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By Michelle DiMuzio, Communications Coordinator

This blog post was written in partnership with Adriana Stetson from the Good Food Foundation. Responses have been edited for clarity.

For a long time, certifications for responsible practices and awards for superior taste have remained distinct – one honors social and environmental responsibility, while the other celebrates craftsmanship and flavor. The Good Food Awards recognizes that truly good food – the kind that brings people together and builds strong, healthy communities – contains all of these ingredients (from Good Food Foundation).

Every year, the Good Food Foundation honors crafters who commit to social and environmental responsibility, honoring the pillars of good, clean and fair food for all. This year’s awardees included 244 companies from 39 states and Washington D.C. We chatted with four crafters to discuss what slow food means to them, challenges faced while operating a sustainable business within the food industry, and future sustainability endeavors.

Meet Monti Verdi

What does Slow Food mean to you and how do you feel your company identifies with the Slow Food Manifesto?

Both Stefano and I were involved in Slow Food before even beginning to farm. Stefano is from Torino, the home base for Slow Food, where he received a Masters in Agricultural Science and Sustainable Agriculture, an essential aspect of education. I became part of Slow Food Vermont in 2009 and served on the board for a year. The concept of regionality, slow, good and fair products is essential to everything we do, not because of something we read or learned somewhere but because it is part of our DNA. We raise our pigs on pastures allowing them to harvest part of their feeds from this land that supports all of us. This allows the specific flavors of Panton, Vermont, to become part of the product. We raise pigs using the suino pesante approach from Italian farmers. This is how farmers grow pigs dedicated to the production of cured meat. It takes longer and there are more dietary limitations in what they can and cannot eat (for example they are allowed only a small amount of corn and no soy). On average it takes us 12+ months to raise our animals (compared to the 5 to 6 months of commercial pork), but it is worth it. For the animals it is an opportunity to live a longer life and for the consumer, it is an opportunity to enjoy a more complex flavor coming from all the variety of herbs, legumes, grains, and vegetables the pigs have harvested over the year.

In the processing room, we are slow by adopting old traditions to make our salame. We use training from Norcini Bergasmachi (butchers from Bergamo specialized in cured meat production) to carefully select the meat for salame. Finally, fairness is very important in how we lead our company. We have few employees but we have frequent conversations with them about their personal growth, their values, and their needs. We have a diverse work environment, with 50% of our employees identifying as belonging to the LGBTQ+ community, and have retreats and meetings to include everyone’s perspective on decisions we need to make.

What has been the biggest challenge in running a small business in a sustainable and equitable way?

Sustainability, for us, means trying to reduce our carbon footprint; within this context, the feed for our pigs is always a concern. We are using a local mill, because we are committed to supporting the local economy; however, often they do not have the type of grains that are ideal for our pigs, since they have specific dietary restrictions due to the methods we are using to raise them. We continuously have to figure out changes in their diet and pay a premium compared to conventional feed. These issues represent the essence of the choices that have caused the fast food movement to emerge. At the core of these difficulties, there is the fork in the road; there is an easy solution and there are the values that we stand for. However, our customers’ response to our sustainable practices reaffirms our choice to be sustainable. It would be easier for our customers to buy meat at a grocery store or not have to wait for chicken until our harvest days. Their commitment to our farmstead is why we continue to engage in sustainable practices. 

​​There is nothing more revitalizing than seeing our animals content and at home on these 60 acres and seeing the biodiversity of the plants and grasses growing on our land. This makes us feel that what we are doing is all worth it. 

Are there any current or upcoming projects that highlight the sustainable practices within your company?

The larger and most exciting sustainable impact we have in the making has to do with the limit imposed by our 60 acres of land; due to the geography and the soil of our land, we cannot sustain more than 220 pigs at a time. However, it has been determined that in order to financially support our operations and fairly compensate our employees, we need to grow 600 pigs per year. To bridge this gap, we are currently recruiting and training several farms in Vermont to follow our protocol for sustainably raising pigs. The farmers will receive a compensation for their work that is significantly higher than any other option for Vermont farmers; we hope this will promote more sustainable small farms. Given that over the past three years we have seen many, if not most, small pig farms closing down in our state, we are very excited for the opportunity that salame is giving to our agriculture in Vermont.

Meet Pastificio Boulder 

What does Slow Food mean to you and how do you feel your company identifies with the Slow Food Manifesto?

Claudia grew up in an Italian family, and real, good food along with the rituals of sharing it with family and community are her way of living. We believe food should be delicious, sustainably grown, while respecting the environment, the people who grew it and the health of the soil. 

We focus on heirloom and ancient varieties of wheat to craft our pastas, as we know how urgent it is to preserve those unique seeds for future generations. Biodiversity gives us tools to survive and along the way, enjoy the pleasure of unique flavors.

How do you stay motivated to continue working in a sustainable way when much of the food world is not? What has been the biggest challenge in running a small business in a sustainable and equitable way?

That is exactly our biggest motivation! It comes from the awareness of how much of our food system became unsustainable, toxic, and unfair, revealing how pressing it is for us to create change. The industrialization of our food is destroying the environment, biodiversity, heritage, our health, and the survival of the next generations. The biggest challenge is in finding ways to keep our mission intact (ingredients, how they are grown, artisanal methods, etc.) yet navigating the constraints and challenges of a failed system that is in place.

Are there any current or upcoming projects that highlight the sustainable practices within your company?

Yes! Our favorite project is in nurturing the relationships with small farmers, which have been evolving season after season. From simply buying heirloom wheat from them in the first years, we gradually established partnerships. We source specific heirloom seeds that are outstanding for pasta making, then contract farmers we know and trust to grow them for us. This way, we share the risks and benefits of growing such unique food. It nurtures a true collaboration, as we became part of the entire cycle. We are deeply present in all aspects, from seeing them seeded to following all the growing phases, to being at the harvest. Then, after receiving the wheat berries at Pastificio, we freshly mill them into flour in house and artisanally craft the pastas. It is an unbelievably beautiful process to be part of.   

Meet Sibeiho

What does Slow Food mean to you and how do you feel your company identifies with the Slow Food Manifesto?

One of the things we find troubling is the unequal access to healthy foods here in the United States. When the pandemic shutdowns forced schools to close, we realized schools are where many children get their nutrition and meals. Relative to other developed nations, the United States is a wealthy nation; it’s been hard to see so many families and children go hungry. That understanding shaped our plans in integrating ways to how we conduct our business. Whenever we can, we source locally grown produce from small, independent, often minority, farmers. We also work with community partners like Outgrowing Hunger and Growing Gardens, which provide direct help and alleviate hunger in their communities.

How do you stay motivated to continue working in a sustainable way when much of the food world is not? What has been the biggest challenge in running a small business in a sustainable and equitable way?

As a small business with limited resources, it’s not always easy to make considered decisions. Cost is a big consideration. Sibeiho Tingkat is a part of our business that creates ready-to eat-meals. We had been obsessing over packaging (NO styrofoam!!) and looking into various options. We are happy to now be working with GoBox, a local women-led, start-up that aims for zero waste in a circular system connecting users with take-out containers because we decided (1) zero waste was better than pretty (2) supporting local companies is important to us (3) we decided to take the margin hit. 

Are there any current or upcoming projects that highlight the sustainable practices within your company?

When developing our sambals and reviewing packaging, our cost structure showed that plastic jars were definitely cheaper to use versus glass jars. But we decided to take a stand and use glass for our Sibeiho Sambals because glass is considerably more recyclable than plastic. In our little shop in Portland, Oregon, we have a recycling point for our glass jars. We have a north star to always do better. It took us a while to find the labels that were paper based and had an adhesive that was not harmful to the environment. We are very pleased that our next production runs will feature these environmentally-friendly labels. 

Meet Slow Island Food & Beverage Co.

What does Slow Food mean to you and how do you feel your company identifies with the Slow Food Manifesto?

When I entered culinary school (on Oahu) I didn’t have a particular plan, I knew I loved to cook and eat and that was about it. I was invited to a Slow Food meeting for a school-based chapter and was asked to take on the role of chapter president. As president, I was fortunate enough to travel to Terra Madre; this is where my Slow Food education really began, surrounded by thousands of like minds from all over the world. This experience connected me to people like myself, who dream of an improved food system and feel confident in the collective impact of a worldwide Slow Food movement.  

Slow Food is a lifestyle as much as it is a movement, and I’ve since realized that this manifesto is a continuation of lessons my mother has quietly been teaching by example throughout my entire life. An avid gardener and whole food proponent, she has always been growing food, taking extra care in seed sourcing and saving and eating seasonally and intentionally. I take her lessons in caring for the ingredients into my own manifesto for my business and understand that the care for the people who grow them holds just as much importance for the quality and longevity of my brand. 

Saying yes to local farmers when they have an excess of ingredients to sell is a thing I’m becoming somewhat known for; this, no-produce-left-behind open-door relationship with growers, allows me to creatively expand our product line with ingredients I can trace to the hands that grew them. Surrounded sometimes by thousands of pounds of local oranges that need to be juiced, I sometimes question my inability to say no; however, the joy of turning potential food waste into something delicious and investing in the farms on our beautiful islands far outweighs the challenge.

How do you stay motivated to continue working in a sustainable way when much of the food world is not? What has been the biggest challenge in running a small business in a sustainable and equitable way?

It’s easy to stay motivated to approach food with a sustainability mentality when we are surrounded, as we are, with the geographical fortune of these islands. As a non-Hawaiian resident, understanding traditional foodways and doing my part to respect and care for the land is my responsibility and privilege. In Hawaii, we have abundantly good conditions and therefore, potential to grow a wide-variety of food utilizing organic practices and regenerative methods. This new knowledge combined with the historical lessons in food self-sufficiency, as practiced by indigenous Hawaiians for hundreds of years, has created a burgeoning movement of farmers that also see the potential for a sustainable future in food production. One of our brand pillars at Slow Island is to grow in tandem with our farm-partners. These connections with like-minded people make the challenge of creating a consistent and sustainable supply chain of ingredients an exciting part of my growth as a business. For me, the biggest challenge in running a small business in a sustainable and equitable way is looking at future growth and knowing that I am taking a less traveled road and will have to work harder to scale my business with integrity. As a for-profit company, the limitations are inherent if you are not willing to compromise your ingredient sources to lower costs. My answer to this is to foster and nurture relationships with farmers now that will allow for expansion later, and allow us all to succeed. 

Are there any current or upcoming projects that highlight the sustainable practices within your company?

Because I’m a use-everything type of chef, a few of our products were developed as a way to utilize the strained out pulp of our Turmeric Orange Passionfruit Wellness Elixir, like our vibrant Turmeric Ginger Sea Salt and our two Golden Curry Pastes. One of our top-selling Culinary Syrups, made from island grown Vanilla Bean, gets strained out and the pulp is traded with a local soap maker. For all of the food processed in the kitchen, we have a circular composting arrangement with some of our farm partners so that no food goes into the landfill. In 2022, I am partnering with a local non-profit to start an initiative to ensure future growth for Slow Island by giving small grants of cash and materials to organically managed small farms willing to dedicate part of their farms to growing specific ingredients for us.

To learn more about the Good Food Foundation, visit their website.