Looking for the Best Salesman? Find the Best Writer.

Today’s Dependence on Written Communication Means Your Next Great Salesperson May be an English Major

A headhunter recently asked me if she could help me recruit some new salespeople to our organization, and asked me what qualities I was looking for I told her, “Find me a great writer, and I’ll make a salesperson out of him.”

Why a writer? Look around. I’m riding on the 7:17 AM train from Cold Spring Harbor to Penn Station right now and, for the bulk of the 56 minute ride, 70% of the people on the train will be doing some writing—mostly pecking into their mobile devices. That’s a big change from 15 years ago. Back then, writing was something that happened in a more formal setting, when you sat in front of your workstation and crafted a memo, or wrote a proposal after a sales call. Back then, your prospects mostly communicated by phone—and would even answer it once in a while.

What does that mean for today’s online sales organization? A lot. First of all, your prospects are online…all day long. They are answering internal e-mails, reading newsletters, web browsing, checking their twitter feeds, and updating their Facebook status. They let phone calls go to voicemail, and comb through their messages once or twice a day. If you are in my business, your prospects are being assaulted by 30 e-mails a day from new start-up companies in the space, all promising to solve the problems of modern media, each with their own compelling value proposition. So, how do you break through all that noise and clutter, and get your prospect to acknowledge you?

Good writing.

Did you ever read an e-mail that made you laugh right off the bat, or had such a compelling subject line that you simply had to open it? How about an e-mail that felt like it was written exactly for you, or one that automatically answered a business question you’ve been asking for a while?  Those are the e-mails that get opened, read past the second line, and flagged in your inbox for later action….the ones that break through all the noise and make a connection. They are hard to write, and finding the people that can write them is even harder. But in a world where the written word is truly king, those that can communicate the most effectively in writing will be the leaders.

For Randy Daux, a recruiter with Howard Sloan Keller, the leading retained search firm in the media space, it’s all about knowing your audience. “Writing allows for a connection between writer and reader and is a demonstration not just of intelligence, but empathy and understanding, as well.  How many times has each of us read a cover letter or marketing email which, directed at a broad audience and without an understanding of our business objectives, we simply moved to the trash?  Competent, targeted, and emotive writing is capable of cutting through our increasingly frenetic and multi-tasked lives, and really making someone stand out.  Moreover, with everyone tied to a computer or iPhone (or Blackberry) 24/7, there’s little excuse for lack of communicative capability.”

Luckily, finding the best writers among your prospect list is fairly simple: look at their cover letters and judge them on the merits. Few candidates understand that, in sales, the easiest thing you can sell is yourself. If you can’t make a compelling argument for your own employment as a salesperson (knowing the “product” as well as you do), then I don’t want you selling something of mine. The cover letter is your gateway to understanding the way a good candidate thinks and, more importantly, expresses himself in written form. Here are some things to look for:

* Your Name: Did she get it right? Or are you “Whom it May Concern” or, worse yet, “Hiring Manager?” If your company has an “About Us” section, then your candidate should know who is in control of the hire, and address the cover letter appropriately. Even if you are not listed on the masthead, if your company has a phone number, then your candidate should be able to get the name and e-mail address of the hiring manager or HR person in charge of the hire. Would you let a salesman send a “To Whom it May Concern” e-mail to a prospect? Of course not.

* The Knowledge: Does your candidate know the first thing about your company and its hiring needs? Does she spell the company’s name correctly (don’t laugh…this is not uncommon), and know what the company does? Does the cover letter reference the actual job title in the body of the e-mail? Hint: if you get a cover letter for a “Sales Director” position that talks about “the exciting Director of Business Development position,” then you’ve just been mail-merged. Would you allow a salesperson to send 20 strategically important prospects a canned cover letter like that? No, you wouldn’t. Randy Duax, whose firm recruits for Pointroll, the Huffington Post, and The Knot, expresses a similar sentiment:  “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve Googled a sentence or two from a cover letter a candidate sent me to find it was copied and pasted from a stock cover letter/resume website.  If someone is going to put minimal effort into interfacing with me in such a fashion, how are they going to act when they’re actually in a sales role?”

* What Can I Do For You? Too many cover letters focus on the needs and skills of the salesperson, rather than the needs of the company that is hiring. You don’t have to be trained in the Huthwaite methodology to know that the first rule of sales is to get to know the customers’ problems before you try and solve them. The candidate that leaps right into his pitch without demonstrating knowledge of your needs is like a salesman who goes into a meeting and immediately leaps into a 30 slide PowerPoint. Do you want a salesforce that “sprays and prays,” or a consultative seller that can break down the digital media ecosystem, and explain your company’s place in it, relative to the issues your prospects are facing? The latter, of course. If your candidate leads by putting your needs before his, that’s one sign of a seasoned seller.

* The Close: Last, and never least, is the close. What is the “ask” your candidate is making? For an interview? Is the candidate’s “collateral” being left behind (her resume) compelling? Does the candidate reference anything besides her resume, or lead you to a place where you can find out more about her (a article or write paper she wrote, her LinkedIn page, or even an industry article you might be interested in)? Being a good salesperson means always getting a yes, no, or a continuation. Look at your candidate’s close, and see if it makes you want to take the next steps. If she can’t get to second base with you (an engaged “prospect” if there ever was one), then it’s likely that she can’t get there with one of your customers, either.

There are a lot of good salespeople out there, but few great ones. The great ones in the modern era are going to be the ones that can break through the clutter, and deliver the messages that your prospects want to read. They are the ones who not only communicate through e-mail the most powerfully, but the ones who write the Twitter messages that tend to get retweeted, and maintain a blog with their industry observations, and post the Facebook messages that don’t make you want to immediately “hide” them. The best salespeople know what you want, and deliver the content that addresses that need. Finding them is as easy as being a great reader.

[This article originally appeared in Adotas, 4/28/10]

Tasting Notes: Take it Slow

The Slow Food movement wants to change the way you think about food, but can it survive in a Fast Food Nation?

While nobody would ever accuse me of being “slow” around food, I must admit that when I heard the term “slow food” for the first time, I was intrigued. Without even knowing what it was, the two words seemed to go together naturally. Food is meant to be taken slow … consumed slowly … enjoyed in a leisurely way.

Look around at our ever-expanding American waistlines and the majority of restaurant choices available to the casual diner, and it’s not hard to argue that our “fast food” culture has eroded more than our palates. Seeing my fellow diners while eating a hasty meal of buffet Chinese food at the food court of the Tanger Outlet Mall in Riverhead recently, I needed no further convincing that we have lost sight of our culinary heritage. In our fast-moving society, where “grabbing a bite” has seemed to replace two out of three of our regular meals, the Slow Food concept looks very appealing. But what is it, exactly?

Simply put, “slow food” is a philosophy that posits there are strong connections between what (and how) we eat, and our planet. Call it eco-gastronomy: the idea that food is an important part of all cultures, and it is our responsibility to protect the way we produce and consume it (and, some would argue, dispose of it). Think about it this way: “fast food” often comprises genetically modified potatoes that are flash frozen, speed-fried, and served with a heart-stopping splash of salt at your local chain restaurant; Slow Food is the buttery mashed potatoes your grandmother used to serve, alongside a slowly braised pot roast. In the Slow Food world, vegetables are allowed to ripen on the vine, sea salt is raked by hand rather than machine harvested, and there is an emphasis on ingredients that are handmade or freshly grown.

It’s really a fairly simple concept, although one that’s been ignored for many years. Since food is the fuel that drives our daily lives, having a philosophy that guides our consumption of it is probably not a bad idea. That was the driving force behind Arcigola, the forerunner of Slow Food, whose 62 members met in Italy in 1986 to create an association behind the concept. After a few years of slowly building up steam, Slow Food was formed as a nonprofit organization in 1989, and had its first Slow Food International Congress in 1990; events in Switzerland, Germany, and Italy followed. Slow Food came to the U.S. in 2000, with a New York City office and a mandate to spread the Slow Food gospel all over the country. The organization now spans 850 individual chapters (called “convivia”) worldwide, and boasts more than 80,000 members.

Part of that gospel is Slow Food’s commitment to the environment as an organization. “Slow food” doesn’t necessarily mean “organic.” While the organization is in favor of the principles behind organic agriculture, it feels that the “organic” label doesn’t go far enough. In that vein, the organization has created a series of “presidia,” or small projects dedicated to assisting artisan food producers. Some current projects include promoting Canadian Red Fife wheat, developing Moroccan Argan oil, and promoting Oosterschedle lobster from the Netherlands. By bringing producers and consumers together, establishing strict producing standards, and (most important) creating awareness of artisanal foods, Slow Food acts as kind of an international food game warden, trying to keep great foods from going extinct.

Christopher O’Hara’s most recent book, Great American Beer, won a “Man at His Best” award from Esquire Magazine.


Q&A with Jerusha Klemperer of Slow Food USA


canvas:
What is Slow Food? How would you describe it to someone who is clueless?

JK: When we say “slow food” we are talking about a movement, and the international organization that grew out of that movement. Slow Food is the opposite of fast food. It is food that is good, clean, and fair. That is to say, it tastes delicious, it is ecologically sustainable, and the people who grew it and produced it are compensated fairly for their work.

canvas:
Does being a Slow Food person mean you are “green”? What’s the connection to the larger “sustainability” movement?

JK: Slow Food is eco-gastronomy. Slow Food comes at ecology from the perspective of taste and pleasure—understanding that sustainable food is the most delicious. In addition, we know that if we continue to degrade the earth with our industrialized, commercialized food system, there will be no earth left. Recent studies (including the UN’s millennium environmental study) have shown that the industrialized food system (including the raising of livestock and the shipping of food around the globe) is causing more pollution than any other system. In addition, the depletion of our earth’s biodiversity is a major problem. The industrial food system tends to narrow the field by focusing on single varieties (an example being the ubiquitous but flavorless Butterball turkey). As a result, there are many, many disappearing breeds and seeds. The loss of these heirloom and heritage varieties represents not just a loss to our ecosystems, but usually a loss at the table as well.

canvas:
What is a great Slow Food dish someone could make to get acquainted with the philosophy?

JK: There really isn’t any such thing as a Slow Food dish. A start would be to buy ingredients from a farmers’ market, or at least to know where the food comes from. The next step would be to cook it yourself, and to share it with friends and family around the table. Food should be a community-building event—a way to celebrate your heritage and your region and hopefully the bounty of your food community. Buy fresh Long Island seafood straight from the fisherman, buy Long Island wines straight from the vineyard. Get to know your local farmer, and get acquainted with your kitchen!

canvas:
Where can I get involved with a Slow Food meeting? Is there a local Long Island convivium I can join? Are there fees? Why would I join?

JK:
There is a Slow Food convivium [chapter] on the East End of Long Island (slowfoodlongisland.org). They organize dinners, farm visits, educational events, food tours, and pig roasts. It is usually possible to attend these events without being a member of Slow Food, though there are usually discounted prices for members. Joining the national organization is a way to show your support for the organization and the work we do in taste education, defending biodiversity, and building food communities. In addition, you get our quarterly magazine, The Snail, as well as our monthly email newsletter, The Food Chain. Finally, you’ll be connected to your local membership chapter and kept abreast of their local events.

canvas:
How about events? What’s the best one to go to get an idea about the movement?

JK:
I would recommend a farm visit as the best way to get to know the movement. There is no better way to understand where your food comes from than to follow it to the source. Building relationships among farmers, chefs, and eaters is an essential part of what Slow Food does. In addition, family farms are an endangered breed right now, being squeezed out of the market by large-scale industrial growers. Long Islanders are lucky to have many wonderful small farms nearby; the best way to ensure their survival is to support them.


For more information, contact:


Slow Food USA

20 Jay Street, Suite 313
Brooklyn, NY 11201
(718) 260-8000
info@slowfoodusa.org

Slow Food Long Island
East End Events Calendar
slowfoodlongisland.org/calendar.php

Slow Food Huntington
Ann Rathkopf
Huntington, NY 11743
(631) 697-8228
ann@maiarellistudio.com

Tasting Notes: Biodynamic Wine

Going to high school in Manhattan, I always thought of Rudolf Steiner as the elite private school on the Upper East Side for wealthy kids too stoned to get into St. David’s. Little did I know that the school’s eponymous founder was not only the originator of Waldorf Schools (an educational philosophy that emphasizes the role of imagination in learning), but also the inventor of biodynamic agriculture, a farming trend experiencing a resurgence thanks to the wider organic-food revolution.

In food, it’s very tough to differentiate between organic, sustainably-produced cuisine and that which is not. Although I believe organic meat and produce many times can be fresher-tasting and ultimately more enjoyable, it is hard to validate by taste alone. With wine, however, the proof is on the palate, which is why I decided to test the supposed benefits of biodynamic agriculture with wine. But, what is biodynamic agriculture, anyway? According to Wikipedia, biodynamic agriculture is “a method of organic farming that treats farms as unified and individual organisms, emphasizing balancing the holistic development and interrelationship of the soil, plants, animals as a closed, self-nourishing system.”

In other words, biodynamic farming treats the farm like a person (well, a progressive, well-pampered person with a holistic lifestyle). The biodynamic philosophy maintains that everything that happens on a farm’s ecosystem affect everything else- and nature (including the movements of the stars and planets) also affects what’s happening in a plant. Artificial chemicals are banned in favor of herbal soil treatments, and the relationship between a farm’s livestock and its crops is closely matched (especially as it relates to fertilization and composting). Astrological charts are consulted to determine planting and harvesting times. The biodynamic approach to farming is truly a labor of love—costly and time consuming.

Although it sounds bit over the top, the biodynamic approach to farming is taken quite seriously, and the term “biodynamic” is actually trademark protected. In the United States, the Demeter Association has been using its strict criteria to certify farms since 1982, and only farms that can prove they have been true to Steiner’s founding principles can be “certified biodynamic.” But, does this type of farming actually work? According to many studies, biodynamic farming has been shown to be as effective as traditional farming, and some studies have shown the soil of the biodynamic farm to be richer in nutrients and organic matter than that of conventional farms (not surprising, considering all the TLC they receive). In terms of wine, however, a long-term study in a California vineyard was somewhat inconclusive. In other words, as mentioned the proof would be on the palate.

I was determined to test the efficacy of biodynamic viticulture the hard way: by drinking a couple of BD wines. My first choice was an Oregon Pinot Noir from Cooper Mountain Vineyards, started by former Massapequa resident Robert Gross. Pinot is known to be a very difficult grape to produce (even conventionally), so this would be a true test of BD wines. Located on the 45th parallel, as is the Burgundy region of France, and resting on the slopes of an ancient volcano, Cooper Mountain’s vineyards have a lot going for them to begin with. Yet, by opting to adopt very strict organic-farming methodology in 1990—and eventually becoming both organically and biodynamically certified, in 1999 and 2002 respectively—Cooper Mountain is leading the way in West Coast organic viticulture. I found their $45 2005 “Mt. Terroir” Pinot to be amazingly complex and flavorful, with the delicate balance of fruit and earth that marks a classic pinot. This is a bottle that is eminently ready to drink, but will benefit from a few years maturity.

Another leader in the biodynamic space is the Benziger Family Winery in Sonoma. Perhaps better known for their downmarket but flavorful Glen Ellen chardonnay, the Benzigers take biodynamic farming seriously, and are known to spread their philosophy among the growers they purchase their grapes from. I sampled a bottle of their 2004 “Tribute,” a Bordeaux blend made primarily from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, and found it well worth the $80 price tag. This particular bottling is certified to be 100% biodynamically produced, which is a trend I think you will be seeing more of in the future.

Three friends (with more advanced wine palates than mine) and I blind-tasted both wines against similar, conventionally produced wines in their price range, and found that in both cases the biodynamic wines were highly competitive in the tasting, and in some cases won outright. Was there a dramatic difference in flavor between the biodynamically produced wine and the conventional bottlings? No, just the subtle differences you would find between any bottle of wine and another. However, both wines were exceptional, which isn’t hard to believe. At the end of the day, organic farming is very difficult—and biodynamic farming is extremely challenging. That the wines that represent the end result of a grower’s dedication and commitment to his land are high quality is to be expected. Whether biodynamically produced wines will become the new gold standard for oenologists will depend more on market demand than taste, however.


Q & A with Barbara Gross
Marketing Director of Cooper Mountain Vineyardscanvas: Do you feel the “biodynamic” thing is a big differentiator for wines, or is it a lot of hype? In other words, wouldn’t the wine be the same if it were just produced organically?

Gross: We do think that biodynamic farming is significantly different from growing organically. Think of organic farming as being prohibitive (for example, spray programs must not include any synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides). With biodynamic farming you are to think “outside the box” in order to achieve self-sustaining ecosystems within each farm. At Cooper Mountain we believe that the BD system is homeopathy for the vineyard, and use the BD preparations for long-term vineyard health.

canvas: How does your Pinot Noir stack up to similar wines produced conventionally in the same region?

Gross:Arguably our wines are truly reflecting the terroir of our vineyard sites because of the BD agriculture.
For better or for worse—hate it or love it—the wines are unique to our vineyard sites.

canvas: Do people buy your wine specifically for the BD angle, or are they even aware that it is produced
in a special way?

Gross: I see a growing interest in BD agriculture from our consumers, but we have a ways to go before there is a consumer understanding like we have finally reached with organics in the winemaking process.

Christopher O’Hara’s most recent book, Great American Beer, won a “Man at His Best” award from Esquire Magazine. Reach him at chris_ohara@hotmail.com

Green Your Bean

Green Your Bean

I have had a long association with coffee, going back to my first cup in high school. Served black and sweet, in the ubiquitous “It’s Our Pleasure to Serve You” paper container, that first cup was 25 years ago. I still drink it the same way—and preferably in that Greek takeout cup whenever I can get it.

Back when I got by first editorial job in 1995, Starbucks was three years into its IPO, and opening a few stores a day, slowly creeping over to the East Coast. My job was with a trade publisher, and one of the titles was called Tea and Coffee Trade Journal. I got to learn a lot about coffee, and even got to visit a few coffee companies in Central America and the Caribbean. I saw some of the back-end of the coffee business first hand, and it amazed me how much sweat equity went into it. With over 500 billion cups of coffee consumed every single day, it takes an estimated 25 million small producers to bring it to the market. Growing and picking coffee beans is probably one of the most back-breaking and labor-intensive jobs in the world, and it all happens in the extremely poor parts of the world. That means the potential for a lot of abuse for both the land and the people working it.

So, how to make your daily cup of Joe better for you and the planet? Here are three things to look for:

  • Organic certified: Many chains (even my favorite Dunkin Donuts) are starting to make sure a portion of the whole beans and brewed coffee drinks they serve come from certified organic growers. Since the specialty coffee movement basically grew up in progressive Seattle in the early 1970s, the coffee business has always been on the forefront of the organic movement, which lessens small producers’ impact on the environment.
  • Fair Trade: There is a healthy debate on how much “Fair Trade” certification is helping small producers in the 3rd world but, for now, it’s one of the few ways to try and make sure your morning cup of coffee isn’t coming at the expensive of slave labor. Fair trade coffee is purchased at a guaranteed $1.41 per pound, which means that even tiny producers are paid a living wage.
  • Bird Friendly: Want to step it up a notch, and make your coffee good for your fair feathered friends? Insist on Bird-Friendly coffee, which comes exclusively from shade coffee plantations that are friendly habitats for migratory birds.

LINKS USED IN THIS ARTICLE

http://www.retroplanet.com/PROD/23792?cpid=GDF100∏=23792

http://www.starbucks.com/aboutus/csrannualreport.asp

http://www.teaandcoffee.net

http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/ams.fetchTemplateData.do?template=TemplateA&navID=NationalOrganicProgram&leftNav=NationalOrganicProgram&page=NOPNationalOrganicProgramHome&acct=nop

http://www.globalexchange.org/campaigns/fairtrade/coffee/

http://nationalzoo.si.edu/ConservationAndScience/MigratoryBirds/Coffee/

Green Your Kitchen

Greenworks came out shortly aftter this post appeared

Although my wife Jennifer and I have been trying to get “greener” around the kitchen over the past few years (using the smaller, energy efficient drawer-style dishwasher more; recycling more; using CFLs instead of conventional light bulbs, etc), we weren’t 100% ready to commit to green cleaning products. For my recent canvas article, we put a variety of cleaning products to the test to see whether ammonia and bleach-free cleaning products would get the job done. For them to pass the “Jen test” they would have to be pretty tough.

I found a bunch of products I liked, but two that really stood out:

  • Simple Green: They say that necessity is the mother of invention. In 1978, long before “green” products were on anyone’s radar, a man named FaBrizio was trying to figure out how to remove tannin from coffee roasting machines without using toxic chemicals. After three years, he came up with a biodegradable, nontoxic, non-abrasive solution he called Simple Green. He began to sell the product in 55-gallon drums to automobile shops and factories, and many years later, into consumer stores. Now the “Sunshine Makers” company has one of the most popular and diversified natural cleaning product lines in the world. I found the concentrated formula to be the most effective—and cost effective—of all the “green” cleaning products.
  • Seventh Generation: Seventh Generation products include everything from chlorine-free baby diapers to recycled napkins, and everything in between. I wanted to see how the Ben and Jerry’s of household cleaning products handled the mess I created making Cincinnati chili. As the author of several popular cooking books, including one on chili, I feel obligated to cook in a manner that makes me look as talented as the pictures that accompany my recipes. In other words, to needlessly shake pans, toss ingredients up into the air, and make as much noise and mess as possible. Jen tells me that this doesn’t add anything to my cooking but, since I usually clean it up anyway, she abides my foolishness. But, would Seventh Generation’s “natural all-purpose cleaner” be up to the task of degreasing a very greasy Garland stove? I put 7G’s citrusy cleaner to the test against both Fantastic and my home-diluted mixture of Mr. Clean, and found that it held its own.

A month later, we are still working our way around the kitchen, and for the most part we have found that the green cleaners can do the job 9 times out of 10. With a third grade boy in the house, plenty of bleach-based products are still called upon for regular bathroom maintenance, however. That being said, with green surface cleaners, dishwashing detergent and soap, and even biodegradable laundry detergent, there are a lot of ways to avoid putting chemicals back into the ground. And that’s some “clean living” that’s really easy to do!

LINKS USED IN THIS ARTICLE:

http://www.greenhomeguide.com/index.php/knowhow/entry/649

http://www.fisherpaykel.co.nz/dishwashing/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compact_fluorescent_lamp

http://www.simplegreen.com

http://www.seventhgeneration.com

http://www.ecookbooks.com/p-2168-ultimate-chili-book.aspx

http://transcendentalfloss.com/media/images/2006/mr-clean.jpg

Tasting Notes: Strange Brew

Organic beer is one of today’s fastest growing—and selling—beverages. But will it replace the Heineken in your fridge?

With everything going “green,” beer hasn’t missed the boat. And I’m not talking about the green-hued pitcher of suds you’re likely to find at Finnegan’s on March 17th. I’m talking about certified organic premium beer—the stuff you are increasingly likely to find at your local supermarket. Green beer is growing, and as an avid beer drinker, the author of a popular beer book, and a stereotypical Irishman, I felt it was my duty to investigate this growing phenomenon for canvas.

My first stop was the closest supermarket: Southdown Market in Huntington. An upscale store featuring both organic fare and an excellent selection of upscale beer (including, just recently, some high-end Belgian Trappist ales), Southdown Market seemed like a good place to find an organic beer. After some searching in the cold aisle, I came across the only organic beer in stock: Peak Organic Pale Ale ($8.99). Sheathed in a rather pleasant six-pack carrier, the packaging promised “six 12-ounce bottles of delicious organic beer.” I grabbed it—and a backup six-pack of Budweiser, just in case.

My next stop was Whole Foods market in Jericho, that also boasts a high-end selection of suds—albeit, stocking only 2 additional certified organic beer choices besides Peak. I grabbed a six-pack of Wolaver’s organic Pale ale ($8.99), and the very rich-looking Old Ploughshare Stout ($8.99 for a four-pack).

At home, I immediately decanted a bottle of Peak Organic Pale ale into a tall, frosted beer glass and admired its frothy head. This looked, smelled and—yes—tasted like a very high-quality and delicious pale ale. I also sampled a bottle of the Wolaver’s Pale ale, and although the two ales were highly distinctive, both matched up well—and, in some cases, surpassed many commercially available pale ales I have tried. Both ales were flavorful, well carbonated, and characterized by the light malt character and “high-hop” taste of a classic IPA. I put the Old Ploughshare stout up against my tried and true Guiness stout, and found it to be a dark beer worth a second look—and a good organic-stout alternative.

On the whole, I could see why organic beer is beginning to break out of the “fad” category and experience a wider acceptance. If organic beer is anything like organic wine, then the future is bright for Peak Brewing, Otter Creek Brewing (Wolaver’s) and their organic-brew brethren. Current projections have organic wine’s share at a surprising 1 percent of the $23 billion U.S. wine market—with a growth rate that can approach an astonishing 50 percent a year.

Sales of organic beer are a lot smaller, but rapidly growing. In 2005—a year that overall beer sales actually declined—organic beer sales were up 40 percent, to $19 million. That may be a small number in the overall scale of the segment (by comparison, Anheuser-Busch sells about $8 billion worth of beer every year). Yet organic beer accounts for a tremendous amount of chemicals taken out of the agricultural process, which “can cause soil degradation and chemical runoff that contaminate water sources and the ecosystems they support,” according to Jon Cadoux, organic-beer pioneer and the founder and president of Peak Organic Brewing Company. An avid brewer and active environmentalist, Cadoux combined his love for both with a Harvard MBA and began brewing commercially in 1998. Located in Portland, Maine, the company brews three varieties of 100-percent organic beer and ships around the country. After drinking some of his beer, I tracked Jon down and asked him some obvious questions:

canvas: Tell canvas something about yourself.

Jon Cadoux: I’m pretty obsessed with brewing, so my life isn’t very sexy otherwise. Lately, we have been working on some really interesting new brews, so the obsession has worsened, at the expense of having a fun personal life. When I have time, I enjoy surfing, hiking, and skiing or snowboarding with family and friends.

canvas: Is organic beer better than “regular” beer? Or is all of this a lot of hype?

JC: I truly believe that the purest barley and hops are grown on
small family farms that don’t use toxic pesticides and chemical fertilizers. These farmers are leading the way in terms of quality and we are honored to use their output in our ales. The foundation of an excellent beer is pure ingredients, and we think our organic farmers are making the purest out there.

canvas: Does organic beer last as long?

JC: There is nothing about using organic ingredients that should materially affect shelf life. Organic beer has pretty much the same shelf life as non-organic beer.

canvas: What is the organic-beer movement like right now? Is this going to be a real trend, or is it just another way to cash in on the “green” phenomenon?

JC: Organic beer is doing great because some brewing companies are putting out superb organic products. If folks can drink a superior craft beer that happens to be organic, then it’s a win-win. As an environmentalist, for me the end game is to have all brewing companies making certified organic beer. To reverse the serious issues of agricultural runoff and soil degradation, it’s going to take a lot more than 1 percent of barley and hops to be grown organically. It will take time, but I hope to see a vast majority of beer brewed around the world be certified organic in my lifetime.

canvas: Are you some kind of hippie? What made you want to brew “organic” beer anyway?

JC: I’m more of a foodie. We started brewing with organic ingredients because we were noticing that a lot of organic products we were buying just tasted better than the non-organic products. When we saw the quality of the organic barley that we were able to source, we were hooked. The organic-certification process is extremely difficult and takes a lot of our time and efforts. I think it’s worth it, though, because consumers should have every confidence that a product with the “USDA Organic” seal is the real deal. We work very closely with our certification agency to make sure that our organic raw materials never come in contact with “non-organic” materials and that our washing and rinsing procedures are proper.

canvas: What non-organic beers do you enjoy?

JC: I’m all over the board. The beers that get me the most excited are the ones that really innovate within a style. The ability of a brewer to really showcase the raw ingredients they are using and to create a beer that is complex and flavorful is what I am after. At the end of the day, I think a brewer should look at a beer they just made and think “what did this just add to the craft brewing scene?” I think if we all continually ask ourselves that, craft beer will continue to thrive the way it is now.

Find Organic Beer on Long Island

Peak Organic Pale Ale, Wolaver’s, and Old Ploughshare can be found on Long Island at Whole Foods in Jericho. Peak can also be found at Southdown Market in Huntington, as well as popular chains including Waldbaum’s, King Kullen, Wild by Nature, and the Food Emporium. It’s also served at many restaurants and bars including JP McGeevers (on draught) in Garden City South, Half Penny Pub in Sayville, the Garden City Country Club (also on draught), and The Library in Farmingdale.

Christopher O’Hara’s most recent book, Great American Beer, won a “Man at His Best” award from Esquire Magazine.

Organic Baby Food: I Put Three Popular Frozen Food Brands to the Test

With an 8 year old son and a 6 year old daughter, my wife and I were a little bit rusty when little Mia came last September. After not seeing a diaper for four years, getting used to having a baby in the house again took some getting used to. Luckily, Mia went easy on us. In many ways, muscle memory takes over. Making bottles, changing diapers, and burping babies seem to be skills akin to riding a bike; once learned, they aren’t easily forgotten.

But, how much different is the baby landscape today than it was 6 years ago? Well, Sesame Street is still on, and Alan, Maria, and the gang don’t look too much older. Baby Formula and diapers are still outrageously expensive. The “bouncie seats,” “excersaucers,” and play pens seem a bit fancier, but relatively the same. Except the food. Back when my other kids were babies, you seemed to have a choice between making your own baby food, and spooning from a gar of Gerber’s. Any parent worth their salt has sampled most of the jarred flavors, and I know of few parents that are dying for another spoonful of jarred “Mac and Beef” or “Chicken with Vegetables” after they’ve temperature-tested the first one.

Imagine my surprise, then, when my wife exclaimed, “yum!” after sampling a spoonful of baby food. The sample in question was Tasty Baby’s Corn in the USA. Jen took another spoonful and insisted that I try some myself. The pureed corn was so unbelievably fresh—and smelled so good—that I couldn’t believe this was actually baby food. I tasted several spoonfuls and pronounced it fit for Mia’s consumption. Welcome to the new age in baby food: where fresh-frozen, really tasty 100% organic meals come right out of your freezer, rather than the pantry. With the assistance of my very hungry 8 month old daughter Mia, Canvas put three of today’s popular frozen baby food brands to the test. Here are the results.

HappyBaby

Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, HappyBaby is one of the more popular fresh-frozen organic baby foods on the market, and widely available through Babies R Us, Fresh Direct, and many local markets. Packages come with two flavors to serve together. Mia tried Smarter Squash and Wiser Apple and also sampled the Super Salmon and Regular Prunes and the Grreat Greens and Easy Going Greens. Everything with the exception of the salmon was enjoyed heartily—and gobbled down.

When taken out of the package, the food comes in a plastic ice-cube tray, with individual portions that can be divided to customize the meal. For Mia, who has an unusually large appetite, 3 cubes of greens and 3 of apples made for a hearty meal. Having the portions relatively small means being able to introduce a lot of variety in a single meal also. One drawback was that the cubes are not individually marked, so (unless you write on them), it is not easy to distinguish a cube of, say, Super Salmon from Smarter Squash.

HappyBaby was founded by Shazi VisramI, a Mom who wanted better prepared choices for her baby. According to Shazi, “I dedicated myself to offering parents an alternative to processed jarred foods once I became aware of the lack of nutritious store-bought options for baby foods and the desire of so many moms to make their own foods though they simply don’t have the time. Feeding baby the best variety of fresh whole foods truly impacts the eating habits and taste profiles that stay with your child for life, yet the norm since the 1930’s has been a jar of food that can sit on a shelf for three years! Along with Dr Sears, our belief is that the purity of organics and the freshness in taste, texture and color are extremely important in growing a healthy eater.”

Mia couldn’t agree more! (We understand that HappyBites toddler meals, with “hidden veggies in every bite” are coming to Whole Foods soon, so parents of older kids may want to look out for that).

Plum Organics

Started by Gigi Chang (whose current title is “Founder and Mom of Cato”), we found Plum Organics in Whole Foods. Gig talked to Canvas about the company and where it’s going: “Seeing my son when he was 9 months old so engaged in eating and the joy he had for mealtime was what led me to start Plum Organics. Even though he is 4 now, he is still my inspiration-every day. After starting Plum Organics, I have learned so much about the impact our actions make on our environment. As a company, we are proud to be the only baby food partner of Healthy Child Healthy World and strive to minimize our carbon footprint. For example, our new Kids line uses a biodegradable tray that is the first of its kind. We are also using a paperboard that is 100% carbon neutral because of the materials it uses and the energy used to produce it. Packaging is one of the most wasteful parts of a food product so I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to do to make our packaging better.”

Sounds good, but what did Mia think? Mia sampled a large variety of Plum Organics, trying offerings ranging from the simple (“super greens” and “pears and apples”) to the more robust (“chicken whole grain pasta” and “red lentil veggie”). Like me, Mia enjoyed the basics, like the greens and fruit, was slightly more resistant to some of the healthier fare, like the lentils. That being said, the meals kept disappearing into her tiny belly. Packaged in small plastic bowls, the Plum Organics meals are very easy to defrost (keep in the fridge overnight, or a quick blast in the microwave), and the portions are well-sized.

TastyBaby

Unless you are from Los Angeles, you probably haven’t head of TastyBaby, but this brand of frozen organic baby food was started by Liane Weintraub, a former New Yorker, and Shannan Swanson, who has strong roots in the world of frozen food (yes, that Swanson). Anyway, the name really does say it all: they make one heck of a tasty baby food. Mia has been devouring Bangos (Mango banana puree), Sweetie Pie (a sweet potato, apple, and cinnamon mix), and Corn in the USA like it’s going to be outlawed tomorrow.

The food is honestly so fresh and delicious that TastyBaby offers adult recipes. I tried the Life’s a Peach bellini recipe and found the cold, pureed peaches the ultimate accompaniment to soarkling wine. I also found myself sharing Mia’s Corn in the USA. If Mia has a favorite of all the brands, it was probably TastyBaby’s Bangos.

Although available via Boxed Greens, the excellent organic online store, TastyBaby is coming to the Food Emporium in Manhattan—and will hopefully be in Whole Foods soon.

[This was originally published in Canvas Magazine]