For Once Upon a Farm co-founder and chief brand officer Jennifer Garner, her company’s exclusive product launch with LA-based natural supermarket Erewhon is no ordinary collaboration.
It is the realization of a dream come true for this Hollywood actress and her entire family.
A few years ago when Jen first met industry veteran John Foraker — and the two subsequently agreed to join forces at this organic baby food company – she floated an idea by him.
“I thought it would be incredible if we could use my family’s farm in Oklahoma to grow organic vegetables for the company’s products,” said Jennifer Garner.
The farm had been owned by her family for the last 100 years, and her mother grew up in the property’s farmhouse. It had a big garden, dozens of pecan trees, and chickens and cows were raised on the land. Yet, this was not easy living back in the day. It was during the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression, and all of the kids shared one big bed.
With the farm lying dormant and nothing having been planted for the last 40 years, her relatives feared that it would be sold. So, Jennifer Garner decided to step in and make sure that it did not leave the family’s domain.
But this was easier said than done.
There was no readily available deed or paperwork which proved that the family actually owned the property. Apparently, the purchase of the land decades ago was done via a handshake. Only after Jennifer hired a forensic accountant to determine that the property was legally owned by the family would her business manager allow her to move forward with the purchase of the farm.
With the land finally in her possession, Once Upon a Farm could begin the process of growing vegetables, and Jen’s first order of business was to recruit her uncle Robert, who had retired as a plumber, and her aunt Janet to tend to the farm full-time.
Along with co-founder and president Ari Raz, who has played an instrumental role in this project, the company also hired Jim Fullmer to consult with all farming-related issues, including USDA organic certification. Jim ran Demeter for 14 years and has been a Biodynamic farmer in Oregon since 1980, and everything is being grown in accordance to Biodynamic standards even though the farm is not Demeter-certified.
Once Upon a Farm then decided to reach out to Row 7, the organic seed company of acclaimed chef Dan Barber, and both parties agreed that the Koginut squash – an organic, Non-GMO variety — would be the ideal vegetable to grow on this property and for the end-product.
“The Koginut squash was developed by Michael Mazourek, an organic vegetable breeder and Row 7’s co-founder. It marries the sweetness of the best butternut squash with the velvety texture and high dry matter of a Japanese kabocha-like squash. The result is completely delicious. Since the Koginut was introduced last year, it’s been celebrated nationwide by chefs and growers,” said Charlotte Douglas, founding member and COO of Row 7.
Despite the weather challenges and serious flooding in Oklahoma over the past year, the company was able to harvest a few thousand pounds of the Koginut squash. While recipe and product development is normally spearheaded by co-founder and chief innovation officer Cassandra Curtis, Jennifer Garner took the lead on this one, not surprising given how personal it was for her.
Next up was figuring out the distribution strategy. Once Upon a Farm knew it was going to sell the product directly to consumers, but it wanted a retailer involved as well.
“Erewhon has innovation and a true entrepreneurial spirit in its DNA. We are really excited and proud to partner with them, particularly since they do not do these things often,” put forth John Foraker, the company’s CEO and co-founder.
“Exclusive national brand partnerships are rare at Erewhon. We have done a couple, but this speaks directly to the heart of our brand. Once Upon a Farm has an authenticity you can trust and feel,” said Jason Widener, Vice President of Erewhon.
With the product “Farmer Jen & the Giant Squash” currently for sale at all five of the retailer’s stores in the Los Angeles area and on Once Upon a Farm’s website, while limited supplies last, the culmination of this project has tremendous sentimental value to Jennifer Garner and is truly a family affair.
“Everything felt as if it was kissed by an angel and had a ‘meant-to-be’ feeling to it. My uncle was a plumber and became a farmer, and this is the farm that my mom grew up on and I have gone to my whole life. When I first saw the crates of food at my local Erewhon, it made me tear up. It’s magical.”
(Farmer Jen & The Giant Squash is made with Koginut squash, apples, dates, coconut milk, lemon juice, oats and cinnamon.)
(from l. to r., Uncle Robert, Ari Raz, Jennifer Garner)
(An aerial view of the farm in Locust Grove, Oklahoma)
Max Goldberg, FounderCollaborate // Contact
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