Courtesy Earl's Organic ProduceEarl Herrick (from left), owner; Patrick Stewart, sales manager; and Robert Lichtenberg, director of purchasing for Earl’s Organic Produce on the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market, show off some of the company’s organic product. The company is celebrating its 25th anniversary.What began as a lifestyle choice for Earl Herrick gradually has turned into a career.
Herrick, now 64, said he was a “child of the ‘60s” who was born in a small town just outside Cleveland and never had been west of the Mississippi before he took to the road in the early 1970s with the goal of ending up in California.
His admitted “hippie” way of life included a healthful diet, which was appropriate for jobs he held in a vegetarian restaurant, a fruit stand on the edge of Golden Gate Park and at Living Foods, a “small but successful” natural food store in Mill Valley.
While working at the store, Herrick nurtured relationships with growers, asked a lot of questions and visited their farms.
All of this prepared him to set up shop for himself on the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market in 1988, giving birth to Earl’s Organic Produce, which he said is the only tenant offering organic products exclusively.
He started with the equivalent of a half stall, which quickly expanded into a full stall.
“From there, we just grew,” he said, taking over neighboring spaces as tenants moved on.
His space increased from 2,500 square feet to 20,000.
This year, as Earl’s Organic Produce celebrates its 25th anniversary, Herrick plans to move into a 34,000-square-foot facility next to his present location. The move is expected early next year.
The new location will have amenities that should make the 65-person company even more efficient and effective, Herrick said.
- mechanized plates that can be raised to enhance the loading process and eliminate the need to lug around dock plates;
- a bigger, taller warehouse “so we can go more vertical”;
- a banana ripening room; and
- triple the walk-in cooler space, enabling the company to better maintain the cold chain.
The cold chain remains unbroken even as the company delivers product in its two tractor trailers and six bobtail trucks.
Earl’s Organic Produce offers a full range of organic fruits and vegetables, but Herrick said he’s especially proud of the items he sources exclusively from area growers, including satsuma mandarins, heirloom tomatoes, peaches and blueberries.
The company’s customers include major retail chains, independent stores, restaurants and even a manufacturer of kale chips.
Herrick said he enjoys working with emerging growers and helping them market their crops.
“I want to make growers rock stars,” he said.
The company saw its biggest growth in 10 years last year, in part because of its social media activities and community involvement, Herrick said.
“We are in a high-profile food culture in San Francisco, and we want to make ourselves relevant by being part of that conversation,” he said.
Despite logging several decades in the business, Herrick figures he’ll keep working for at least 10 more years.
“I still love what I do,” he said.