720 Center Blvd, Fairfax, CA 94930
Owner: Mark Squire
Founded in: 1969
Organic Sales: Overall sales are over 50% organic, with food sales being roughly 95% organic. Produce sales are 100% organic.
Annual Sales: More than $10 million a year.
Manufacturer CommunicationMark has worked with many manufacturers to substitute GMO-free, if not organic, for suspect ingredients. He frequently contacts manufacturers with concerns and encouragement.
Product Removal ProcessMark said the store is continually removing products he is not proud to carry. The removal of specific “may contain GMO” products depends on the availability of GMO-free alternatives. In cases, such as with some gluten-free products, cosmetics and supplements, once GMO-free substitute products can be sourced, those GMO products are removed. Currently the store stocks only a handful of foods containing primary ingredients suspected of containing GMO ingredients.
Good Earth Natural Foods is a Non-GMO Project Participating Retailer. The store donated $25,000 to Prop 37, the largest donation of any grocer in the country.
Spotlight on Good Earth Natural Foods
Selected by OCA as one of the 2013 ‘Diligent Dozen” Right to Know Grocers
Mark Squire has one of the most celebrated resumes in the organic food industry. Since 1977, he has been a co-owner and manager of Good Earth Natural Foods in Fairfax California. An “organic oasis,” as one of OCA readers nominating the store described it, Good Earth provides a wide selection of produce, much of it sourced from within a 100-mile radius.
But it’s Squire’s passion for organics and his dedication to preserving and raising organic standards, growing the organic industry and working to keep GMOs out, that set him apart.
Here are just a few of Squire’s accomplishments over the past few decades:
- Played a pioneering role in developing the state’s organic certification standards. In the 1980’s there were no certified organic standards in California. Realizing that the standards were a necessary prerequisite for the state’s organic food movement, Squire worked with like-minded retailers, farmers and other advocates to assemble and codify production practices and allowable inputs and to educate farmers about these new standards.
- Served on the Board of Directors for the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), an organization that took on the task of further developing California’s fledgling standards. Squire helped write some of the original organic certification standards that are still in place today in the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Program today.
- Serves on the Board of the Non-GMO Project, which he was instrumental in creating. Concerned that GMOs weren’t addressed under organic standards, because the standards were written before GMOs came on the market, Squire reached out to other like-minded food retailers to create what would eventually become the Non-GMO Project.
- Helped write Measure B, the Marin County initiative that prohibits the outdoor cultivation of GMOs. The measure passed by 61 percent of the popular vote in 2004.
- Served from 1988-1993 on the board and then on staff of the Organic Crop Improvement Association. OCIA was at that time the largest certifier of organic foods worldwide. Squire oversaw international certification staff training and operations for both farm and manufacturing
Squire can’t suppress his passion for organics. He says:
“Since 1969, Good Earth Natural Foods has been committed to the health and sustainability of our community. We were founded with the dream of offering the very best quality and most organic food that we could find. Never content to simply accept the status quo, we have always pushed the envelope and tried to encourage food growers and manufacturers to produce food of higher quality. Organic runs deep at Good Earth. We believe that organic foods offer us the best opportunity to heal our bodies and the earth . . ..”
Co-owner Al Baylacq shares Mark’s core beliefs about retailing natural foods in an industry filled with GMOs.
“We believe people have a basic right to know what’s in their food, especially when it comes to GMO technologies that change the basic proteins in food. Thereʼs a dangerous proliferation of GMOs in this country with GMOs now found in as much as 80 percent of conventional packaged foods. Good Earth is more committed than ever to helping people find safe, healthy non-GMO choices.”
GMO Specific Questions
Q. When did your store decide to take action to protect your customers from GMOs?
A. From the time we opened our doors in 1969, our mission has been to support organics. From their first introduction into the marketplace we recognized GMOs as the latest incarnation of an agricultural system that was about controlling nature, and poisoning us with pesticides. The real problem with these technologies is the arrogance underlying them.
Q. How did your store’s GMO education, labeling and purchasing policies and practices come about?
A. As soon as we realized that GMOs were showing up in the marketplace we sent letters to all of our suppliers. We asked them if they had GMOs in any of their products and if not, how did they monitor GMOs in their supply chains. Some of the responses were great and gave us a lot of confidence. But most responses made us realize how clueless many companies were about GMOs. We realized that we needed to do what we could to educate the whole industry and that we could not do it alone. That was when we got involved with the Non-GMO Project, seeing that the industry needed an organization to figure out how we could avoid GMOs and GMO contamination.
Q. What has been the most difficult aspect of keeping GMOs out of your store?
A. The biggest problem has been the minor ingredients. It’s now pretty easy to avoid the major crops: corn, soy, canola. We just buy certified organic or Non-GMO Project for products with these foods as one of their main ingredients. It’s the ingredients that make up very small amounts of the product, like flavorings and vitamins, where we realize we are powerless to really understand if they have some GMO content on our own. We hope that as awareness increases we will be able to determine definitively if these smaller ingredients contain GMOs. The Non GMO Project is gearing up operations. Prop 37 and Whole Foods 2018 GMO labeling announcement have driven demand for GMO-free products. There are definitely some challenges with manufacturer demand for GMO-free ingredients rapidly outpacing the supply. It may it take a while for the market to respond to increasing non-GMO demand. But we need to support the natural foods industry’s efforts to remove GMOs as quickly as possible. This is a difficult and time-consuming path, because of the need to certify multi-ingredient products and products that are transported long distances. Consumers need to understand the challenges manufacturers face in digging out of the very deep GMO hole that the industry is in. It shouldn’t be hard for the organic industry to get GMOs out, we’re most of the way already. But “natural” foods, which I prefer to call non-organic, have a lot of skeletons in the closet regarding how they are produced. These suppliers should really be moving toward organic production practices for many reasons, GMOs being one.
Q. What do you think about GMOs and livestock feed as they relate to your local and regional meat and dairy producers?
A. The Awareness of grass-fed for both animal treatment and health concerns is growing with our customers. Good Earth has been selling grass-fed dairy from the neighboring Straus dairy, which is one of the grass-fed pioneering farms for roughly 10 years. We rely heavily on the Organic label here with full knowledge that there are issues of GMO contamination even with organic feed. This is a sensitive issue for retailers. We hope that any contamination is minor and we encourage all our producers to use the Non-GMO Project to protect their livestock and their customers. Since the USDA approval of GMO alfalfa, contamination issues are real. And of course corn, a big animal feed crop, is the most compromised of all.
We encourage livestock producers to go organic and grass-fed but we try to realize the challenges of organic production in this area as well. Both production practices are very important, but grass-fed meat is a vastly superior product that will inevitably cost more. I look at grass-fed livestock products as an investment in health, well worth the extra price. Some of our beef producers are grass-fed but not organic because they haven’t figured out how to avoid the use of parasiticides. I think the real answer to combating parasites is to focus on prevention. We’ve seen significant progress with rotational grazing. I’m optimistic organic and grass-fed production will become the norm.
Q. Please share a few success stories in getting manufacturers to remove or replace GMO ingredients in their products.
A. It’s hard to know what impact we’ve had. Sometimes we feel that we are a continual thorn in the side of our suppliers and brokers. We hope that it has made a difference over the years. We have tried to walk the thin line between demanding immediate change and understanding their limitations when it comes to finding GMO alternatives. As retailers we have a very important role to play in helping manufacturers understand what the public expects. So many problems result from the gap between customer expectation and the reality of food production.
Q. What customer feedback has your store received about your GMO policies and practices?
A. We continually get a lot of praise from our customers. Even when we discontinued popular items like Hava chips because they the company wasn’t willing to give us the assurance we needed, our customers supported our taking the high road. I believe that people will go out of their way to shop for food from a store they can trust. And it’s a great honor to have that trust. We need to constantly strive to deserve it.
Q. What tools could OCA or the Natural Foods industry provide that would help you and other grocers keep GMOs out of the food supply?
A. It’s important that we all keep our sights on a food system free of all toxins as well as animal cruelty and environmental destruction. We have come a long way in that regard but we have a long way to go. Those that share that vision need to support and challenge each other to make it better and better. Labeling GMOs is the first step. We are sad that Prop 37 lost by such a close margin but are confident that we will get labeling in the end.
Q. What suggestions do you have for other grocers thinking about taking actions to keep products containing GMOs off their shelves?
A. Take the high road whenever you can. The trust you gain from your customers is invaluable. Be transparent about the problems we face and people will understand.
Store Mission/Values Specific Questions:
Q. What makes your store special in the competitive natural foods marketplace?
A. We strive to sell the best quality foods produced by the most organic methods. Since we have been doing so for almost 45 years, we have gained a very solid and committed clientele. We would not do it any other way. But I believe it has also been a smart business move.
Q. What are your store’s mission and values?
A. We strive to offer foods grown and prepared using a minimum of processing and with no chemical pesticides or food additives. If we cannot meet this ideal with a certain food item, we get as close as we can and make as much noise as we can to change it for the better. We always endeavor to remember that food contains spirit.
Q. How does your store express these values through your purchasing policies?
A. We have a 100-percent organic goal that we review annually. We are at about 95 percent for food items now, including in our prepared food section. We also try to inspire our buyers to be part of changing the food system by asking the hard questions and really understanding ingredient and quality issues.
Q. What are your current store’s goals? Goals in five years (if different)?
A. We would like a world where all food is Organic and GMO-free. We do feel that it is possible!
Q. What would you like OCA to tell Monsanto and its GMO allies on behalf of your store and your customers?
A. I would not waste your breath with those guys. I am convinced they listen only to money. They do need to hear that we do not buy their lies about feeding the hungry of the world with GMOs. Plant breeders were doing just fine before GMOs, without the dangers. I think a lot of us have forgotten the amazing work done by traditional plant breeders over the last few centuries. The only “problem” with that model was that we all owned the plant varieties created and there was no way that a corporation could come along and patent it. We also need to tell the biotech industry that we do not believe for a minute their rhetoric about GMOs being adequately tested. Proper testing must be long-term enough to pick up health problems that take many years to manifest. It must be truly independent of any economic influence and it must be transparent. Lastly it must be testing for subtle health problems like allergies. Anything less than that is not good enough.
Q. What aspect(s) of retailing do you find most enjoyable or most gratifying?
A. Feeling that you are making a difference in the lives of young people by providing superior nutrition. I also am the IT guy around here so I enjoy keeping all our systems working smoothly.
Q. How did you get interested in natural foods retailing, and what keeps you in the business?
A. I was deeply affected by Rachel Carson as well as J.I. Rodale who showed us the road toward healing both our bodies as well as the planet. I feel that it is great to be involved in an industry that is improving the world in a major way. There is so much going on in a retail grocery store that there is never room to get bored.
Q. What else would you like to share about your store with OCA readers?
A. We are very mission-driven around here but we also like to have a lot of fun while we make a difference. We strive for better and better customer service so we can best serve our community. We thank you for the honor of nominating us!