Danny Houghton says many people know that organic farming is done without the use of synthetic pesticides and genetically modified organisms.
But, according to the vice president of marketing and sales for One Degree Organic Foods, most consumers aren’t aware of “organic’s dirty little secret”—the fact that organic farmers are allowed to use animal waste from non-organic sources to fertilize their fields. In an interview, Houghton asserted that such animal by-products can contaminate the soil—and the crops—with antibiotics, hormones, and chemicals.
“The organic movement is something we very much support and are very proud to be a part of, but we think this is a loophole that needs to be addressed,” Houghton—who is vegan and lives in Blaine, Washington—said at the Georgia Straight offices in Vancouver.
Last spring, One Degree began shipping breads, flours, and seeds to Canadian and U.S. retailers. The Abbotsford-based company’s products are not only vegan and certified organic; they’re on the leading edge of the veganic cultivation movement.
Veganic agriculture is organic farming that’s free of animal products. For reasons such as health, the environment, and animal rights, veganic growers use plant-based fertilizers instead of blood meal, bone meal, fish emulsion, and pig manure.
“They go back to more time-honoured methods of fixing nutrients in the soil,” Houghton said. “They do things like crop rotations and cover crops, where they’ll grow a crop that they then plough in to fix the nutrients. Things we’ve been doing for hundreds and thousands of years, where we don’t need these outside animal inputs.”
One Degree shares its Abbotsford plant with sister company Silver Hills Bakery, which makes vegan and organic—but not veganic—breads from sprouted whole grains. Silver Hills cofounders Stan and Kathy Smith—Houghton’s parents-in-law—founded One Degree as an “ingredient-transparent and veganic brand” in 2011.
While a number of vegetable and fruit growers are practicing veganic agriculture, Houghton believes One Degree is the first business applying veganic principles to consumer packaged goods. Its 17 “premium” products, which are also verified by the Non-GMO Project, range from ancient whole wheat and lentil grain breads to hemp seeds and sprouted spelt flour. A line of cereals is expected to launch in 2013.
Houghton also maintains that One Degree is the “first company that’s ever done a consumer packaged good with multiple ingredients that are fully traceable back to the farm”. The packaging for every One Degree product bears a QR code. If consumers scan the two-dimensional barcode, they’ll see a full list of ingredients on their smartphones. Each ingredient is linked to information about its source, complete with photos and videos from the farm or supplier—whether it’s in Canada, the U.S., Mexico, or Germany.
Indeed, Houghton insists One Degree isn’t just a food company, but also a technology and media business. It took two years to build the software to support their food-traceability goals. In June, this effort at transparency won One Degree a Nexty Editors’ Choice Award in the food and beverage category.
“It’s a totally different business model, so there are some inherent business challenges in that,” Houghton said. “But we’re hoping that the transparency will be something that people will appreciate and reward with their consumer dollars.”
In the absence of formal standards for veganic agriculture, One Degree visits its farmers and requires that they sign statements committing to adhere to veganic principles. Houghton said he would like to see his company help establish a veganic certification program in North America in the next few years. But he’s aware that some multinational corporations that market organic goods might not welcome this.
“When you’re looking at some of the huge companies that do organic, that are based strictly on profit, I think that those people are probably going to want to sideline the veganic conversation within the organic community,” Houghton said. “We’re wanting to be a good citizen, and we’re wanting to do everything we can. I’m expecting that we’ll have a little bit of push-back with time as we try to promote the veganic growing process.”