Gary Hirshberg is best known as the CEO of Stonyfield Farm, the largest organic yogurt company in the United States where he's worked since it started in 1983. Before finding his way to Stonyfield, he worked as executive director of the New Alchemy Institute, a now-defunct research center that focused on organic farming, renewable energy, aquaculture, and housing and landscapes.
He was born and raised in my homestate of New Hampshire, where he still lives with his wife and children and where Stonyfield is headquartered. Not content to simply run one of the largest yogurt companies in the world, he also finds time to serve on the boards of companies and nonprofits like Honest Tea, Peak Organic Brewing Company and Climate Counts (a favorite of mine).
I was lucky to connect with Hirshberg after he worked with my friend Christian Wisecarver to produce a rap video promoting the need to eat organically (the video follows this paragraph). He is a great sport and threw himself whole-heartedly into the project, producing a really cool video that has racked up tens of thousands of views in just a few weeks after being released. It's probably not going to win any hip-hop Grammys, but it will definitely help spread the organic word.
Hirshberg was kind enough to carve some time out of his schedule to answer these seven questions. Enjoy!
MNN: Gary Hirshberg — entrepreneur, organic food maven, now rapper. How did that happen?
Gary Hirshberg: Busted. Yes, I’ve written a rap but, as I say in its opening line, “I’m no rapper, that’s for sure!” (My mortified kids will be the first to attest to that.) All kidding aside, I’ll do whatever it takes to get the word out about the failure of our modern food systems, and how critically important it is to be informed and eat defensively.
What's makes Climate Counts work?
Climate Counts is an incredibly simple way for consumers to express their concern for global climate change to some of the biggest companies in the world. Let's be clear — if consumers don't raise their voices that climate change matters to them, it's not likely those companies are going to do anything about it. But when companies see themselves ranked favorably or unfavorably against arch-rivals — on this issue or any issue — and hear from consumers about it via email, Twitter AND at the cash register, it will quickly become a priority for the company. That's what Climate Counts has been doing since releasing its first company climate scores in 2007, and now companies from every major consumer sector are working every year to take climate change more seriously — and ultimately improve their scores.
Can organic be big? Should it be?
Organic can and will feed the world. All food was organic until the mid-1930s, and despite arguments by Big Agribusiness to the contrary, organic agriculture offers higher yields and better nutrition. Organic also offers a fair wage for family farmers that keeps them on their land and it can provide economic sustainability for those in developing world.
Does the world need saving?
Yes, and the good news is it’s very do-able! For instance, Stonyfield’s purchases of certified organic ingredients alone support more than 180,000 acres of organic farmland and have avoided more than 9 million pounds of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and more than 185,000 pounds of insecticides and herbicides. Everybody has a role to play in saving the world and it can start with one cup of organic yogurt. Just do one thing, any one thing.
What's the difference between green and greener?
I’ve been working on these issues — ecology, sustainability, organic, climate change — since the mid-1970s, and it’s clear to me, as well as scientists all over the world, that we cannot solve the planet’s health and environmental problems with just modest changes, and we can’t protect our families without making radical changes in how we eat. The good news? Eating delicious, healthy, tasty food is now easier than ever because of the vast array of organic food choices available.
Who is one person doing good in the world (besides yourself) who we should know about and why?
Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus is both a friend and a hero. He is best known for his work with the Grameen Bank, an institution he founded to provide microcredit (small loans to poor people who have no collateral) to help them establish creditworthiness and financial self-sufficiency. Against all odds, he has helped to provide the hope and empowerment needed for millions of people to lift themselves out of poverty. The recipient of numerous honors, Yunus and the Grameen Bank received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.
(Shea's note: I invited Gary to make up and answer his own question here) I just watched your rap video and it makes me want to do something to protect myself and my family. What can I do?
So glad you asked. There are two really important things you can do. One — spread the word. Add your own shoutout to the rap at www.justeatorganic.com, and send it to your friends.
Two — the answer is in the lyrics. When you shop, you vote. It’s the most powerful thing we do, and when we choose organics when we shop, we are sending a message to the stores, producers and farmers. Increase the demand for organic food and the food industry will respond. Let the industry know that you want healthier food and that you know it is possible. We need to take matters into our own hands as consumers and shine a light on the food system problem — and on the solution.
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