The company was founded by Steve Sando, a former web designer, Jazz radio disc jockey, and wholesaler of Esprit clothing who now runs the company. After burning out in his former career, Sando decided to grow heirloom tomatoes, despite having no experience in agriculture. When another farmer asked for help marketing beans, he decided to grow beans instead; Sando gathered bean seeds from Seed Savers Exchange, and found new varieties of beans in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Bean production under Rancho Gordo rose from 300 pounds (140 kg) in 2001 to 150,000 pounds (68,000 kg) in 2007, and to 250,000 pounds (110,000 kg) in 2008. Beans and other products are sourced from local growers in California's central valley, Oregon and Washington, as well as Mexico, Peru, Poland and Bolivia. Most of the dried beans produced are sold in specially labeled packages through Rancho Gordo's website or other internet sales, at the company's store in Napa, via wholesalers, or directly at farmers' markets.
American chef Thomas Keller found Rancho Gordo beans at a farmers' market in Yountville, California, and now uses the beans in his French Laundry and Per Se restaurants. He endorses the beans and the company, and promotes the use of heirloom beans.
Steve Sando has written four books on beans: Heirloom Beans (2009), co-written with Vanessa Barrington, The Rancho Gordo Heirloom Bean Growers Guide (2011), Supper at Rancho Gordo (2014), and The Rancho Gordo Vegetarian Kitchen (2017) co-written with Julia Newberry.
In 2015, Rancho Gordo introduced the Marcella bean, grown on the West Coast from Italian sorana seed at the suggestion of cookbook author Marcella Hazan. The bean was harvested just as Hazan died and Sando marketed the bean as 'Marcella' in tribute to her, with the blessings of her husband, Victor.
- Robin Raisfeld and Rob Patronite (2009-03-15). "Pinto Beans". New York Magazine.
- Jane Black (September 10, 2008). "You Don't Know Beans..." Washington Post.
- "World of unusual beans grown locally". Oakland Tribune. 2004-01-14.
- "Heirloom Beans:for Napa company, there are lots of exotic varieties". Santa Rosa Press Democrat. 2004-10-20.
- Christine Muhlke (2009-03-29). "Bean Counterculture". New York Times.
- "Book: Heirloom Beans by Steve Sando and Vanessa Barrington". Rancho Gordo. Retrieved 2018-01-05.