On October 5th, attendees gathered at Riverwood Farm in Biggs, California to listen to Kaben Kramer of Tenderly Rooted tell his story of creating a Direct to Consumer market for his walnuts.
Visitors were greeted by Kaben and Jenn Kramer of Tenderly Rooted Farm with an inviting display booth showcasing the Tenderly Rooted Farm’s neatly packaged, sprouted walnuts on shelves – a recreation of what a customer would see at a farmers’ market. Kaben Kramer is dressed to represent his walnut brand – a Tenderly Rooted Farm T-Shirt with their logo inspired by an image Kaben saw in Thailand, accompanied with a waist apron.
Before talking about his family’s adventure of marketing sprouted walnuts, Kaben emphasized that good walnuts start from the soil. Jenn and Kaben Kramer are passionate about their care for the soil and regenerative land management practices. Some land management practices they use include incorporating cover crops, solar energy, and beneficial insect releases. They emphasize that the maintenance of “good microorganisms” in the soil is what can sustain the health of their walnut trees, some dating 66 years old.
Kaben does not shy away from discussing the difficulties of finding an economically sustainable system for their walnuts. In fact, Kaben confesses that the farm lost money the first four years of farming, especially when making $1.00 per lb, at most, for walnuts during their first year. Though for walnut growers, this confession doesn’t seem to come as much of a surprise.
In order to keep afloat, Kaben had to rely on a side hustle of selling sprouted walnuts. The process of producing sprouted walnuts starts first by soaking them in water, rinsing them in a salt bath, then dehydrating them at low temperatures until ready. This process reduces both the tannin levels and allergens. With the added value of processing the walnuts, sprouted walnuts were able to be sold at a premium. Then in 2021, with a loan from his wife, Jenn Kramer, and a few very successful years of having sprouted walnuts as their side business, they were able to take the leap and make walnut production their sole source of income.
With the success of the sprouted walnuts and deciding to make that their full time enterprise, Kaben and Jenn had to find the right market. By this point, they had already found that selling on-site and at farmers’ markets was not enough. What did work, though, was utilizing the power and reach of social media. Using platforms like Instagram helped launch their product, sending bags of sprouted walnuts to micro-influencers and even getting some praise from some well known celebrities in the process. Today, 90% of their sales come from the subscription services on their online platform – a subscription service that even has a waitlist. Kaben and Jenn were focused on creating a brand that was easy for customers to gravitate to, and that translated into the attire he would wear at events, the design of their logo, the appeal of their vending booth. Every detail and step matters in trying to create as little friction as possible for the customer. Kaben and Jenn emphasize that their business took off with luck, but hearing their story, any of the attendees would agree it was also their determination and charisma.
After hearing Kaben discuss the background of Tenderly Rooted, Grace Perry opened up the conversation to attendees about the organic certification process and offered resources to farmers interested in transitioning to organic. Organic farming offers synergistic economic, environmental, and social benefits as it creates opportunities for farmers to sell at premium price, reduces negative impacts on soil and water quality, and produces nutritious food for the community that is not treated with synthetic pesticides. Another benefit of organic certification as expressed from an attendee was its appeal to customers, some of whom only purchase organic products. Nuanced conversation about the benefits of organic certification ensued as some attendees shared concerns that organic practices do not always go far enough to protect the health of the soil or maintain the ecosystem. One grower mentioned that there are other types of certification that prioritize environmental sustainability outside of Certified Organic. For example, one mission of Lodi Growers by Lodi Winegrape Commision is to “encourage implementation of environmentally benign and economically viable pest, weed, disease, and cultural strategies through the LODI RULES sustainable viticulture program.” The conversation ended by acknowledging that organic certification is a personal decision for each farm, weighed on a variety of factors.
Tenderly Rooted Farms emphasizes their regenerative practices and are interested in learning more about the transition to organic but as of yet, they are not certified organic. The most obvious barrier for many small farmers in becoming Certified Organic is the financial cost. Another challenge comes from the fact that Kaben leases a portion of the farmland from larger family owned property. Other barriers are more situational, such as wanting to maintain a good relationship with neighbors; if you are certified organic and your neighbors aren’t, designated “buffer zones” are required. These “buffer zones” are designated boundaries in between organic and conventionally farmed land that will account for spray drift contamination. This could mean that your neighbors would not be allowed to spray a specified portion of their land bordering yours to maintain these buffer zones. Tenderly Rooted exemplifies finding sustainable practices and a marketing model that works for the specific situation of a farm.
If you would like to learn more about the story of Tenderly Rooted Farms, purchase some sprouted walnuts, or connect with Kaben and Jenn, please visit their website at www.sproutedwalnut.com.