By Nora Mounce
Two weeks from the biggest natural products trade show on the West Coast, Humboldt Made business owners sit together in Humboldt Chocolate owner Jonah Ginsburg’s living room, drinking beer, eating pizza and talking about whose bunking with who for the upcoming trek to Expo West in Anaheim. With rain beating down outside, Ginsburg’s dog barking at the back door and Lost Coast Roast owner Jonny Miller’s daughter doodling on her dad’s knee, the meeting feels more like a end of season basketball pizza party than an industry mixer of business competitors. From an outsider’s perspective, these entrepreneurs have little in common. Humboldt Bay Coffee Company has been shipping wholesale coffee beans across the country for 25 years, Ohana Organics makes post-tattoo salves and creams, while two very different bakery owners work closely together as friends and business colleagues, despite that Beck’s Bakery produces locally-milled, organic artisan breads, while Natural Decadence markets gluten and allergy-free pies and cookies. Though their backgrounds and businesses are incredibly diverse, each of these Humboldt Made members are tightly bound by their shared love for Humboldt County and mutual understanding of the complex hybrid of challenges of doing business behind the Redwood Curtain. Working by the mantra that together they are stronger than the sum of their parts, these small businesses will join together to descend on Expo West this March to show thousands of industry insiders what being made in Humboldt is all about.
Expo West is a huge opportunity for small businesses to get major exposure to countless retail and wholesale buyers, showcasing their products directly to large store and chain buyers. Such opportunity doesn’t come free though; which is precisely why these business owners gathered on a rainy Friday to count seats in the van, figure out who is bringing coolers, extension cords and fridges, give each other packing tips, share mailing lists and are sharing a vacation rental to crash in after a long day of pimping product in Anaheim. While some of the newer, smaller businesses will be incubated at Expo West under the Humboldt Made booth, all the members going will represent Humboldt County with homey touches like flowers donated by Sun Valley Floral Farms displayed in vases from Fire & Light.
Veteran business owners like Luci Ramirez of Humboldt Bay Coffee and Rosa Dixon of Natural Decadence have attended Expo West for three years and are more than generous giving start-ups like Beer Kissed! pointers that could very well make or break their success at the convention. “Bring your own food!” says Dixon, stressing that they will be on their feet talking to buyers all day long, sometimes with nary a bathroom break in sight. Dixon would know – she and business partner Milia Lando signed a contract with Whole Foods a lightening-fast 8 months after they opened Natural Decadence. This type of reception and success into the marketplace outside of Humboldt County is a benchmark for which Humboldt Made members strive – yet, no one more than Dixon and Lando would argue that the support of their Humboldt community amplified their early successes.
To round out the efforts at this year’s Expo West, Humboldt Made’s first lady and executive director Alanna Jane Powell will be joining the carpool to Anaheim to oversee the Humboldt Made booth and personally invite key contacts to Humboldt County for the annual buyers tour this April. Continuing the tradition of cooperation, Humboldt businesses will welcome buyers from chains like Whole Foods and New Leaf during the buyers tour, a fantastic opportunity to showcase the bounty and creativity of the North Coast. The many buyers that visit Humboldt each April not only give a boost to the local economy in the form of hotel and restaurant dollars, but head home preaching the gospel about the beauty and kindness they experienced in Humboldt. “Everyone wants to retire here!” says Dixon.
Humboldt Made wants consumers to understand how hard their business owners work to be economically viable, but the larger story at play is about the essential goodness of Humboldt. Whether it’s the close proximity to the rugged Pacific or the serenity of the redwoods, again and again, people remark on the pleasure of doing business with Humboldt County’s hard-working entrepreneurs like the kind-hearted Diane Hunt of Diane’s Sweet Heat. This goes hand-in-hand with the region’s reputation for environmental conservation and a commitment to utilizing natural and organic ingredients, illustrated in the stories of member businesses like Eel River Organic Beef and Vixen Kitchen. More and more, Humboldt County businesses are leaders in their field for eco-progressive businesses practices and products. It almost as if business and sustainability comes naturally in Humboldt, where the reasons to act responsibly are the trees outside our windows and the kind faces of our community. That’s the story Humboldt Made will tell in Anaheim this March and the values you support with every purchase of Humboldt Made products.