Autumn is a season of gratitude, abundance... and pie. With that in mind, we dedicate this month's 25 list to some of the many people and things in the natural products industry for which we are grateful.
Co-Founder of Seeds of Change and founder and co-executive director of Bioneers, Santa Fe, N.M.
Years in the business: Ausubel co-founded Seeds of Change in 1989 and founded Bioneers in 1990 with Gabriel Howearth. He left Seeds of Change in 1994.
Why we?re thankful: Seeds of Change remains a force for organic agriculture, large (it?s now owned by Masterfoods, the same company that brings you M&Ms) and small. It sells 600 varieties of certified organic, open-pollinated seed and its research programs focus on preserving the genetic heritage of foods.
High point of 2004: ?The Bioneers Conference, which sold out for the fourth year in a row with about 3,500 attendees.? Satellite broadcasts to 15 local Bioneers conferences across North America attracted another 3,000 people.
What he?s thankful for: ?The healing power of nature and the global restoration, peace and justice movement.?
Biggest challenge ahead: ?Restoring the environment and human communities, and reclaiming democracy.?
Favorite flavor of Pie: ?Iroquois white cornbread.?
Companies That Give Something Back
Why: Five or 10 percent doesn?t sound like much, but add up a lot of 10-percent donations and pretty soon, as the saying goes, you?re talking about real money. The naturals industry is responsible for millions of dollars that have gone to charities, community organizations and worthy causes too numerous to name. Manufacturers and stores have found creative ways to ?walk their talk,? from underwriting nonprofit organizations to making in-kind donations and giving employees paid time off to do good works. Causes that support nutrition, the environment, world peace and social justice have particularly benefited. We know you could have kept every penny you made, and we?re sure some days it was temptingâbut you didn?t.
Extremely Green Business Practices
Why: Companies in our industry have built their factories with green materials, found innovative ways to recycle and cut waste, harnessed the wind and even used french-fry grease to fuel their vehicles. Some competitors and investors chided them for wasting time and money on unproven, trendy technology. But as the technologies are proven as not only sustainable but good investments, many other firms have quietly followed their lead.
Fair Trade Coffee, Tea and Chocolate Companies
Why: Some of the world?s largest cropsânotably coffee, tea and chocolateâhave long been produced by exploiting the ecology and labor of indigenous peoples of Africa and Central and South America. Since 1999, TransFair USA has certified companies with the Fair Trade seal when they demonstrate a commitment to giving farmers a fair price for their crops; decent living and working conditions; access to capital; and sustainable agricultural practices. In a similar vein, the Rainforest Alliance promotes ecosystem and wildlife conservation; fair treatment of workers; and strong community relationships. More than 50 coffee companies worldwide (and 28 in the United States) bear the Rainforest Alliance logo. We salute them all for giving consumers the opportunity to feed their caffeine habits without any guilty aftertaste.
Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah
Why: The most unlikely pair of partners on Capitol Hill got together more than 10 years ago to pass legislation to protect the dietary supplements industry. Hatch, a rock-ribbed Republican conservative from Utah, has long supported the nutrition business, which has an enormous presence in his home state. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act appealed to Hatch?s instincts to get regulators to lay off law-abiding supplement companies and the citizens who use their products. But bipartisan action was needed to get DSHEA passed, and its champion was Harkin, an Iowa liberal who took bee pollen for allergies and objected to supplements? being characterized by the Food and Drug Administration as food additives or misbranded drugs. Harkin recruited such heavy hitters as Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and the final version of the bill satisfied Democrats? concerns about supplement safety while defining herbs and vitamins as legal products.
Former Texas Agriculture Commissioner, author and speaker, Austin, Texas
Years in the biz: 30 plus
Why: Jim Hightower has shaken up the food economy since co-founding the Agricultural Accountability Project back in the 1970s. As Agriculture Commissioner, Hightower championed Texas? organic program, encouraged livestock exports and doubled the number of farmers? markets, showing that his brand of ?percolate-up economics? could build businesses and create jobs while protecting the environment and promoting social justice.
Why: They didn?t invent organic farming, cooperative buying and selling, or concern for planet and people. But the hippies packed up these concepts and took them on the road, spreading the seeds of sustainability from the hatch of a Volkwagen van. How many of us acquired a taste for brown rice and tofu at funky caf?s in places like Berkeley and Austin? How many of us had our first veggie burrito in the parking lot after a Grateful Dead show? The long-haired kids of the ?60s are now the elder statesmenâand womenâof our industry, and while they?re wiser and occasionally cleaner-cut, for many the vision still burns bright.
President and chief executive officer, Seventh Generation Inc., Burlington, Vt.
Years in the biz: 16
Why: One of the standard bearers for corporate social responsibility, Hollender has written two books, most recently What Matters MostâHow a Small Group of Pioneers Is Teaching Social Responsibility to Big Business, and Why Big Business Is Listening.
High points of 2004: ?Publishing our first comprehensive Corporate Responsibility Report (available at www.seventhgeneration.com), experiencing sales growth of more than 45 percent and having our baby diapers become the industry?s best-selling diaper less than a year after they were introduced.?
He?s thankful for: ?Twenty years of being married to my wife; three amazing children (Meika, 17; Alexander, 15; Chiara, 10); a team of Seventh Generation co-workers who are the most passionate, committed and fun group of people I could ever imagine having the pleasure of working with; and that we are creating an exceptional workplace community that is fulfilling the dreams and aspirations of our staff.?
Challenge: ?Making the world a better, safer and healthier place, combating the belief that we as individuals can?t make a difference and educating new customers about the benefits of natural household products.?
Pie: ?Pumpkin. I?m traditional here!?
Indigenous Wisdom and Folk Medicine
Why: ?Listen to your elders? may be a platitude, but where would the naturals world be without an ancient knowledge of what heals? From the ancient The Yellow Emperor?s Classic of Medicine to shamans of the Amazon rain forest and Moms pushing cod liver oil, the medical world?s horizons have been expanded and enriched by understanding and investigation that was around before microscopes and modern science began to compartmentalize and categorize everything. According to the National Institutes of Health, 50 percent of Americans have used some form of alternative healing in their lives. (When prayer is added, the number rises to 75 percent.) Many of those therapiesâChinese medicine, Ayurveda, herbsâpredate the NIH by several thousand years.
Katie and Mic LeBel
Partners, Planet Friendly Public Relations, Newcastle, Maine.
Years in the biz: Five
Why: We?re thankful for their commitment to promoting companies that share their natural vision, and also because their daughter, Camden, is a perennial contender for ?Cutest Kid on the Expo Show Floor.?
They?re thankful for: Katie writes, ?When Mic and I started Planet Friendly PR in 1999, our goal was to work only for socially responsible companies and causes that we believe in. ? We took a chance to start something meaningful and are thankful that it has been successful. We are thankful that over the years our clients have believed in us the way we believe in them. We are also thankful that more and more people are learning about and turning to healthier products and lifestyles and that we are able to play an important role in that.?
High point of 2004: ?Getting a phone call from a client who was thrilled to be getting hundreds of sales calls because of a mainstream magazine editorial placement. That feeling is like getting a high-five from a teammate after winning the Super Bowl.?
Challenge: ?To continue to find creative ways to get the word out and convince mainstream people that they should modify their purchasing behavior for the benefit of their health and that of future generations. It?s a big challenge because the non-natural corporations that our clients and colleagues compete with usually have huge marketing budgets and more resources to get their brand names out there.?
Pie: ?Organic Maine blueberry pie.?
President, Environmental Media Association, Los Angeles
Years in the biz: 15
Why: Our celebrity-obsessed culture wants to know what famous people do and say, so when actress Amy Smart wears organic cotton or author Barbara Kingsolver writes about her organic farm, people pay attention. The EMA gets celebrities to put their values on display and promotes green practices for the entertainment industry, from building sets from renewable forest products to serving lunch on location in recyclable containers.
High points of 2004: ?Fourteenth Annual Environmental Media Awards; BP Solar Neighbors Program; a letter to filmmakers requesting them to cease the use of lauan (an endangered hardwood) for their film sets.?
She?s thankful for: ?I?m thankful for the passion and involvement of the entertainment community to role model the environmental behaviors that will ultimately change the earth for our children and grandchildren.?
Challenge: ?Our biggest challenge is working with both state and federal governments to keep our environmental laws intact and create new ones to protect our resources.?
Pie: ?In November, my favorite pie is pumpkin, of course. But I do like apple and blueberry as well!?
Writer, editor and speaker, Boulder, Colo.
Why: A brother-sister act in the organic industry, Elaine and her brother, Mark, work tirelessly to promote the organic movement.
Years in the biz: ?Seven years as a professional writer and editor specializing in organic foods and natural health; about 10 years in the natural products industry.?
High points of 2004: ?Feature article in Ms. magazine about women and organic foods and farming; working with Organic Valley on an informational toolkit to help parents get organic milk in schools.?
She?s thankful for: ?Good healthâmy own and that of my family and friends. I?m also thankful for all the advocates, thinkers, writers, poets, artists and social-change agents who inspire me by speaking the truth with courage and creativity. And given my line of work, I?m thankful for Google.?
Challenge: ?I?m always looking for opportunities to grow as a writer, editor and communicator, as well as in my second profession as a visual artist and clothing and textile designer. It?s a matter of integrating and balancing heart and mind.?
Pie: ?Of the traditional flavors, I?d say pecan, but if a dessert doesn?t involve chocolate, I?ll usually pass it by.?
Policy program director for Organic Farming Research Foundation, Santa Cruz, Calif., and Molino Creek Farming Collective, Davenport, Calif.
Years in the biz: 10 years at OFRF, 21 years at Molino Creek Farm
High point of 2004: ?Seeing the [U.S. Department of Agriculture] complete the first round of dedicated organic research grants, culminating 10 years of work at OFRF.?
He?s thankful for: ?Molino Creek tomatoes; Barry Bonds; two years? remission from cancer.? Challenge: ?College tuition.?
Pie: ?Chocolate pecan.?
Owner/CEO, Emerita, Portland, Ore.
Years in the biz: 25
Why: MacFarland?s father started the company to market a natural progesterone cream for menopause symptoms. When Sharon MacFarland took over, she expanded Emerita?s mission to empower women in all aspects of health.
High point of 2004: Celebrating Emerita?s 25th anniversary as an independent company, solidifying its market position and educating consumers via the Emerita Women?s Institute. ?A real highlight for me personally is that my dad, Dr. Bruce MacFarland, who is 81 years old and the founder of the company, was able to be here with us to celebrate Emerita?s anniversary.?
She?s thankful for: ?The opportunity to expand the brand to new levels. We are also thankful and thrilled to be founders of an exciting new coalition, Women in Balance [to help] companies, researchers, government and health-care providers ? get the word out about the importance of health-care options for women in transitional stages of their lives. We also are thankful to the natural products industry for supporting us, particularly the natural product retailers that have believed in our brand and helped educate women on natural health-care options.?
Challenge: ?Our biggest challenge is also our greatest opportunity, which is to continue to educate our existing and new consumers on the benefits of natural health-care products. ? We look forward to moving in new directions using a deliberate and conservative approach, so it?s an evolution, not a revolution, to come up with something new. For us, it?s all about consumer trust and education.?
Pie: ?Pumpkin cheesecake.?
Executive director, Farm Aid, Somerville, Mass.
Years in the biz: 19
Why: Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp started this nonprofit in 1985, throwing a music festival to bring awareness to the plight of the small American farmer. Farm Aid has stuck with its mission but expanded its message to include the benefits of organic and sustainable agriculture and the downsides of factory farming. It?s raised more than $24 million over 18 years.
High point of 2004: ?Our Sept. 18 concert just outside Seattle, Farm Aid 2004 Presented by Silk Soymilk. It was an exhilarating day shared with the Farm Aid artists and food and farm activists from across the state. What we began 19 years ago, and what we?ve been promoting ever since, has not only taken root in the Pacific Northwest, but it also is flourishing.?
She?s thankful for: ?I am thankful that more and more people are becoming aware about where their food comes from, how it?s produced and by whom; and why family farmers are so crucial to ensuring a future of safe and sustainable food production. And it?s wonderful to see the strides food companies are taking to support family farmers and organic growers.?
Challenge: ?Getting enough people to realize, before it?s too late, that the existing industrial system of agriculture is destructive to the land, our food and our family farmers. ? Next year will be Farm Aid?s 20th anniversary, and we have a challenge and an opportunity to raise the profile of family farmers in a much bigger way. If we want the best food, we need family farmers on the land able to grow it.?
Pie: ?My mother, who was a home economics teacher and dietician starting in the 1920s, made the best apple pie with Gravenstein apples. I?ve never tasted a better pie!?
Founder and chairman, Niman Ranch, Oakland, Calif.
Years in the biz: 30
Why: Niman Ranch began as a natural meat producer to discerning chefs at white-tablecloth restaurants. But the company really began to make an impact when it started supplying natural pork for the carnitas at Chipotle Mexican Grill, owned by McDonald?s. Smart deals like this have enabled Niman to expand its producer network to more farms, and made natural meat more available and less expensive for the rest of us.
High point of 2004: ?Celebrating my first wedding anniversary with my wife, Nicolette.?
He?s thankful for: ?Farmers are finally getting a good price for their animals.?
Challenge: ?Educating the public about the true costs of healthy food production.?
Pie: ?My wife?s Gravenstein apple pie, using [chef] Mark Bittman?s pie crust recipe.?
NNFA and David Seckman
Executive Director, National Nutritional Foods Association, Washington, D.C., Newport Beach, Calif., and seven regional offices.
Years in the biz: NNFA: 68, Seckman: 3-1/2
Why: Seckman has breathed new life into the venerable NNFA and built clout on Capitol Hill. By establishing an office in Washington, Seckman put NNFA right where it needs to be to influence legislative and regulatory actions.
High points of 2004: ?Reaching the highest membership numbers in NNFA history: more than 8,000 retailers and suppliers of natural products, a 35 percent increase over the previous year. Establishing the Coalition to Preserve DSHEA and the Natural Products Foundation.?
He?s thankful for: ?Having a strong, committed membership that allows us to make a big impact when it comes to passing legislation we support and fighting those bills we oppose. In addition, NNFA is able to reach out to almost 7,000 retail stores and establish a direct link with the consumer. This is invaluable when it comes to mobilizing grassroots support for our issues.?
Challenge: ?Clearly, for both NNFA and the industry, the attacks on dietary supplements in the state and federal legislatures are a major challenge. I anticipate these will continue into 2005. However, with the shared strength of industry members through various coalitions and the reactivation of our grassroots army of consumer supporters, I know we?ll prevail.?
Pie: ?Boysenberry. The potent antioxidants it provides are important but, really, it just tastes good.?
The Prince of Wales
Duchy Originals, Twickenham, Kent, United Kingdom
Years in the biz: 14
Why: What began as a hobby farm at Prince Charles?s country home has become an economic and public relations powerhouse for organic agriculture, animal husbandry and now fisheries. Duchy Originals helped legitimize the organic movement in the United Kingdom. Today Duchy Originals sells a range of baked goods, free-range pork products, dairy products and even patio furniture from sustainably harvested timber. The Prince?s business and charitable efforts have raised millions of pounds to revitalize the countryside and preserve British village culture and what the Prince terms ?good sense in agriculture.?
Whole Foods Market Inc., Austin, Texas
Why: Whole Foods has a long-standing policy of not granting interviews to trade publications. But how could we let our 25th anniversary go by without mentioning the largest retailer in our industry? By virtue of its size, Whole Foods has done more than any other store to connect shoppers with food that?s not just wholesome and healthy, but really good, too. In a profile of CEO John Mackey in Fast Company magazine?s July issue, NFM founder Doug Greene said this: ?If you look back 100 years from now, history will show that Whole Foods will be in the top five companies that changed the world.?
Rob Spencer is a free-lance writer and editor in Longmont, Colo.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 11/p. 24-26, 28, 30