Arjan Stephens: Growing an Organic Legacy

When I think of people and organizations that are pioneering the organic agriculture industry, Arjan Stephens and his family’s company, Nature’s Path, are top of mind. As the Executive VP of Sales and Marketing for Nature’s Path, Arjan is responsible for leading the strategic direction of a large, family company that ships its organic cereal across North America and the UK. His passion for organic agriculture and environmental sustainability is certainly apparent. In addition to driving sales of organic breakfast foods, Arjan is involved in education and advocacy initiatives around GMO labeling, promoting organic food certification, and even teaching free organic vegetable gardening classes. I had the chance to sit down with Arjan and ask him about what it means to support the organic industry.

Why is organic agriculture important to you?

My grandpa Rupert was a pioneering organic berry farmer on Vancouver Island and taught our family the importance of always leaving the soil better than we found it. This value is the founding principle in organic agriculture and was passed on to me. Organic agriculture is the only food system we have that works with nature to deliver long-term sustainability for both people and planet. That’s why everything we make at Nature’s Path is certified organic – made without toxic synthetic pesticides, herbicides, genetically modified organisms, artificial colours or preservatives.

How important is the education aspect in selling organic cereal to consumers? What has been the most effective method in building consumer awareness for your brand?

People are becoming more engaged and connected to their food supply – a connection that had faded over recent generations. There is still a lot of misinformation out there, so we do our best to use available platforms to cut through the clutter and educate -  the back of Nature’s Path products is used as an education tool, as is our website and social media channels. We’ve also teamed up with others in the organic food movement to create the Only Organic campaign whose witty videos and messages have reached millions. Stepping even further outside the cereal box, we are the presenting sponsor of an award-winning documentary GMO OMG to help further educate people on their food supply.

Arjan and his wife Rimjhim making a batch of Love Crunch Cereal

Which is your favourite Nature’s Path cereal?

The nearest and dearest to my heart is our Love Crunch premium granola. When my wife and I got married, in lieu of traditional gifts we asked our guests to give the gift of service. As a token of our appreciation for their good works we gifted them granola we created with our favorite decadent organic ingredients – aptly named Love Crunch. The granola was such a hit, we decided to make it a full-fledged Nature’s Path product. In honour of the granola’s philanthropic roots, we introduced a Bite4Bite program where for every bag of Love Crunch granola sold, Nature’s Path donates the equivalent in food or cash to food banks across North America.

In your work to grow the organic food industry, you have been involved with a number of initiatives around GMO labeling. Why is it important for consumers to know whether GMO ingredients are in the food they eat?

I believe that people should have the right to know what’s in their food and make informed decisions when it comes to feeding themselves and their families.  Currently in North America nearly 80% of foods in the grocery aisle contain genetically modified ingredients, but you’d never know by looking at the labels. Foods that contain genetically modified organisms are labeled or even banned in over 64 countries around the world, and I believe that Canadians and Americans should have that same level of transparency. That’s why at Nature’s Path we have our products certified organic and Non-GMO Project verified so that consumers can see the labels on our packaging and know that what they’re buying has been produced without GMOs.

Your family’s background in organic food goes back several generations. What lessons from your parents and grandparents would you want to pass on to future generations?

My grandfather’s words are definitely ones that I hope are echoed in the minds and practices of future generations. Striving to leave the earth better than we found it is a goal rooted in sustainability, community, and positivity. It’s a thoughtful and impactful barometer for decision making; the world would be a better place if more people were mindful of the power of giving to receive as opposed to simply taking.

We hear that when you’re not working on Nature’s Path’s strategic marketing efforts you can often be found tending an organic urban vegetable garden. Do you have any tips for people wanting to build a thriving organic vegetable garden of their own?

It all starts with the soil – from vital soil one can grow great plants that are high in nutrition and great taste.  One of my favorite methods of building up the soil and starting a new organic garden is the lasagna method of gardening.  Simply layer unprinted cardboard on your lawn with compost, grass clipping, and leaves.  The cardboard will kill the grass (no heavy digging here) and the worms and microbes will do the rest of the work in decomposing your layers.  You will be left with a raised bed that can be planted with delicious veggies.

Photo credit: The Deeper Side Blog

What is your favourite outfit for eating a bowl of organic Nature’s Path cereal?

The Two Birds Cypress Crew sweaters are the perfect outfit for a bowl of love crunch – they have the perfect fit to keep me warm.  I feel happy that when I wear any Two Birds Apparel clothing the fabric is all organic cotton free from synthetic colours, GMOs and toxic chemicals.

My other favorite is the WeWood watch – the most sustainable wooden watch I've seen outside of a sundial!