In March 2018, our team doubled in size when Erin Kath joined the PHYTE CLUB team as a part-time Product Development Specialist. With Erin’s creative can-do attitude and unflagging enthusiasm for experimentation, good phyte foods is now able to launch a line of fresh local salads at Charlottesville City Markets (check out our schedule here).
Erin has taken a deep dive into exploring nourishment in recent years. It began humbly with her love of eating, creating, making, and gifting. The exploration grew deeper and wider, influenced by a personal health struggle and the realization that we are what we eat. She sees food & plants as medicine and strives to make nutrient dense, delicious, and nourishing food. Her approach includes as much as possible from the local and regenerative farming community as well as what’s in season.
Recently, this led her to be a part time farmhand at Free Union Grass Farm, so she could begin to understand how intensive rotational grazing benefits the animals, the land and the nutritional density of the meat as well as understanding where and how our food comes to us. She has also taken the foundations in herbalism course at Sacred Plant Traditions, practices Thai Yoga Massage, and cooks all kinds of food experiments in between.
The previous five years, she worked with a beloved team of start up entrepreneurs as the office manager for Coronal Energy (formerly HelioSage) handling all manner of administrative, IT, HR and marketing tasks for the busy solar energy development team as it grew from 13 to 120.
Prior to office management, Erin worked in the equine and sport horse industries in both administrative and operations management roles. Roles informed by over a decade of managing, riding, training, and competing show jumping horses both in Europe and the United States.
Erin holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University.
You know the deal. You go out to meet up with some friends after finally agreeing on place, and though you arrive “not really hungry,” time goes by, and eventually you start feeling a little nibbly. Not steak house buffet kind of hungry, but definitely in need of something more substantial than those Goldfish crackers you see poking out of your friend’s kid-bag, or the mints you think you might have out in the car. This is why we love having our crackers at Random Row Brewery. They go well with anything, are portable, and are nutritionally balanced, with vegan protein from organic seeds, and packed with vegetables from local farms.
But when you’re pairing crackers with your favorite brew (for me it’s whatever genius combination Mountain Culture Kombucha can come up with), maybe you don’t always want flavors that are too nuanced. Maybe you just want a “regular” cracker, like a Wheat Thin, Triscuit, Saltine, or any of the myriad brands you grew up loving for their salty plain-ness and ability to reliably serve as a medium for scooping or spreading other stuff. Little soapbox segue here: did you know that all those crackers are brands of Mondelez International, which also owns Cadbury, Oreo, Chips Ahoy!, Nilla Wafers, Nutter Butter, and dozens of other candy and junk food brands? Mondelez International spent almost $3.4 million lobbying congress between 2012-2016, and you can bet it wasn’t advocating for stricter guidelines on marketing sugar to kids (source: Center for Responsive Politics).
Fortunately, our friends at Random Row are equally committed to supporting local food enterprises like ours, and wanted to expand our partnership. As conversations evolved, it became obvious that the perfect cracker to accompany beer would (duh) have beer in it. So I went home with a growler of Comfortably Numb IPA and set to work, using my standard mix of organic seeds to make the base of the cracker:
organic golden flax seeds
organic raw sunflower seeds
I shared the product of this new concoction (beer cracker v1.0) with some friends at (you guessed it) Random Row on a Sunday evening, garnering positive feedback. After many of my own samplings and debriefing with manager Zac Culbertson, we concluded that the black pepper was a little too much, and that there was a slight bitter aftertaste. The next week, I made another version, this time removing flax altogether, suspecting that it might be responsible. I was wrong, and the resulting cracker was extremely brittle, with none of the binding properties that flax lends. And still a little too bitter.
So I went back to the drawing board, and incorporated some freshly baked butternut squash (from Double H Farm), and swapping out the hoppier Comfortably Numb for The Hill, a lager with a little richer flavor. Bingo! The yeasty smell of the crackers baking is divine!
beer cracker v1.0 (with Comfortably Numb IPA)
beer cracker v2.0 (light, nutty, but fragile)
beer cracker v3.0 (with The Hill lager)
new labels for a new cracker
craft brew crackers
Starting this week, you can find our new ‘craft brew cracker’ at Random Row’s Brewery on Preston Avenue, and pair it with your favorite beer, local Caromont Farm cheese, spread from Timbercreek Market, or your own BYO dip. Cheers, ya’ll!
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 foodsabout 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
I’ve been looking forward to experimenting with this one for a while now, waiting until an appropriately autumnal time. My husband and I have always grown butternut in our gardens (as I noted in last week’s primal pumpkin spice muffin post, they are as vigorous as they are delicious). In the good ol’ days (when buying bananas at a grocery store seemed a little colonial and gluttonous) we were more loyal locavores, and relied on the sweet hearty squashes to help feed us through the winter. I would slice the neck across into a series of 1/2 thick circles, line them in a glass baking dish, and chop a couple fistfuls of fresh sage. I would spread the sage on the top along with sea salt, black pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil, baking until the edges of the circles (the skin) was crunchy and the interior soft and creamy. That warmth, aroma, and flavor was what I wanted to replicate in cracker form. These come close, and the curry I added (just because) really comes through. A slight creaminess is courtesy of that mysterious property of a good butternut to resemble, well, butter.
I managed to have some time in the passenger seat of a rented minivan on the way back from visiting my dad at Christmas, when my brother-in-law drove the leg between Aiken and Charlotte. To keep my hands occupied (and away from the remaining sunflower cacao cookies), I got out the ol’ digital abacus and reflected on the first year of business, where I had the opportunity to test, tweak, and get feedback on a lot of snaxperiments. I already shared our financial expense breakdown for the season, so let’s look a little deeper at what all our labors actually produced!
19,152 crackers sold
732 omega bars sold
12 kinds of local vegetables
6 fresh local herbs
7 local farms using organic practices
22 very early Saturday mornings
approximately 400 hours of NPR programming heard on a kitchen radio
countless lessons learned, thanks to many intrepid and honest loyal customers, and Joell Eifert in the
Department of Food Science & Technology at Virginia Tech, who helped me understand a little more about the science of crackers!
And by the way, I still ate those cookies in the van. All. By. Myself.
If there’s any holiday I can get excited about in winter, it’s the one reminding me that winter, with all it’s darkness and erratic weather, will end. On the solstice, I am all too eager to celebrate, helping push the pendulum towards longer days, and the spring to come.
This recipe attempts to honor everything about this time of year, when the body craves density and creaminess, and the soul craves color and light. The interweb is bloated with holiday cookie recipes that involve rolling, cutting, sprinkling, or glopping with icing, so I see this as a simple healthy alternative that can save you time but still satisfy the sweet tooth. These guys are dairy, grain, and nut-free (not an easy feat for a cookie), so they can make a nutritious homemade treat packed in a school lunch, or to take to parties in which there may be nut, gluten, and/or dairy allergies. Plus, there’s no messy icing, meaning they can travel or ship without congealing into a disastrously UNfestive mess more unwelcome than a fruitcake. There are people out there I am lucky enough to still call friends who have been in the receiving end of such messes. P.S. I am so sorry guys. I know it was, like, 10 years ago, but I should have known better.
Not only does the sunbutter make the cookie exteriors glossy (the refrain to REM’s ‘Shiny Happy People’) has been running through my head ever since I took them out of the oven), but the little crunch of cacao nibs is like a little surprise inside! If you prefer dried fruits or actual dark chocolate chips inside, swap out the nibs in their favor. Enjoy!
blending all ingredients (except cacao) with a hand mixer.
sunbutter, honey, & eggs
cookies cooling (only to the minimum necessary for personal safety) before eating
sunny solstice cookies with crunchy cacao
A completely grain and nut--free treat that's creamy, delicious, portable, and fun to eat despite not being covered in sticky frosting.
I know you’re about to Google “phything,” but I’ll tell you right now that I just made it up, and will get more into that in a bit.
First, the unconventional approach to philanthropy recently announced by Facebook’s founder (and his wife) has got a lot of people talking. As someone who studied nonprofit management, I, too, am intrigued by the idea of leveraging the third sector to push for-profit and governmental organizations to improve their practices. Whether setting up their foundation as an LLC rather than a 501(c)(3) will more effectively achieve a positive social impact remains to be seen. With far more meager resources, I also set up good phyte foods as an LLC, with a vision to provide nourishing, nutritionally diverse, portable snacks to the Charlottesville community. This is my home, and I want everyone in it to thrive.
Tithing, technically speaking, is based on Old English for “tenth,” in reference to the 10% of one’s income that was expected to be contributed to the church. Have you ever been able to donate back 10% of your income to any cause, whether religious, social, or political? Me neither.
But good phyte is all about giving back, even if what we’ve got to give is not going to weigh down anyone’s collection plate. Seven months after our first sale on May 16th, 2015, we are proud to announce that 5% of good phyte’s first year’s profits are going to go to the International School of Charlottesville’s Edible Schoolyard Project. While that’s a greater percentage than many corporate philanthropy programs (think 1% for the Planet) donate, don’t be too impressed. What constitutes a “profit” is tricky when you are the sole laborer in a business. I’ve just finished combing through receipts for the year, and though I may have missed a few crumpled bits of evidence somewhere along the paper trail, I now feel comfortable sharing the details of how this first half-year of entrepreneurship unfolded, financially speaking.
So, what do I mean when I talk about “profit”? First, let’s start with gross sales, minus state and local sales tax ($182.40). Then, we subtract the following expenses, some of which of course will last into 2016:
equipment purchases (new industrial NutriBullet for grinding seeds, baking sheets, used fridge, etc.): $263.99
supplies (including bags, branded shirts, blank product labels, label printing, and other assorted supplies): $1,359.37
printing & labeling: $478.17
market fees: $415.00
licenses & city business tax: $185.00
kitchen rental (I used Trinity Episcopal Church’s kitchen twice to test it out): $40.00
ingredients, mostly certified organic (some of which we still have on hand, and some were used on marginally successful experiments, and which I chalk up to R&D): $2,545.55
labor (my own, valued at a flat rate of $60/week for 28 weeks of sales, which works out to about $2-$3/hour, if I’m honest about how much I work): $1,680.00
Please note that these expenses do not include the original cost of logo design and the building of our web site template, which mostly took place in 2014, under the generous talent of SQN Communications.
At year’s end, this leaves us with just enough in the bank to invest in some new equipment in 2016, so we can continue to improve and grow, and maybe eventually hire some help.
We are reserving 5% for causes that further the goal of nurturing a love of growing and eating fresh nutritious food. Fortunately, Charlottesville is home to several organizations working toward this vision, so it wasn’t easy to choose where this meager but very special first year phythe should go. After a lot of thought, we are going to donate the 5% ($21) to the ISC Edible Schoolyard Project, a nascent volunteer effort led by the energetic and endlessly-skilled Lynsie Steele, one of my fellow ISC parents and founder of DinnerDivide.com. I, too, am involved in the garden, and have witnessed its power to transform little veggie skeptics into kale lovers. In 2016, I hope our small contribution can support fertile soil, new tools, and the inspiration children can feel when hands get dirty going good work.
Have you seen the “exposés” about canned pumpkin not actually being pumpkin (like this one on the kitchn)? Even as a #snacksnark who can’t resist a good food industry conspiracy, I know there’s a good reason for this, and it’s simple: butternut is better. The color is brighter, the flavor sweeter, and the plants are very productive, something I appreciate as a gardener. No matter what else I’ve f*$#ed up in the weeding, watering, and composting department, the butternut is forgiving, sprawling across the lawn and giving birth to, in a better year, dozens of large, delicious lunkers I can stow away in the basement for a hungry day. Pumpkins and what we know as winter squash come from the same genus, and have very similar nutritional contents (lots of vitamin A & potassium). So I will unabashedly tell you that these pumpkin muffins are made with homegrown butternut, though certainly I will also use kabocha squash or seminole pumpkin later in the fall and winter. If you want to geek out a little on pumpkins and winter squash, here’s a nice little piece on a blog called Botanist in the Kitchen.
I’ve never been into pumpkin lattes, but I can understand their appeal– warm, rich, spicy, and entirely seasonal. These hit that same spot. Even the first test batch of these vegan and grain-free pumpkin muffins got high marks from my toddler taste-tester, who would devour three in a sitting before I could take a decent photo. The texture of these more resembles a traditional muffin (whoo-hoo!) than some of the other paleo muffins using grated veggies, which I attribute to the moist binding properties of the squash.
Ingredients: butternut squash, local pastured eggs (Modesto Farm), organic coconut flour, organic coconut oil, organic raisins, organic dates, filtered water, spices (I’ll tell you which ones if you ask nicely), baking soda, vanilla extract