Eldon, Wendell, Harlan and Homer Lundberg, who began farming organically in the 1960s, are the second generation of Lundberg farmers. They had been deeply influenced by their late father, Albert who believed in ecological farming. Albert and his sons devised several innovative ways to care for the soil that are still in use today. They invented a cage roller designed to press the rice straw back into the dirt, allowing the organisms in the soil to break it down during the winter. The Lundberg’s use of the cage roller was largely ignored until 15 years ago when the state of California began phasing out rice-straw burning.
When Eldon, Wendell, Harlan and Homer decided to try to grow organic rice, no farmer in America had successfully done it. The Lundberg brothers devised a system, known as “precision planting,” to control those weeds organically. They became the first farmers in America to successfully grow organic rice, and went on to mill and package their own rice, thus birthing the Lundberg Family Farms® brand.
During the 70s, 80s and 90s, each brother tackled an area of the business where they felt most comfortable. Eldon, the first born, provided much of the leadership in those days and made sure that all four brothers had a chance to have their ideas heard. Wendell was most comfortable with the financial and farming side of the business. Harlan was most at home in the laboratory working with rice seeds. Harlan created the Lundberg’s proprietary strain of rice, Wehani®, which is a brown rice developed from an Indian basmati-type of rice seed. Homer is the brother that was drawn to sales and marketing.
Over the decades the Lundbergs encouraged many farmers to go organic, thus increasing the amount of land under organic management. They also helped build many of the organic farm and trade organizations that have become a solid part of the organic business community. While they started out with 80 acres planted in organic rice, today the Lundbergs own 5,000 acres and contract with other farmers with 9,000 additional acres. Seventy-five percent of Lundberg’s rice fields are certified organic.
Although the four Lundberg brothers who comprise the family’s second generation have made way for the third generation, they balk at the notion of retirement. Harlan and Homer are still actively involved with the company’s research farm, while Eldon is a tireless promoter of the Lundberg brand. Wendell regularly serves as the family representative to local community groups and all four brothers serve as goodwill ambassadors to the company’s employees, suppliers and customers.