Local, Sustainable Food Producers

BIG SPOON ROASTERS - Durham, NC.

Founded: 2011

Mark Overbay, Founder & President
Products: Fresh-roasted, handcrafted nut butters and nut butter bars. 

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, mono crop, 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 - Pittsboro, NC.

Founded: 2013

Ann Lenhardt, Co-founder
Products: Elderberry Jam, Elderberry Jelly, Elderberry Ginger Pecan Jam, and Blueberry Elderberry Preserves, plus two supplements: Elderberry Extract and Elderberry Wellness Syrup. 

What benefits do you see as a direct result of running your business in a more sustainable or conscious way?

Ann Lenhardt: At Norm's Farms, 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 - Raleigh, NC.

Founded: 1994

Nathan Phillips, Training Manager & Events Coordinator
Products: Roasted coffee and cold brew coffee.

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. Larry's Coffee won’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 - Greenville, NC.

Founded: 2014

Devica Urwick, Owner & Founder
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.

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. Spring Run Market 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 - Raleigh, NC.

Founded: 2011 

Neil McTighe, Founder

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. 

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?

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.

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 pesto! We will continue to dream.


Photos: Big Spoon Roasters, Norm's Farms, Larry's Coffee, Spring Run Market, Nello's Sauce. 

This article appeared in Issue 3 | Summer 2015

To read more inspiring articles from Issue 3, including our cover story featuring Eileen Fisher, as well as inspiring stories featuring John Replogle of Seventh Generation, Pantheon Enterprises, Transatomic Power, gDiapers, and more - purchase a copy of Issue 3 online!

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