGood.
Voice recorder: If a little GreenIsGood, more is even better. Now back to GreenIsGood with John Shegerian and Mike Brady.
John: Welcome back to GreenIsGood. Mike, today our first guest is Rich Littlehale. who’s the fearless co-founder of YouRenew and Rich is over in Connecticut, so he’s calling all across the country, and he’s just finishing up at Yale University. So, he’s not only an entrepreneur and leading the Green Revolution, with his great website, YouRenew.com. But he’s also a student finishing up at one of the greatest universities in America. Welcome to GreenIsGood Rich, and we’re so thankful and humbled to have you on today.
Rich Littlehale: Thanks. Thanks so much for having me guys. I’m very excited to talk.
John: Now, wait a second. How do you get to go to Yale University and still have time to come up with this wonderful website, great website, YouRenew.com.
Rich: I mean, one of the things that have been helpful is just from a young age. I’ve always had a strong work ethic sort of pushed through by my parents and I think for me this is something… The whole area of sustainability and in particular E-Waste, it’s something that I’m passionate about. So, I think as you guys know, I mean when you’re passionate about something it’s easy to work a few extra hours every night on something you care about.
John: Were your parents in the Green Revolution? Did you read a lot? Did you watch something on television? What made you want to even get into this segment of society instead of going to become an investment banker, or anything else you could become out of or the next president out of Yale University, by the way?
Rich: I part of it was just kind of right place right time and a little bit of us my co-founder and I stumble upon this. I had always wanted to do something in the green space. For no reason besides, I had grown up and often spent a lot of my summertime in nature camps and stuff like that. Actually, a camp up in Maine called Camp Wonky, really instilled in me a passion for the environment and taking care of, sort of that part of nature. And for me, I had… I don’t think there’s a better business than a business that has a triple bottom line that works on people’s planet and profit. For me. I was really looking for something in that area to drive it towards. We stumbled upon this and I thought it would be doable and here we are.
John: So you’re the next Zuckerberg or Gates. In your dorm room, cooking up this new business concept. And so, what does YouRenew.com do? How’s the response being? Explain what our listeners can expect if they go right now while they’re listening to the show on YouRenew.com.
Rich: Well, so the site is very easy. Essentially, what we try to think of was, there are a lot of ways that you can make an impact on responsibly reusing recycling E-Waste, and for us, YouRenew.com we wanted to really leverage technology to create a simple transparent, and convenient process with incentive monetary, the incentive to trade-in or recycle your old electronics. So the way the website works, it’s very simple. First, you just want to search for your device and we have a catalog of thousands of devices in nine different categories. And once you find your device, we have a picture of the that makes it really easy to find that device. You answer a few questions about that device and based on the answers to your questions were able to come up with a market, a price that we’re willing to sort of either pay for that device or in some cases we can’t pay for it, but we’re happy to send it to our electronics recycling partner. And so, after that, it’s very simple. You fill out a quick information name, address, and email. We give you a free shipping label. You grab a box and throw your device in, put the shipping label on, tape it up, and send it in. You’ll get a check a few days later and report just telling you that we’ve received your device and it’s being taken care of responsibly. It’s gotten a great response so far. It hasn’t even been up for a year and it’s been pretty exciting. Tens of thousands of people use those. So we’ve been excited about it and look forward to the future.
John: So, right now with set up mostly for cell phones or laptops or what kind of devices our listeners can get motivated to get to that site and use it?
Rich: So we have nine different categories of devices currently. So those categories are cell phones, MP3 players, so like iPods and stuff. Digital cameras, calculators, laptops, gaming devices, external hard drives, video games, and Blu-ray DVDs.
Rich: So, those are the categories that we’re currently [inaudible].
John: Right. I’m sure that you’ll expand as time goes on as you evolve it into Kindles and all the new inventions that are coming out every day and every week and every month.
Rich: Yeah, exactly. I mean that’s one of the reasons why a full gamut of options for people is necessary because it’s amazing how quickly technology evolves and new things come out. Looking forward to seeing the Apple tablet when it comes out.
John: So now, it’s easy for people to use. They can do it from their home, their office anywhere, just have to log in, go to YouRenew.com and you’re saying the response has been good. Now, you’re saying you saw a void in the marketplace. People have extra E-Waste, electronic waste, laying around in their desk drawers or their homes? Do you fill the void in the marketplace?
Rich: Yeah, exactly. I mean, E-Waste is the fastest-growing stream of trash in the United States. And so there needs to be a lot of different solutions that help cope or help fix that problem and support both people in larger organizations in a way to responsibly reuse or recycle their electronics. So the void that we saw was that a lot of these devices, the most important thing that you can do with devices at its end of life, is taken care of responsibly. But when devices are still in good condition, which often most of them are because we’re upgrading so quickly. I mean, the new Motorola Droid comes out or the new iPhone comes out and we have to go get it. But the old BlackBerry still works. We wanted to sort of facilitate a process where using technology, we could help people quickly and easily get cash for their old stuff. Give them that incentive to go and do the right thing with their old electronics, and then take those devices and connect them with people across the country who were willing to use those devices either because they can’t afford brand new devices or because maybe their model just broke. It’s connecting those two different marketplaces which are really interesting and really fun and is important for keeping devices out of the waste stream.
Mike: This is really cool because I went onto your sidewall like John is asking you some questions. And Rich, I was going to ask, it does seem like there’s a confluence of a couple of things. You can’t watch television or listen to the radio these days and not hear about cash for gold, cash for gold. So, people, they’re already familiar with that concept. And you make a great point about it. Almost as soon as new technology comes out. You’re talking about the droid? Well, yeah. And six months ago, he got this cool new BlackBerry, which is still good. So what do you do? I think about how many drawers I look around in people’s houses. Not that I snoop, but you go someplace, and somebody reaches into a drawer in a kitchen. And there’s two or three little old pocket calculators and stuff that you know, “Hey, you don’t want to throw that stuff away. What do you do with it?” So this is perfect.
Rich: Yeah, you hit the nail on the head there. It’s really exciting. And that was one of the things my co-founder and I realized is 21 and 22-year-old college students that have an old graphing calculators, and old cell phones. We look around our dorm rooms and there are thousands of dollars of value. that could be reused responsibly somewhere else. And they could put a lot of cash in our pockets. And just connecting the dots there and making sure that it’s being handled the right way. It is an exciting process.
John: So, we have a lot of people who listen to the show, who are entrepreneurs who want to be you. Their students, the young students there, they’re older folks who are looking to do a reset on their careers. So what have been some of the good and bad experiences that you’ve had while you’ve launched in starting to scale your company?
Rich: Well, I guess I can start with some of the bad experiences or some of the more the learning experiences. Let’s see, I mean, I think when we originally started the business we… One story I love to tell is, actually, when we started the business we thought that a good way to launch into the market was the partner with charitable organizations and help them do fundraising drives, which it still is, and it is a great means and something that we still do. One of the mistakes I made, however, early on was realizing really how… It was a silly mistake, as a first-time entrepreneur. Just how detailed you really want to be with your process and your pitch. So the mistake I made was, that I went into a pitch and just didn’t have some of the important questions that they had answered. That was really just due to a lack of experience. It wasn’t because we were doing something bad with anything. It was just really because we didn’t know what we were talking about. And so I think, as a young entrepreneur, it’s really important to really make sure that when you’re going in, you’re speaking with people and you’re trying to create partnerships that you sort of run the full gamut of all the checkpoints of what’s important, and you sort of have checked all your boxes, and you’re really prepared to speak about what you’re doing. And I think besides that, there have been some very long hours. One funny story is I was up till 5 am, on a Saturday night, two days before the site launch, because we had promised to get it out. By March March 2nd I believe it was, so it was a little bit of a race to the finish. But I think the good things, I mean, those are the most important things. I mean, there are so many, I think it’s obviously the relationships that I’ve been able to make both inside and outside the company. And that’s been the most important thing, because what I realized, especially as a young entrepreneur is you can’t do it all on your own. You really need to find mentors and advisors and partners, who are willing to help support your solution and try to give you the right way to go about things. And that’s been one of the really powerful things. And I think, some of the other things have just been learning a lot more about business. Learning how to read financial statements and learning how to organize inventory, design web design, and create websites. So, I would recommend that anyone at any age goes and tries to do it because you’ll definitely learn a lot no matter what.
John: I mean you’re just graduating from Yale undergraduate studies in a couple of months, and you’re really getting a real-life MBA it sounds like.
Rich: Yes, that is unquestionably true. I think in particular because when I started this, I really was… I actually took off school before my co-founder, so I was really on my own and I think sitting there sort of twiddling your thumbs in 100 square foot office. In the beginning, it was an interesting experience and an interesting path into the business world. And from there to where I am now, I definitely learned quite a bit.
John: I mean, what are the goals now? You’re going to be graduating this April or May?
John: What are your goals? I mean, now that you’re going to… One job of graduating is done. Now, you’re going to go back to your full-time job of scaling your company and growing your company. What are your goals as a young man and as a young entrepreneur with YouRenew.com?
Rich: I think in particular, what I’ve really been always interested in as I’ve been most interested in creating a piece of the puzzle that is part of a larger movement. And it’s possible that our piece will and has already will evolve into other services and more devices and other types of relationships. For instance, our fastest-growing part of our business is actually working with corporations and municipalities and helping them find responsible outlets for their old devices that are through Corporate Renew.com. But I think for me… I mean, this is a fascinating time in this market and I just want to be a part of the end solution, which is creating a system where everybody in America… We’re recycling rates, for instance, for cell phones, which are currently around 10%, or more like 90%.
John: With four billion cell phones out there right now in the world, that’s an amazing statistic you got. So let’s just our listeners hear that again, you’re saying, so far, only about 10% of all cell phones are being recycled in a responsible way right now?
Rich: Yeah, it’s truly incredible. It’s a truly incredible statistic. I mean, there are hundreds of millions of turnovers every year. And for us, I mean, it’s a very special time for this industry. Eventually, I think that people are going to be mining out of these old devices versus mining out of the ground.
Rich: That will be a great thing because it will mean that we’ll be constantly reusing all the metals, and the plastics, and the glass, and all these devices, or the actual devices, which is what we specialize in.
John: Which is reuse, which is a great form of recycling, but you’re just referring to urban mining having a huge future ahead of it. Also, everything in your cell phone can be reused and recycled, all the metals, the plastic, and the glass.
John: That’s great.
Rich: I think for us, our goal is to continue to focus on building value for our customers. And really try to use technology as a leverage point to make this process easier.
John: How many Yale students or co-founders with you or co-partners with you?
Rich: One co-founder.
John: One co-founder from Yale?
Rich: Yeah, exactly.
John: How many of your colleagues at Yale are jealous that you guys already have a job when you graduate?
Rich: Well, luckily this year the economy is a bit better. So I think some of the people graduating this year, from what I understand they’re doing a bit better than last year. But still, I think people are people who are very supportive. We’ve been very lucky and fortunate to have a lot of supportive people in the Connecticut area and Yale.
John: Well, the Yale answer to Zuckerberg and Gates. That’s what I’ve been told.
Rich: Hopefully. Most importantly, this is why it’s exciting. The company will have a huge impact environmentally and profitably.
John: It’s a clean site. Mike’s on and now while we’re talking with you, it’s a clean and wonderful site. I’ve been on it many times and used it already. But Who’s your competition out there? Do you have ten competitors, five competitors? Have you created a whole new industry? What’s it look like?
Rich: Well, the industry is… It’s very interesting because it’s rapidly evolving. I mean, there are a lot of people who specialize in asset management and reuse. And then that ranges from people, for instance, networking equipment.
Rich: I know, you guys have had cisco.com, which is a great solution.
Rich: Companies that are more like ours focused on some of the handheld electronics were focused on, for instance,[inaudible] flip swap, which is just focused on cell phones.
Rich: There are a few companies but we were really looking to… I think for us, I mean, which is exciting, we’re trying to differentiate ourselves a bit and finding different types of points of leverage and partnerships that can really help scale our solution and utilize our solution.
John: How big can you get? Literally, when you go to bed at night, Rich, and sometimes I know it’s late at night, whereas an entrepreneur when you think five years down the line, how big can your company be? How many employees? What kind of sales number dances around in your head? What’s going on?
Rich: I think is incredible, but I think that this is… Whether we are on our own or this or we’re part of another company, I think it’s it for me, I mean, I want to be over the billion mark. Because it is that big of an opportunity. It is that big of a need. Most importantly the devices exist. [(25:00)]I mean, anyone can go run the math on this, and it’s not like people aren’t working on it already. There are lots of people who are already pursuing this option. But I think if given the correct execution and going down the right path, there will be winners. And I think that we want to be a part of the winning team and I think that numbers well over a billion dollars.
John: What do you do day-to-day? Are you the coder? Are you the visionary? Are you the architect? What are you doing every day? Push the company forward, what’s your genius? What’s your partner Bob Casey’s specialty?
Rich: I think when we originally started, and this is pretty much how it stayed. I was the CEO and Bob was the COO. So I mean, I would say that in some ways I’m the strategist visionary and sort of pitchman and going out there and trying to make relationships and sort of sell the product and also help people really understand and communicate clearly. Also, I have a focus on that technology and I don’t code myself, but really work with our technology team to build and continually iterate for the best product and Bob. Bob is the master of the details really, our COO, and really has a knack and an amazing ability to take and put operations and streamline them and really make them the best the greenest, and the most profitable. So we started that way and it stayed that way ever since. I’m no longer CEO, I’ve actually stepped down recently. We are the more experienced and seasoned company veterans. But for me, I’ve pretty much stayed in that visionary role and trying to create the partnerships that are going to leverage this to the scale that we want.
John: Well, we’ve got about a couple of minutes left and I want you to give a couple of pearls of wisdom on some questions that we have to our listeners out there. A, what is your green DNA look like? Both in your personal life in your business life? And what do you have to say to our listeners that want to green their life more besides going to your great website YouRenew.com, which will definitely be a help to all of our listeners? What else can you say in terms of green DNA? And to our entrepreneurs out there? What is one last pearl of wisdom that you can leave them with?
Rich: Well, I think in my personal life. I mean, I think that the God there’s a lot of things I mean, I think in particular, one of the things that I try to do is I always try to educate myself. Besides the things that I think anyone and everyone should do at any company is setting… Making sure everybody’s recycling everything responsibly from paper to plastic, etc., and also really trying to focus on buying the right types of lights and streamlining operations in the most energy-efficient ways.
Rich: I think one of the things that I’ve I’ve really loved doing and has been helpful in trying to really educate myself as much as possible on a whole myriad of different issues in the green space whether it be you know geothermal energy to E-waste to solar energy to recycling plastics to buying organic foods and local foods and something that. I actually do it a lot and I think that as a result of having constantly read about that. Those kinds of things and educating yourself number one, you’re just going to naturally draw yourself towards that and do those kinds of practices. But two, it helps in connecting other people who are interested in the same space. For instance, I know there are a lot of people who will come up to me now and say, “I have this green idea of how do I get started.” Sometimes it’s outside of the box of what I’ve worked on because I’ve read things on and I can at least say, “Well you know, you should probably try to connect with this person or you should try to connect with this organization.”
John: So you being seen as a green leader now and you’re now only talking a great talk but you’re walking a great green walk.
Rich: Thank you. I hope so.
John: No, that’s part of it. Listen, Mike and I are so thankful that you came on today, Rich, but we’re going to have you back on and you’re going to give us an update not only as a graduate of the great Yale University but as the co-founder and entrepreneur behind YouRenew.com We’re going to have you back on and all of your thoughts have been great. We want to just urge our listeners to recycle all their electronics out there and go to YouRenew.com and get your cell phone in and your PDAs recycled and all the other great things that recycle. Rich Littlehale, we just are hats off to you and we just want to tell you, that you are living proof that GreenIsGood.
Voiceover: If a little GreenIsGood more is even better. Now, back to GreenIsGood with John Shegerian and Mike Brady.
John: Welcome back to GreenIsGood. We got the second half of our show today, which is really exciting also because we got Jessica Lundberg from Lundberg Farms on. Mike, we sit here in Fresno, California, which is really the heart of the farming world now.
Mike: Pretty much.
Rich: Yeah, agricultural world. It’s interesting. Our show is evolving so much that a couple of shows back we had the wonderful Peter Mondavi on to talk about sustainable farming with regard to the wine industry.
Mike: Right. And it was interesting because I really started thinking about the geography just from Peter’s description of the Napa Valley as 25 miles long, only about a mile wide.
Mike: And just all of the things that they’re doing to really preserve the environment there, but make it an even better crop of grapes.
John: That’s right. As he said, his major concern was his legacy of being able to pass down Earth and property and a better environment up there as a whole for the next generation of farmers. His children and his co neighbors [inaudible] children up there to take over their farms and resend respectively farm the properties.
Mike: And still leave his children with a good viable sustainable business.
John: That’s right. And then here we’re going to have now today on the second half of the show. Jessica Lundberg, who’s her family’s been farming forever back to the 1930s here. And she’s going to talk about what they’ve been doing since then, which is so interesting. Because I believe Mike in the near future we’ll have some local people come on from Fresno to discuss their sustainable practice also because I think the seems like this is the movement with regards to organic farming and sustainable farming practices.
Mike: Well, more and more people are thinking about it. Not only from a health standpoint. I mean, people start thinking about, we are what we eat and well if we’re eating a lot of pesticides in our food. Also, what we’re starting to find out too, is a lot of the organic techniques.
Actually, make a lot of sense economically when Mr. Mondavi was talking about using rafters. [inaudible] when you drive out 180 and you just head out towards Kerman and just get out in the farm country. You see the owl boxes. Okay, that is natural pest control. No poison. You want to get rid of the rodent population or keep it in balance. Well, owls take care of that.
John: That’s right.
Mike: Nobody’s complaining except maybe the mice.
John: Right. And I know and they’re not a sponsor of the show or anything but like you have brought up before the democratization of organic foods with the owl products and other great products that you and I could just run in and buy and they don’t cost any more. But there are made with more sustainable practices now than ever before.
Mike: And more and more people are finding. What we found out in our shows though. We just recently launched on the FM, but we’ve been on her sister station care to you, 11:30 a.m. for so long. We’ve talked to more and more people.
Well, the studies are showing that if the price point between organic and your standard brand you’re going to buy is just a few cents, maybe a few cents more expensive. People will make the choice for organic more and more. But when the price points are even or even last for organic. I mean that’s a no-brainer right there.
John: So, a no-brainer. And if some of our greatest politicians have been told us that all politics are local as you just pointed out. Mike, what’s more local, and what’s more important to us than the food we actually consume? And making sure that that’s green and organic and sustainable and in terms of taking care of ourselves first, but it doesn’t matter if the air is bad, if you and I aren’t even here anymore.
Mike: Yeah, no kidding. I can’t breathe. Nothing else matters.
John: Right. So, I mean, the same thing goes for food. If the food we’re ingesting is poisoning us along the way, we’re not getting anywhere. We’re going backward. So so I think Jessica is going to give a great education for our listeners on the importance of as you pointed out sustainable farming and organic farming and what her family’s doing to lead the Green Revolution and to have led the Green Revolution for many many years previously.
Mike: Well, I can’t wait to talk to Jessica Lundberg and we will do exactly that coming right up. So stick around for more, GreenIsGood.
Voiceover: If a little GreenIsGood, more is even better. Now, back to GreenIsGood with John Shegerian and Mike Brady.
John: Welcome back to GreenIsGood for the second half. Wow, what a second half. It’s going to be today. We have Jessica Lundberg from Lundberg Family Farms and Jessica your family is legendary when it comes to sustainability and green and way before was ever cool or hip or really the Green Revolution and taken hold in America. Thank you so much. It’s humbling to have you on the show today with Mike Brady and me. Thank you for coming on GreenIsGood.
Jessica Lundberg: Thank you for having me.
John: So tell us, about your family’s history a little bit. When did Lundberg Family Farm start? When did they go green? Why do they go green back then?
Jessica: Well, we’ve got a pretty long history in farming and my dad’s family were corn and cattle farmers in Nebraska and they moved to the United States in the 1800s. But really my grandfather… The reason that we came here was after the Dust Bowl in the early 1930s. Farming was really difficult for people and life were really hard and he had stayed and was working the homestead. He really wanted to make a go of it. But he had the opportunity to come out to California and make a fresh start. And he saw that as a tremendous opportunity for his family. So they moved out to California in 1937 and he came with my grandma and then my dad my uncle, but he also came with a knowledge of what happens when you don’t take care of the land. And so, he had seen what happened in the Dust Bowl when you over farm and you over ranch and you aren’t considering the health of your soil. So, when he came to California, he was told by the land barons of the time, the land brokers that were selling ground, that this is the land of milk and honey. You can grow anything you want. Well, that’s true. California is absolutely beautiful. We have one of the most diverse agricultural systems in the world, but where he settled is Richfield, California, which is Northern California. We have very heavy, heavy clay soils, which are perfect for growing rice because we don’t have a lot of drainages. We have a hardpan layer about 3 to 5 feet down, which keeps the water from draining. And we have a beautiful water source coming off of the Feather River. So, he started farming here in 1937. And with this idea that the soil should be cared for, as the soil is an organism in itself. And we’ve got to take care of the soil. In fact, he came up with the idea that you need to leave the land better than you found it and how do we keep improving the system? So he came almost like one of the first environmentalists like you said before it was really cool. It wasn’t a matter of being cool to him. It was a matter of being able to farm healthy foods in a healthy way that supported his family.
John: So he was a sustainable farmer back from right from the beginning of your family business here in California.
Jessica: Yeah, that’s exactly right.
John: Now, he picked Richfield, he opened up the family business. Take us from there. I mean, I know there’s a process that’s part of it called the cage roller. What is a cage roller? What was your grandfather’s involvement with that?
Jessica: Well, okay, so we’re farming in the 30s. The late 30s, my dad and uncles are young boys and they were growing up with their dad farming. They had several opportunities to happen with the Green Revolution that came out in the 40s and the 50s, but then my dad and uncles have grown men, farming with their dad and they had an opportunity because they had some customers. Some people that moved here from New York City ask them, “Would you grow rice for us?” And these were people who like you mentioned worth of very beginnings of the macrobiotic food movement. So at the time my dad and uncles were… They were members of the local co-op and for them to be able to farm rice and keep it in their own storage bins and then millet themselves. They would have to pull out of the local co-op. So they built the smallest rice mill in California and started their own business. So, my grandfather was very influential in helping them develop these philosophies, but then he was also a real encourager of them to be inventive. Know your soil. Know your rice. No, your plants, and think of ways that you can do it better. So he was a tremendous encouragement. So when it came to, how do we handle our straw? How do we make our soil better? Well, most of our rice farming neighbors around us were burning the straw. They saw it as it was cheap. It was easy. It was something that they considered the straw was a waste product and they just need to get it off the field. But keep in mind, if you’re thinking the straw is actually a nutrient that adds to the organic matter. It’s not a waste product. It doesn’t become an issue of how do we get rid of it? It becomes an issue. How do we use it? That’s where the straw cage roller came into effect. My dad and uncles all sat down. They brought in a couple of guys that were helping them on the farm and they said, “All right, we’re going to use this straw. We’re not going to burn it. How do we do this?” Oh, you should’ve seen the stuff that they tried. Some of these inventions they had, the huge big rubber wheels that they had made. They had things with big cleats on them. They had this one tractor that had big wheels that they thought would work but it actually was floating like a boat across the field pushing a big wall of water. So through trial and error, they discovered, “Okay. This is the best way to do it. We’re going to develop the big roller made out of rebar iron that we pull behind the field, allowing the water, that’s in this flooded field to flow through it.” But it’s heavy enough that it matches the straw into the soil and it really allows you for on-site composting. So they just sat down, and they start thinking what’s the issue? What do we want to do with it? The health of the soils is the priority and how do we get there? So it’s really ingenious.
John: Wow, and so wait a second. So this is your grandpa, how many sons did he have?
Jessica: My grandparents have four boys and it was all four boys that went into business together. In 1969 is when they built the smallest rice rill in California. That’s when our business started Lundberg Family Farms.
John: And that’s when they came up with the cage roller?
Jessica: They came up with the cage roller I believe in the mid-60s.
Jessica: It was 1963 when my grandpa and my dad and uncles all agreed, “We’re not going to burn any more rice double on this ranch.” Because my grandfather like I mentioned, came as almost one of the first environmentalists and he said, “Okay, for one. This is environmentally sustainable.” But he says, “This isn’t good for our neighbors, and our farms have to think of ourselves as the neighbors to our cities and it’s not good for our employees.” So, he saw this more as a holistic process. Not just, “I am one Cog.” He saw himself as, “I’m part of a greater community and this isn’t good for any of us.”
Mike: Well, the biggest thing to Jessica’s, I think people that are familiar with the story of Tom Joad and The Grapes of Wrath and know about the Dust Bowl. A lot of people don’t realize that it didn’t just happen to people from Texas in the Panhandle and in Oklahoma and the plains states, but that really affected that was like a double blow. The country was in the middle of an economic depression. And when Congress really started to understand what was going on, there were members of Congress there were getting dust off of their desks in Washington realizing that that had originated had been blown Mid-Continent had started way out west.
Jessica: That’s exactly right.
Jessica: It’s interesting because something similar years and years later happened in California. That was interesting because my dad and uncles are kind of the innovators of how we use this straw, but they saw more of we want the straws, the tool because it adds to our organic matter. It makes our soils healthier. Well, jump then later about 30 years to around the year 2000 in California. There was its folklore in a way, but it actually happened in the state capitol. There was smoke from the rice fields of blue into Sacramento and set off the fire alarms in the state capitol building.
Jessica: They said, “Okay, this isn’t good.” It was then that it was legislated that all rice farmers in California would have to conform to no burning or at least a limited percentage of burning. And that’s when people step back and said, “Oka. Now, what do we do with this?” And they started looking at people like my dad and uncles, who have been doing this for years and proven that you can do it and use that as a model.
John: So, let’s go back to 1969. The four brothers including your dad, were your grandpa’s still alive at this point?
Jessica: Yeah, my grandpa was alive. I believe he died in 1971.
Jessica: So if he’s still alive, he got to see the business start. He got to see them build the mill. He saw them start with their first organic customers and at the time organic wasn’t even defined. My dad and uncles, they’d farm with their dad without using chemicals. The Green Revolution has started. They went along with a lot of their neighbors and used synthetic fertilizers, but they also sat back and question this and said, “You know, we need to be really involved in our farming practices and we need to be making decisions for the health of our farm and not listening to other people and just following along with what everyone else is doing.” So when we had the opportunity to sell directly to people, who wanted rice farming, who did it differently, they started with about 60 acres. Trying it going back like father did with 60 acres and working up building a business off of the idea that we’re going to grow as much of this as people will buy from us. And so, it started small because they also had the idea that we can’t put the farm under. This has to be… You’ve heard of the three three-legged stool of sustainability with environmental social and economic.
Jessica: They said, “We believe in this. We believe this is a principle that we want to farm on. We want to support our families on this. We’re going to make sure it’s economically sustainable also, so we’re going to grow as much as people will buy from us and we’re going to just keep pushing this market, letting people know what we have to sell.”
John: So your family really now that I’m understanding this for our listener’s knowledge, really we’re into the whole issue of green DNA. Before that was even cool in terms of everything they did have to revolve around people planning and profits to make sure the business would succeed. You basically invented what organic farming was?
Jessica: They were there right at the beginning. In fact, if people know the history of the Rodale family and working with organics and macrobiotics, and kind of going through the whole defining process of organics. My dad and uncles were right there at the beginning. Talking about this, having these dialogues, “What is this process? And how do we define it?” So they didn’t even use the word organic. So, I don’t believe until the late 70s up until then. I think they call it ecological farming.
John: Now, define, why? When you look back, which is always somewhat easier when you look in the rearview mirror, why did your dad and his brothers succeed and your grandpa obviously succeed as opposed to some of your competitors? What is set them apart? Why did that resonate? How did how has that evolved? How is that going currently as we sit today?
Jessica: I think a lot of it was, they believed in trial and error and they believed they were farmers, to begin with. And I think that was really key to them, that they were very genuine people, and they believed in the processes. They believed in organics. They believed in healthy foods. They believed in selling foods to people here in the United States that we’re going to eat. But the success, I think a lot of it was for one that they were farming as a family that they could rely on each other and spread the risks, which also meant they spread the benefits. I think like you’d mentioned this really strong business idea, you grow your business based on consumer demands. You can’t push it any faster than it’s going to grow, then you can support the health of your farm and the economics behind it. But then they also really believed in this idea of connecting the farm with their customers and meeting their customers. In the idea of when we first started up, having a truck that they’d fill with rice and drive up and down the coast of California and Washington, and Oregon. And getting out at little stores and meeting people and shaking their hands and saying, “We’re farmers.” And getting to know what people want? And talking to them about it and then going that extra step of creating a business to sell products that they made and paying a fair price that supported the way that they were growing it.
John: So they didn’t also just because they were creating a special product that hopefully was even better than the competitors. It was at a fair price. It wasn’t more expensive. So everyone could still afford the great product that it was.
Jessica: Right. So it was on both ends though. It had to be affordable for people. It had to be very high quality because they believe that from the beginning. Very high-quality. Just because it said organic doesn’t mean that people should take a lesser quality product. So from the beginning, it was the best. And then though, to also pay a good return to the growers, to themselves, and to their other growers. As they start taking more people on it, has to cover the cost of farming. I think that’s part when you talk about the true cost of food. A lot of times people forget that there are costs that aren’t recovered. Sometimes when you talk about good healthy food. And so they had this idea that if it costs more to incorporate the straw to follow your fields more to let the fields rest that they were going to incorporate that pay a fair cost to the farmers for growing it, which meant themselves and their other growers. But then, as you said, deliver a quality product at a price that people can afford.
John: Well, Jessica in truth in advertising, as I told you before, we went on the air. I’ve been a huge fan of your family since 1980. When I was at Boston University, Michio Kushi was instructing everybody to eat their short brown rice. And I still eat your short brown rice. I think it’s the greatest rice out there. But tell us where your company is today? Now that the Green Revolution has taken hold and sustainability is cool and hip, tell us a little bit about the family. In terms of what your role is? Are any of the original… Are your dad and the original founding brothers still alive? How big is the company in terms of without giving away any secrets in terms of finances, in terms of employees and market size, and everything else? Give our listeners a little taste of that here.
Jessica: Sure. Well, I’m happy to share because it’s really exciting. The things that I’ve seen happen over the last few years. Well, as I said, the business started in 69 and we’re basically just short grain brown rice. Through the 1980s, we got into rice cakes and several other varieties of rice, and then we start doing things like boxed items like puddings and hot cereals, and risotto. And then into some snack foods like chips. We have rice syrup and rice pasta. And so now, just in a nutshell, we have over 150 different products. We grow 17 different varieties of rice and have just categories of products that are gluten-free that are whole grain. We also do white rice. That was a tremendous debate. In the 1980s, we were brown rice. In fact, the name of our company was Lundberg Brown rice, not Lundberg Family Farm.
John: That’s right.
Jessica: That was a debate, but we decided as a family, we decided rice is good nutritious food. And there are varieties of rice around the world that people enjoy as white rice. And people need to have a balanced diet, but that can be done with white rice, but I got to tell you, we’re still biased to the brown, all rice brown rice. So that was a tremendous debate.
Oh, you should have been in that room, but we do have brown rice and white rice and the 17 varieties and 150 different products. And then our family has grown all four of the brothers, my aunt’s, and my mother are still alive.
Jessica: But it’s…
John: Forty years later. That is the opposite testimony to the…
Mike: That’s great advertising.
John: That’s great advertising for the health of your products. That’s great.
Jessica: All four of the brothers have stepped off the board because they wanted their children. They wanted the company to continue. They saw this session as one of the things about sustainability if you wanted to keep going, you’ve got to allow people to step up, which has been a tremendous gracious gift they do.
Jessica: Now, we have still a family-owned company and we have an eight-member board of directors that’s all family and there are 11 of us cousins and out of the 11 cousins, seven of us work here every day. So and then beyond just the family, we have unjustness 185 employees that work throughout our operations and we are an integrated company. So we still have our family farm. We still farm rice. I manage our seed nursery. So I handle our specialty varieties with seed selection and plant breeding and looking for new varieties and keeping the purity of the varieties that we have. But we do everything from our seed to farming, to our drying and storage, the milling. Some of our products are actually manufactured here on-site. We do all of our shipping off-site. We have a sales force and we do our own marketing communications now where we started just being West Coast and selling mainly in California in the early 70s. Now, we sell 90% of our products are sold in the United States, but all over the United States. So there are very few places that you can’t go. If they have a natural food section you wouldn’t find some of our products.
Mike: Well, it’s really cool what we’re talking about here. I took the liberty of going on to your site and just looking at the different products where you’re talking about. The plethora of products that you’ve got is some of the recipes in there, just making my mouth water, but also organic doesn’t have to mean all you have to spend forever anybody [inaudible] ever made risotto from scratch, knows that kind of a labor of love. But looking here, you’ve got a variety of heat [inaudible] foods right here.
Jessica: There’s some pretty… That’s one of those things that we’ve tried to do as a company we wanted to have whole grain healthy products, but we also didn’t want people to be intimidated by rice because rice is a staple around the world. And it’s something that we as American consumers, actually don’t know very much about, and for us being farmers and having this connection to this amazing world of these different flavors and textures and aromas that you can get just from something as simple as rice. We wanted people to not be intimidated. So we started creating some of these easy-to-use products. Like you say boxed items like risotto in a box. All you do is pour the rice out of one pouch for the spice out of another pouch. You put in a little bit of oil if you want it. You add water and you stir. So the reason for that is not not to make it less elegant but more to… Okay, this is a primer. This is how we get too used to it. See if you like it and if you like it you’ll graduate to buy the Arborio and do something fabulous on your own.
Mike: Well, there are so many great recipes as well as a list of products and really a shout-out to your website, which is just so easy to navigate and has so much great information. If you’d like to check it out. It’s www of course, Lundberg, L-U-N-D as in David, B as in Baker, E-R-G Lundberg.com. Boy, I tell you. This is really, I don’t let John talk because I’m hungry.
John: Listen. I love you, bro. I could live on the brown rice I have. In fact, as a college student and beyond, whenever I’ve always wanted to get back into the health mode. Your brown rice is always to me. The number one staple that I owe that I always go to. So, you’ve got fans right here in the studio Jessica.
John: Tell us a couple of, in terms of green DNA, were down to the last couple of minutes. You and your family are just unbelievably inspirational and you are inspirational. In the last couple of minutes that we have, talked about a couple of the other types of projects you work on in terms of GMO, in terms of your solar panels, and stuff like that.
Jessica: All right. Let me see if I can just tell you a few.
Jessica: One of them back to the fields, because we use cover crops. We also will [inaudible] have waterfowl that’ll come into our fields and we have created some relationships with some people locally that have volunteers that will come in and gather those duck eggs. And we take them to license hatcheries. Hatch out the birds and release them in over 20 years. We’ve probably released about 20,000 birds back to the wildlife. So that’s our program called Our Egg Aid.
Jessica: So that’s one thing. But then another thing you mentioned solar panels.
Jessica: Around 2000, we as a company, especially my cousins and I, we saw that. Yes, we are farmers. We believed we were doing well, by the soil, but we said, “You know, but now we’re also a company.” We’re a rice company making products. Where’s our next big use of resources? We said that’s electrical energy. We need to be responsible for that. So we started looking for, how do we tangibly give back? How do we do something to be responsible for our electrical energy use? So, of course, we jumped in and looked at the conservation of how much we’re using. But then we said, “How can we manufacture electricity?” There were great programs in place. We jumped in and put into different solar panel projects, one on the ground, over by our dryers, and another on the roof of our warehouse. That’s not nearly enough. We’re generating about 12% of our energy on-site. So we said, “Okay now what can we do until we’re able to bridge that gap.” So we went out and purchase recs or renewable energy credits. Those credits will go back. A portion of that covers our electrical use saying that we’re purchasing the equivalent in credits and some of that money goes in towards supporting other projects that are being used throughout the state to develop renewable energy. So we felt that was one way that we could step in and help support renewable energy, even though we couldn’t generate all that here on site. But we’re also looking at potentially covering the rest of our warehouse, putting solar panels on top of a new office that we’re looking at building in the next year or so. And then, you mentioned the non-GMO project.
Jessica: We feel, we’re still farmers, were still connected to the land. We for sure believe in the health of our products and in the consumers, right? To know what’s in their food and to choose healthy food. So we got involved in the non-GMO project and we’re one of the founding members and we sit on their board of directors. The non-GMO project that we’re specifically involved with. It’s a nonprofit organization that was created by leaders, like us representing all sectors of organic and natural products throughout the US. And Canada. We wanted to be able to offer consumers a consistent non-GMO choice of organic and natural products that are produced without genetic engineering or recombinant DNA Technologies. Not because our company believes that there are there parts of genetically modified crops of food and fiber that just haven’t been proven with their benefits either to farmers or to our health or to agriculture, or to the environment. So that’s just something that we don’t support as a company. And we feel that people need a choice. So we’ve stepped up as part of the non-GMO project to support their efforts, to label projects, or to label products, through companies and retailers who want to support products like that.
John: Jessica, before we sign off today. Tell us if you were stuck on an island for six months alone, out of your 150 or so wonderful Lundberg Family Farm products. What one product would you take with you to sustain yourself?
Jessica: It’s a funny thing. I was just short-grain brown.
John: Oh, there you go. Well, Jessica Lundberg, I just want to say thank you for coming on. Mike and I are so thankful. We have humbled Lundberg Family Farms. All our listeners should go to lundberg.com and we got to just tell you something, the people out there are thankful for your family. The planet is thankful for your family and Jessica Lundberg, you are living proof that GreenIsGood.
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