The farmer connection

By Mary Waldner, Mary’s Gone Crackers Chairman & Co-Founder

Eating consciously has always been a priority for me. I have a deep abiding love of natural grocery stores and co-ops, and I’ve been a self-described “food freak” for several decades. I’ve also been gluten-free for almost twenty years—since long before it became a health craze—after being diagnosed with celiac disease in 1994. Although I’d always been interested in healthy eating, this diagnosis was a turning point for me. Out of necessity I began to bake my own crackers to take to parties and restaurants as a bread replacement. These wheat-free treats caught on, and family and friends encouraged me and my husband, Dale, to start a business. Mary’s Gone Crackers opened its doors in 2004. From the beginning, one of our driving values at Mary’s Gone Crackers has been a commitment to organic ingredients.

When I first started learning about organic farming back in the ’70s, I was struck by the positive impact such agricultural methods could have on our environment—the air, the water, the soil—and on our health as consumers. But even more, I empathized with the farmers on the front lines growing our food. I thought, if pesticides and other farming chemicals can have negative consequences for the health of those of us eating the foods, how dire it must be for the farmers, who are exposed to these chemicals every day.

I kept thinking about how farmers are impacted by non-organic farming practices when I founded Mary’s Gone Crackers, and I made a commitment to myself and my customers to always put farmers first when sourcing ingredients for our product line. I’m proud to say that from the very beginning all of our ingredients have always been 100 percent organic and our commitment continues even now that our product line has grown to include not just crackers but cookies, “crumbs,” and pretzels.

Dale and I share a common set of values in the way we run Mary’s Gone Crackers and how we choose which farmers to work with. By carefully sourcing ingredients from farming partners using ethical organic practices, we support the rise of chemical-free work environments for our farmers and, of course, produce more wholesome food for our customers. Our delicious organic and gluten-free options support a holistic view of the integrity of food that can be traced all the way back to the seed.

We’re just a small California company, but when you think about how much food goes into our products, it becomes clear how even a small company can make a huge impact when it is dedicated to supporting organic farming. Every year, we use:

More than 3 million pounds of rice

1.5 million pounds of quinoa

More than a million pounds each of flax, sesame, amaranth, millet, and chia seeds

250,000 pounds of organic ingredients for our cookies including various gluten free flours, coconut palm sugar, chocolate chips, and raisins

Every single ounce of those ingredients is certified organic, and, when you think about it, that means millions of pounds of non-organic ingredients that are not being produced because we aren’t demanding the supply. In other words, even a small company like Mary’s Gone Crackers can prevent a ton of pesticides and chemical fertilizers from entering the environment and the food chain… and the farmers’ lives.

It does take a commitment and a certain amount of resolve to stay focused on our zero-chemicals goal. As we’ve grown over the almost ten years we’ve been in business, we’ve required more and more ingredients and we’ve had to do a lot of research to find the appropriate farmers to work with. Most of our suppliers are either family farmers or farming cooperatives, including:

Polit Farms—a family farm in the upper Sacramento Valley of California that supplies us with over 3 million pounds of rice per year

Big Tree Farms—the very first cooperative to ever be certified organic, located in Ashland, Oregon

Sowden Bros.—brothers from the Sacramento Valley of California who supply us with organic prune extract

We work with local organic farmers whenever possible, but for some of our more exotic ingredients, we have to look a little further. We source ramon seeds, a nutrient-rich, dense Mayan food staple, from a region of Guatemala in need of an economic boost. We source quinoa from cooperative farms in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. We source sesame seeds from cooperatives in Ethiopia and India, and chia seeds from cooperatives in Mexico and Paraguay. In every case, we do our research and work only with farmers as committed to organic and ethical food practices as we are.

We also frequently contract with farmers and cooperatives a year in advance to grow certain crops for us, thus guaranteeing our supply—and also guaranteeing their livelihood. It’s relatively easy for even a small company to predict ingredient needs for the next year. By working together in this way, we support organic farming, and they support us right back. It’s a feel-good symbiotic relationship that we certainly wouldn’t get working with industrial farmers.

Offering our farmer partners a long-term contract gives them security, and we hope it encourages more and more farmers to commit to organic growing practices. If they know they will have customers for their crops, they’re more likely to take the huge leap it requires to transition from conventional crops to organic. Typically, it takes three years to become certified, and there are few subsidies for organic farmers—unlike industrial farming—so becoming an organic farmer is an economic risk that we are happy to stand behind.

The more organic ingredients we use—and the faster we can grow our company so that we need more and more of those ingredients every year—the better Mary’s Gone Crackers and other small businesses like us can support organic farmers.

Our vision is that someday organic agriculture will once again be the dominant norm. We’re doing our little part to ensure this by always thinking big… and always thinking organic.

Mary Waldner, inspired by her own struggles with Celiac Disease, created Mary’s Gone Crackers in 2004 after finding a shortage of nutritious, gluten free food options that also tasted delicious. As chairman and co-founder, she leads both product development and brand strategy for the company. Learn more about Mary here:

Lead photo of farmer on tractor from Sowden Bros.

One Response to “The farmer connection”

  1. Bea Kunz

    Love what you do and the article above.

    While we are not certified organic, we are dedicated to a ” no chemical” way of life and farming. Feeds our family and makes available chemical free products on a small scale…which adds to the overall downsizing of traditional products in demand.

    Off to visit your website.

    Thanks for all you do….I also have been gluten free for 5 years.


Leave a Reply