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Indybay Feature
View other events for the week of 8/15/2009
Fairfax:Good Earth Foods will celebrate its 40th anniversary
Date Saturday August 15
Time 11:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Location Details
get on sir francis drake from 101 and stay on it, dont get confused at the san a. hub - and your there - a block Fairfax theater on other side road
Event Type Party/Street Party

Revolutionary Fairfax store an institution 40 years later
Rob Rogers IJ
Posted: 08/13/2009 11:13:31 PM PDT

Mark Squire, a partner at Good Earth health food, shows off heirloom tomatoes at the Fairfax store, which is planning a 40th anniversary gala for this weekend. (IJ photo/Jeff Vendsel)
When Mark Squire and his partners decided to open an organic health food store in 1969, they had two problems: no one could agree on what “organic” meant, and many people had a very different idea of what a “health food store” was.

“The popular image of a health food store was a pill shop,” said Good Earth Natural Foods co-founder Squire, who had sold vitamins and health supplements at just such a store in Connecticut before coming to Fairfax. “At the time, it was a revolution to have a store that had natural, organic foods predominantly. But this was the ‘60s. There was a lot of questioning of paradigms.”

Forty years later, Good Earth – which will celebrate its anniversary with an outdoor festival on Saturday – has become “an institution,” according to Marin Organic Executive Director Helge Hellberg. Fairfax Mayor David Weinsoff calls it a local landmark.

“Nothing complements the month that brought us Woodstock better than to recall the opening of Good Earth in the same month 40 years ago,” Weinsoff said. “And no business symbolizes Fairfax more than Good Earth.”

Despite these accolades, Squire still considers himself a radical, and sees the store’s 40-year history as merely a good start.

“The amount of our food we’re growing now that’s organic is only 4 percent,” Squire said. “My goal is for us to be up to 100 percent. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be there.”

Inspired by environmentalist pioneer Rachel Carson – whose image hangs in his office – and macrobiotic
diet founder George Oshawa, Squire and his partners saw Good Earth as a front-line outpost in the battle to reclaim food from the processes used by industrial agriculture, from pesticides in crops and antibiotics in chickens to genetically modified seeds and plants.

“A lot of people read (Carson’s) ‘Silent Spring,’ and felt we really needed to change our food system. We could not let corporations dictate what we ate,” Squire said. “I learned the basics from George Oshawa: eat local, seasonal, whole grain, whole foods. That’s a theme that goes through our whole system.”

Good Earth became one of the first Marin retailers to specialize in locally grown organic produce, lending support to local farmers and laying the groundwork for what would later become the slow food movement.

“Good Earth really was in the vanguard of bringing organic produce into stores in a consistent way,” said Warren Weber, whose Bolinas farm began selling its organic vegetables to Good Earth in 1974. “Over the years, Mark Squire has been instrumental in working to get the state to adopt some sort of standard (for organic foods). Those were broadened over the years into federal standards.”

During those early days – the “Wild West of foods,” according to Squire – the store worked closely with growers throughout the Bay Area and California to reach a consensus on what “organic” meant.

The store also worked to educate its customers about organic foods, though Marin Organic’s Hellberg believes the process often went both ways.

“The community in Fairfax and the customers of Good Earth are a pretty educated bunch themselves and involved in many political, food, policy issues,” said Hellberg, who said the store’s success has been “the result of Good Earth having a very good ear on the retail level and a receptive audience.”

Not every innovation the store has championed has succeeded, Squire said. In the mid-’80s, when the store highlighted products made from naturally existing, heirloom varieties of crops – which Squire called at the time “ancient varieties” – sales flopped, he said, though he believes a similar campaign could succeed today.

Weber, for one, wouldn’t bet against him.

“I would say they’ve succeeded because of good management, and producing what the community wants,” Weber said. “They’re close to the community.”


Good Earth Foods will celebrate its 40th anniversary from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday with a free outdoor festival featuring local organic foods, reggae and children’s music, a bike raffle and a 40 percent-off sale on 40 popular items. The event will take place at 1966 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. in Fairfax.

Read more Fairfax stories at the IJ’s Fairfax section.

Contact Rob Rogers via e-mail at rrogers [at]

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Added to the calendar on Friday Aug 14th, 2009 10:38 AM
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