How to Keep Innovating and Improving the Organic World
Arran Stephens is a Canadian entrepreneur, author, and philanthropist. He is co-founder of Nature’s Path, a leading manufacturer of organic foods. He is regarded as a pioneer in the food industry and has received numerous acknowledgments for his work promoting sustainable agriculture, organics, and opposition to genetic food modification.
In 1985, sprouted Organic Manna Bread® became the first “Nature’s Path product line launched out of the back of Woodlands, our Kitsilano, Vancouver-based family restaurant, which Ratana—my wife and life-partner ably managed. Every Christmas, we used to open up the restaurant to serve a free, happy Christmas meal for those less fortunate or lonely. More than 600 would be served each Christmas day. Earlier, I had founded Life Stream Natural Foods, Canada’s first natural foods supermarket on the corner of 4th & Burrard in 1971-1981, following on the heels of the Golden Lotus vegetarian restaurant that I started in 1967 with $7 and a $1,500 loan! Back in 1967, there wasn’t much, if any organic industry. As more organic foods became available, there was no question that our delicious foods would always be certified organic— good for people and planet. In 1989, Nature’s Path went on to start North America’s first certified organic breakfast cereal factory in Delta, BC. During the formation of the USDA Organic rule, I served on the board of the Organic Trade Association, because we needed the force of law behind the organic promise.
My brother and I were raised on our parent’s farm on Vancouver Island. When I was about 12 helping Dad plant sweet corn, he told me, “Arra-boy, always leave the soil better than you found it.” And that became the guiding star in my life and business—to leave the Earth better than we found Her.
Nature’s Path struggled, but grew rapidly and became the #1 brand of organic cereal in North. America. Despite many lucrative offers to sell out, we’ve been steadfast in our commitment to remain independent and family-owned, keeping organic advocacy at the forefront of our mission. Independence has allowed us to stay nimble and serve our loyal consumers and the planet in the face of constant change. By being grounded in our values we’ve had the opportunity to learn from so many amazing people and organizations. Today, we have daughter Jyoti and son Arjan working as leaders in the company, and in summers, three of our granddaughters and our grandson have interned in the company. So, it really is a family-business, a family that has more than 750 members!
Looking back, we have many fond memories and milestones; we’re pleased to share with you a few highlights including:
In 2019 we supported over 121,000 acres of organic farmland (many farm families), preventing 22,400 tonnes of chemical fertilizers and 344 tonnes of toxic pesticides from being in our foods or released into the environment.
Over the last 11 years, our relative success has allowed us to support food banks, hospitals, universities and non-profits that align with our vision. We believe in, and practice returning a portion profits to society, as behooves any civic-minded organization.
We’ve partnered with many organizations such as Jane Goodall Institute and Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund to protect endangered animals and their habitats.
We’ve achieved Zero Waste certification in all three of our production facilities. We’ve consistently been recognized recognized as one of Canada’s Greenest Employers.
We’ve championed plant-based foods from our inception. Plant-based foods are now being recognized as an important way to feed the planet and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
Over the last ten years we’ve had the honour of supporting 30 community garden projects around the US and Canada through our Gardens for Good program (with plans to support another 21 gardens for 2021)!
In 2020, our large organic grain and legume farm in Saskatchewan was the first to achieve Regenerative Organic Certification!
But we won’t stop there. One of our next big goals is to make all our product packaging either reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025 (and we’re already 97% of the way there!). We’ve joined the New. Plastics Movement along with 850 other businesses spearheaded by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in hopes of supporting a circular economy. One of the ways we’re working towards this goal is through yet another partnership – with an organization called LOOP – a global reusable packaging program – which is expanding into Canada on February 1st .
It’s up to all of us to take a hard look at our businesses and do better wherever we can: transitioning to renewable energy, innovating packaging to be less wasteful, more recyclable and compostable, giving back, pushing the envelope, innovating and providing decent pay, benefits and respect for team members (a.k.a. employees) and standing up for what we believe in. If you don’t stand for something, you stand for nothing.
The greatest challenges of our time and for the future are pollution, overcrowding and global warming. Business, agriculture, processing, transport and retailing practices must work to reduce our heavy carbon footprint, reduce waste and do whatever is in our power to mitigate further destruction of Nature. We have to regenerate our world. As David Suzuki says, “What business can you do on a dead planet?”
It’s incumbent upon all of us to become positive agents of change. It’s late, but never too late. Let’s all do the right thing and leave the earth better than we found it. For the generations to come.