In 2006, a Biological Sciences alumna and Hotel School alumnus created Stony Brook Wholehearted Foods, a business that turns vegetable seed waste into culinary oil.
Kelly Coughlin ’93 and Greg Woodworth ’94 originally ran a cookie company, but changed their business when they were offered the opportunity to collaborate with the Cornell Food Venture Center and Martin Farms. They began producing squash and pumpkin seed snacks and culinary oils from the farm’s food waste. The business then became “one of America’s few artisan makers of culinary oils made exclusively from domestically sourced seeds,” according to the business’s website.
Woodworth said making a sustainable business model “centered” on seed waste was “something that presented itself” rather than being a problem he and Coughlin were looking to solve.
Martin Farms, located outside of Rochester, N.Y., is an annual grower of winter squash. During the harvesting and processing of the squash, 30 to 50 thousand tons of seeds are produced as a byproduct, according to Woodworth. Rather than let the seeds go to waste, Stony Brook figured out a way to compress them and make oil. They have since widened their product offerings to pepita seed snacks, protein powders and animal feed.
Woodworth said the challenge for Stony Brook Wholehearted Foods has always been to “get American consumers interested.” In order to overcome that, Woodworth and Coughlin employ “product demonstration,” he said.
“By physically being there and sampling out the oil, we tell the customers the uses and the nutritional benefits,” Woodworth told the Sun. “We really are trying to give the customers the education and transparency about the business and the philosophy of the industry.”
CFVC is an organization that seeks “to enhance food safety and promote economic development,” according to Dr. Bruno Xavier Ph.D ’08, extension associate and processing authority for the center. Xavier said the center has provided “comprehensive technical assistance” to Stony Brook throughout their collaboration, which is an important aspect of the CFVC’s mission. This help is “critical” for the company’s growth, Woodworth said.
“For a small company, those steps are really important to get right out of the gate and [the CFVC] has been really invaluable for doing that for us,” Coughlin said.
Through the CFVC, Stony Brook was offered another opportunity to look into possible uses for industrial hemp.
Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) “asked Cornell to be the leader of getting a mandate for industrial hemp to be a new specialty crop in New York state,” Woodworth said. “Stony Brook has been asked to participate in that to show what the food products are that could be derived from the hemp crops.”
Stony Brook Wholehearted Foods also worked with Cornell undergraduate students in Food Science 4000: Capstone Project in Food Science on product development of vinegar. Marin Elise Cherry, undergraduate program coordinator in the Department of Food Science, said this is a real “enriching experience for students” that gave them a “significantly deep understanding” of the food industry.
“The students who work with them have a very unique perspective on the growing sector of the food industry which is a return to local food and specialty food,” Cherry said.
Looking forward, Stony Brook hopes to expand its market and find additional farms to work with. In an area like upstate New York, where farms and small businesses are a large part of the local economy, Stony Brook plays a critical role in connecting the two, according to Woodworth.
“Stony Brook is in the business of creating new, alternative, sustainable natural food products that are farm friendly and derived in the Finger Lakes,” Woodworth said.