Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Greyston Marks 30 Years of Making Brownies & Social Justice

OK, while admittedly this news might be considered a tad off the Homegrown Cookbook's storyline, the fact is that the homegrown work force and ingredients and the joy of seeing two social enterprises coming together to improve their communities is, in fact, spot on to my passion for all things local, homegrown and good makes this a rather ideal and perfect story line for the blog.

I hope you agree.

My husband and I were privileged to attend the Greyston benefit fundraising event at the invitation of his boss.
What a delightful discovery to learn about her passion and commitment to this extraordinary, culinary-based cause.

In fact, Greyston's work is so profound and impactful that I was chagrined I hadn't heard about it previously.  Is it just me?

The CEO, Steve Brown, couldn't disagree...
He said they are working on it.
But there is so much of a good food/good community story there that I couldn't wait to share the news of their efforts.
Please enjoy the post and if you can, contribute to helping the Greyston effort. You can just buy the brownies!

Greyston – Marking 30 years of making brownies

Long before Sex in the City made Magnolia Bakery the talk of the town or Billy’s Bakery became the lovechild of Martha Stewart, and The Today Show, Ben & Jerry’s ( put the Greyston Bakery on the map.

But this was no fancy or delicate collaborative confection.

Rather this was a partnership forged by two titans of social justice who aimed to arm-wrestle homelessness, childcare and unemployment. 
And win.

The relationship is an enduring one – lasting some 20 years and counting. 

The back-story is Greyston founder; Bernie Glassman was running a kitchen to serve his Zen community in 1982.  
Glassman is an aerospace engineer who’s vision helped launch more than jets or rockets to take flight.
His community activism coalesced around giving hope to those in the community who have been incarcerated, struggled with substance abuse and lack of education, suffered from the double drama related to HIV-AIDS of both the disease and the stigma of having the now-curable condition, along with child care and often having no place to live.  The Yonkers and Riverdale area at that time had a soaring homeless population.  

The Greyston Bakery was launched to produce locally made food items in order to provide jobs and funding for the other legs of the efforts’ social mission.
Soon, the Bronx-based bakery was cooking up high quality food, especially baked goods and desserts for the city’s restaurants and food stores.

Bernie and Ben met at The Social Ventures Network - a conference for social justice, mission-driven organizations and struck an immediate rapport.
It’s a truism that great minds think alike so no wonder that these two optimists of utilizing culinary crafts to further a cause struck a chord.
Bernie made brownies.  Ben needed brownies for their Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream.  What could be simpler and more simpatico?

That first shipment of brownies took a bad turn, though, so it could’ve been the partnership that almost wasn’t.
But like PB&J this duo was meant to be together.

See, according to Greyston lore, it seems that “Ben & Jerry's had originally intended to use Greyston Bakery's brownies for ice cream sandwiches. Unfortunately, the brownies stuck together during shipping and arrived in one big lump of product. Instead of discarding the lump of brownies, Ben & Jerry's chopped them up and used them as inclusions in its ice cream.”

Talk about making lemonade out of lemons… or Fudgies from brownies… 
It was karma. Times the stars.

Right there on the side of the pint of ice cream (and on the Ben & Jerry website) the Greyston brownie connection is in the spotlight. 
While it’s true that any bona fide ice cream lover might plunge the scoop or spoon without reading the legend, all will be forgiven as the heavenly taste is what will eventually bring the sweet-tooths back for more.  And that’s the best news for Ben & Jerry and Bernie and Greyston. 
So for those who can’t wait to scoop, here’s what Ben & Jerry say on their pints:
“This flavor combines our great ice cream with chewy, fudgy brownies. These brownies are baked by Greyston Bakery, which provides employment and training to economically disadvantaged residents of Yonkers, NY.  We are glad to have Greyston as a business partner because we get great tasting brownies and we also get to support the good work they do to create economic opportunities in their communications.”

Today, Ben & Jerry’s represents approximately 60 percent of Greyston’s total business.
It is the sustainable underpinning that allows the Yonkers-based effort to coordinate its noble work.

Think of the delicious, handcrafted brownies as a ticket to a better life. 

Any self– respecting sweets lover knows that brownies are practically synonymous with a special treat– but in Greyston’s case, their portfolio of brownies is a means to an end. 
Greyston’s key talking point – that actually resonates because of its veracity – is: "We don't hire people so that we can make brownies, we make brownies so that we can hire people.”

Long before chefs supported edible schoolyard gardens or healthy locavore menus, there were good citizens like Bernie and Ben & Jerry who advocated food as a way to -- if not enlightenment -- at least to a better way of life here in Gotham.

The Greyston Foundation has evolved from Glassman’s kitchen in a Yonkers mansion.  After all, this wasn’t a soup kitchen kind of effort.
Rather, the mission was to offer the Greyston constituents a sustainable and permanent ticket to a better life – one where they could earn a living, live in an affordable home, and have access to affordable child care and garden-fresh food.  A life with dignity… 

The name itself is derived from Buddhism – the Sanskrit word mandala means circle.  The social enterprise notes Greyston’s Mandala is “modeled on two central principles: Mandala is a symbolic representation of the interconnectedness of all life and Path is the idea that all healthy living systems evolve along a developmental path with distinct stage.”  Greyston Mandela integrates for-profit and non-profit while joining community development with personal growth.

Greyston’s initial effort produced both savory and sweet food for commercial enterprises.
Today, the bakery is their number one, largest enterprise, representing approximately 50-60% of their effort with childcare next, followed by Housing and then by the HIV effort and the gardens.

In order to keep up with demand and sales, Greyston expanded the bakery in 2004 to its present 23.000 square foot facility. 
Through its illustrious and dedicated Board members, a New York networking connection was made by the Board Chair to no less than the award-winning architect, designer, and landscape artist, Maya Lin, who is probably most famous for designing the Vietnam Memorial and the Storm King Wavefield.  The company says it brought Lin onto the building team to give the bakery and manufacturing facility a more “aesthetic appearance.”
Take that, celebrity architects the likes of Daniel Libeskind!

The facility is a 100% LEEDS certified factory constructed on a redeveloped brownfield.

According to Greyston, the Bakery is now an $8 million for-profit company that trains and employs more than 80 people who face barriers to employment.
Greyston Bakery operates with a double bottom line, prioritizing both profits and social contributions. 
They are the primary supplier of brownies for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and produces 30,000 pounds of brownies each day.
By any measure, that’s a LOT of brownies.

Separate from its Ben & Jerry’s and commercial, wholesale business, Greyston produces an all natural line of products that taste great while supporting the greater good and can be ordered from the Greyston Bakery website: (

According to Steven Brown, president and CEO, Greyston, the food that Greyston made was always of the highest quality.  This attention to quality amplified the non-profit’s message. 
When asked if the adherence to high quality products showed just how much the creators of the food items – who are considered by some unenlightened one-percenter’s to be not so versed or capable of embracing high quality, the answer was a resounding, “Yes.” 
As a matter of fact, the goal according to founder Bernie was to show the contrast, Brown noted. The strategy was to showcase people who were usually dismissed as the “hard to hire,” and how they could – if just given the chance – produce food that is world-class and of The best quality.

In fact, Brown is proud to share how Greyston has provided food to a plethora of commercial enterprise, including top-tier restaurants and some celebrity sparklers like the White House and Ellen DeGeneres.

It’s hard to make the case that these folks and so many of Gotham’s best restaurants and grocery stores, including Whole Foods, and of course, Ben & Jerry’s, would choose to offer and feature Greyston brownies and other desserts if they were not top-tier or The Best.

Greyston led the way, demonstrating how food is a fundamental dynamic and network to benefit local communities. And others have picked up the baton.   

That said, Greyston’s Path Making program is unique. 
Based on founder Glassman’s philosophy, it is a guide to self-sufficiency. PathMaking is a holistic approach to self-sufficiency.
According to Greyston, “PathMaking is … an effort to support all its community members (staff, residents, program members, volunteers and board members) to grow and develop into stronger and healthier individuals through personal growth that includes attention not only to the initial or primary reason for their connection to Greyston, but also to the body, mind, heart and spirit”
Or in other words, Greyston fulfills the Lao Tzu Chinese founder of Taoism proverb who said, “If you give a man a fish you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime.”  In Yonkers, the team learns how to take care of themselves given the chance.

Job Creators

“We have a bias to create jobs,” said Brown. 
When pressed how Greyston increased their business by 50% thereby expanding their work force in an economic environment that was, by any economist’s barometer, probably the worst business crises in generations, Brown demurred, saying, “We had more orders.” 
He added that Ben & Jerry’s continued to grow (perhaps hard times sparks the affordable luxury such as indulging in ice cream and brownie treats).
People kept buying ice cream!
Plus, Greyston continued to attract new customers, according to Brown.
Greyston has a talking point that best describes their work philosophy:

While primarily a wholesale baker to commercial enterprise, including restaurants and food stores including Whole Foods and Whole Planet, the non-profit also offers a direct to customer web site:  Greyston’s line of brownies is a win/win treat and gift. 
Once the recipient learns of the good work proffered by Greyston, every delicious bite brings tasty and happy rewards and no guilty pleasure.

The brownies are an ideal gift for any occasion to share the good food and make a special hostess gift this time of year when heading out to visit friends and family in the country or at the beach.

The job training provided by Greyston is by and large the work in the bakery.
The also have another job training program where the sills they train for and not the ultimate employer.
For example, food prep or healthcare training are related fields where Greyston trains the employee, staying true to its mission but the staffer finds employment elsewhere - not in the bakery.

Extending the Mission

In fact, the three legs of Greyston’s mission are described as People, Profit and the Planet. 

Sustainability is increasingly integral to their socially responsible business movement.

Solar energy is yet another area where Greyston is a leader.  The renewable energy initiative, provided by Green Mountain Energy is new.

Here, Greyston is looking to not only power up the electric power needs of the bakery and reduce the electric costs but to better utilize the waste water one where they demonstrate they grew water and rood water
Greyston is justly proud to highlight they are the first non-profit in New York State to be recognized as a Certified B Corporation. 
They are in good company. B Corp recognizes those companies as the best businesses in the World for creating the most positive overall social and environmental impact.

In addition, through Greyston’s outreach with Groundwork Hudson Valley, a Yonkers community garden effort,  Greyston has been involved and supportive of urban gardens for 20 years, working to give citizens a way to grow organic, healthy food.
Chef Peter Kelly, a Yonkers native, lends his restaurant, X20 Xavier, to host the annual Greyston fundraiser gala. “The guests are treated well.  Chef Peter offers fabulous and generous hospitality,” says Brown. “It’s an unbeatable combination – great location and views and delicious food.“
Brown noted that Chef Peter does incredible things with the Greyston brownies. “Did you taste his crème brulee?” he challenged.

Looking ahead to the next 30 years, Brown sees opportunities for social entrepreneurship in addition to the bakery  - and will look for other enterprises to grow their business and bottom line.
This Examiner suggested consulting and team leadership a la Danny Meyer’s hospitality outreach. After all, as a social enterprise, Greyston has led the way with its PathMaking roadmap to self-sufficiency and independence.

Brownie Trivia
Do you know where the brownie was first conceived? 
In 1876, in Boston, a cooking school created a molasses based cookie cake baked in small tins.  The origin of the name is from the color of the cookie.  
Seems New York took more than the Babe from Boston and made it its own…

Isn’t it cosmic then that Greyston’s CEO is named Brown?

And his favorite brownie? He says it's a toss up between the Fudge and the Blondie. 

Any way you cut it, you can’t go wrong with delicious Greyston brownies – “The Brownie Company."

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