By Katie Horner, UVM Food Systems Graduate Fellow
In the world of energy bars, there are countless options, and many of those options contain bizarre ingredients that most of us can’t even pronounce. Fortunately, those in need of an energy boost here in the Green Mountain State can ignore the overly abundant, mass-produced products and simply reach for a Garuka Bar. These locally-made, small-batch bars feature raw Vermont honey in a recipe designed to provide the ideal pre-exercise combination of natural carbohydrates and healthy, plant-based fats.
In addition to being a delicious way to fuel up and stave off hunger during a workout or hike, Garuka Bars are also helping stave off hunger for a number of Vermont families this holiday season. For the third year in a row, Garuka donated one meal to the Vermont Foodbank for every one of their bars purchased during the week leading up to Thanksgiving; an additional meal was donated for every customer who posted their bar purchase on social media using the hashtag #VTBizCares. This year, the company donated 1,616 holiday meals, an almost 300% increase from the 600 or so meals they were able to donate in 2015. While impressive even out of context, these meal donations become even more important when you consider that an estimated 153,000 Vermonters need to access food shelves and meal service programs each year.
While for many individuals and businesses this kind of philanthropic giving is limited to the holiday season, for Garuka it is a central tenet of the business’ mission. Since its inception in 2011, Garuka has focused on a unique hybrid of local and global social responsibility. While the company focuses on supporting innovative local producers here in Vermont, it also donates 1% of profits to support gorilla conservation efforts in Rwanda. The name of the company translates to ‘return well’ in the national Rwandan language of Kinyarwanda. This concept pervades the company’s social endeavors, such as their partnership with the Vermont Foodbank. For a small business, Garuka has a big impact.
If you ask company founder Mike Rosenberg, this is in part thanks to the support Garuka received from Sodexo over the past five years. Garuka bars are sold at almost every Vermont institution served by Sodexo and at some of the food service provider’s accounts in New Hampshire and Maine. The relationship operates as a two-way street: not only does Sodexo provide a large market for the local energy bars, the bars also align with the goals of Vermont First and the Real Food Challenge, two initiatives that represent core values of many Sodexo accounts in the state. In this way, Garuka exemplifies how local businesses benefit from increased institutional demand for local products.
This begs the question, what is the relationship between local business and addressing hunger in Vermont? According to the Vermont Foodbank website, of 51 donor businesses, about 75% are Vermont-based. When one considers the significant impact that local businesses have on addressing dire problems, like hunger, that affect Vermonters, the mission of Vermont First takes on another dimension. In promoting local products like Garuka Bars, not only is Vermont
First fostering the local Vermont economy; it is also promoting a network of businesses that together are working to help Vermonters in need. So it seems appropriate, at this time of year, to remember the impact we can all have by supporting Vermont businesses, and therefore Vermonters, first.