PACIFIC GROVE, Calif. — California Certified Organic Farmers marked its 40th anniversary with a tour of Central Coast growers, its backers pausing along the way to reflect on obstacles overcome or still in their path.

The tour, which ended with a talk by Earthbound Farm co-founder Myra Goodman, led up to the first sessions of the 33rd annual EcoFarm Conference Jan. 23-26. About 1,500 registered for the conference in Pacific Grove.

The CCOF group started off at Phil Foster Ranches near Hollister, a 250-acre operation that markets a variety of organic vegetables and fruits under the Pinnacle label. At the U.S. Agricultural Research Station in Salinas they met with Roy Fuentes, owner of Fuentes Berry Farms — who grows for the Driscoll’s label — and research horticulturalist Eric Brennan.

To sample organic operations on a smaller scale, the tour finished at Serendipity Farms in Carmel Valley with co-owner Jamie Collins.

“The diversity of organic was really reflected in the places we visited,” said Cathy Calfo, CCOF executive director. “It’s great to celebrate how far we’ve come. But we’re only less than 5% of all agricultural production and it’s really the next generation that’s going to grow it to be may 10, 20, 30%. That’s the opportunity.”

“Earthbound is a large company now, but they started at (the University of California-Santa Cruz) at the farm and garden project and have grown,” Calfo said.

Organic certifier marks 40th anniversaryGoodman recounted CCOF’s role in Earthbound’s rise.

“When we started our farm in our back yard in 1984 ... there wasn’t a lot of support,” Goodman said. “When we realized that we could get certified organic, it was exciting. CCOF certified us when we were 2-1/2 acres and they have grown with usWe have 40,000 acres.”

Earthbound Farm now markets produce from 40,000 acres in California, other states and other countries.

“They’ve been very neutral in terms of big, small and processors,” she said.

It wasn’t a quick take-off for Earthbound, Goodman recalled.

“It’s good we did not know how rocky and hard this road would be,” she said. “When we started selling to Costco in 1993, they did not want organic on the label. They said organic meant worse quality and overpriced. Now Costco wants as much organic as possible. All these retailers want organic private label.”

CCOF certifies the company’s organic products and practices, and also helps Earthbound Farm understand new regulations and lobbies for organic producers in Washington, D.C., Goodman said.

Organic certifier marks 40th anniversaryFuentes started growing berries for Driscoll’s in 1985. He formed his own company in 2003, and now oversees about 116 acres of organic blackberries, strawberries and raspberries in Watsonville and Salinas, and plans to convert his conventional acreage over time.

“It’s a lot of learning to do but once you have your own land and you’re doing some cover cropping and finding the different crop rotations to compensate your soil, you’ll be OK and keep it healthy,” he said.

Brennan said research is taking place on 25 acres of land at the station and collaborating farms. There is for-profit production at the station, he said.

Several of CCOF’s early leaders, among them Bob Scowcroft and Mark Lipson, spoke to the tour group.