Hi, friends! We know a brand and name change is a big deal, and we are HAPPY and proud to share this story and journey with you!
Annual owners meeting in 2011
The beginning of Eastern Carolina Organics
In 2003, our Co-Founder and CEO Sandi Kronick sat with farmers to discuss the name of the company that would support organic farmers, expand the organic movement, and provide customers with local, sustainable produce options year-round.
Knowing that the words “Carolina” and “organic” should be in the name, Sandi thought that the acronym “ECO” would help make it clear that the company cared about the ecosystem and clean eating, and she wanted to attract customers who felt the same. “Back then, the word ‘eco’ wasn’t yet on the side of every washing machine and tractor trailer,” she laughs. When asking a group of farmers if they would be bothered using the term “eastern,” especially since several of them farmed in the western mountains of NC, Sandi vividly recalls one of the farmers, who would also become one of the company’s founding owners, proclaim, “Sandi, we don’t care what in the world you call the thing, as long as you sell our vegetables.” Farmers truly have a great way of dropping their pearls of wisdom! With that, the new company was named Eastern Carolina Organics and the mandate was clear: support farmers by selling their product.
Sandi Kronick at early morning farm visit.
Unlike many start-up companies these days, we launched with just a small grant from the NC legislature and therefore didn’t have a significant marketing budget. Instead, it was our passion and our mission that drove our growth. Constantly committed to sustainability, resiliency and inclusivity, over our first 15 years we learned many lessons. While our steadfast vision to support farmers and create more sustainable options for shoppers and diners will never falter, our understanding as to how to serve that mission was built to adapt. Since 2004, the agriculture, grocery and sustainability industries have evolved dramatically and in order to fulfill our mandate, we too needed to evolve.
How we started to grow.
ECO was a brand rooted in humility and a drive to respond to feedback in order to grow. After just a few years in business, a farmer in Massachusetts called wanting to buy organic sweet potatoes for his large CSA operation to supplement his winter availability. When we humbly said that we were flattered, but only focused on building a local organic food system, he laughed and said “Well if we were on the west coast, you’d be in southern California and I would be in northern California, and then people would be calling your stuff ‘local’ up here, so do you want the business or not?” It was, yet again, that perfectly unassuming and frank wisdom that only a farmer can deliver. Upon reflection, we realized that increasing our sweet potato supply to reach more distant demand seemed like a brilliant way to support more NC farmers. Sweet potatoes are a great entry crop into organic vegetable production for farmers looking to convert some acreage into organics, and we had slowed down on working with new farmers because we felt that we had saturated the demand in our region.
We have worked over the years to partner with farmers throughout the Carolinas, knowing that successive harvests over our many climates would enable us to achieve a robust, year-round supply of local organic produce. After 16 years, we have watched many farmers start with just 3 to 5 acres of organic production and grow from 20 to 50 acres and from 100 to 300 acres! We are immensely proud and grateful for the incredible farmers who have stepped up to the challenge (really, constant challenges) to increase the availability of organic produce.
Left: Close up of organic swiss chard; Right: Long view of organic turnip greens
The great news is that the demand for organic produce from amazing farmers is still expanding. We know that asking the same excellent farmers to continue to expand their acreage even more isn’t necessarily sustainable, especially from a quality-of-life perspective which we believe is a critical component of what ‘sustainability’ means. Additionally, our customers began asking us questions that again would fuel our growth, like: Can we expand our offerings to non-organic produce? Can we begin to carry more produce even if it can’t be grown in the Carolinas? Can we consolidate their purchasing to curate more fabulous pantry products for them? They would say, “We’re buying this stuff anyways, we want to spend more dollars with you…”
These questions enabled us to again reflect on how expanding our procurement geography and our product lines would in fact make our business more accessible to wholesalers and enable us to be more resilient as a business. The birth of Happy Dirt is the joyful leap to partner with more great farmers from different regions, engage in healthy conversations about production practices, and support their farms and our customers by continuing to connect them to each other.
A brand identity evolution.
When the Eastern Carolina Organics brand was created and the logo was designed, we called ourselves a “pilot project.” We knew that some shoppers wanted local organic produce, but it was the very early stages of what we now know to be a full-blown “movement.” Back then, we literally had no clue if wholesale buyers would actually place orders with us week in and week out, and if farmers would actually plant, harvest and deliver produce to us. We certainly were not the first young entity that knocked on their doors saying that we wanted to “solve a broken link” by creating the needed infrastructure to support a local organic food system. So, why should they trust us?
Bright colors and new perspectives
Well, the pilot project took off! And it’s truly thanks to our loyal and hardworking farmers and buyers that we outgrew the ECO brand in addition to the original procurement strategy. Our core values and business were bigger than this novel, overly humble concept, and the ECO brand wasn’t distinguished enough from others in the produce aisle to accurately capture how different we are as a company. It was time to step up to the plate and be proud of our commitments and values! Rather than the earthy tones that target a specific demographic, Happy Dirt aims to speak to all shoppers, and remind them that doing good in the world can and should be fun and rewarding.
We are connectors.
During our growth and evolution process, we reflected on our strengths and opportunities to further stretch ourselves as a team. We evaluated our core crops, core efficiencies, and the core values that are essential for us to maintain or improve our focus on. We asked ourselves how we could really make the farm-to-market process even better and how we could support produce departments to be even more successful. One of the most important questions we considered was how we could make the end user feel more connected. When a customer picks up produce from Happy Dirt, we want them to feel connected, whether that be to the farmer, the values, the crop, the region, or to health. With our new branding and growth, we are committed to educating everyone in a fun way so that the concepts of supporting farmers, eating more produce or caring for our planet become a lifestyle of positivity and empowerment for us all.