Mark Squire Interview – Good Earth Natural Foods Store – August 2015 – Fairfax, California



Mark Squire – The Quiet Face
Behind Good Earth Natural Foods

By Ed Reither – August 18, 2015

 

In 1969, when 16
year old Mark Squire, and his 19 year
old brother, Hart left their Connecticut
home, they had no idea what was in store for
them.  Today at 62, sitting in
his cozy upstairs office above the hustle and
bustle of life below, Mark, one of the founding owners
of  The Good Earth Natural Foods in
Fairfax, reflects on his journey. “When I left
home with my brother, I remember my mother
crying: she had NO idea where we were going
to end up, but trusted we knew what we wanted to
do.  Somehow she seemed to know we would be
alright.” 

Mild mannered, soft spoken Mark
Squire, bears little resemblance to the
fact he has become one of
the nation’s most recognized leaders in the
Natural and Organic Food Industry.  People come from
all over the Bay Area to shop at the Good Earth, located in
Fairfax, a Marin community of 7,500 residents.  The
Good Earth, an independently owned and operated natural
food store, has become a shining beacon for
residents and travelers alike. It is an emblematic and
trusted source of fresh, organic food and ingredients,
as well as by-products that
incorporate sustainability, and a profound
consciousness towards the sources and resources of our
Planet Earth.   

Good Earth’s new 22,000 square foot square building,
lined with solar panels, is a far cry from the 2,000 square
foot Bolinas Rd store, where Mark and his brother
started working in 1969.  “When we arrived in
Fairfax, we knew this was where we wanted to be.” 
There was one big problem though:  the original owners
couldn’t afford to pay them.  Undaunted, the brothers
worked out a deal by pitching a tipi on the hill behind
the store and agreeing to work for $3.00 a
day. They started to work
immediately.     

“We didn’t know what we were getting into,” Mark
reminisces with a rueful grin. “We only knew we
were dedicated to “good food” and knew that the
natural foods world was where we wanted to be.
The original owners of Good Earth were not business
people.  As Mark recalls, “they had other
interests”. After managing the store for three
years, the brothers, along with their new
partner, Edwin Cariati, purchased the business for
$10,000, and the foundation of today’s Good Earth
Natural Foods store was established. 

 

Historically, in the seventies, the natural foods
industry was in its infancy.   Early in
1972, a few growers and retailers
banded together and formed Organic Management (OM), a
small nonprofit, in an effort to identify and define
what ‘organic’ meant. Some of the early
pioneers, like Rachel Carson, Jethro Klauss,
Adelle
Davis,  Euell Gibbons and Mishio Kushi, were influences who
had a great impact upon Mark.   A whole
generation of consumers and producers were becoming aware
of non-sustainable farming and production
practices, which were
then overtaking the United
States.  Petrochemicals, pesticides,
non-organic fertilizers and genetic engineering (GMO’s)
techniques were becoming dominant forces in
agriculture, and few knew what the long term effects of
these new products and commercial practices would be. 
The clamor to assuage “world hunger” and the drive for
corporate profits were drowning out the voices
raising the alarm bells.  The food products that were
lining the shelves across the nation were now being sold by
marketers:  the Mad Men of Wall Street.  The
food choices for Americans were in the hands
of advertisers, while the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) was asleep at the wheel. But there
were also pivotal books like “The “Greening of
America” by Yale Professor Charles Reich,
which were beginning to awaken the public and the food
industry to a Consciousness movement that lay
ahead.   

“If we had tried to define what ‘natural’ was
in the early days, as much as we did  the
term ‘organic’, things would be a lot different
today,” Mark sadly  remembers. 
Along with many others in California and the nation, Mark
was involved in a revolution that was quickly changing how
the food and health industries did their
business.  Mark was learning about organic
practices and what defined an organic farmer by working
with the California Certified Organic Farmers, and the
Organic Crop Improvement Association. Mark was
also educating himself first hand about
farming.   At the same time the Good Earth was
growing into a truly organic store, he and his
brother were also tilling an old family farm in
North Carolina.   

Working from the premise of “Seed to Shelf”,
Mark was instrumental in pioneering legislation in
the organic world.  In the 1970’s, grassroots
organizations were springing up in all areas of the culture.
The agricultural world was in need of standardization and
definition as the “organic world” was in
its nascent stages. During the decades of the
70’s and 80’s, Mark and many other tireless
workers were instrumental in getting state and Federal
legislation passed by 1990,  which defined,
regulated, and
established standards still in use
today. 

Mark’s journey was by no means a solitary one.  In
1976, he met the thoughtful and
caring Patricia Walters in the Good Earth and
they formed a team, working closely together and
marrying after two years.  In 1978 their first
child, Oona was born,followed by their
son Ezra.  “It was an exciting time,”
Mark remembers.  “We were all involved with so
many aspects of the store that it became our own Graduate
University, I like to say that I graduated from the
University of Good Earth.”   

The work that Mark and Patricia were doing during
this period did not come without a cost.  In the
mid 1980’s,Patricia began showing signs of
what was later to be diagnosed as Multiple Sclerosis. 
A debilitating condition,
which after a  a decade,  took
her life in 2003.  It was during the time of
Patricia’s illness that Mark, now a care-giver,
husband, father, and business owner saw the
Good Earth’s growth continue.  By 1992,  it was
obvious to Mark and Edwin that a larger store was
needed.  After a long search for a new location Mark
and Edwin found their new store
partner, Al Baylacq, at the Food Villa a few
blocks down the street on Sir Francis Drake Blvd. Plans were
developed, financing secured and the second generation
of The Good Earth, now affectionately know
as “Middle Earth,” was opened in 1999. 

As the business continued to grow Mark’s involvement
in education and local politics expanded.  “One of
my most successful accomplishments was the passage of
Measure “B” in 2004, preventing the outdoor
cultivation of  Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s)
in Marin County.  “It was my first real
involvement at the grassroots level in the political
process, and I really saw how democracy, community and
political involvement could change the landscape of our
lives.” 

Mark not only remembers his education in
politics, he also fondly remembers how the work he was
doing bonded his relationship to his
daughter Oona.  He enjoyed working side by side
with his now teenage daughter. “For me it was one of
the fondest memories of my life”.  Today both his
children live in the Bay Area; his son Ezra works
as the Bulk Food Manager at Good Earth and his
daughter  Oona, now a mother,  lives and
works in Oakland. 

 

Health and Business Practices 

“I personally could never see how health, food and
business practices could be separated, I believe we are All
One. Health, sustainability and education are foundational
elements that go into the philosophy of the Good Earth
today”, Mark muses.   Mark understands what
every successful CEO knows, ‘Surround yourself with good
people”.  This philosophy is exactly what you feel
when you walk into the Good Earth today. “There’s a
vibration here”, one customer states,  “You
feel better just by walking into the store”.  It
is easy to see why Good Earth is not just
another “health food store.” It is as much a place to
buy trusted organic, sustainable and non-gmo products as it
is a place to meet your friends or conduct business while
enjoying free internet.   Walk into Good Earth any
lunch time and you’ll see crowds of people selecting
delicious meals from an ever expansive Rachel Carson Cafe,
deli counter and bakery.  

Business practices at Good Earth extend out into the
community in many permutations.  Good Earth has an
organic school lunch program which provides
 ten local schools with hot, healthy, delicious
organic school lunches.  There
are  monthly newsletters and informational
bulletins.  Their website: (www.genatural.com) is
a great resource for related topics. The business
practices extend to their employees in the form
of excellent working conditions, livable wages,
profit sharing and health benefits. 

Pursuant to the success and growth of the Good
Earth, Mark now spends much of his time on his
true passion: Education.  Having established a viable
and thriving business, he now focuses on bringing
awareness to the  consequences of GMO
technology. Mark is now on
the Board of Directors of Non GMO
Project, North America’s only third party
verification and labeling for non-GMO (genetically modified
organism) food and products.  He is also currently
working with Moms Advocating Sustainability which is working
to promote biosafety as a scientific discipline on a new web
site called GMOScience.com.  He is also working with
the Biosafety Alliance and is speaking on
“Synthetic Biology” at their upcoming Soil Not Oil
conference in the Bay Area.   

Today you can find Mark walking to work
everyday from his home in Fairfax, where he lives with
his partner Jen who has created much of the art work that
line the walls of the  Good Earth.  For Mark and
many others their work is still in it’s infancy.
 “There is still lots of work to do to ensure that not
only our customers get the healthiest, safest and best food
products from our store but that the word gets out about the
dangers  and impact the techno-argi-business food
producing practices are having on our children and the
planet.  Fortunately for us,  this awareness is
growing, along with the continued emerging consciousness. We
can change the way foods are produced and improve our own
health as well as that of our home, Planet Earth.”

 

Ed Reither

edreither@gmail.com