A B Corp Story: Starvation Alley Shakes the Cosmos with Organic Turbulence

Posted by on July 26, 2016 in Entrepreneurship

bcorpThe hot, balmy month of June requires three things: SPF 50, a friend with a pool and refreshing cocktails to offer to your friend in exchange for everyday pool access. Or, for us Floridians, every day of the year requires these things. So you can imagine that when I heard about Starvation Alley Farms, a B Corp, and their cold, pressed, purely delicious organic cranberry juice–the first of its kind to hit the market– I knew my cocktail options had dramatically improved. I also knew I might suddenly have more friends with pools.

To locals and fellow farmers in the Washington peninsula, Starvation Alley Farms founders Jessika Tantisook, Jared Oakes, Alex Mondau and Alana Kambury attempted the insurmountable: transitioning a conventional cranberry farm into a fully sustainable, organic farm. Cultural practices, fungus, pest control, higher premiums—really, how do you control these factors without pesticides in a bog and make a profit? No one knew. In fact, Kambury told me that virtually zero formal, organic cranberry growing research has been conducted. But what the Starvation Alley farmers did know was that selling conventional cranberries at 20 cents per pound was forcing generational cranberry farmers to stop growing. They knew that the externalities of conventional cranberry growing produced waterway contamination, wetland degradation and declining bee populations. But that wasn’t stopping these fighting entrepreneurs from figuring out a better way. In 2013, Starvation Alley certified as the first, organic cranberry producer in Washington State. Local farmers were shocked their practices were working.

“Local farmers shifted from saying, ‘you’re crazy and naive to attempt organic, cranberry farming to…you’re still crazy and naive, but you’re doing what we thought was impossible and maybe it’s financially better for us to work with you. There’s a paradigm shift in the farmers. Now, farmers in Massachusetts and Wisconsin are calling us saying, “You’re the cranberry farmers who are scaling organic production,” Kambury says.

Starvation Alley Farms’ 10 organic acres joined the 290 other acres of organic bogs in just four other states: Oregon, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and New Jersey.  But their vision for organic cranberries encompasses more than their own success; they are leading a movement. These disrupters are using the Starvation Alley Farms brand to scale organic cranberry farming and create full circle collaboration, community and thriving livelihoods. This fall will be the first harvest they will buy fruit—at a premium of 75 cents per pound—from the soon-to-be, second and third organic certified farms in Washington State. In essence, they will be buying their own fruit.

“Under the Starvation Alley Farms brand, we are helping conventional farms transition into organics. We get them going in the process and then we buy their fruit. The advantage is that they are second and third generation cranberry farmers so they teach us more things about cranberries,” explains Kambury.

In collaboration with Oregon Tilth, Starvation Alley Farms is scaling the organic cranberry movement by offering support and guidance to farmers in transition from conventional to organics. Now, there’s a long queue of farmers waiting to work with Starvation Alley Farms and to sell their fruit. The challenge is finding more ways to sell it. Which brings me back to my obsession with summery, cranberry cocktails. In discovery of ways to distribute the organic supply, the Starvation Alley Farms pioneers found an overly sugared, overly processed cranberry juice market. They knew the craft beverage market needed a cold, pure pressed, organic option. They call it Cranberry For Concoctions.  Imagine for a minute, a Smoky Cranberry Sour or a west coast Cosmo with botanical gin. A unique part of their Cranberry For Concoctions is their collaborations with other B Corps, jam companies, vinegar producers and breweries. My favorite collaboration? Brew the Change, an ale produced by Ontario craft brewery, Beau’s and comprised of ingredients from several B Corps including honey from the African Bronze Honey Project, hops from Crosby Hop Farms, yerba mate from Guiyaki and cranberry juice from Starvation Alley Farms.

Starvation Alley Farms products can be found in Northwest retailers including Whole Foods, but if you’re an impatient East Coaster like me, join me at the Social Venture Network (SVN) Conference, Nov. 2-5 in Philadelphia. Starvation Alley Farms will be serving their craft cocktails during the conference. Awarded as one of this year’s SVN’s Social Innovation Entrepreneurs, Starvation Alley Farms has gained inspiration, mentoring and support from fellow SVN members–which is particularly helpful as they look for values-aligned, equity investors in the next two months.

“There’s a lot of expertise and sincerity in the SVN network. Mature companies and business leaders support growing your younger business which is a special aspect to the SVN Innovation Entrepreneurs program. People share their vulnerability as disrupters and all the obstacles they face which always sound so familiar to the ones we hurdle every day. They add fuel to the fire that this is hard, but that we are on the right track,” says Kambury.

Starvation Alley Farms represents the B Corp model and the SVN network at its finest. They aren’t just on the right track. They are an unstoppable force of cranberry goodness to be reckoned with. Healthier wetlands, fair and living wages, empowered farming communities: chilling poolside with new friends and my organic, antioxidant-rich, cranberry, lime margarita concoction never tasted so good.

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Want to invest? Contact the Starvation Alley team at Juice@starvationalley.com. Find out where to buy about Starvation Alley Farms cranberries and juice. Show off your bartending skills and make more friends with pools with these cocktail recipes. Learn more about the SVN Innovation Entrepreneur Program.  Trust me, you want to attend the SVN Fall Conference in Philadelphia so register now.

(Photo Credit: Giles Clement)

Julie Fahnestock

Julie lives in Cambridge, MA and is currently pursuing her MBA in Managing for Sustainability at Marlboro Graduate School in Vermont. She has a background in international development and grassroots organizing and is passionate about equitable wages, labor rights and the global income disparity. Julie is also a new blogger for Just Means and Socialearth. If you can't find Julie in Cambridge, she's probably on the beaches somewhere in South Florida.

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