What are last dull days of December for, if not reflecting on the year behind us? 2016 was exceptional in many ways, though the defeatist “worst year ever” epithets seem tiring and unproductive. Did the presidential election crush me? Do I wake daily to news that portends the undoing of so many positive things that activists have devoted lifetimes to achieve? Am I enraged by the appointing of insider billionaires with no record of public service whose chief aim seems to dismantle the very agencies they are charged with stewarding? Yes, yes, and yes.
In the many many hours I spend alone in the kitchen, listening to public radio or, lately, “Another Story” by Head and the Heart on repeat (written after the shootings at Sandy Hook, it still feels so relevant), I think often about my original purpose in starting good phyte foods as the mother of a toddler in 2014. I was motivated as much by frustration and fury as I was by passion and affection- annoyed daily by the profusion of mass-produced snacks that purported “healthiness” with ingeniously designed branding and nearly inscrutable ingredients lists. Everywhere I turned, moms like me were convinced to keep convenience king and set the bar low when it comes to what constitutes “nutritious.” Why were people buying what was essentially edible styrofoam, largely corn and potato starch, ultimately profiting global food conglomerates and contributing nothing to the development of their children’s brains? Surely the solution doesn’t have to be a strict, exhausting regime of freshly made superfood smoothies every time hunger strikes. Who keeps a blender in their stroller, or in the car? But I digress. You can read more on that at the good phyte foods about us page. Alongside this conundrum, which I began to recognize as a problem befalling grown-ups just as much as children, was that entirely commonplace and yet unparalleled love I felt for my son, and the many kids I watched playing around around him, whose personalities and imagined futures suddenly intrigued me. I set up good phyte foods as an LLC with a vision to provide nourishing, nutritionally diverse, portable snacks to the Charlottesville community. I was enamored more than I was enraged.
As my sustainable food and clean water activist friend in West Virginia reminded me in her holiday letter last week, “Hate generalizes. Love specifies.”¹
So, let me get specific. 2016 was good phyte foods’ first full calendar year of operation, after our first humble sale at Charlottesville City Market in May 2015. Since January this year, the business has made from scratch and sold 57,024 crackers, 1,003 bars, 160 pounds of granola, 978 pumpkin muffins, 533 kale cookies, and a motley assortment of odd-looking experimental snacks. In so doing, we have bought sustainably grown (and often certified organic) vegetables and herbs from at least twelve farms² in Central Virginia. We are grateful not only to our loyal and patient customers at City Market, but to our enduring local partners at The Juice Laundry, Random Row Brewing, Blue Ridge Country Store, Rebecca’s Natural Food, and ACAC Downtown. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. It is a humbling honor to be part of this evolving local food economy.
In the coming year, we want to expand our reach to more retail partners, reinvest in new equipment, train some cracker apprentices, experiment with early summer cracker flavors, and give back to community organizations that are helping kids eat more vegetables. I have recently been appointed to the Advisory Council of the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville, which, among other things, teaches children of limited economic means how to grow, use, and appreciate fresh organic vegetables.
Though I may be grateful to close the books on 2016, I’m fueled by love for a new year of purpose and potential. As I was reminded by glancing at the back of butternut & sage crackers while writing this, “No junk. All good.”
¹ Robin Morgan, The Word of a Woman: Feminist Dispatches, 1968-1992 (1992)
² Broadhead Mountain Farm, Bellair Farm, Whisper Hill Farm, Double H Farm, Sweet Greens Farm, Planet Earth Diversified, Elena Day’s Produce, Modesto Farm, Van Dessel Farm, Wayside Farm, Little Hat Creek Farm, Season’s Bounty CSA