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The Business of Maximizing My Positive Environmental Impact

 

Between Christmas and mid-January, my work life consists of examining numbers, looking for mistakes and successes in various spread sheets, and hoping to identify the most sustainable path forward.

The Kitchen Garden Series is still small for a business, but has the potential to reach a six figure revenue. To achieve this magical goal, I maintain a steady climb upward by intentionally controlling my growth so that I remain completely independent (self-funded) and make measured decisions about production, materials, and business priorities, while carefully considering personal financial risk. I continue to work outside the business to support myself alongside producing and engaging for the company. In contrast to the traditional model of keeping profits high and costs low by any means, I strive to maintain a balance between cost and profit that benefits everyone I work with, including the urban farms I strive to support. The result has been a slow, but steady journey upwards and 2019 revenues show that my hard work is paying off. My work now as I evaluate exponentially growing sales is to stay true to my ethics while continuing the climb. One great way to remain accountable and to stay centered on the key mission of the business is to share with you my realities and future goals.

Expressed in percentages my business model looks like this:


This is the way the numbers balance when I sell directly to you (the consumer) either online or at market. When I sell wholesale, the gross profit decreases to a razor thin 10%, which means I have less to give back to the community, more income to generate outside the business, and less profit to re-invest in the business. As I analyze this past year, I am reminded that my overarching goal is to maximize the positive environmental impacts my business creates while continuing to support local urban agricultural ventures and pay myself a living wage.

In light of the growth I hope to achieve, I’ve identified several priorities for my business this year as follows:

  • Increase direct to consumer sales
  • Grow sales of produce bags, coffee filters, tea bags, tea towels, and lunch bags
  • Make all other products from 100% remnant, possibly made to order
  • Expand the number of restaurants & caterers that rent or carry my textile products
  • Create more time to design new products

I feel all of these points are in service to my business goal to help people reduce reliance on single use disposables in their kitchens, at their grocery stores, and in their local restaurant communities. I believe that through my commitment to these ethics and continued alignment with these goals, the kitchen garden series will continue to grow revenue, provide good jobs in my community, significantly contribute to the urban agricultural community, and provide me as a small business owner with adequate income to pay it all forward.

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designing beyond plastic

The designs for the kitchen garden series collection and my personal journey to reduce waste and give up the plastic habit, developed together. My products grew from my curiosity about both the past before plastic was used everywhere and the possibility of a future beyond plastic. The business began with a mission of reducing textile waste by upcycling textiles and designing durable goods to replace plastics and single-use disposables. I mined my early family memories of my grandmother’s kitchen to dig into a time before plastics became ubiquitous. I asked myself, what were the most common materials before plastic existed? I considered the needs of contemporary life and adapted some of those remembered goods to fit into today's kitchens and living spaces. I realized that if I find great joy in placing my hands on things made from linen, glass jars, and paper bags that feel beautiful to touch, other people might feel the same.

 

The challenges along the road of growing this business made me curious about reducing waste in my entire supply chain. Again, I looked to the past to see how it was done before carbon and petroleum fueled every aspect of production. That's how I landed on growing small flax plots to revitalize linen production at a more local level. Emma and I are digging deeply into the old ways of fiber production with our knee-high flax field this year as we wait patiently for the flax to be ready to be made into cloth. And we are also looking to the future towards a time beyond a carbon economy that includes exploring the possibilities of large scale regenerative fiber farming and a regional scutch mill. We are dreaming of regional and national flax-to-linen networks and we’ve found fellow travelers at rustbelt_fibershed, PNW_fibershed, All Together Now PA  and others, who are thinking similarly. I’m excited to see how this endeavor can help my business reduce waste and I look forward to seeing what beauty we can make as we work towards sustainable economic models. My personal journey towards eliminating plastic in my own kitchen turned out to be about surrounding myself with an abundance of simple, but elegant objects. Now, I am starting to see how the whole of my business can support other people's joy in a renewable and better supply chain that brings people objects made from materials that are better for the environment than plastic.

designs that honor the cloth

The process of getting linen from flax is an arduous one. Yet, I’ve found beauty and satisfaction in the toil it takes to produce a piece of cloth without the use of industrial equipment and/or the exploitation of labor and resources. As Emma so perfectly said it, "it has led to a reverence for and connection to the cloth." This deepened bond between myself as a designer, Emma as a farmer helping me harvest flax, and the earth's bounty serves to remind me how important zero waste design is to the kitchen garden series.

Zero waste design is about taking the time to see beauty in every inch of cloth in front of me. My designs are inspired by the shapes I find in the world, with all of their swirling lines, sensuous shapes, and organic colors. I bring these ideas to my work table and experiment until the contours are organized and laid out on the materials before me. Then I look again at the spaces in between, those empty areas that remain among the contours, and find more inspiration, until all that is left of the fabric I laid out is just the tiniest bit of scrap to become worm food and decompose into earth again. 

The challenge of minimizing waste for any given piece is to not compromise important construction details or the elegance of the drape. For example, when I designed my cross back aprons, perfecting the form and function led to unexpected ways to use all the linen . I chose to add a side seam and to make the strap and the facing one long piece from the back hemline all the way over the shoulder with only one point of attachment at the front. Not the easiest method or the most efficient use of fabric, but I chose it because it hangs more elegantly on different bodies and is ultimately more durable and long wearing. As I figured out the apron design, I let the spaces left behind from my cuts, inspire more designs for other products. My minimalist tea towels emerged from the remaining edges, where I can cut right up to the raw edge and embrace its unfinished beauty. The fabric left behind from cutting the straps yields the perfect rectangle to attach to a shirtsleeve for our signature towels. Lastly, before sweeping the remaining scraps into the compost bin, I can make a handful of tea bags. The small leftover pieces will ultimately break down in the compost and regenerate the soil for the next crop of flax for linen.

Great design is about form and function, and zero waste is about re-imagining our place in relationship to materials. By working more carefully with the resources we have on hand, we can acknowledge all of the efforts taken by the planet and people to bring products we love into the world. When we place our goods into this vigilant perspective, something awakens in us. We are called to find beauty in the whole of what we can hold in our hands, to waste nothing, to respect everything, and to work to be part of the solution.

A Linen Love Story (linen + regenerative agriculture)

I am more devoted to linen than most other fabrics. I fell in love with linen for its classic look and its refined feel as a material. And when I first discovered the connection between linen and regenerative agriculture, I thought my heart would burst! My love for linen has only deepened as I delve into its place in regenerative agriculture. In my products, I experiment with linen's antimicrobial qualities, test its durability, and unearth its amazing history. As I research growing flax for linen in my region at our small plot on Kneehigh Farm, I see how linen fits perfectly at the intersection of food and fabric.

 

Regenerative farming is a system of diversified principles, where organic, no-till farming methods, cover-cropping, and rotational grazing produce nutritionally dense foods. Regenerative systems, like those at Kneehigh and other organic farms in the area, help rebuild valuable topsoil, increase biodiversity, and improve watersheds. All of these practices combine to improve crop yields, raise soil vitality, and mitigate climate change. Fiber flax, as a bast (or plant-stem) fiber plant fits nicely into crop rotation on a diversified farm. A fiber flax crop can be sown at different times for a variety of uses. Fiber flax’s high seeding rate suppresses weeds, and once pulled for harvest, leaves a clean field for the next crop without the use of any additional herbicides. A flax crop also needs very little water to grow, which means less irrigation and stress on water resources.

 

I stand at Kneehigh Farm these days and I keep watch over a small 1/8 acre of fiber flax we are growing. I watch it sprout, I weed a little, and urge it to get ready for harvest. There is magic in how this flax crop grows. I watch the beauty of the plants as they wave in the wind, and I think about how linen is made. I want my linen to be ethically grown right here in my backyard, and I want the objects I make to be part of the solution. I want to grow this flax as part of a regenerative agricultural system that mitigates climate change. I want my designs to reflect this regenerative process. I want the textiles I produce to be used and loved for a long time, and when they finally wear out, I want them to go back to that same farm as compost and begin again as a new flax crop. Most importantly, I want to show everyone how linen folds itself at the junction where food and fabric intermingle, just like the kitchen garden series.

And I want to fall in love with linen all over again

Produce Bags For Summer Crops

Warm weather months means bright, juicy berries, tasty summer squash, and all the leafy herbs and greens our arms can carry. We feel all that delicious farm fresh goodness deserves to be stored with care! The kitchen garden series delightful linen produce bags are here to keep your leafy greens from wilting, your berries tasting-fresh picked, and your summer squash crispy. 

Linen is a special textile. Its unique properties help store produce for much longer in your fridge. No need to worry about your freshly picked greens going to waste and looking sad! Pull out a fresh linen produce bag, run it under the water, wring it out, and fill it with all those beautiful greens. The bag acts as a crisper and all your summer salads will be as bright and fresh as when the greens were harvested. You can even rescue wilting heirloom lettuce leaves by popping them into the damp produce bag overnight!

Summer is also the best season for blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries. Where do we suggest storing them? You guessed it - a linen produce bag! Breathable linen bags will keep your abundance of freshly picked berries fresh until you have time to make a pie or mix them into your smoothie or cook them into tasty jams. They’ll keep like a dream in your fridge or on your counter while you plan all your berry recipes. And all the bright berry juices can give your white linen berry bag a special summer tie-dye look. 

Our produce bags also work well as dry bags in your fridge. Unlike lettuce, you’ll want to keep vegetables like your summer squashes from getting wet or damp. Instead of running your produce bag under water, just use it as a dry bag for all of your back yard zucchinis, crook necks, and patty pans. The antimicrobial properties of  linen will wick away any extra moisture that builds up on your squash and inhibit mildew or mold from forming on your vegetables. 

Our linen produce bags are also great for drying herbs. Check out this blog post to learn about drying herbs in our linen produce bags in three easy steps!

Joyful Outdoor Eating

When I was a kid, the neighborhood Moms would take us to the park and we would eat our lunches sitting on a giant dinosaur, our favorite playground fixture. Our mothers would supervise from afar and enjoy a more civilized meal together on a nearby picnic blanket. I forged lifelong friendships over those PB&J meals and so did our Moms. Those lunches taught me eye opening facts about the natural world, tidbits such as a dandelion’s down are the seeds of the plant or that pollywogs will grow into frogs, and helped me realize the joy of dining outdoors.

Entertaining in the fresh air still feels special to me and it can be so easy, even when we need to be socially distanced. Outdoor eating can be as basic as opening a window and leaning out so the cookie crumbs fall down for the birds on the fire escape. Or having lunch on the front stoop with the neighbors to share the latest news. Eating al fresco doesn't have to be complicated and keeping it simple also keeps it sustainable, especially when everyone brings their own napkins and cutlery. It can also be a great opportunity for everyone to put away their phones and devices and just talk to each other and enjoy their surroundings.

Here's my advice for joyful eating outdoors:

Choose a spot where you can see some greenery, or put a potted plant or cut flowers nearby.

Include local foods from a farmstand or your CSA box for the freshest flavors of the season.

Bring beverages in thermoses and use fancy cups.

Use some of your favorite vintage tableware and linens to create an elegant outdoor space and make your meal special.

Pack your food in jars or wrap it up in your favorite tea towel or napkin or pop your dry snacks in a bread bag.

Put away your devices, listen to the birds and be curious about the world that surrounds you.

Why Shopping at Farmers Markets is The Best

The kitchen garden series is here to tell you why shopping at your local farmers market is a healthy way to do your weekly grocery run. Here are a few of our favorite reasons to inspire you to shop local this market season, even though it might look a little different this year.

Fresh air

Fresh air is good for the soul. While strolling along through a farmers market to collect your food for the week you can enjoy the weather, breathe in the fresh air, and relish a nice moment in the sun while you shop for all your kitchen necessities. Does it get much better than outdoor market shopping? Stop and smell the flowers!

Unexpected finds

Farmers markets aren’t just about fruits and vegetables. Many markets take the time to curate booths from local artists and small batch makers. You could discover your new favorite relish, or products to help you on your low-waste journey (ahem, like the kitchen garden series) or refill your glass bottle of kombucha from a local kombucha brewer. Doing some window shopping in an open air market might lead you to your next favorite artisanal coffee or home brew. 

Human Connection

Nothing beats the human connections you can make while shopping at a locally vended market. You can talk to the farmers and learn their story or hear more about the business that makes your new favorite napkins. You can learn a little history about your city. You can pet the friendly animals that people bring along. When you regularly support your local market, you can learn the faces and names of the vendors and they’ll remember you, which makes shopping a little more personal and special.

Local food

Supporting your local food chain helps decrease your environmental impact. Shopping at a farmers market for produce that’s in season and buying things locally directly sustains your local food chain! Did you know that the smaller the distance traveled between you and your food, the better? Less travel helps cut carbon emissions, and we love that! We also think it’s easier to shop plastic free at the farmers market and our products will help you on your market trips. Plus, the produce and goods you find at farmers markets is grown by people invested in the community. When you support your local food system by supporting farmers markets, you are strengthening your local economy and contributing to the health of the community. Shopping at farmers markets is more important now than ever to support your local food system even if it might be a little less relaxed this summer. 

If supporting a local, and sustainable system of community is your cup of tea, find your nearest farmers market. It can become part of your weekly shopping ritual. Things look a little different this year, your local market could be doing point-to-shop or contact free pickup or other innovative ways of ordering. But you can still shop in the fresh air, support your favorite makers, and find something unexpected.