Rubber product company doing well in Merced, Calif.

BALLICO -- It's a long way from almonds to rubber mulch for playgrounds, rubber picnic tables and rubber stall mats for horses' hooves.

So you'd think.

But it was no distance at all for Jana (CEO) and Rob (sales) Nairn, who run a truly homegrown "green" company, Rubber Bark, in the north county. This family-owned enterprise sprang from another family-owned company (her parents, Jim and Karen Barstow, run Golden By-Products Inc. with the help of Jana's brother, Brett, and his wife, Amber).

Together they have become the No. 1 company for rubber products on the West Coast. Golden By-Products has processed more than a billion pounds of rubber in the past 12 years. Most of that rubber originally came from cast-off tires from all over Northern California and as far south as Tehachapi.

Ag Link Inc., which employs 10 workers, does business as Rubber Bark. Golden By-Products has 75 employees. They share a 39-acre operation nestled within 200 acres the family owns, thick with almond trees.

The Jana-Rob team came up with the idea of converting those blow-outs and retreads into a soft, safe surface for playgrounds and landscaping. They met as students at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Jana's family had long been in the almond business, and she studied agribusiness, figuring she'd wind up in the almond orchards.

But after they got married in 1997, the couple decided to see whether recycled tires could be used for another purpose -- artificial mulch. "I thought I'd be selling almonds," Jana recalls. "You have to be able to adapt and transform your business."

Did they ever.

Read the complete story at