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Stony Brook Wholehearted Foods Highlighted as “Planting the Seeds for Future Success”

Featured Article in the Finger Lakes Times

GENEVA — When Greg Woodworth and his wife, Kelly, brought an online cookie- maker to the Technology Farm on Pre-Emption Road 12 years ago, they did so because of the region’s high-quality agricultural products.

The Stony Brook Cookie Co. idea soon crumbled — not so much because the Woodworths weren’t selling many of them, but because they saw opportunity in another food concept: creating culinary oils from seeds that would otherwise have been sent into the waste stream.

Fast-forward more a decade later, and the seed is still the basis for all Stony Brook Wholehearted Foods products. The effort has garnered critical praise, growing sales and new products.

Its Butternut Squash Oil recently won Silver in the Specialty Food Association product awards for 2018. It was selected by a panel of judges that included chefs, culinary instructors, recipe developers, food writers, and specialty-food buyers with expertise in particular categories — in short, people who know food.

The competition was keen.

“We were not just up against our region, but around the world,” Greg Woodworth said.

Stony Brook’s product lineup has expanded from culinary oils into healthy snacks and seed protein powders. As for those seed snacks, the company has a heavyweight grocer in its corner.

Wegmans, whose footprint continues to grow along the East Coast, is selling the company’s seed snacks at its 97 stores.

As for how seeds became the backbone of its business model, Woodworth said he has worked in partnership with the experts at the Cornell Food Venture Center on the campus of Cornell AgriTech, formerly known as the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station.

He was matched up with Martin Farms, which is based in the Monroe County town of Clarkson, near Brockport. Martin Farms, a large producer of butternut squash, was looking for ideas on what to do with the seeds from its processed squash. The ultimate answer: Press the seeds and create an “olive oil of the Finger Lakes.”

Said Woodworth: “We don’t grow olives, but we do grow a lot of squash and pumpkins.”

However, it took time to develop the concept into a marketable product, Woodworth noted.

“For us, it was like, ‘How do you get oil from butternut squash seeds?’ ” he said.

With plenty of help from Cornell, they figured it out, forging a business partnership with Martin Farms that has grown from a small number of seeds for experiment into 20 tons annually. They’ve also moved beyond those squash seeds and into pumpkin seeds as well, Woodworth said.

“It certainly has grown,” Woodworth confirmed.

The oils were available online only at first. Now, online sales represent the smallest slice of revenues, Woodworth said, noting the rest of the sales come from wholesale and retail sales outlets. He added that Geneva’s Red Jacket Orchards has “almost everything we offer.”

Retailer F. Oliver’s sells the company’s butternut squash oil under its own label at its stores in Canandaigua, Rochester and Ithaca. They have about 20 similar customers, he said.

The butternut squash oil, said Woodworth, has a “pleasant, warm nutty, butter flavor” with a high smoke point, meaning cooks can safely heat the oil to a maximum of 425 degrees. It’s versatile enough to use with dishes from breakfast — everything from oatmeal to yogurt — to dinner, when it can be used in cooking or in a vinaigrette. Woodworth said one of the product’s fans is chef Christopher Bates of FLX Table on Linden Street in Geneva.

It has the same flavor profile as the more expensive Japanese sesame oil, he noted.

While the oil business is somewhat mature, Woodworth sees great potential in seed snacks.

“Beverages and snacks are the big movers” for food retailers, he said.

He said Wegmans loved the pumpkin seed product, especially because the seeds are grown locally at Martin Farms — not in China, the source of about 95 percent of the pumpkin seeds produced for snacking in the U.S.

“(Locally sourced seeds) was the first thing (Wegmans) loved,” he said, adding that perhaps just as important was that Wegmans “loved the product.”

Unlike most pumpkin seed snacks, these seeds don’t have a hard shell; rather, there is just a thin membrane.

“It’s an immature shell,” he said. “That green skin is where the nutrients are. They’re soft and easy to eat.”

Woodworth said the “goal is to grow” Stony Brook, and that he expects they’ll need to add another shift of workers at some point if the company’s snack lineup sales continue to accelerate.

“We’ve been able to more than double our operating footprint” at the Tech Farm, he said.

“They have expanded this past year,” said John Johnson, executive director of the Technology Farm. “We’ve basically doubled their space. Their next step is probably their own facility. They’re about as big as they can get (here).”

Any additional growth at Stony Brook will be done methodically, Woodworth stressed.

“We don’t want to over-leverage in labor and equipment,” he said, explaining that many promising companies fail because they try to expand too fast.

Johnson said Stony Brook Wholehearted Foods is a “classic example of what we like to see,” meaning they worked in collaboration with local farmers and Cornell researchers to develop unique products that turned the company from start-up status into an established business.

Johnson called Stony Brook a great tenant at the Tech Farm, and praised its owners as great citizens.

“They are wonderful people and very active in their community,” Johnson said. “They are very generous with their time.”

Read the entire article in the Finger Lakes Times

Stony Brook Wholehearted Foods

Location: 500 Technology Farm Drive, Geneva

Founded: 2010

Employees: Five

Phone: (877) 292-8369

Social Media: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@StonyBrookOils)

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