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Homegrown Organic Farms leads the way in organic citrus

By
Keith Loria

Homegrown Organic Farms’ long history began with organic citrus products a quarter of a century ago. That’s when John and Cindy France began their organic efforts, inspired by their belief that there had to be a better alternative to growing practices that affected soil and killed beneficial insects.

“Citrus was Homegrown Organic Farms’ very first organic offering; we’ve been doing organic citrus for 25 years now,” said Craig Morris, category director for citrus and grapes for the Porterville, CA-based company. “It’s currently our largest category, so it’s extremely important to our company and a very big part of our foundation.”

The company began to take off when the Frances’ friends and neighbors started growing organic products and asked John for his insight and to help them with packing and marketing.

“From that point, the company has grown immensely over the last 25 years, and over the last 10 years or so we’ve probably grown by about 300 percent,” Morris said.

Homegrown Organic Farms grows, markets, and packs citrus, and works in all of California’s major citrus-growing regions, with 99.9 percent of its products staying in North America.

“We are definitely a retailer-centric company, that’s our focus, and we’re probably about 70-plus percent direct-to-retail,” Morris said. “Due to the 80 percent of the population living east of the Mississippi, that’s where a lot of our products go.”

The past year-and-a-half has certainly presented a lot of challenges, and one that has affected Homegrown Organic Farms’ season is the weather in California, which has had a significant impact on growing conditions.

“Our crop set wasn’t quite where we’d like, and overall, our crops will be down about 20 percent, maybe 25 percent this year, with mandarins being the most severely affected,” Morris said. “So, as we come into the season, we have growing demand and a whole lot of interest. I just hope we’re able to satisfy the demand that’s out there.”

The company grows a lot of organic crops, including stone fruit, blueberries, and grapes, but Morris noted that citrus is the most difficult to succeed with.

“That’s because you cannot get the nitrogen into the tree organically at the most critical time. There are synthetic methods that are used in the conventional world, but we don’t have that luxury,” he said, adding that this year’s organic citrus has been affected by California’s weather this year.

Still, he noted that retailers can see success with organic citrus by focusing on what the crop has to offer.

“A lot of times, customers get pigeonholed into certain sizes and or grades,” he said. “I think with some creativity, even with the shorter crop, they can have a very successful season working with the crop at hand.”

Homegrown Organic Farms recently made news by introducing an ESOP, or employee stock ownership plan.

“The employees have bought the company from the original ownership,” Morris said. “That’s really exciting for the employees. You can really feel a team atmosphere, and we know that how we perform as a company and how we perform individually as employees ultimately affects our destiny.”

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