047 – Juliet Wiebe-King, East Bali Cashews
Community Work. Meet Juliet Wiebe-King, head of marketing and social media for East Bali Cashews, a division of Red River Foods. An entirely new type of company with a community-centric business model. Completely sustainable with zero waste and a tiny carbon footprint. The ultimate in buy local. Gourmet cashew snacks as an economic savior? It’s possible. Just ask founder Aaron Fishman. Bali? I’ll admit, given my mission and region, when Juliet emailed I wasn’t sure. I get a lot of emails from folks selling a lot of products. But then I looked at the website and watched this video. I knew I had to talk with her. Because it’s an amazing story.
A graduate of UVA, Juliet studied marketing and management and majored in anthropology. Hooray for humanities majors! She is now in charge of sales and marketing for East Bali and a perfect spokesperson to spread their mission of social, economic, and environmental sustainability.
Red River Foods is a leading importer of cashew nuts in the United States. All of their other dried fruits and nuts are in bulk, and East Bali is their first branded retail product. Lucky for us, they’ve selected Charlottesville and Richmond as their first North American distribution areas. East Bali Cashews is an Indonesian startup, a social enterprise started specifically to make a difference in the community – the first large-scale, modern cashew processing facility in all of Indonesia. Founded by Aaron Fishman, a philosophy major. There’s that humanities degree at work again! While on a medical mission trip to Bali, Aaron saw a need. This isn’t the Bali of Eat, Pray, Love, all beaches, yoga, and smiling gurus. In the Desa Ban collection of villages there is poverty and very little opportunity. The climate is arid so little grows there. But it’s perfect for growing cashew trees.
Aaron arrived at the height of cashew season and noticed everything being shipped to Vietnam and India for processing. Why not keep production in the village? Provide a sustainable economic boost to help heal this region? He set things in motion. Partnering with Indonesian businessmen, East Bali is now 4 years old with 350 employees. Ninety-five percent of the employees are women and 100% of the benefit stays in East Bali. In 2015 the Secretary of State awarded East Bali Cashews the Award for Corporate Excellence.
Juliet found out about the company from the UVA Career Center and two weeks after graduation, she was on a plane. She fell in love with the country, the people, and the product. It just so happens she arrived when the company was considering a distributor based in Richmond, Virginia, her hometown. It was kismet. She knew she had to help, so she flew back and talked to Red River. They hired her immediately. A match made in heaven.
These aren’t your average gourmet cashews. The factory is HACCP-certified and all of the processing machinery is powered by cashew shells so it’s completely carbon neutral. The cashews are harvested from old-growth trees on local farms without the use of pesticides or fertilizers. Every flavor, including chocolate, garlic pepper and chili crunch, uses no artificial flavorings or preservatives and all are shipped fresh within five days of picking.
Cashews are not nuts, but seeds. They can be expensive because processing takes several steps. First, the cashew apple is picked. These are edible with the texture and taste of a green banana. The seed is then dried in community drying centers and steamed to remove the caustic resin within the shell. Oddly enough this resin is used in brake fluid! Then the cashews are roasted and peeled by hand. So every cashew in the bag is whole. By far the best tasting cashews I’ve ever had.
But East Bali Cashews isn’t resting on its laurels. Cashew seasons are short so Aaron and his team are working to develop other products to help the economy stay solvent, including growing hibiscus for tea. Developing schools, community centers, farmer improvement programs, and a type of eco-lodge where tourists and community groups and visit and learn.
Cashews are a healthy part of any diet, full of the good fats you’d find in avocados or olive oil. They have a high rate of satiety. So stock up! You can find East Bali Cashews at The Fresh Market, Timbercreek Market, Feast!, Salt, Take It Away, Calvino Café, Rebecca’s Natural, Blue Ridge Country Store, My Chocolate Shoppe, Greenberry’s, Revolutionary Soup, Foods of All Nations, Ellwood Thompson’s, Little House Green Grocery, Good Foods Grocery, Saison, Coleman’s, Union Market, and Home Goods across the United States.
Juliet and Aaron are living proof a humanities major can take such a degree and succeed in business. Both have taken on huge responsibility. After talking with Juliet I’ve no doubt Red River has selected a young woman passionate about the product and the community’s mission. I’m so glad I talked with her. Now, every time I open a bag, not only am I chomping on something scrumptious, but continuing to fulfill my podcast’s mission. Community. Enjoy.
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