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At Lundberg Family Farms, our rice farming roots run deep. Four generations and more than eighty years deep. Back to 1937, when Albert and Frances Lundberg left Nebraska with four sons, a tractor, and a flatbed Chevy truck. As youngest son Homer told Family Spirit, “Mom and Dad were blown out of south-central Nebraska by the Dust Bowl and the Depression.”
Albert and Frances settled in Richvale, California—a small farming community in the Sacramento Valley. According to legend and North State Public Radio, Richvale’s first residents were “hoaxed into buying the land from a group of developers who had changed the town’s name from Selby Switch to Richvale in order to promote it as a rich, fertile land that was capable of producing a bounty of grain, fruit and nut crops.” The region’s clay adobe soil certainly wasn’t suited for wheat, but it was perfect for rice.
Albert started farming with 40 acres that Frances’s father had purchased in 1911. To this day, we call the field “Grandma’s 40.” However, as he farmed, Albert bought fields in hopes that he could improve them. And he sure seemed to have a knack for choosing ground that left room for improvement. “Everybody tells me I’m going to go broke and the ground is no good,” Albert told his sons. But then he’d walk through the fields, shovel in hand, and say, “See that weed there? That’s a great weed, that’ll add a lot of nitrogen to the soil.” And when he scooped up a spade of dirt, he’d tell his boys, “You know what? This is really good ground, but it’s never been farmed right. It needs a good farmer.”
Albert was determined to be a good farmer. After all, he and Frances saw how the Dust Bowl stripped the land of its topsoil back in Nebraska. So, when they moved to California, Albert and Frances decided to do things differently. To work in partnership with Mother Nature—not against her—by prioritizing soil health every step of the way.
You might say Albert was concerned with quality from the ground up. But he didn’t stop there. Albert built his own rice dryer to ensure each crop was preserved right, right under his watchful eyes.
Materials were scarce during World War II, so Albert used recycled tin and wood from the foothills to build the dryer from scratch. When asked about a blueprint, he simply pointed to his head. And the holes punched into the tin from previous use? Not a problem. Albert just bought his sons some chewing gum. “You’ve got to promise me one thing,” he told them, “don’t you throw that gum away. When you are through with it, every piece of gum goes to fill one of those holes!”
In the 1950s, Albert and Frances began dividing their land among their sons—Eldon, Wendell, Harlan, and Homer. Each went their separate way for a time—to college or the military—before returning to Richvale and taking over for Albert when he retired.
The four brothers also took up Albert’s sustainable farming practices. “Leave the land better than you found it,” he told them. So, they rotated crops and planted cover crops—like oats, vetch, and fava beans—to provide the soil with a well-balanced diet. They reduced use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, finding natural ways to manage them instead. And they returned rice straw to the soil long before a 1991 act was passed to curb the practice of burning it. Other farmers laughed at their efforts to turn straw into the soil because the task was so cumbersome. But now, incorporating rice straw is common practice to protect air quality—and it also builds organic matter.
In 1969, a company called Chico-San came knocking. They were looking for a farmer to grow organic brown rice for them. The organic movement was still in its early days and Chico-San had approached more than 150 rice farmers in the region, with no success. Until their accountant introduced them to the Lundberg brothers.
As Jonathan Kauffman writes in his book, Hippie Food:
“Third-eldest brother Harlan heard about Chico-San’s quest to find a source of organic brown rice for its rice cakes. The two parties began to talk. The reason hundreds of farmers had turned Bob Kennedy down to date was that the risk was considerable. Reducing one’s fertilizer use as the Lundbergs had begun doing was one thing, but no one in California had tried growing 100 percent organically on a commercial scale.”
The principles of organic farming seemed to align with their father’s advice to “leave the land better than you found it.” So, Eldon, Wendell, Harlan, and Homer planted 76 acres of organic brown rice in the spring of 1969.
Since they were growing rice differently, the brothers also had to process it differently. Unfortunately, no commercial rice mill could take on such small amounts. So, the Lundbergs set out to construct the smallest rice mill in the country. Looking back, Family Spirit notes “it was a first step towards vertical integration… a natural consequence of analyzing the problems they faced and applying the most effective solutions available.”
That first year’s crop wasn’t the largest harvest the brothers had seen, but it was enough to convince them that they could “make a go of organic rice farming,” Jonathan Kauffman writes in Hippie Food. Soon, as recalled for Family Business Magazine, the brothers “bought an old bread truck, filled the back with bags of milled rice stenciled with the Lundberg name, and hired a driver to stop at health-food stores along the coast from California to Washington.” In Wendell’s words, “We started getting orders from long-haired hippies who filled their VW buses with rice… They were wonderful people to do business with, and some went on to start natural foods companies.”
Still, it was early days for the organic movement. In fact, most people didn’t know what “organic” meant. The brothers recognized that defining the term—and establishing certification standards—would be crucial in order to uphold the credibility of organic and increase its acceptance among retailers and consumers. So, in the early 1970s, Homer helped pioneer efforts to establish California Certified Organic Farmers, the first certification body of its kind three decades before national standards were implemented.
As demand for organic brown rice products increased, the four brothers began developing their own line of foods under the Lundberg Family Farms brand. In 1979, Harlan brought a rice cake machine home from a food trade show and convinced his brothers to try it. The following year, 1980, they introduced Lundberg Rice Cakes! And soon, they ventured into other rice varieties, including arborio rice, jasmine rice, red rice, basmati rice, wild rice, and more.
As the company grew, so did our family. The four brothers began transferring leadership to the third generation in 1987, when Grant—eldest brother Eldon’s son—began working at the farm full-time. As Homer said, “We’re going from being builders to being teachers. The business is well established. Now we have to teach our kids what it means to carry on.”
The third generation has carried on by following in Grandpa Albert’s footprints. We have also forged ahead, blazing the trail toward a brighter, more sustainable future by building on Grandpa Albert’s commitment to sustainability. In 2006, we started adding solar panels to our facilities and today, we generate more than 1.9 MW on-site. But we don’t stop at the sun—we shoot for the moon, by which we mean 100% renewable energy! So we also purchase renewable energy credits to offset all grid electricity. And we collect, sort, and recycle just about everything on-site—99.7% to be exact—in order to maintain Platinum TRUE (Total Resource Use and Efficiency) Zero Waste certification.
We have also expanded our definition of family to include a network of 40 growers and more than 400 employees. Together, we create thoughtfully crafted rice and quinoa products while tending to soil, air, water, and wildlife as carefully as our crops. It’s all part of our promise—passed down through generations—to leave the land better than we found it so we can keep growing together for another eighty years and generations to come.
Pioneers in Soil Protection
Farmers Albert and Frances Lundberg left Nebraska in the wake of the Dust Bowl to start a new life in California’s fertile Sacramento Valley. With sons Eldon, Wendell, Harlan and Homer, they pledged to protect the soil by working in partnership with nature.
Cultivating New Practices
Albert realized that incorporating rice straw into the fields would promote soil health and protect air quality long before a 1991 act was passed to curb the practice of burning it.
Improving the Process
A rice dryer is essential to preserving each season’s harvest. Materials were scarce during World War II, so Albert used recycled tin and wood from the foothills to build one from scratch, all so he could ensure each crop was preserved right, right under the family’s watchful eyes.
Connecting with Customers
The second generation began planting the seeds of the company that would become Lundberg Family Farms. It grew from their belief that customers deserve direct access to all-natural rice grown differently from conventional crops.
The Lundbergs test-planted their first organic crop: 76 acres of brown rice. They even built their own rice mill to process the harvest and, in the end, proved there was a market for farm-to-table organic rice.
One Name. One Brand.
The Lundbergs began selling rice under their own name, delivering along the West coast and selling to, in Wendell’s words, “…hippies who filled their VW buses with rice… and went on to start natural food companies.”
Working with 53 other local farmers, Homer helped to establish California Certified Organic Farmers, creating consistent standards to guide and grow the organic movement.
Organic brown rice took off—and with it, an appetite for new ways to enjoy it. The Lundberg solution: start making new foods using their organic crops, like all-natural rice cakes.
A New Generation
As responsibilities and traditions were handed down to a third generation, the family’s values and commitment remained intact. Homer said it best: “We’re going from being builders to being teachers. Now we have to teach our kids what it means to carry on.”
A partnership with local conservationists started an annual tradition: every spring, before we start our tractors and prep the fields for planting, we scour thousands of acres for duck nests. Over the years, more than 30,000 eggs have been recovered from our fields and relocated to a hatchery, where they are incubated, hatched, raised and released back into the wild.
The US EPA awarded us the Green Power Leadership Award for offsetting 100% of our power use with wind energy—the first organic food company to do so.
We believe that everyone has a right to know what is in their food and deserves access to non-GMO choices. So we joined with other organic and natural product companies to found the Non-GMO Project.
Bottom Line: Zero Waste
Working towards zero waste takes a village—and then some. Our zero waste journey began when mixed recycling bins were made available in rural Richvale. Since then, our zero waste program has grown to include a lot more. We collect, sort and recycle just about everything—99.7% to be exact.
Good Day, Sunshine
Doubling the capacity of our existing solar arrays means that every year, we offset the energy equivalent of driving a car 44,000,000 miles. In the next 25 years, it will add up to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by over 24,660 tons.
We’re constantly on the lookout for new and better ways to impact the world around us. We know that everything we've done to date is just the beginning of bigger and better things to come as we continue to uphold our family farming legacy by nourishing, conserving and innovating for a healthier world.