Today I wrestled with a decision about which organic flour to purchase at Whole Foods. Weighing sustainability is, admittedly, a high end problem.
Should I choose flour grown and milled in New York state by a privately owned company, owned it part by a farmer, or flour made by an employee-owned company from 100% American wheat? Which is the more sustainable choice?
The answer doesn’t come easily.
And what I’d much prefer is a share in production from a local flour mill. I keep hoping.
I initially thought of the farmers in New York and the punishing weather they had to endure last year. After all, this was last year’s harvest. My thoughts then migrated to the mill and how rare it is to have locally milled flour. It’s actually a luxury. And shouldn’t the entrepreneurs be rewarded for taking a risk in resurrecting a dying art, all in the name of delivering a superior tasting local product?
But what of the 341 owner-employees of the other company? From my former career in finance, I know how an Employee Stock Ownership Program (ESOP) works. It’s a powerful wealth generation machine for employees who are literally invested right alongside senior management in the company’s success. When the company is thriving, everyone wins. This one is; it’s also the oldest flour company in the country, was named the Employee Stock Ownership Program Company of the Year in 2016 by the ESOP Association, and is a founding member of BCorp.
And what about great flavor? The allure of locally grown and milled flour is compelling due to its freshness and artisan production. But the other brand sells a lot more, and therefore has likely spent less time on the shelf. A side-by-side comparison taste test of flour is something I’m considering. But it’s not really necessary.
I’ve decided to allocate my dollars to both companies by alternating purchases. This month the employee-owned company gets my dollars, partly because two bags of specialty flour from the NY company are already sitting in my freezer (whole grain flours go rancid quickly at room temperature).
As my family enjoys homemade pizza, banana bread, zucchini muffins, and biscuits in blueberry sauce this summer, I’ll tell them how we’re supporting those 341 employees and the organic farmers who grow their wheat. They’ll make believe they don’t care, but when I least expect it, I’ll hear one of them explaining to a house guest why the flour we’re eating is so special and why we feel good about buying it. Ditto for the farmer grown and milled.
Before you pounce on me for not mentioning price, I will state the obvious: paying a premium is a given when workers are fairly compensated and food is grown organically. And yes, price variability between sustainable brands can be material.
How do you decide which sustainability factors are most significant in your purchasing decisions? Is it local first? Quality first? Lowest price always wins? And what of convenience? Fair employee compensation? B Corporation? And of course flavor!
Please share your thoughts below.