Organic gold – Peaceful Valley owners enjoy booming popularity of organic gardening
Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply has come a long way from the days employees had to meet customers at the head of Peaceful Valley Road in Nevada City, next to the portable toilets.
Gone are the days when people seeking the business’ organic products had to meet employees where Newtown and Champion roads intersect to make a purchase, and tarps were used to protect the merchandise.
Now, the company’s thousands of customers around the nation are most likely to pick up the phone or go online to place an order for the 4,000 items carried in Peaceful Valley’s catalog.
Employees ship an average of 200 orders a day from the firm’s new 20,000-square-foot facility on Clydesdale Court in the Whispering Pines Business Park in Grass Valley, adding up to a multi-million dollar business in a rapidly-growing market.
Peaceful Valley’s growth from its rustic beginning in 1976 has paralleled the increased interest in organic farming and gardening throughout the United States.
Health-conscious consumers who favor foods without synthetic herbicides, pesticides or hormones are expected to spend $15 billion on organic food this year, with $32 billion in sales predicted by 2009.
While organic foods make up a small portion of the $550 billion U.S. food industry, sales are growing at a rate of 17 to 20 percent a year, according to the Organic Trade Association, compared to 2 to 3 percent for the rest of the industry.
For Eric Boudier, president of Peaceful Valley, this growing interest is just a rerun of youthful summers spent on a farm in the foothills of the French Alps.
He worked on a small farm where a horse was used to pull the plow. Pesticides and herbicides were scorned by the local farmers. Freshly harvested produce was ready for sale the next day in nearby towns.
“Organic farming … is what people were doing 40 to 45 years ago,” he said. “What we are doing is reminiscent of what I did as a child.”
Boudier came to the U.S. in 1987 to development the American market for a French retail chain. He met his wife, Pattie, in Houston, and after their son was born, they decided to seek a less urban lifestyle.
“Our interest was to raise our son in a more rural environment than Houston,” said Pattie, corporate vice president of Peaceful Valley who oversees the customer service operations. “We wanted to find a business that was interesting.”
That led to an exhaustive – and at times, exhausting – search for a business the Boudiers could operate. Peaceful Valley was the 14th of 15 at which they looked.
Peaceful Valley appealed to the Boudiers because it was a well-run business in a sector that was starting to experience strong growth.
“We got into a field that was going to grow,” Eric said. “(The business) was ripe for expansion when we bought it.”
They acquired the business in 1996 from Mark and Kathleen Fenton, who purchased the firm in 1989 from its founder, well-known local organic farmer “Amigo Bob” Cantisano.
“Amigo Bob gave the business its soul,” Eric said. “The Fentons gave it its backbone.”
The business was computerized, a Web presence was created, and the Boudiers modernized business operations. Eric said sales have doubled since they purchased the business nine years ago.
Peaceful Valley moved to its new home from Spring Hill Drive in January, where it has 42 percent more space to accommodate its expanding business. The biggest beneficiary is its retail store, which has nearly tripled in size. Warehouse and office space have grown by almost 50 percent.
About 25 percent of company sales are now online, a trend the Boudiers encourage by offering price breaks. About one-third of company sales are to small- and medium-size farmers, with the rest to hobby and commercial gardeners.
Those orders are filled from inventory kept in the company’s warehouse. Because sales peak in the spring (April, May, June) and again in October, the company has installed a sophisticated computer system to keep inventory at manageable levels.
Because of the cost of shipping orders, most of Peaceful Valley’s sales are concentrated in the west. The company is looking at the feasibility of opening satellite warehouse operations in New England or the South, two centers of organic gardening and farming.
The company is also expanding its private-label line of seeds and other items. Brook Design Group of Nevada City has created a new logo and look for the packaging (as well as the rest of the company) and local artist Randy Griffis is creating new illustrations of vegetables for the seed packs.
Peaceful Valley publishes two catalogs (130,000 copies of each) every year to spread the word about the 4,000 items it carries. About two-thirds of the items have been in the catalog at least a decade, but a product review committee meets in the summer and fall to decide what will be added or dropped from the product lineup.
Whatever the company sells that grows – or can be used to promote growing – has to meet the USDA’s National Organic Program standards. Items that have been certified by the Organic Materials Review Institute are noted in the catalog.
“We want to have everything you need if you’re going organic,” Pattie said. “If Peaceful Valley carries it, it’s not toxic, it’s not dangerous, it won’t pollute the water or hurt your children.”
To spread the gospel, Peaceful Valley will use its conference/training room for regular community classes focussing on organic gardening.
Peaceful Valley is also going to install a demonstration organic garden and nursery on 9,000-square-feet of land between its building and Whispering Pines Lane.
Eric doesn’t expect they’ll need the space to expand their building. “This will last until we’re ready to retire,” he said.-
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