John Roulac, CEO of Nutiva on Why Regenerative Agriculture is the Climate Change Solution
Carbon can be our friend, not the enemy.
John Roulac is the founder & CEO of Nutiva, the leading organic super foods brand of hemp, coconut, chia, and red palm, but he certainly has more things on his plate. His childhood experience with nature led him to explore practical solutions to pressing environmental challenges. As a longtime advocate and activist of organic farming, GMO labeling, and nourishing food, he spends a lot of time supporting nonprofit organizations involved in regenerative agriculture and carbon farming. He is an investigative thinker that often publishes articles on climate change solutions. John is currently working on a major motion picture documentary feature Kiss the Ground to raise the awareness around regenerative agriculture as a solution to climate change.
I spoke to John to learn about his story with Nutiva, and more importantly, why regenerative farming is an effective and critical solution to climate change.
In the 1980s, you started a company to teach people on how to compost and even published a book on that topic. Can you share a sneak peak of your early life and what made you so environmentally conscious?
Some people collect arts, and my mom and dad collected a private island in the Pacific Northwest. In my childhood, I spent a lot of my summer time on the island with no running water, no electricity and lived very closely to the nature. That experience from a very young age taught me to respect nature, and also understand natural systems.
What led you to found Nutiva?
In 1990s, I was advocating for industrial hemp, which is originated from China and I also saw Canadian farms growing hemp. So I started Nutiva to start a market so the farmers can sell their crops. I even sued the US DEA to keep hemp foods legal. I thought if I can start a company in the U.S., I can help jumpstart a market in the U.S. which we have now.
From coconut oil, hemp, red palm, you seem to have this special capability to predict next trend of super foods. How did you do that without a classically trained marketing background?
I am a foodie, so I am always looking for the food that I want to eat. It was easier a decade ago because not so many people were interested in healthy food. At that time, coconut had a pretty bad reputation so it was an easy one. I thought I could really sell a lot of coconut because it is just such a wonderful product. The same thing happened to chia. We grew from not selling any chia to becoming the number one chia brand. For me, it is more of an intuition that comes with constant observation.
As you mentioned coconut oil didn’t enjoy a good reputation a decade ago. What made you so courageous to promote and sell it given a lot of pushbacks?
Yes a lot of challenges indeed. It is probably something I learned from my parents. Doing something that you firmly believe in and you are passionate about, even if it is not popular. That has been my path since I was young.
At Nutiva, the four core values are Innovation, Purity, Community and Well-being. As the company grows so rapidly, how do you ensure your team shares the same values?
That’s also a challenging one. We have guest speakers to educate our employees and film screening sessions every month. We encourage employees to engage with community volunteer work. We also try to hire people who are committed to our mission and vision, but of course, it is easier said than done.
You are an active advocate for regenerative agriculture or carbon farming. Can you explain briefly what does that mean and why it is important to the climate?
Sure. It is growing food or raising animals in a practice of organic farming that puts the carbon (CO2) from the atmosphere back in to the soil, where it belongs. It is a way to reduce greenhouse emissions but also helps restore the landscape.
Unfortunately, the climate change groups look at carbon as the enemy of our mother nature. I mentioned in my recent article at EcoWatch, it is important to decarbonize our energy. Yet equally important is to recarbonize our soils. There is a scientific research that a mere 2 percent increase in the carbon content of the planet’s soil could offset 100 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions going into the atmosphere.
You are working on a film called Kiss the Ground which is soon to be released by end of 2017. What do you like to convey to the public through this film?
In 2014, I came up with the idea to create a documentary about the power of soil and regenerative agriculture to reverse the climate change. We are working with this amazing organization Kiss the Ground and we are at the final stage of filming. They already have The Story of Soil released on their website, which is a quick tutorial series.
If regenerative agriculture is the top solution to combat climate change, who should be playing a major role in this movement?
Changing the USDA policy probably will be the best thing to motivate farmers to adopt more regenerative farming practices. I also hope that consumers are changing their diet and buy more organic food.
What’s your advice to a young person who wants to make an impact in the food industry?
I would suggest to actually go learn more about food, go work in a farm and get involved with nonprofit organizations that are advocating sustainable farming. Cook more and go to farmers market. Participate conferences such as Eco Farm to learn and network.
If you can envision a food ecosystem in 10 years, what would that be?
The majority of our crops and animals are raised with a regenerative practice. I also hope that more people are eating healthier and a better environment.