This Sullivan Partner School Makes Its Own Vino to Help the Wine Industry

When you drink a glass of vino from the University of Kentucky Winery, you won’t just get a pleasant buzz—you’ll also be helping the state’s commercial wine industry.

When you think about wine, you probably think about Italy or France—or maybe Northern California. But the University of Kentucky (UK), a Sullivan Foundation partner school, wants you to think about bluegrass country instead. UK students, faculty, staff and retirees can now buy wines grown and produced locally by the UK Winery—and available only online—with all proceeds going to support grape and wine research that helps to advance Kentucky’s wine industry.

The U.S. wine industry is valued at around $88 billion, while it’s a $364 billion market worldwide. In Kentucky, boosting the prospects of wineries can mean more jobs and possibly tourism dollars, especially if the wines can compete in taste with Californian or overseas varieties.

There are currently 74 commercial wineries in Kentucky. UK’s vineyard research at the Horticulture Research Farm, part of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, focuses on developing grape production practices that improve fruit quality and labor efficiency and reduce pesticide use. Researchers have evaluated more than 100 wine grape cultivars and numerous grapevine rootstocks for commercial viability.

Related: Furman grad’s startup promotes sustainable behavior with refillable containers

UK’s wine production research identifies methods to produce wines that reflect Kentucky’s unique soil and climate. That work includes identifying and using native yeast and bacteria to conduct fermentation.

All UK wines are produced using only fruit grown at the Horticulture Research Farm. Currently, there are 15 white, rosé, red, sparkling and fruit wines available, with nine wines newly released.

this photo shows grapes being grown for the University of Kentucky Winery.

The grapes are growing in the vineyard at the UK Horticulture Research Farm. (Photo by Stephen Patton.)

Those new wines include the 2017 Quercus alba, a full-bodied white wine. Extended aging in oak barrels gives it a bourbon-ish flare. The 2017 Flora is a dry white wine with an aroma of melon, apple and floral notes balanced with an earthy spice.

Both new rosés are 2017 vintages. Saignée is a dry wine with a high acid taste, and Verona is an unfiltered dry rosé with an intense fruity aroma.

The latest red wines are all 2017 vintages. Querus rubra is a dry red wine aged for 12 months in new Minnesota oak barrels from Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville. South Farm Red is dry with a dense color and classic red wine texture and just enough tannin to make things interesting. Carbonic, a balanced white wine with low alcohol and moderate acidity, has low but well-balanced tannin and a slight bitterness.

Related: Purpose-driven VEDGEco is first national wholesaler of plant-based foods

Finally, the new sparkling wine, Chambourcin (2015), is similar in style to traditional champagne. Extended bottle aging in the presence of yeast provides a complex fruity-yeasty bouquet and a creamy mouthfeel. The 2017 Solidago is similar in style to dry/brut prosecco.

To wish to purchase wine through the UK Winery Web Store, you must be affiliated with the university. You’ll have to fill out a member registration form on the site, http://winery.ca.uky.edu/. After submitting an order, members may pick up their wines curbside at the UK Horticulture Research Farm in Lexington. Detailed descriptions of the wines are also available on the winery site.

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the University of Kentucky website.

Zume’s Pizza Robots Now Make Sustainable Containers for the F&B Industry

The story of Zume, a Silicon Valley company that earned international media coverage in 2017 when it launched a pizza kitchen manned partially by robots, seemed to have an unhappy ending: Zume started backing away from its pizza-making robot model in late 2019 and laid off most of its staff in 2020. Anti-tech scoffers snickered, and the media suddenly forgot the company’s existence.

But Zume’s robots haven’t ended up in some futuristic landfill. According to CNBC, the tech company has “recommissioned” its fleet of robots to make sustainable packaging, including takeout containers for restaurants. And considering that the sustainable packaging industry is projected to grow to $413.8 billion by 2027, that might have been a smart move.

There’s little doubt Zume was a tech innovator. In addition to its pizza-making robots, the company developed predictive software that forecast what kinds of pizzas would be ordered on any given day, enabling the company to prepare a daily inventory using its robotic assembly line. The robots stretched dough balls into 14” discs and squirted and spread sauce over each dough skin. Human employees then added the toppings, and another robot removed the pie from the make line and into a double-decker oven for par-baking. Zume also equipped a fleet of delivery trucks with computer-operated ovens, which were used to finish the bake on the pizzas en route to the delivery customer’s doorstep. By the time the truck arrived, the pizza had usually just come out of the oven.

Related: Furman grad’s startup promotes sustainable behavior with refillable containers

this photo shows a robot created by Zume that's now used to develop sustainable packaging

Vincenzo was said to be Zume’s smartest pizza-making robot. (Photo credit: Zume)

This so-called “cobot culture” model was so revolutionary that Zume attracted $375 million in investment dollars from SoftBank in late 2018. But a year later, things started going awry. “One of the problems that we encountered in pizza was, our beautiful pizza—with no stabilizers in it—in a traditional box declined in quality from the time you cooked it until the time it was delivered, to the point that we didn’t think it was good enough,” Zume Chairman and CEO Alex Garden told CNBC.

Fortunately, all that cutting-edge technology has been put to a new use to help the environment. Zume’s pizza-making robots are now being used to press and mold agricultural waste into sustainable containers to help leading brands in their mission to eliminate plastic. Corporate giants like PepsiCo and Unilever, long under fire for using plastics that are bad for the environment, have set a goal to design 100% of their packaging to be reusable, recyclable, compostable or biodegradable by 2025.

Zume developed a customized round, compostable pizza box for Pizza Hut.

Related: Shake Shack starts testing sustainable, biodegradable straws and cutlery

Zume now operates a compostable packaging facility in Camarillo, California. On its website, the company says it’s dedicated to “replacing single-use plastics with 100% compostable, plant fiber-based products.” These products can be used in foodservice, healthcare and cosmetics as well as consumer goods.

Zume products designed for the foodservice industry include meal boxes, bowls and beverage cups. They’re made of moldable fibers like sugarcane, bamboo, wheat and blends of various grass fibers.

“When you look at what you want your food containers to do, it’s not an exhaustive list: prevent leaks, water-proof, leak-proof, and with snap-tight container closure,” writes Vaibhav Goel in a blog on Zume’s website. He adds that, with Zume’s products, “all of these qualities are available in a cost-effective and ethically manufactured solution.”

This article has been edited from the original version appearing at PMQ.com and is republished here with permission.

Furman Grad’s Startup Promotes Sustainable Behavior With Refillable Containers

Michaela Barnett, a 2015 graduate of Sullivan Foundation partner school Furman University, has a couple of good reasons for wearing a T-shirt to work.

One reason is that the shirt displays the name of her startup company, KnoxFill, a zero-waste household products store.

The other reason is that, thanks to her passion for conservation and her work at Furman’s Shi Institute for Sustainable Communities, “I’m not a big shopper, as you can imagine,” she laughed.

People do still need to shop, however, and using refillable containers is one way they can help reduce harmful waste. That’s where KnoxFill comes in.

Related: Girl Scout creates sustainable shopping maps to combat fast fashion

Customers in the Knoxville, Tenn., area can place orders for products like shampoo, liquid castile soap, concentrated cleaner and even dental floss. KnoxFill will then deliver the products—many of which come from local suppliers and family-owned businesses—in refillable containers. Later, customers can place the empty containers on their front steps, and KnoxFill will pick them up and replace them with fresh products in reused containers.

“Just like the milkman,” Barnett said.

Barnett, who holds a B.S. in sustainability science from Furman and is nearly finished with her Ph.D. studies in behavioral science from the University of Virginia, said that the union of those two fields led organically to her new business.

“I came to realize that most of the sustainability problems I wanted to solve had to do with human behavior,” she said. “I understood the problem really well, and I know how to analyze it from a systems-analysis perspective. But, as we know, humans are embedded in every part of the process.”

Among KnoxFill’s products are refillable containers of Castile soap.

Offering consumers a sustainable alternative can inspire more sustainable behavior, Barnett realized. KnoxFill is currently the only refillery in her area, although several have sprouted up elsewhere in Tennessee and other markets nationwide. Future hopes include moving the three-month-old business from her home into a brick-and-mortar location and expanding her staff beyond her current part-time employee.

“People are really hungry for alternatives,” she said, “and the community response has been overwhelming in the best possible way.”

Raised on a hobby farm in central Ohio, Barnett “loved the earth and really became embedded in it,” she said. But it wasn’t until she moved to the suburbs of Houston, Tex., as a high schooler that her environmental consciousness began to flower.

Related: Elon University social entrepreneurs help black-owned businesses find new customers

“I really started to see a lot of opulence, a lot of waste,” she recalled. “I became that kid in high school who was sorting through trash at the end of events and was really distressed by all the things we were throwing away.”

At Furman, sustainability science and the Shi Institute were fertile ground.

“I was like a little baby plant, and Furman nourished me,” she said. “There were all of these students and faculty and staff who cared about the same things and helped push me forward.”

She met several energetic mentors who shared her passion, including professors Brannon Andersen, Betsy Beymer-Ferris and Bill Ranson; Shi Institute Executive Director Weston Dripps; and Furman Farm Manager Bruce Adams.

“I would not be the person that I am today without the community of people that I was fortunate enough to grow with and be with at Furman,” Barnett said.

After spending some time “living out of an oversized backpack” in Spain, Costa Rica, Belize and Thailand as a trip leader for Wilderness Adventures and teaching at a boarding school in Switzerland, Barnett was ready to plant herself somewhere back in the Southeast. She made a list of five cities, picking Knoxville “kind of on a whim,” she said.

Barnett, who balances managing her three-month-old company with her duties as an editor at Behavioral Scientist magazine, understands that refillable containers are not the only—or even the most important—way to solve our sustainability crisis.

“The place where we solve these problems is at the level of the system,” she said. “It’s with policy, and it’s with the largest plastic polluters. It’s not all about the individuals making better choices, even though I’m helping them do that. We’ve really got to change the system.”

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Furman University website.

The Summer of Sullivan: Summer Workshops for Leadership and Transformative Action Kick off May 18

Call it the Summer of Sullivan: The Sullivan Foundation’s Summer Workshops for Leadership and Transformative Action will kick off on May 18, 2021, in Greenville, S.C., offering a 10-day experience that will reenergize college students’ passion for igniting change in their communities after a long, challenging pandemic year.

The workshops will be held May 18-28, and participating students can earn college credit through OM Study USA. The program costs $1,500, which covers lodging, food and adventures in Greenville and in Asheville, N.C.

Click here to sign up for the Summer Workshops for Leadership and Transformative Action.

The workshops will offer learning outcomes that stimulate deep reflection and transform the educational experience. Students will gain knowledge in cutting-edge concepts to develop their leadership skills and create transformative action plans that pull together converging concepts and practices to provide innovative solutions to real-world problems.

The program’s workshops include:

Workshop 1
Foundations of Leadership: Approaches, Applications and Self-Development

Through self-assessment questionnaires, students will gain an awareness of their own leadership philosophy, traits, skills and behaviors. Real-world observation exercises will help them better understand the fundamental methods practiced in organizations, while reflection and action activities will give them an understanding of and appreciation for the unique dimensions of their own leadership style.

Workshop II
Community Engagement and Problem Analysis

Students will identify a community-based problem, link it to a broader issue and draft a strategy for addressing the problem through a project. They’ll learn how to develop a public narrative, build asset and power maps, forge partnerships and draft a project plan for use back on campus to practice their community-engaged leadership skills.

Workshop III
Business Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Design Thinking

Students will learn about organizational structures while gaining an understanding of internal processes that affect the function of organizations. They will also come away with an understanding of ideas, skills and strategies for effective changemaking in the 21st century.

To round out their summer adventure, students will go on excursions to Asheville, N.C., for whitewater rafting on the French Broad River, a tour of the Biltmore and a mountaintop zipline tour while also exploring downtown Asheville and Greenville.

Changemakers Can Leap Back into Action With Sullivan’s Summer Leadership Workshops in May

With an end to the pandemic in sight at last, college changemakers are ready to leap back into action, and the Sullivan Foundation will help them get started with a 10-day summer workshop series this May.

Sullivan’s Summer Workshops for Leadership and Transformative Action will be held May 18-28 in Greenville, S.C. College credit can be earned through OM Study USA. The program costs $1,500, which covers lodging, food and adventures in Greenville and in Asheville, N.C.

Click here to learn more and sign up for the Summer Workshops for Leadership and Transformative Action.

The workshops are designed for all majors and for recent graduates. They will offer learning outcomes that stimulate deep reflection and transform the educational experience. Students will gain knowledge in cutting-edge concepts to develop their leadership skills and create transformative action plans that pull together converging concepts and practices to provide innovative solutions to real-world problems.

The program’s workshops include:

Workshop 1
Foundations of Leadership: Approaches, Applications and Self-Development

Through self-assessment questionnaires, students will gain an awareness of their own leadership philosophy, traits, skills and behaviors. Real-world observation exercises will help them better understand the fundamental methods practiced in organizations, while reflection and action activities will give them an understanding of and appreciation for the unique dimensions of their own leadership style.

Workshop II
Community Engagement and Problem Analysis

Students will identify a community-based problem, link it to a broader issue and draft a strategy for addressing the problem through a project. They’ll learn how to develop a public narrative, build asset and power maps, forge partnerships and draft a project plan for use back on campus to practice their community-engaged leadership skills.

Workshop III
Business Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Design Thinking

Students will learn about organizational structures while gaining an understanding of internal processes that affect the function of organizations. They will also come away with an understanding of ideas, skills and strategies for effective changemaking in the 21st century.

To round out their summer adventure, students will go on excursions to Asheville, N.C., for whitewater rafting on the French Broad River, a tour of the Biltmore and a mountaintop zipline tour while also exploring downtown Asheville and Greenville.

Purpose-Driven VEDGEco Is First National Wholesaler of Plant-Based Foods

By Tracy Morin
Editor, PizzaVegan.com

We know that necessity is the mother of invention—and that’s certainly true for VEDGEco, the United States’ first nationwide wholesaler of 100% plant-based foods, headquartered in Kailua, Hawaii. The company was born when Trevor Hitch, founder and CEO, was working for a Hawaiian food company and witnessed how difficult it was for independent plant-based food brands to gain traction through national food distributors. “At the same time, I saw how challenging it was for independent restaurants to get access to quality plant-based products,” Hitch recalls. “That was my aha moment—I realized there was a need that wasn’t being met. That’s when VEDGEco was born.”

For Hitch, who has personally been 100% plant-based for more than 19 years (and in the food industry for more than a decade), VEDGEco began as a passion project and organically grew into something much bigger. Today, the company offers a carefully curated selection of versatile plant-based products in foam-free, recyclable and compostable packaging, to create as little environmental impact as possible. Meanwhile, as VEDGEco foods are available to consumers, restaurants and other foodservice industry businesses across the United States, Hitch asserts that his company is “on a mission to enable freedom of food choice at mealtime.”

Related: This sustainable restaurant will top its pizzas with rejected veggies to combat food waste

Plant-Based, Purpose-Driven
Hitch notes that VEDGEco has been a purpose-driven business from the beginning. “We prioritize people, animals and the planet over profit,” he says. “We are especially focused on making it easier for independent restaurants to add plant-based options to their menus. This approach not only brings in new customers; it helps their bottom line as well.” (See the below sidebar for some eye-opening stats on how plant-based is growing worldwide.)

VEDGEco stocks a range of 100% plant-based alternatives to foods like meats, cheeses, seafood, eggs and butter, and all products are available to restaurants and consumers. Its VEDGEco Plus program, designed specifically for wholesale and foodservice partners, offers volume discounts and free shipping on case packs. “Since we launched nationally, we’ve seen exponential growth, with extremely high numbers of repeat customers,” Hitch says. “Many of our independent restaurant customers have told us that the response to new plant-based dishes on their menus has been very positive and resulted in increased sales and foot traffic.”

In the pizza world specifically, several of VEDGEco’s pizzeria customers have increased their plant-based cheese orders week over week due to the positive response from their guests. “Another restaurant customer told us that the response to plant-based dishes has been so good, they have now added plant-based versions of every animal-based dish on their menu,” Hitch reports. “Now, plant-based items make up the majority of their sales!”

this is a photo of a vegetarian pizza made with seitan-based sausage crumbles available through VEDGEco, a national wholesaler of plant-based foods for the restaurant industry

This pizza features seitan-based sausage crumbles from Blackbird Foods, one of VEDGEco’s wholesale partners. (Photo by Blackbird Foods)

Taste-Tested, Vegan-Approved
Hitch explains that VEDGEco chooses to carry brands based on the quality of their products and consumer demand—and everything the company carries must pass a vigorous taste test conducted by its staff. Some current best sellers include BE-Hive Plant-Based Pepperoni, Daiya Mozzarella Style Shreds, Blackbird Sausage Crumbles, All Vegetarian Drumsticks, ForA:Butter plant-based butter, All Vegetarian Vegan Bacon, JUST Egg, Impossible Burgers, and Plant Ranch Carne Asada.

And, to the joy of pizza lovers everywhere, VEDGEco offers a build-your-own pizza starter kit so that customers can customize the contents to their needs. “The future is plant-based, and pizza is no exception,” Hitch says. “Two of our most popular vegan products are BE-Hive Plant-Based Pepperoni and BE-Hive Garlic Chz Shreds [a garlic-flavored vegan mozzarella]. This dairy- and nut-free plant-based cheese alternative is packed with flavor that takes your pizza or Italian meal to the next level.”

Related: GreenToGo makes it easier for restaurants to kick the styrofoam habit

As for the future of the plant-based/vegan movements, Hitch predicts continued growth. “Over the past few years, plant-based eating has exploded with demand and become more and more mainstream in many parts of the country,” he concludes. “People are opening up to the realities of the health and environmental benefits of eating less meat, and there’s a growing awareness about the horrors of factory farming and inhumane treatment of animals.

“All of these factors are contributing to more plant-based offerings, innovative products, and a growing demand for delicious plant-based dishes in restaurants. There is no limit to how much innovation we are going to see in the plant-based food industry—the future really is limitless.”

VEDGEco even offers plant-based foods for pets, such as these healthy treats from the Louisville Vegan Jerky Co.

Key Stats: The Growth of Plant-Based

● The plant-based alternatives (to conventional animal foods) retail market is now worth more than $3.7 billion.

● According to Meticulous Research, the plant-based food market is expected to reach $74.2 billion by 2027.

● According to The Good Food Institute, adding plant-based entrées can provide an important point of differentiation for restaurants by adding interest to the menu, allowing for innovation, and aligning the restaurant brand with customer values around health and environmental sustainability.

● A 2018 study from Foodable Labs found that in just 12 months, restaurant owners experienced a 13% growth in business when adding vegan options.

Related: How restaurants can help reduce food waste

Eco-Conscious Shipping
VEDGEco prioritizes running a sustainable wholesale operation, so the company ships its plant-based products in foam-free, recyclable and compostable packaging to minimize environmental impact. “It’s also very important that our brand partners share the same level of respect for our planet as we do, and that’s why we only sell 100% plant-based brands,” Hitch adds. “We’re also continuously opening up additional distribution centers across the United States to minimize our product’s time in transit and further reduce our carbon footprint.” Finally, the company enforces a $100 order minimum, ensuring the boxes are fully packed to reduce split shipments and stay ice-cold during transit.

This article has been reprinted with permission from PizzaVegan.com, a national website providing news and information about the vegan and vegetarian pizza movement. View the original article here.

Rapper J.I.D. and MOD Pizza Join Forces to Help People Struggling in the Pandemic

She lost her job, her health insurance and her car during the pandemic. But when it looked like things couldn’t get much worse, a young woman in Decatur, Georgia, got an uplifting surprise from MOD Pizza, a leading social impact company and one of the country’s fastest-growing restaurant chains, and Grammy-nominated rapper J.I.D., becoming the first beneficiary of the fast-casual pizza chain’s new Random Acts of MODness initiative.

In a video released by MOD Pizza (see below), J.I.D. is shown meeting with the unnamed woman at a MOD store for a pie and a chat. He then led her outside, where he presented her with a brand-new four-door sedan bedecked with a giant red bow.

Related: How Malawi’s Pizza is leading the social enterprise movement in the pizza restaurant segment

The giveaway was part of the launch of Random Acts of MODness, MOD’s year-long campaign to grant wishes to individuals or organizations in need across the United States. J.I.D will help MOD grant additional wishes via Twitter, the company said.

Beginning on March 25, Twitter users anywhere in the United States are invited to tweet their wish or a wish for someone else to @MODPizza with the hashtag #RandomActsofMODness. MOD and J.I.D are looking for large or small ways to help—whether paying a utility bill, purchasing clothes for a job interview, providing a bus pass to get to work or a gift for a special birthday. Nothing is off limits, the company said, and there are no strings attached.

As the year continues, MOD Pizza said it will look for ways to fulfill more Random Acts of MODness on social media.

“It’s been a tough year and we know folks are struggling,” J.I.D. said. “So I’m excited to partner with MOD to spread some love in our local communities. We all need a little help from time to time, so hit us up!”

Ally Svenson, MOD’s co-founder and chief purpose officer, added, “We’re so inspired by the impact that a kind gesture can have on someone’s life and the ripple effect that this can create. We call it ‘Spreading MODness.’ J.I.D is helping us spread more MODness and positively impact more lives, and for this we are so grateful!”

In a feature story earlier this year, PMQ Pizza Magazine, the trade publication for the pizza restaurant industry, asked MOD Pizza co-founder Scott Svenson if he considered his company to be a social enterprise. “I guess the answer would be yes,” Svenson said. “When we started MOD, we referred to it as a crazy social experiment that would combine the best of a for-profit business with the heart of a nonprofit, whereby the more successful we were, the better and bigger social impact we would make.”

During the pandemic, MOD has reinforced its commitment to making an impact on the communities it serves. For example, MOD said it has delivered 180,000 meals to kids and families impacted by COVID-19 and fighting food insecurity in partnership with the anti-hunger nonprofit Generosity Feeds. MOD also aided 46 local and regional food banks and backpack programs to help tackle hunger in local communities during the annual Spreading MODness week.

MOD Pizza this year partnered with the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation (NRAEF) on the HOPES Program (Hospitality Opportunities for People (Re)Entering Society), which creates job opportunities and training for young people re-entering society after serving prison sentences. HOPES is a collaboration between businesses, state restaurant associations and community-based organizations that provides pathways to success for justice-involved individuals looking for a new start. The partnership launched in March in Chicago-area MOD Pizza locations, with plans for a nationwide rollout later this year.

MOD Pizza has also made a commitment to hire people with autism and other differing abilities who otherwise have trouble finding employment.

J.I.D. was born and raised in East Atlanta, where he grew up on his parents’ collection of classic funk/soul LPs. He broke onto the scene with his 2015 EP, DiCaprio, which saw him collaborating with hip-hop duo EarthGang, whom he’d previously joined on a 2014 tour that included Bas and Ab-Soul. During that tour, he was spotted by J. Cole who signed J.I.D to his Interscope Records venture, Dreamville Records.

Soon after signing to Dreamville, J.I.D made his major-label debut with the widely celebrated album, The Never Story (2017)The effort was closely followed by the critically acclaimed DiCaprio 2 (2018), which received major looks from Rolling Stone, Billboard, NPR and more. In 2019, J.I.D continued his momentum with contributions on Dreamville’s platinum-certified compilation, Revenge of the Dreamers III, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 charts and received multiple Grammy nominations, including Best Rap Album and Best Rap Performance.

Elon University Social Entrepreneurs Help Black-Owned Businesses Find New Customers

By Patrick Wright, Elon University

Go to college. Graduate. Find your dream job. That’s how things are supposed to work, right? But what if you reached what you thought was your goal and turned it down with no alternative in sight? Now, that takes boldness.

Doug Spencer Jr., a 2016 graduate of Sullivan Foundation partner school Elon University and a former Elon Youth Trustee from Washington, D.C., had already enrolled in his dream law school when a summer job at a law firm changed his mind.

“It didn’t fit—it didn’t feel right to me,” Spencer said. “I called [the law school] and told them, ‘Thank you, but I’m not coming.’”

Related: This Black-owned food delivery company helps make Black-owned restaurants more competitive

“I definitely wasn’t skipping through a field of daisies either,” added Danielle Deavens, a 2016 Elon graduate who majored in print and online journalism. She’d landed a job at Food Network Magazine after graduation and realized her dreams were somewhere else.

The search for a dream isn’t the only thing connecting Deavens and Spencer. They’ve dated since they met as first-year students at an Elon soccer game in 2012. Eight and half years later, they’re taking on a bold new business venture together—one meant to support and celebrate Black-owned businesses.

“You usually don’t work with the person that you spend the rest of your life with, and so being able to do both is at times hard, but it’s mostly the best job ever,” Deavens said.

Products from Black-owned businesses are prepared for shipping at Bold Xchange.

Together, the couple launched Bold Xchange, an online retail shop that markets products exclusively sourced from Black-owned businesses, in February 2020. Bold Xchange offers a convenient way to find Black-owned businesses across the country and promises fast shipping, no hidden fees, vetted products and thoughtfully crafted rewards.

Deavens and Spencer research and acquire products from brand partners, market them and handle fulfillment of every order themselves. It’s no simple task, but the opportunity to help good businesses break down barriers far outweighs the work required, the couple said.

“You’re reminded every day about how meaningful this is because you’re working with people who are also nourishing their baby,” Spencer said. “Their business is something they’ve put so much time into.”

Bold Xchange’s work with Black-owned businesses has already earned the company national attention. Since the online shop’s official launch in 2020, Bold Xchange has been featured by TODAY.com and partnered with Home Depot to curate a Black History Month box, containing Black-owned products, to be shipped to customers and influencers.

Related: This Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award recipient beat breast cancer and helps other Black women do the same

Deavens and Spencer also recently received a $50,000, equity-free Arch Grant to relocate Bold Xchange to St. Louis, Missouri, and use warehouse space there to grow their business further.

The most meaningful aspect of their first year of business, however, has been the opportunity to help Black-owned businesses thrive, even amid a global pandemic. “It’s so rewarding to talk to brand partners who say, ‘I had a banner year, and I couldn’t have done it without you guys,’” said Deavens. “That’s the dream—that you help somebody have a really great year.”

Bold Xchange was born out of a series of seemingly unrelated events. When Spencer passed on law school, he published a post about the difficult decision for a friend’s blog. His story garnered a great deal of attention and encouraged others to reach out to him for advice in making their own bold moves. That interest inspired Deavens and Spencer to start a blog of their own, “The Curatours,” which focused on young Black people doing notable work.

this is a photo of Danielle Deavens, co-founder of Bold Xchange and a social entrepreneur who helps black-owned businesses

Danielle Deavens

Around that time, Deavens was checking off presents from her Christmas list when a friend told her about a Black-owned formal-wear company that would be a great place to buy a pocket square for her father. Deavens enjoyed the shopping experience so much that she decided to buy all of her family’s presents that year from Black-owned businesses, but she was surprised by how difficult it was to find businesses to support.

Soon after, Deavens and Spencer launched Bold Xchange, combining their passion for sharing stories of Black excellence with their goal of supporting Black business owners.

“It was kind of born out of knowing these great Black-owned businesses existed, knowing it was a personal connection that led me to them, and wanting it to be a more accessible and simple experience,” Deavens said. “It all kind of started there.”

Related: Elon University student’s clothing brand combines positive message with entrepreneurship

The summer of 2020 gave the couple’s work new meaning, as cries for social justice rang out across the nation. In the weeks following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor—and the nationwide protests that followed—Bold Xchange saw a spike in visitors looking for ways to support Black-owned businesses. With the increased interest, the shop frequently ran out of inventory, and Deavens and Spencer even struggled to keep a supply of shipping boxes in stock.

But the success of their business wasn’t front of mind at that moment. Their focus was on making a statement. “We want to be a part of convincing people that this is something they should care about forever,” Spencer said. “So for both of us, it’s like, yes, we’re supporting these entrepreneurs, but how do we engage with people who are now paying attention and help them understand that this isn’t a fad, it isn’t fleeting?”

Doug Spencer co-founded Bold Xchange to create new opportunities for black-owned companies

Doug Spencer

Deavens and Spencer are continuing on with that message in mind, as they form strong personal connections with the Black business owners who help make Bold Xchange a success. They’ve spent time learning about their stories, their concerns and their dreams, and the couple hopes to see brand partners reach their personal and business goals through Bold Xchange.

“I think there are these headlines around what supporting Black entrepreneurship means, and those are really important, but we’ve gotten to see the human element behind that and the actual impact that we can make in real people’s lives,” Deavens said.

Just like the brand partners they support, Deavens and Spencer have learned that stepping out on faith isn’t always easy. And it doesn’t always work the first time—just ask them about the 2018 beta version of Bold Xchange. Two years later, however, they’re running a successful business together and looking to expand their operation. And all it took was a little boldness—boldness that doesn’t stop here.

“If we’ve done this in one year, where will we be in five? Where will we be in 10?” Deavens said. “We have really lofty goals for Bold Xchange, so to be able to start to see even some of those come true is incredible.”

This story has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Elon University website.

The Citadel Alumnus, Former Miss USA Lu Parker Spreads Kindness Through Entrepreneurship

Lu Parker, a 1993 alumnus of The Citadel Graduate College, former Miss USA and popular TV news anchor in Los Angeles, doesn’t dawdle in the slow lane. She’s flying along numerous professional pathways, and, while she’s navigating, she’s deliberate about conveying one key message: Be kind.

“The best is when someone sees my t-shirt or hoodie while I’m wearing it and stops me to say, ‘I love your shirt!’ or ‘What a great message!’ When that happens, it makes me realize that I am doing the right thing. It’s working,” Parker shared in a recent interview with The Citadel, a Sullivan Foundation partner school.

Related: Dr. Sarah Imam of The Citadel teaches the human side of medicine

As a journalist with two decades of experience (including with WCSC-TV in Charleston, S.C.) and multiple Emmy awards, Parker anchors four hours of news daily for KTLA in Los Angeles. Additionally, she is an inspirational speaker, an author and the founder of Be Kind & Co., which recently launched a line of apparel.

Prior to her career in broadcasting, Parker was a ninth-grade English literature teacher. In 1994, while she was a teacher, Parker captured both the Miss South Carolina USA and Miss USA titles, going on to place fourth in the Miss Universe Pageant.

But, before all of that, Parker graduated from The Citadel Graduate College in 1993 with a Master of Arts in Education, after earning a BA in English Literature from the College of Charleston.

According to its website, Be Kind & Co. “focuses on kindness through acts, community events, health and fitness, animal welfare, food and beverage, travel and so much more. We love all things kind and are spreading a message that kindness is strength.”

After the launch of the Be Kind & Co. apparel line, The Citadel Graduate College reached out to Parker to ask her to share some reflections. This is what she said.

Q: What is your goal for Be Kind & Co.?

Parker: We strive to help all people better understand and embrace the power of kindness. My goal is to use Be Kind & Co. as a way to share content, experiences and merchandise that inspires all of us to be a bit more kind each day. I truly believe that each kind act, even if small, helps to collectively heal the world.

In 2021, we launched our BKC Apparel line, and we are thrilled to be seeing so many people wearing our merchandise around the country, including in South Carolina. We like to say it’s “Merchandise with a Message.” We share small sayings like, “Be a Kind Human,” “Born Kind,” Be Kind Y’all” and “Never Underestimate the Power of a Kind Woman.”

this photo shows former Miss USA Lu Parker wearing a t-shirt from Be Kind & Co. and holding an acoustic guitar

Q: Why did you create Be Kind & Co.?

Parker: The original concept of Be Kind & Co. was created after I experienced an unfortunate situation where I was attempting to be kind to someone and it backfired on me. At the time, the experience made me seriously question kindness. I questioned my urge to help people and literally almost gave up on being kind ever again. But, eventually, I came to my senses and realized that kindness is a gift that I cherish. Be Kind & Co. was originally a blog, but now it’s more of a life-style media company that shares content, offers merchandise with messaging and creates a space where people can share insights into the power of kindness.

I am also in the early stages of writing a book about my experiences and how I handled it. I am also looking forward to traveling again to speak around the country at conventions and venues on “How Kindness Creates Success.”

Related: Small acts of kindness create big impact with Furman University’s Heller Service Corps

Q: Why did you pursue a Masters of Education, and why did you select The Citadel Graduate College?

Parker: I was already interested in English literature and hoped to one day teach on a college level. My mom suggested that I apply to The Citadel because I was living in Charleston at the time and she said the program had a great reputation.

I have fond memories of attending the Citadel Graduate College. My professors were helpful, and the process was a smooth experience. I believe that anytime you set a goal in life, personally or professionally, you must complete each small task while staying focused on the future goal. Studying at The Citadel allowed me to further my education so I could eventually teach high school. I did teach high school at North Charleston High School after graduating from The Citadel.

Q: What is your greatest achievement to date?

Parker: I would say I have been very fortunate in my life and had the opportunity to experience a lot of wonderful moments, including attending college, winning Miss USA, winning Emmys, traveling the world, working in TV news, meeting celebrities, going to Hollywood events, and even writing a book … But I still don’t consider those accomplishments. They were all wonderful experiences. To answer your question about my greatest achievement to date, I would say it’s the fact that I have never given up on the belief that kindness can create huge change. Kindness can save a life. Kindness can shift the world. Kindness is strength. It’s a daily practice that I hope I can continue to share through my writings, my company and my voice.

this photo shows news anchor Lu Parker wearing a hoodie that promotes kindness

Q: What would you say to young women considering various careers about innovating their own pathways or even multiple careers?

Parker: I am a huge believer that life is better when you love what you do. I always suggest to young women and men to find a career or a path to that career that lights a fire inside of you. I love my job as a TV news anchor because I am able to combine my love of writing, reading and interacting with people. It’s the same with my company, Be Kind & Co. Creating a company takes a lot of behind-the-scenes work. It’s challenging and can be overwhelming, but when you feel good about what you are doing, then it’s worth it. I also totally believe that it’s never too late to change your profession or start a company, non-profit or passion project. It may require you to work after your “real” job, but, again, when the passion is there, it won’t always feel like work. It’s a joy.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, I want to add that I one-hundred-percent believe that when women support each other’s success, we all succeed.  There is so much success available out in the world. Let’s help each other along the path and celebrate each other! That’s true kindness!

This story has been edited and condensed from the original version appearing on The Citadel’s website.

 

Shake Shack Starts Testing Sustainable, Biodegradable Straws and Cutlery

In an effort to reduce its carbon footprint, popular burger chain Shake Shack has begun testing biodegradable straws and cutlery at six locations in California, New York and Florida.

The company has teamed up with Restore Foodware, headquartered in Huntington Beach, Calif., on the pilot program. Launched in 2020, Restore describes itself as the world’s first natural and regenerative foodware brand “on a mission to help end the flow of plastic into the ocean.”

Related: This sustainable restaurant will top its pizzas with rejected veggies to combat food waste

Restore’s sustainable straws and cutlery are an alternative to single-use plastics, the scourge of the planet’s oceans and waterways. Restore replaces plastic with ocean-friendly AirCarbon, a natural, carbon-negative material that feels like plastic but degrades naturally if it ends up in the environment, according to a press release from Shake Shack.

AirCarbon contains no synthetic plastics, PLA or synthetic glues. It requires no food crops for production and is home-compostable, soil-degradable and marine-degradable.

As Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN) reports, AirCarbon is also called PHB). It’s a molecule manufactured by nearly all living organisms. It melts like plastic but will break down in the environment like leaves and stems. PHB is obtained from oceanic microorganisms and cultivated in a stainless steel tank, then filtered, powdered and turned into pellets that can be melted and shaped into foodware utensils. These utensils will degrade naturally, unlike plastic utensils and straws, which have a much longer lifespan.

this is a photo of a biodegradable straw from Restore Foodware, a sustainable alternative to plastic straws

Restore Foodware’s biodegradable straws offer a sustainable alternative to single-use plastic.

The new sustainable, ocean-friendly straws and cutlery are being tested at Shake Shack locations in West Hollywood and Long Beach, Calif.; Madison Square Park and West Village in New York; and Miami Beach, Fla. Another Shake Shack restaurant in Santa Monica, Calif., will begin testing the biodegradable utensils in the spring.

Related: Is your used pizza box recyclable? Here’s how to find out.

“As of now, we’re focused on the pilot,” Jeffrey Amoscato, Shake Shack’s senior vice president for supply chain and menu innovation, told NRN. “We look forward to hearing guest response and feedback.”

Shake Shack has also announced plans to start using recyclable aluminum bottles instead of plastic bottles at select locations on the West Coast starting in April.

The AirCarbon pilot program is part of Shake Shack’s “Stand for Something Good” initiative that focuses on responsible sourcing of ingredients and community outreach and give-back.