Monday, October 8, 2007

Manitoba Harvest: 2007 People's Choice Award - part 9

I am a big fan of hemp. This is an amazing plant that can be used for a diverse number of eco-friendly products. Some of them, including great hemp milk that I tried yesterday at the Green Festival, are made by today's nominee. So please allow me to present nominee no. 9 on Eco-Libris blog Unofficial Guide to Co-op America's 2007 People's Choice Award for the Green Business of the Year:

Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods & Oils

Business description: the largest vertically integrated hemp food manufacturer in the world, offering fresh and high quality staple hemp food products. All Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods & Oils are grown herbicide and pesticide free, using non-genetically modified, 'original source' hemp seeds. No additives or preservatives are used and all products are also gluten free. Among their products you can find: Hemp prtotein powder, Hemp seed nut, Hemp seed oil and Hemp Bliss (the world's first certified organic hempmilk).

Located at: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Operating Since: 1998


The questionnaire (responses provided by Mike Fata, Co-Founder and President of Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods & Oils):

1. What makes your business a green business?

The mission of Manitoba Harvest is to create the healthiest hemp foods, to educate the public about healthy lifestyle choices and to support sustainable agriculture. We refer to hemp seeds as “seeds of change” and since our humble beginnings, we have been inspired by a belief that this natural resource can be a shining example of sustainable agriculture and can drive social change in North America.

Manitoba Harvest makes ‘staple’ hemp food products including cold-pressed Hemp Seed Oil, Shelled Hemp Seed, Hemp Seed Butter, Hemp Protein Powder with Fiber, as well as Hemp Bliss (the first non-dairy organic hemp milk that won the Best New Food Product Award at 2007 Natural Products Expo East in September).

Hemp is one of the most useful and eco-friendly crops in the world. It is naturally pest-resistant, and because hemp plants grow rapidly and close together, they crowd out weeds and don’t need herbicides. Hemp’s only fertilizer requirement is nitrogen, which can be provided by nitrogen fixing cover crops. It is also a soil-building plant that is excellent for crop rotation. Its strong roots anchor the soil to prevent erosion and the leaves return nitrogen to the soil. Hemp cultivation generates virtually no waste and its byproducts are commercially useful.

To ensure a high-quality and plentiful supply of hemp seed, our company partners with more than 2 dozen family farmers in Manitoba. To form a strong bond, Manitoba Harvest provides them with shareholder status and prices above market for their seed. These farmers share our commitment to the eco-friendly benefits of growing hemp. Manitoba Harvest hemp seed contains no Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and it is grown sustainably without herbicides or pesticides. Our farmers also grow USDA certified organic hemp seed for our expanding line of certified organic products.

In addition to the environmental benefits of hemp agriculture that are at the core of our company mission, we follow sustainable business practices including printing all of our promotional materials on recycled or tree-free paper with vegetable based inks. All of our products are packaged in recyclable or reusable packaging and we display coding and recycling advisements on all of our labels to assist consumers. We actively recycle all paper, glass and plastics in our operations and we support environmentally friendly companies by giving sustainable products as promotional gifts. We continue to make our office and production operation a greener environment and a healthy place to work.

2. What is your green characteristic you're most proud of?

We are most proud of our role promoting sustainable agriculture, and for our role in spurring the return of and growth of hemp farming in North America. Manitoba Harvest has taken a steady, education-oriented approach to expanding organic hemp agriculture in Manitoba, and farmers are really catching on to the benefits. We are proud to be converting conventional farmers to organic agriculture, rather than just moving organic farmers of other crops over to organic hemp.

We’re an active member of the Organic Producers Association of Manitoba, and regularly educate farmer groups in Canada about the many merits of growing organic varieties of hemp seed. We have created a system that educates farmers and empowers those farmers to further educate other farmers - and on it goes.

In the early 1990s, company co-founder Martin Moravcik was importing handcrafted goods from indigenous people around the world for his stores in Winnipeg when he discovered that hemp items were in high demand. He organized the Hemp Awareness Committee at the University of Manitoba in the early 1990’s. The group lobbied the provincial government for assistance with research and development of hemp agriculture and was able to convince Manitoba’s Agriculture Minister of hemp’s great potential. Led by Martin, the group submitted a business plan and the Province responded by providing $25,000 and the services of an agronomist. His group obtained some of the first hemp test plot permits from the Canadian government, and the success of their policy activity and research led to the legalization of hemp agriculture in Canada and the first harvest in 1998.

3. What is your biggest achievement so far?

I think there are two aspects of achievement that are relevant to our company story so far: (1) policy activist success; and (2) economic success. The first policy achievement was our role in the movement that made hemp agriculture legal again in Canada in 1998. The next big achievement in that area was our role in the important hemp industry victory in the U.S. courts in 2004 to clarify that hemp foods are legal.

From a business standpoint, we have demonstrated that eco-friendly hemp can be profitable and successful. We are proud to have survived the early years when there was virtually no awareness or sales of hemp foods. We persevered to the new situation today where hemp foods are gaining accolades and more mainstream popularity as a tasty and nutritious food. Hemp foods are now one of the hottest trends in the organic industry and are poised for even more growth.

4. In what way do you think that you help people to take a green action and make a difference?

We have a grassroots style of marketing our products and our mission. We take it directly to the people, and they appreciate that and are inspired by it. They also align with our activism and strong commitment to hemp and to sustainable agriculture. For example, we played a key role recently in a lawsuit that helped to establish that hemp foods are legal in the US, after years of harassment from a government agency that caused confusion in the minds of consumers and regulatory uncertainty for retailers of hemp foods.

We help people understand sustainable agriculture, as well as the concept that ‘you are what you eat.’ These two things when combined make a difference because they lead to a healthier planet and healthier people.

Educating consumers about the many health benefits and rich flavor of hemp foods has been a top priority of ours from day one. We have focused resources on direct interaction at events and in-store demonstrations that can reach more than 250,000 people annually. Sampling and interaction inspires retailers and customers to spread their hemp food experiences by word-of-mouth to their friends. Once people experience the pleasant flavor of hemp foods and grasp the nutritional value it is an easy sell – so extensive sampling is essential.

Hemp foods are gaining more and more recognition from nutrition experts due to their high and balanced concentration of Omega-3 and Omega-6 Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs), strong digestible protein profile, soluble and insoluble fiber content, and their host of vitamins and minerals. Hemp seed’s overall protein content of 34.6% is comparable to soy beans and is higher than that found in nuts, other seeds, meats, dairy products and fish or poultry. With regard to fats, hemp’s EFA profile is closer to fish oil than any other vegetable oil.

5. Who is your green hero?

We like to recognize a different ‘green hero’ every week as inspiration. This week we are honoring Dr. Seuss. His children’s book the Lorax, also an animated movie, is an entertaining way to educate people about sustainability. We appreciate how Dr. Seuss’ imaginative story is so deep in real life parallels to the economic and environmental challenges that mankind faces every day. He went out on a limb with this project - as the story was controversial when it first came out in the 1970’s due to its anti-forest products and doom-and-gloom content. It taught and inspired a lot of children and is still popular decades after it was published. At the end of the story, while they are in the smog and the water and land are devastated, the Once-ler gives the boy the last seed of the Truffula Tree to plant and nurture, we like to think of that seed as a hemp seed.

6. What's your green dream for your business?

We dream that hemp will become the next booming agricultural sector – like soy except more sustainable and eco-friendly. We want to expand the market for hemp foods, expand hemp acreage and help more farmers. This is what motivated us in the beginning in the late 1990s when we started the company and it still drives us today. Hemp is the most remarkable plant and has so many uses. It is an eco-friendly alternative to so many products that we can’t even begin to list them here. We believe hemp has the ability to change the world, and now that awareness of healthy hemp foods is spreading and farmers are gaining interest we are beginning to see some of that potential being realized.