These top artisans and entrepreneurs are not only producing extraordinary goods, but they are also educating, giving back to their communities, reusing resources or revitalizing trades.
American-made honorees, they inspire us to rethink the way we eat, what we wear and how we experience life. Hats off to the class of 2016!
THE DAIRY DARLINGS
Uplands Cheese: Andy & Caitlin Hatch, Scott & Liana Mericka
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It takes real gumption to forge a new path in the cheese business. But that’s just what Andy Hatch and Scott Mericka did in 2014, when they took over a 300-acre farm west of Madison, Wis.
Dairy farming doesn’t exactly woo young people, especially those who didn’t grow up on their parents’ spread. But after apprenticing with Uplands’ original owners, Hatch and Mericka found ways to make farming work for their families — and to produce the country’s most-awarded cheese while they’re at it.
The Merickas manage the herd: Some 150 cows carefully crossbred from nine breeds, including Guernseys, Jerseys and Montbéliardes, to produce the grass-fed milk that is Uplands’ secret sauce.
“It’s shockingly sweet at first, and finishes green, like fresh olive oil,” says Hatch.
Meanwhile, his family oversees the cheese caves, where wheels of their pride and joy, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, dry-age. Its success has given them the flexibility to grow: They’ve also become known for rich, spreadable Rush Creek Reserve, and Hatch is now eyeing possibilities for late fall’s hay-fed milk.
That creativity makes their lifestyle sustainable — and inspiring. Says Hatch, “We want to show young families that they can stay in dairy farming.”
THE URBAN GARDENER
Eagle Street Rooftop Farm: Annie Novak
Brooklyn, New York City
Scroll through Annie Novak’s Instagram feed and you’ll spot a recurring hashtag: #ilovemyjob. There’s no doubt about it — this farmer and educator follows her bliss full time. “I’m lucky to do what suits, and feeds, my nature,” she says.
A tireless advocate for organic gardening, Novak co-founded Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Brooklyn in 2009. In an area where the ground soil is too toxic to farm, she is cultivating plants on 6,000 square feet three stories above the street. Depending on the season, you’ll find a glorious array of vegetables (think chile peppers, kale and microgreens) and cut flowers like calendula and cosmos, as well as chickens, bees and even bunnies.
Novak sells her produce on-site and to local restaurants, offers community workshops and oversees volunteer apprentices. She also wrote The Rooftop Growing Guide (Ten Speed Press, 2016), manages the Edible Academy — a forthcoming learning center at the New York Botanical Garden — and heads Growing Chefs, which works with schools to integrate gardening and cooking lessons into math and science curricula.
Her schedule would exhaust the average person.
“If you love what you’re doing, there’s no reason to stop,” she says.
THE PETAL COUTURIERS
M&S Schmalberg Flowers: Warren Brand & Debra Brand
New York City
When Warren Brand visited his father’s business in New York City’s garment district as a kid in the 1960s, before much of the textile industry moved overseas, the area bustled with racks of clothing shuttling between cutting rooms and factories. M&S Schmalberg, founded in 1916, made flowers — fabric flowers — from hand-dyed silk, wool tweed, exotic snakeskin and other fine materials.
Today, Warren, his son Adam, and Warren’s sister Debra oversee the intricate work, and Schmalberg is the last domestic manufacturer of its kind. Its exquisite blooms have appeared on designs by Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs, Vera Wang and Carolina Herrera, to name a few.
And while the company has moved through four Manhattan factories and expanded from womenswear and bridal to menswear (lapel pins are a top seller, Adam says, and Bono has worn one), its values have remained steadfast.
A seasoned team of unionized workers — some have been with the company for more than 20 years — hand-cut, mold and assemble the flowers using techniques Warren’s great-uncles developed a century ago.
Clothing manufacturing may be slowly returning state-side, but as far as this business is concerned, Warren and his family are proud to say, it never left.
THE ETHICAL ANGLERS
Loki Fish Co.: Pete Knutson and Hing Lau Ng
Decades before the local-food movement hit the mainstream, Seattle native Pete Knutson envisioned a gentler, more sustainable way to get seafood from ocean to plate. A rebel at heart (he was expelled from Stanford University for protesting the Vietnam War, but returned to get his Ph.D. in cultural anthropology), Knutson worked on big fishing boats to pay for college and didn’t like the way they handled their catch.
“My dad became alienated — you might pull 20,000 pounds in one set, and most of it gets smushed,” says his younger son, Dylan. “So in 1979, he and my mom bought the Loki.”
The Loki is a 38-foot gill-netting boat that Pete uses to fish the waters of southern Alaska and Puget Sound. Nearly 40 years later, the family still operates its wholesale and retail business out of Seattle, and sells fresh, smoked and canned wild salmon at farmers’ markets (and via mail order, at lokifish.com).
And the fish are as unprocessed as ever: “We dress them on board and immerse them in 30-degree [Fahrenheit] seawater so they get shock-chilled,” Dylan says. “The faster you handle them, the more pristine they stay.”
THE INDIGO GIRL
Stony Creek Colors: Sarah Bellos
At just 34 years old, Sarah Bellos is trying to revolutionize the fashion industry, starting with the most ubiquitous piece of clothing around: your denim.
“For the past 100 years, we’ve been wearing jeans dyed with synthetic colors made from petroleum and hazardous chemicals,” she says. “It’s time for a change.”
In 2012 she founded Stony Creek Colors, a company devoted to making plant-based dyes on a commercial scale. While the traditional natural dye-making process can take over a year, this graduate of the Cornell University College of Agriculture masterminded an accelerated process.
“We start with the plant in the morning and have dye by the end of the day,” Bellos says.
She now supplies denim lines such as Citizens of Humanity, 3x1 and Taylor Stitch, with more deals signed but not yet announced.
“By 2020, we plan to replace 1 percent of synthetic indigo with our dye — that’s millions of pounds of chemicals made from petroleum with dyes made renewably and naturally from plants,” she says.
Now that’s our kind of American dream.
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Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate