Young, Inspired Food Innovators Come to Ashland

Cynthia Whitty
Brian Neyenhouse, Nutty Bird Granola
Issue Date: 
August, 2018
Article Body: 

The Ashland Farmers Market (AFM) continues to make a big impact on our town, bringing fresh, local produce and quality artisans regularly to downtown. The market supports local businesses and helps revitalize downtown. The market also serves as a small business incubator, allowing entrepreneurs to try out their products on a small scale before expanding. An example of this is Julie’s Z Breads, which started at AFM and then expanded to a storefront at 50 Main St.
Read about a couple of new food innovators, who are getting their start at the Ashland market.
Ben Aalvik, Co-Owner, Fully Rooted
One such food vendor is Ben Aalvik co-owner of Fully Rooted Juicery, a cold-pressed juice and kombucha company. (The other owners are Amanda Repose and Angelo Mollis). Some of their most popular products are seasonal juices, such as Watermelon Slice (watermelon, apple, lemon, beet), Echinacea Sunrise (orange, pineapple, cucumber, beet) and the year-round staples: Carrot, Apple and Green Lemonade (apple, cucumber, spinach, celery, lemon).
“It all started back in 2013 when a group of seven friends came together to make juice for an event at Grace Yoga Studio in North Kingstown, Rhode Island,” Aalvik said. “We all had unique health challenges that brought us into the juicing world, which was introduced to us by our dear friend Steve Carlson who was juicing for his rheumatoid arthritis. Steve was off all his medications and injections after six short months of daily juicing, which inspired us all to get into it.”
“After the event at Grace Yoga where we were all asked many times, ‘Where are you located?,’ we decided to locate ourselves at one farmers’ market every other week. From that point, we added more markets to our lineup, and after four years, were attending up to 11 markets per week in the summer. What made that possible, was a business loan for a commercial cold-press juicer. We went from juicing one gallon per hour at the market with six people working, to juicing 10-20 gallons per hour so we could send one person each to multiple markets,” Aalvik explained.
“We went on to create juice cleanses and new products, like Hemp Mylk and Kombucha,” Aalvik said. “Last October, we opened our first retail location at the mill where we produce in Pawtucket, RI. We’ve also partnered with businesses such as SALT Cycle Studio in Tiverton, The Woods Yoga in Lincoln, the Lululemon stores in Rhode Island, and NBX Yoga in Narragansett, for various events and offers. Working with other like-minded businesses has been a big focus within the last year, and we look forward to more opportunities with them in the future. We could have our next retail store this year!”
The Role of
Farmers’ Markets
“The farmers markets have been instrumental in our growth, allowing us to spread out to new areas and reach new fans that support local businesses and have more health-minded goals,” Aavlik said. “These events are so helpful in joining new communities without the cost and work of opening a brick and mortar store. We also occasionally do pop-ups in local businesses we relate to, which really helps with exposure on both fronts. A bulk of our following is females, so we like to partner with boutique fitness studios that have the same following. But we do have followers of all types, ages, and interests, which has been really fun to get to know so many different people.
“Is juicing a fad? Some may say yes, but juice has been around for so long. The cold-pressed method we employ has brought it to the most pure, nutritious and delicious level that I don’t think it’s going away any time soon. There will always be that newest and greatest thing in the ‘health’ world, but since juice is such a real and invigorating thing, it should hold its ground. As far as kombucha [a cultured, probiotic rich tea that has been fermented], which is one of the fastest growing trends in beverages right now, we will have to wait and see. It’s functionality, flavor, and expandability have me thinking—how could it ever go away?”
Brian Neyenhouse,
Nutty Bird Granola
Brian Neyenhouse was a professional chef in Seattle. After he got married and had two kids, Neyenhouse decided that a chef’s life is not a family man’s life, working late nights and weekends. So he became a stay-at-home dad. Friends were impressed with his granola and suggested he go into business. This is his first year selling Nutty Bird Granola, named by his kids.
“We live in Sherborn, so the Ashland market is very local for us, which I like,” Neyenhouse said. “We do our cooking out in Shrewsbury at the Worcester Regional Food Hub where they have an incubator kitchen that we rent. It’s a wonderful place that allows small businesses like me to try things out without having to commit a huge amount of money to having our own space.
“We have tried our best to keep ingredients local whenever we can. We get our oats from a small grain farm in Skowhegan, Maine, called Maine Grains. Our Maple Syrup is from BS Maple Shack in Auburn and our honey comes from Merrimack Valley Apiaries in Billerica. Being a small local producer, I think it’s really important to support other small businesses in the area. I also think that people have a better connection to food when it is something local and tangible.
“Along with local comes the quality of the ingredients that we use. We have tried to find the very best quality ingredients that we can. And working with smaller local farms allows us to get a quality that we could never find if we were trying to buy in bulk at a lower cost. While it would save us money, it wouldn’t accomplish our goal, which is to make the best granola we possibly can.
“I do think there will be a strong market for our granola. So far we have had a very nice reception from folks. I think people these days put an importance on quality food products, and I think that is where we fall. While our granola is more expensive than most you would buy at the grocery store, I think just looking at it gives you an explanation as to why. We use a lot of nuts in our granola, which is one of the things that makes it taste so good, but there is a cost to that versus using 90 percent oats and sugar. Also, using the maple syrup and honey as our primary sweeteners gives our granola a one-of-a kind taste that is hard to replicate.
Lessons From
His Chef Days
“I have brought two great lessons with me from my cooking days. First, just a philosophy on food. When I was cooking, the restaurant I was at placed a huge premium on purchasing the highest quality ingredients they could, and then not doing much to change them. That has always been one of my biggest philosophies with all food. I’ve tried to bring that same theory to our granola. When you take a bite of our granola, you should taste each nut. You should feel the crisp crunch of the oats, and you should taste the maple syrup and honey. I hope that each person can identify the ingredients through taste and smell. I also learned the importance of flavor profiles, and trying to balance the tastes. That was something we did a lot with food, and I’ve tried to carry that over. I hope that when people try our granola they notice the nice balance of sweet and salty, instead of just a rush of sweet and sugar.
“Food is definitely where my passion lies, and I love all of the community support that is out there for small local businesses!”