Last Of The Tribe
The organic- and natural-foods business is still so young — its history parallels that of the computer business, although in a much quieter way — that the old days go back only to the early 1980s ("The Anarchist's Cookbook," page 70). The "pioneers" are still alive and working. In fact, they've known one another since the very beginning; they even used to get together annually. "We called ourselves the 'network,' " says Sandy Gooch, who founded Mrs. Gooch's (since acquired by Whole Foods Market) and has recently helped start Elephant Pharmacy, a natural apothecary, in California. "There were no models for what we were doing. We were all just forging our own way." The relationships aren't only long-standing but collegial. "The people in this business care about each other in a deep way," says Doug Greene, a journalist and businessman who started the trade journal Natural Foods Merchandiser.
Natural and organic food is now big business, and Whole Foods is perhaps the best example of that. John Mackey (he's on the right, in this 1981 photo), Whole Foods' cofounder, "was the most aggressive and assertive," says Gooch, buying almost all of the significant regional players: Mrs. Gooch's, Bread & Circus, Fresh Fields, and Wellspring. But the deep roots remain. Every five years, Whole Foods brings together hundreds of its employees with suppliers and other key figures in a meeting that it calls a "tribal gathering." Whole Foods may be dominant, but its culture still salutes the pioneers it first broke bread with. -Charles Fishman
"We need to hurry," said Bobby Leonard, a manager of waste programs at Rocky Flats, the former nuclear-weapons facility. "My guys are having a small biological crisis." Leonard was leading me on a tour of Building 371, which once held weapons-usable plutonium. Fear must have taken over my face, for he quickly chuckled and smiled. "They've got to go to the bathroom."
A few minutes in the biohazard suit that workers wear every day as part of my research for "Rocky Mountain High" (page 58), and I could easily see why he called it a crisis. I donned a set of blue medical scrubs and then Big Bird-yellow coveralls with air tubes running down the arms. Two people were needed to strap on a 30-pound belt holding my oxygen supply. I snapped on three pairs of gloves and two sets of booties over work boots and stepped inside a large plastic PremAire moon suit. Each bulky, disposable suit costs $350, and workers go through two a day. Before being sealed inside, I pulled on a full-face respirator and a pair of headphones. Getting out of the whole ensemble took at least 15 minutes. I felt like a cross between Neil Armstrong and the Michelin Man.
The thought of actually getting work done inside the air-filled suit gave me new respect for workers' jobs at Rocky Flats. And, admittedly, for the ladies' room down the hall from my desk that I can use any time I wish. -Jena McGregor
Another Woman's Boots
In high school, I spent many happy summers on the basketball-camp circuit, trained by drill-sergeant coaches. So I jumped at the chance to spend a week at Quantico with the Marines, one of the Wharton School's Leadership Ventures that aim to teach MBA students about leadership outside the classroom confines. Leadership and teamwork lessons from boot camp fit neatly into my worldview. Then my editor suggested, "Why don't you check out the dance venture instead? That sounds different." ("Dance of the MBAs," page 39) And how. A workshop requiring grace, a suspension of my natural cynicism for touchy-feely activities like dance class, and a decided lack of boot-camp style? Yikes. But after my day of dance, I realized that was the point: Leadership Ventures gets you to see the world — and your place in it — from a different point of view. I learned more from the Pilobolus class because, for me, boot camp would have been too comfortable. -Alison Overholt
A version of this article appeared in the July 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.