Mary Waldner is the successful owner of Mary’s Gone Crackers, which sells nutritious crackers, “twigs” and delicious gluten-free cookies. I make most of my food from scratch, but her brand is one of the few I buy in the stores. Mary shares her company’s story, how she eats at home and offers advice on how to eat a healthy diet.
MNN: Thanks, Mary, for sharing with us today. Let's hear about your business first. How did it start?
Mary Waldner: We started in 2004 with a co-manufacturer in Chico, Calif., who helped us figure out how to turn my homemade recipe into a manufactured product. They made our crackers for a while, but for a variety of reasons, we took over production in their facility and grew quickly. After two years there, we moved into our own space in Gridley, Calif. There were so many aspects of starting the business — writing a business plan, raising capital, buying equipment, learning how to make the product, then getting more and more efficient doing so. Then of course, there were sales, sampling, and getting into various distributors. The work was outrageously difficult for the first year, a little better the second year and now, after almost eight years, we can breathe and enjoy things a bit! The other significant factor is building a team of fabulous people who are the fabric of this company. We would be nothing without them.
How did the name of your company come about? I love it!
We desperately needed a name and nothing inspirational was coming to me and my husband (he’s my business partner and CEO of the company, Dale Rodrigues), so I took the problem to my women friends one day. One of them said, “It should have your name in it … something like ‘Mary’s cracking up!’” We all laughed and then my other friend said, “Yeah, like ‘Mary’s Gone Crackers'.” The room just sang when she said that and we all knew that was it!
I especially appreciate what great ingredients you use. I understand that you've taken a strong stand against using GMOs in your products. Can you tell us more why you've taken that stand and what steps you take to ensure that no GMOs are in your products?
I’ve eaten organically since the term was defined. It seems like an obvious conflict to allow genetically engineered products into our food system, when I’m already opposing synthetic fertilizers and toxic chemicals on our food. It’s horrifying to think of how we are attempting to play God with our seeds and our food supply. People don’t understand that genetic engineering is not the same as hybrid food. There is a lot of misinformation out there to purposely confuse people. Although most people want to know what’s in their food, the FDA has thus far taken that option away from us by not requiring GMO food to be labeled.
The Non-GMO project has established a way for companies to declare that their food does not contain GMO ingredients and we are happy to have all of our products certified by them. Using certified organic ingredients as we do, also ensures that we will not have GMO ingredients in our products, as much as is possible. I also use minimal amounts of the main categories of U.S. crops that are GMO — corn, soy and canola. At this point we don’t use corn or canola in any of our products, and I don’t see the need for it. We use organic soy in the tamari in our crackers and Sea Salt Sticks & Twigs, and non-GMO soy lecithin in the chocolate chips in our cookies. We’re very careful to research our sources before we buy ingredients.
From a lady who owns a successful business selling healthy products, I'd love to hear what a typical menu looks like in your household.
Lots of organic greens — kale, chard, broccoli, bok choy, etc. Quinoa, millet and Lotus Foods’ “Forbidden Rice” are the whole grains we eat. I buy local free-range, organic eggs from neighboring farms and get organic, free-range meats as well. I make fresh raw almond milk from organic almonds, so I don’t get cow’s milk anymore. The only dairy I buy is occasional organic, raw goat’s milk cheese, and organic butter, although I’m really trying to get my husband and me off of dairy altogether, so that’s dwindling down as well. Nuts, seeds and legumes are also part of our diet — and of course, Mary’s Gone Crackers! We live in an area that is abundant with fresh, organic options (Northern California) so I’m very fortunate. When I travel, it’s much harder to stick with my regime, but I work on forgiving myself all the time.
Sounds like a delicious life! Do you have a favorite from your product line?
I go through phases — Onion Crackers, Chipotle Tomato sticks, and all the cookies depending on the day.
Do you have any tips to share with the home cook who wants to eat a healthier diet?
I think the single most healthful thing anyone can do is commit to eating organic food at home. People think they can’t afford it and there is some truth in that, but let’s look at what people pay for soda and other junk food. Shopping at farmers markets helps reduce costs. It’s also easier to think of what you want to ADD to your diet instead of just thinking in terms of what you can’t have. Eliminate refined flours and grains and add in more healthful options. Add in chia seeds in some form; add in fiber in the form of legumes and nuts and seeds; add in ice cream made of coconut milk instead of dairy; add in larger portions of fresh greens in your meals. Slowly, as your palate adjusts, the junk will disappear. Except for soda — that needs to just be eliminated cold turkey. I was raised on soda and some time in college I decided to stop drinking it. I switched to lemonade and then started diluting that with water more and more so after a few weeks I was drinking water with a splash of lemonade. Now I drink water with fresh squeezed lemon! Brainwash your children early to eat fresh, whole food. When their palates are familiar with that kind of food, they won’t like junk. It takes some work, but eating well is the best investment in your health you can make.