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BIG SPOON ROASTERS

Mark Overbay, Founder and President Durham, NC Founded: 2011

Products: Fresh-roasted, handcrafted nut butters and nut butter bars.

THE GOODS

All products are made by hand.

Focus is on a workplace culture that values open communication and relationships with vendors and customers.

Made-to-order products are freshly made within 48 hours of shipping or local delivery.

Works with Eastern Carolina Organics to develop a farm-to-spoon organic peanut supply chain.

Ingredients are locally and organically sourced when possible.

No plastic! Products are packaged in American-made glass Mason jars with recycled steel lids and recycled paper labels using non-toxic ink.

Products never use stabilizers, hydrogenated oils, or palm oil.

Working toward zero waste.

Employees are paid a livable wage with benefits such as wellness reimbursements, health insurance stipends, and CSA membership support.

WHAT BENEFITS DO YOU SEE AS A DIRECT RESULT OF RUNNING YOUR BUSINESS IN A MORE SUSTAINABLE OR CONSCIOUS WAY?

Mark Overbay: The way that we run Big Spoon Roasters is a direct extension of my values and beliefs as a human being. Every decision we make is made through a lens that puts a premium on integrity, sustainability, and quality. We learn from our challenges and decisions every day.

Everything is temporary and in a state of constant change. In cosmic terms, we are here on earth for less than a blink of the eye. Our everyday decisions determine the mark we leave and the world we leave future generations. There are no take-backs. With the spirit of stewardship in mind, we strive to use our little business to effect positive change not only in the food world, but in all communities that we touch. We work extremely hard to do everything as well as possible, then try to do it better the next time. The benefits of operating this way are seen in how we positively affect our supply chain, the lives of our team members, our communities, and our environment.

AS SOMEONE WORKING IN THE FOOD INDUSTRY, WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO OPERATE IN A SUSTAINABLE WAY?

MB: There is no other option but to operate in a way that considers sustainability in every decision-making process. Food represents the most intimate way we interact with the material world; it literally becomes us when we eat it. That relationship should be built upon health and vibrancy. I don’t think the need for a greater sustainability focus in business is unique to the food world, but we in the food world certainly need to do better. The dominant profit-centered, monocrop, chemical-intensive agriculture we have been practicing for decades is eroding our soils, killing ecosystems, and destroying biodiversity.

Furthermore, the exponential increase in the production and consumption of processed, nutritionally empty foods has lead to epidemics of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other deadly metabolic disorders. If we feel any responsibility for the future health of our planet and forthcoming generations (and we should), we need to radically change the way that we feed ourselves. We are a tiny nut butter business, and the decisions we make have a small fraction of the significance of those made by much larger natural brands like Hain (MaraNatha) or Justin’s and mega-corporations like Smucker’s, ConAgra (Peter Pan), and Hormel Foods (Skippy); but if we stay true to our values, we know that every decision, no matter how small, has a positive effect on the people who enjoy our nut butters, and on their communities and ours.

NORM’S FARMS

Ann Lenhardt, Co-founder Pittsboro, NC Founded: 2013

Products: Elderberry Jam, Elderberry Jelly, Elderberry Ginger Pecan Jam, and Blueberry Elderberry Preserves, plus two supplements: Elderberry Extract and Elderberry Wellness Syrup.

 THE GOODS

Family-owned.

Uses restorative agriculture practices on the farm.

Working toward organic certification.

Uses only biodegradable peanuts and recycled cardboard for shipments.

Uses reclaimed/reused office furniture.

All products are packaged in recyclable glass.

Uses a solar photovoltaic system and solar hot water system for home office and supply barn.

Partners with local independent contractors who are similarly concerned with the environment and contributing to a healthy society.

WHAT BENEFITS DO YOU SEE AS A DIRECT RESULT OF RUNNING YOUR BUSINESS IN A MORE SUSTAINABLE OR CONSCIOUS WAY?

Ann Lenhardt: The biggest benefit we see is the satisfaction of knowing that we are reducing our waste stream through recycling and through the use of recycled and recyclable materials. Additionally, we are growing food that is not tainted with chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides and we embrace the old New England adage, “use it up, wear it out, or do without,” by choosing to use secondhand furniture, old doors for benches, and old pallets for stock storage, and by repurposing boxes and shipping material in our shipping. Finally, we benefit directly by using the services of other small businesses similarly concerned with limiting their impact on the environment, and, by paying a living wage, we help create a vibrant local community.

AS SOMEONE WORKING IN THE FOOD INDUSTRY, WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO OPERATE IN A SUSTAINABLE WAY?

AL: Our commitment to operating in a sustainable way is rooted in our concern for the environment, our food supply, and our health. The conventional practices associated with modern agriculture are dependent upon chemicals, GMO products, and large tracts of land and equipment. Over time these practices have polluted our land and our food and eliminated countless family farms and the jobs associated with them. The results can be seen in our depleted soils, our contaminated water, and in the health of the people who consume the food grown on these big factory farms. We firmly believe that there is a better way and are determined to be part of the solution. Our focus on sustainability requires that we consider our triple bottom line (social, environmental, and financial) when making all decisions. As an example, we recognize that choosing to package in glass rather than plastic increases our shipping and production costs and reduces our financial gain. Glass “checks the boxes” for social and environmental impact though, and so the decision to package in glass was easy to make. We’d rather have a healthy product in healthy packaging than the money we could realize by choosing cheaper packaging.

Similarly, choosing to interplant plums, hazelnuts, walnuts, and apples (to name a few) with our elderberries increases our labor costs for harvesting the elderberries. However, doing so creates a much healthier ecosystem than a mono-crop field, and reduces the number of pests and viruses that bother all of the plants as a result. We trust that making the right decisions will ensure that we too can live a sustainable life, and we are excited to be part of the growing good food movement!

LARRY’S COFFEE

Nathan Phillips, Training Manager & Events Coordinator Raleigh, NC Founded: 1994

Products: Roasted coffee and cold brew coffee.

THE GOODS

Coffee is 100% Fair Trade Certified, 100% organic, and 100% shade-grown.

B Corp Certified.

Deliveries are made with a biodiesel van.

Partners with Piedmont Biodiesel to have the only B99.9 biodiesel fueling station inside the beltline.

Harvests rainwater to wash the van, clean up, and flush the toilets. Water is also pumped through a passive solar heater and used for radiant floor heating in the offices.

Recycles everything including batteries, electronics, paper, plastic, and cardboard.

Uses company compost for community garden that produces fresh produce for the local community.

Stairs, doors, door and window frames, and many desks are made out of rescued wood.

WHAT BENEFITS DO YOU SEE AS A DIRECT RESULT OF RUNNING YOUR BUSINESS IN A MORE SUSTAINABLE OR CONSCIOUS WAY?

Nathan Phillips: We see conservation as common sense.

Quality in the cup comes from quality farmers. We don’t do business with giant corporate coffee farms that burn Brazilian rainforests to the ground and saturate the soil with a toxic cocktail of petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides. They rely on mechanization and migrant labor and do to the culture and society around them what they’ve done to the trees and the birds. Fortunately, this represents only about 20 percent of coffee farming worldwide.

Most coffee farms that we do business with are two acres or less and often represent the only cash crop a subsistence-farming family grows on their land. Good organic farming practices mean a healthy and balanced bio-strata. That means shade trees, including useful trees like hardwoods, fruit trees, and leguminous trees. The shade is good for birds and critters and bugs that leave nitrogen-rich waste behind, which is good for the coffee.

Down near the ground, there are nitrogen-fixing nutritious plants: beans, peas, chiles, strawberries, and melons, all of which will be eaten, as well as vanilla and ginger, which are often grown as a hedge against coffee market volatility.

A well-organized organic coffee farm allows Arabica to mature slowly, under shade, surrounded by critters that cram pests into one end and squirt fertilizer out the other. This is where all of the best coffee comes from. Quality in the cup comes from quality sustainability practices.

AS SOMEONE WORKING IN THE FOOD INDUSTRY, WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO OPERATE IN A SUSTAINABLE WAY?

NP: Sustainability equals longevity. We are purely pragmatic. Be careful with the water now and it’ll last forever – along with our profitable business and our satisfied customers. Squander the water now and everybody dies in a horrible apocalyptic, nihilistic “Road Warrior”-type future. Nobody wants that. Well …we don’t.

 

SPRING RUN MARKET

Devica Urwick, Owner and Founder Greenville, NC Founded: 2014

Products: Local organic farm market/ grocery, local organic café and bakery, and weekly workshops on topics such as how to container garden and how to eat to help reverse diabetes.

THE GOODS

Business is family-owned.

Uses local, organic, non-GMO foods in café.

Sells local, organic, non-GMO foods from farms in market area.

Hosts workshops that support the principles of sustainability.

Recycles plastics, glass, and cardboard.

Uses biodegradable wares in café and market.

Utilizes the products of sustainable farms and local vendors, providing them with an income.

WHAT BENEFITS DO YOU SEE AS A DIRECT RESULT OF RUNNING YOUR BUSINESS IN A MORE SUSTAINABLE OR CONSCIOUS WAY?

Devica Urwick: Keeping our business local builds a truly sustainable system for many areas, including farming, healthcare, and the cost of caring for the environment. Our business simply adds to the good health of our community, which is our main focus.

AS SOMEONE WORKING IN THE FOOD INDUSTRY, WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO OPERATE IN A SUSTAINABLE WAY?

DU: Greenville is a food desert, with a fast-food place on every corner. Our business gives us the opportunity to be the example that this area really needs to live life more on a local level, which brings to light the sustainability of eating local, supporting local farms that practice sustainability, and the tremendous benefits to our health!

 

NELLO’S SAUCE

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Photo: Nello’s Sauce

 

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In the US, Biodynamic certification has typically been associated with wine, but few people know that other products can also become certified Biodynamic. A few pioneering companies in the US are working to expand into other markets with certified Biodynamic food products. For example, Nello’s Sauce, based in Raleigh, NC, has created the first US-grown, US-crafted certified Biodynamic jarred tomato sauce. We had the chance to speak with Neal McTighe about his bold vision to expand the Biodynamic marketplace and the challenges associated with breaking into a new market segment. We spoke with Founder Neal McTighe about his bold vision to expand the Biodynamic marketplace and the challenges associated with breaking into a new market segment.

THE GOODS

Invests in Biodynamic agriculture and Biodynamic farmers, which supports the growth of a Biodynamic marketplace.

Sustainable packaging for Biodynamic Marinara uses 100% post-consumer recycled paper and recyclable glass jars, and manufacturing is carbon neutral through wind power.

Minimizes the product’s carbon footprint by growing, processing, and distributing from a very small geographic area in North Carolina.

Supports US agriculture and labor, which helps the local economy and neighbors.

Donates sauce to a local food bank to help those at risk of hunger.

What inspired you to become the first Biodynamic tomato sauce made in the US from US-grown tomatoes? What is the story behind this transition?

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Neal McTighe: There are a couple of Biodynamic tomato sauces that are grown and packaged in Italy and distributed as far as 12,000 miles away. While I admire them, I felt that such a product must limit its carbon footprint in order to really practice what it preaches. Our biodynamic tomatoes, garlic, and basil are grown, harvested, and packaged in the same small geographic area of North Carolina. The product ships this summer from our facility to approximately 140 Whole Foods Markets, from Texas to Ohio, across to New Jersey, and then down to Florida.

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What is the difference between being certified organic and certified biodynamic? What extra steps are you having to take?

NM: Biodynamic agriculture uses the NOP [National Organic Program] as a base but adds dimensions to it that are unique, such as viewing the farm as a self-regulating ecosystem, caring for the diverse flora and fauna, managing water runoff, and welcoming animals and insects within the habitat. It is a very comprehensive, holistic, even spiritual approach to agriculture. There is sound science that supports the argument for Biodynamic agriculture, and I believe it will continue to grab hold over the next five to ten years.

What has been the most challenging part of launching your business so far and how have you addressed it?

NM: The most challenging part is production, as we are picking, in numerous harvests, thousands of pounds of tomatoes, washing them, grinding and cooking them, and immediately jarring them, all within a 24-hour period. It is no easy task to bring a fresh tomato to a delicious jarred sauce, but we are up for the challenge. The other challenge is managing supply and demand. There is a great deal of demand for this product, but supply is very limited. It is our responsibility to grow the supply, and we invite farmers to connect with us if they are interested in converting from organic to biodynamic.

What insights do you have for other entrepreneurs who have large goals or want to try something new?

NM: I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to play out every scenario in your head and walk it through to its logical conclusion. By mapping out the future, you can prepare yourself in the present to be ready for what lies ahead. Don’t leave anything to chance. Entrepreneurship is a gamble enough, so it becomes a game of mitigating risk.

In what ways does operating in a more conscious way benefit your company?

NM: It provides an incredible amount of purpose and meaning for ourselves and for others. Everyone involved in this project since day one has been impacted in some positive way by it. Our friends at Demeter [certifier of Biodynamic farms and products] have been able to see one of their dreams come true: a farmer, a processor, and a retailer working together to bring a Biodynamic product to market. Our farmer enjoys the confidence of knowing his full crop has been purchased, all while pushing forth his passion for Biodynamic agriculture. Our retailer partner is able to carve out its niche in the market. Customers have an opportunity to learn about a form of agriculture they likely had never heard of before. Those who have heard of Biodynamic farming now have access to a product they’ve likely only dreamed of. And Nello’s is able to grow and prosper, all while making great friends and sharing an exciting story. The list is endless, really. And let’s not forget, this is arguably the greenest jarred tomato sauce on the market, so Mother Nature wins big.

What’s next for Nello’s?

NM: We look forward to tripling our production in 2016 and adding a new flavor and perhaps even a pesto! We will continue to dream.

“The thing that’s really cool about Nello’s is that Neal is so passionate about everything he does and everything Italian. I met him at Expo West a couple of years ago and started telling him about Biodynamic farming. He got so fired up that we ended up introducing him to one of the Biodynamic farmers in North Carolina in his own neck of the woods. They created an agreement to source tomatoes from the Biodynamic farm. Then Neal went to Whole Foods through the Local Producer Loan Program and got Whole Foods to fund him. Now Whole Foods is not only supporting him by putting these products on the shelves, it’s actually investing in this brand, so it has an economic incentive to make sure that the products are successful. That is amazing!

I often say that I don’t think we can change the dynamics of food without really taking a look at supply chains because a lot of the challenges inherent in creating a sustainable food system here in the United States go back to the supply chains. The more we get all the people involved sitting down at the table, the better it will ultimately be for the consumer, the farmer, and certainly for these companies that bring great products to market.”

~ Elizabeth Candelario, Co-director, Demeter International

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