Matt Robinson’s Blowing Up – Dr Cowan’s Garden

Thomas Cowan, MD

Dr  Cowan’s Garden (www.drcowansgarden.com)

Thomas Cowan, M.D., has studied and written about many subjects in medicine including nutrition, anthroposophical medicine and herbal medicine. He is the principal author of The Fourfold Path to Healing and co-author (with Sally Fallon) of The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby and Child Care. Dr. Cowan has served as vice president of the Physicians Association for Anthroposophic Medicine and is a founding board member of the Weston A. Price Foundation®. He also writes the “Ask the Doctor” column in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming, and the Healing Arts (the Weston A. Price Foundation’s quarterly magazine) and has lectured throughout the United States and Canada. He has three grown children and practices medicine in San Francisco where he resides with his wife, Lynda Smith.

How do you define your venture?

We’re a family-owned company based in San Francisco that aims to help people diversify their consumption of vegetables for optimal health. We do that by turning organic vegetables that we grow or source into vibrant vegetable powders, which are meant to be added to such foods as soups and stews, rice and pasta, sauces and dressings, even desserts. We want to help people mirror the way the healthiest traditional peoples consumed plants, which, if the Northern California Native Americans were typical, revolved around foraging for and tending a wide diversity of wild and perennial vegetables. They ate as many as 120 different plants a year. We’re working with small, organic local farmers to grow similar perennial vegetables for us, and we’re seeking to expand to wild vegetables soon. (We also offer more traditional vegetable powders, such as Kale and Swiss Chard.) In addition to helping people diversify their vegetable consumption, we also want to help small, organic farmers make a living, so we’re giving them a market that hadn’t existed before for them.

What gave you the idea?

It was a confluence of events. First, Dr. Cowan was given access to an acre-sized garden in the heart of Napa Valley. He soon realized he was growing more vegetables than he could ever eat. Around the same time, he went to a very trendy restaurant in San Francisco called Bar Tartine. He noticed they were using vegetable powders to season their food– they gave the food incredible flavor and versatility. That’s when the light bulb went off. Turning excess vegetables from his garden into powders could not only be a healthy nutrient boost to his diet, but also a flavor enhancer that adds more variety and different flavor profiles to his food.

Who is your customer base or demographic?

The majority of our customers are very knowledgeable about food and nutrition and are interested in optimizing their own health through proper nutrition.  Our customers also want to have a bit more fun and ease with cooking.  They are also parents of picky eaters, people who travel a lot and want to take good food with them, and people who don’t have the time or inclination to cook.

How do you fit into the market?

We distinguish ourselves from other vegetable or fruit powders in the market in that our products are a food to be enjoyed because they taste great, and powders out there are just meant to be added to shakes or smoothies and guzzled down because they don’t taste very good. Ours are a food– theirs are a supplement. Our products are different because of how our vegetables are grown, processed, and stored. The general principle behind the processing of our vegetables before they are dehydrated is to get the vegetables to where they should be eaten prior to dehydration. For example, kale has oxalates and goitrogens present in raw form that have negative impacts on human health (especially the thyroid). We pre-cook our vegetables to remove these harmful substances and to also bring out the best flavor (you would never eat raw butternut squash for example). We then store the powders in Miron glass jars which protects the flavor and nutritional potency of the powders which would otherwise degrade fast due to the large surface area to weight ratio of powders.

We also have vegetables that nobody else has– these are perennial vegetables. Perennial vegetables (like the name suggests) grow for multiple years and are therefore better able to mine the nutrients of the soil– making them far more nutrient dense than the typical vegetables you find in your local grocery store or farmers market. Perennial vegetables are also a lot closer to what our paleo ancestors used to eat in their daily lives.

What do you most need to be a success?

Enough people who see the value in what we’re doing and are willing to support our “service,” which is to do the hard work of growing and sourcing amazing vegetables (many of them almost impossible to find anywhere else); turning them into easy-to-use, delicious powders; and taking the bold step of storing them in expensive (!) jars that will keep them vibrant and nutritionally potent for many, many months. In short, we need more people to know about what we’re doing because the products speak for themselves, as anyone can clearly see by the customer reviews on our website.

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