Community VIPs: Good Earth | Torrance Memorial

Published on April 01, 2022

Community VIPs: Good Earth

Kathy Kellogg Johnson promotes sustainability at her company and in her volunteer activities.

Kathy Kellogg Johnson

Written by Nancy Sokoler Steiner | Photographed by Michael Neveux

Kathy Kellogg Johnson internalized the idea “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” long before the concept gained traction. It started with her grandfather, H. Clay Kellogg, who founded Kellogg Garden Products in 1925. In the 1950s her father, H. Clay Kellogg Jr., conceived of recovering and repurposing organic materials—then considered worthless—to enrich soil. For example, he created a soil enhancer using discarded rice hulls that would otherwise have been burned. 

Kathy Kellogg JohnsonToday Kathy Kellogg Johnson continues her family’s legacy of sustainability (or as she prefers to call it, “regeneration”) and healthy farming practices as the company’s co-owner and chair of the board. Under her earlier direction as sustainability director, Kellogg Garden Products began recycling everything from cardboard boxes to plastic bags (the latter are made into shoes). 

In 2007 Kellogg Garden Products of Carson was among the first to request a review of its carbon footprint and received a Zero Waste designation from the California Department of Recycling (now CALRECYCLE) and the California Resource Recovery Association. The company’s carbon footprint was found to be negative, preventing more than 400,000 tons of CO2e from being released annually. 

Kellogg Johnson gets satisfaction knowing the company’s customers help keep the cycle going. “Carbon belongs in the soil, and plants are the mechanism by which carbon gets there,” she says. “Creating enriched soil with the use of organic matter sequesters carbon, makes plants more nutrient-dense and leads to a healthier population.”

She champions the cause of helping impoverished rural farmers adopt these practices and better their lives through her support of Plant with Purpose. The organization equips farming families around the world to increase farm yields, heal damaged ecosystems, improve nutrition, and increase household savings and opportunities.

“They truly help people help themselves,” says Kellogg Johnson, who has traveled to countries including Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda to work with participants. “It doesn’t give money. It encourages learning.” Profits from her company’s Eden Valley Blend products support Plant with Purpose.

Closer to home, Kellogg Johnson participates in school gardening programs in the South Bay and local underserved communities. She remembers her shock upon watching a show where Chef Jamie Oliver interacted with children. The children couldn’t identify common vegetables and didn’t know that potatoes came from the ground, not the supermarket.

She believes gardening gives children enjoyment from being outdoors and working with their hands. They are also more enthusiastic about eating something they grew themselves. “In our era of instant everything, children learn real-time nature. They plant the seed, a blade appears, 90 days later a tomato appears, and 14 days later they can pick it and eat it.”

In October 2021, Kellogg Johnson received the inaugural Mother Earth award from Grades of Green (see pages 42–43) for her environmental work around the globe. The nonprofit, founded by four Southern California mothers, provides resources to students to engage in projects addressing environmental issues.

Kellogg Johnson encourages beginning gardeners to visit their local nursery, where staff can suggest edible crops that work with specific sun, watering and soil conditions. She even started with a window box growing lettuce, green onions and rosemary.

“Recovering organics and using them in gardens is a very hope-filled activity,” she says. “In doing so, you are eating more nutritious food, reducing waste and removing carbon from our atmosphere.”