Organic Rice is a Family Affair at Lundberg Family Farms

The story of Lundberg Family Farms begins 80 years ago, when Albert and Frances Lundberg first settled in Richvale, California with the goal of making a commitment to care for the soil. Eight generations later, the Lundberg family is still doing just that, with sustainable organic rice production that supports the Lundberg family motto: “Leave the land better than you found it.”

“We’re proud to continue the family legacy of sustainable farming,” says Grant Lundberg, CEO of Lundberg Family Farms and son of Eldon Lundberg, one of Albert and Frances’ four sons. “We’re humbled to be stewards of what my grandparents established eight decades ago and hope future generations will continue to be inspired as much as we have been.”

lundberg brothers

A Family Farm at Heart

From a modest rice farm in the ’30s to a rice mill in the ’60s, Lundberg Family Farms has grown to a 16,000 acre operation producing 18 different varieties of rice, about 70 percent of which are certified organic (including organic short-grain brown rice, the company’s flagship product that remains its most popular, even today).

Though the company has seen great expansion, the Lundberg family still maintains a family farm in California, which produces about 40 percent of the rice the company sells; the rest is produced by about 40 other family farmers that the second generation of Lundbergs began bringing on board in the ’70s.

“We realized that the business had so much more potential, and that there was growth in organics,” explains Jessica Lundberg, Vice President of People, Planet and Process as well as a member of the Board of Directors of Lundberg Family Farms. “We had to make a decision: do we want to go out and buy more land, or should we really be investing in the business side of the brand and bringing more growers in to help us?”

They opted for the latter – mainly because, as Lundberg explains, bringing more growers in was the easiest way to convert even more land to organic production.

“We found a handful of growers who shared the philosophy of organic and shared the philosophy of crop rotation, of taking care of the soil, of even just healthy food production,” she says. By bringing these farmers on board, the company was able to focus on the sustainability of other elements of the business.

“Leaving the land better than you found it was pretty clear as farmers,” says Lundberg. “It really was a challenge for us to think, OK, how do you take these values and apply them across a food company?”

The Lundbergs have since found their inspiration: everything from energy use to packaging to production at the facility is designed with sustainability in mind.

“We’re trying to maintain the philosophy and grow it as we get bigger as a company, as we bring more people in who are new to organic and who are new to the business,” she says.

Lundberg works on a contract basis with its growers. Depending on the soil type of their farms, some farmers may produce only rice and cover crops, while others produce a greater variety, with rice being only one piece of their rotation. It’s important to the Lundbergs that there be a great deal of transparency between the company and the growers, to build trust and ensure that everyone feels supported.

“It’s understood that we’re all in this together,” explains Lundberg. “There are harder varieties to grow, meaning that there’s more risk with them, because maybe they have different levels of competition with weeds, but that we all have to take a little bit of a share of that.”

At the Forefront of Development in Sustainable Food

The Lundbergs haven’t stopped at rice. The company has recently become the national leader in the production of domestically-grown organic quinoa, and it has also begun producing whole-grain prepared foods, from gluten-free pasta to rice cakes and chips to frozen arancini appetizers.

In addition, Lundberg is moving onto the world of biodynamic farming, with biodynamic short-grain and sushi rice.

“Within our markets, biodynamic is still something that people are learning about,” says Lundberg. “So to be able to really promote it and have people understand what biodynamic is and to grow that market is a little bit challenging. It’s kind of like what organic was 40 years ago.”

Even as Lundberg Family Farms continues to expand and grow, though, it remains a family company at heart.

“We do maintain a family council, so that’s just family members that organize activities and keep the family coming into the business very proactively,” explains Lundberg, who notes that day-to-day, there are about eight family members working together, six from the third generation of the family and two from the fourth.

“It’s really fun to work with family,” says Lundberg. “There’s always challenges, just because family members know you really well, but it’s also very supportive in that we all have a vision with where we want to go with the business and we’re all committed to the legacy of the company we’re working for.”

Continuing to have family at the heart of the business makes it easy to encourage the newest generation of the family to think about a career with the family business in mind.

And, says Lundberg, “That could be the way that they could continue a legacy set up by their great grandparents and continue a really noble profession of food production.”

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Emily Monaco is a food and culture writer based in Paris. Her work has been featured in the Wall... More about Emily Monaco