Remembering Diane Joy Goodman

November 21, 2008

diane In the summer and early fall, Diane Joy Goodman could be seen climbing into the back of the Knoll Farms truck, hand-picking figs for her daughter and son-in-law’s restaurant, NOPA. It was a ritual farmer Kristie Knoll came to enjoy. “She was nuts about figs,” says Kristie. “She’d place an order and I knew that if I had someone pack it up beforehand it wouldn’t be good enough. So I’d let her climb in back and choose her own.”

Rain or shine, Diane was at the farmers’ market. Every Saturday at Ferry Plaza, Tuesday in Berkeley and Thursday in Marin, Diane foraged produce for NOPA. But Diane, who passed away from acute liver failure last week at the age of 61, was much more than a spirited and devoted farmers’ market shopper. In fact, for the last several decades she was a key figure in the sustainable food movement, a committed advocate for organic farmers and a friend to many local chefs.

Most recently, Diane ran a consulting business that helped clients (everyone from rice to vegetable growers) understand organic standards and regulatory compliance, navigate the certification process, and communicate organic practices through their marketing. She was also the two-time chair of the California Organic Foods Advisory Board, a member of the National Organic Standards Board (where she helped craft and pass the current standards), and an active member of many committees and task forces for organizations such as the Organic Trade Association (OTA).  

“My mom had involvement on so many different levels―all the way from the field to the table,” says her daughter and NOPA co-owner, Allyson Woodman. “She was so passionate about this movement; it was her life.” Katherine DiMatteo, the former executive director of the OTA, and a dear friend and long-time colleague of Diane’s, echoes this sentiment. “She brought a real passion and commitment to helping convert large and small farms to organic practices. Through her own deep engagement she became well-versed in everything organic. She brought all of that into her work and life and the line between the two was quite blurred.”

It only makes sense then that many of Diane’s friends remember dining with her and discussing the cutting edge of the food landscape. Helge Hellberg, the executive director of Marin Organic, says he found himself engaged in many discussions with Diane over the years that were both heated and heartening.

“She never held back her opinion. Diane was really able to challenge people and we would often end up in the kind of long discussion that we would both come out of with much more knowledge and understanding,” says Hellberg. “That’s what we need to do more as a movement, to be successful―to get better not just at pushing what we believe in but understanding the other side.”

Diane had deep, long-lasting bonds with many of the sellers at the market. John Lagier of Lagier Ranches knew Diane for 13 years, and worked with her on several projects including an early CSA called the Farm Box. “Whatever project she did, she went at it and gave it her 100 percent. She wasn’t afraid to tackle difficult issues,” he says. “I think she did make a difference in our community and we’re a lot better for it. There’s a saying: it’s hard to believe a star so bright can burn out so fast. That was Diane.”

Dexter Carmichael, CUESA’s director of operations, met Goodman while working at GreenLeaf Produce in the early 90s and considers her among a short list of people who opened his eyes to the importance of high-quality local food. Diane was in a lot of different places at the right time over the years, says Dexter. And not by accident―she put herself there. “She wasn’t a food celebrity like some of her peers,” he adds. “Instead she was really down in the trenches working to make change.”

A memorial service will be held for Diane Joy Goodman at NOPA on December 7th from 11:00 am – 2 pm.