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JEDI Program Supports Organic Innovators Getting Certified

In May 2021, OTA established a Diversity & Entrepreneurship Program and Fund as part of its Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) commitment. The Diversity & Entrepreneurship Program and Fund provides (among other benefits) a two-year Trade Membership with voting rights to Organic Trade Association for businesses that are 51 percent owned and controlled by under-represented groups including Black, Hispanic/Latinx, Native American/Indigenous American/Alaska Native, Pacific Islander, and women. To date, this targeted membership program has brought more than 20 new members to the trade association. Here, we introduce you to two of the members: Waju Water and Green Heffa Farms.

 Meet the Member: Waju Water 

Every year, juice processors in the United States discard an estimated 700 million gallons of water from fresh fruit. Waju Water Founder and CEO Chris Oates thinks there’s a better use for that fruit water than just sending it down the drain—particularly given the severity of our climate crisis and the limited supply of fresh groundwater. That’s why in 2020, Chris put his head together with some of the most innovative fruit suppliers and scientists and founded Waju Water—the only beverage brand made by harnessing the pure water naturally found in real fruit.

With Waju, customers are getting a delicious beverage that’s made nearly 100 percent from a resource that would otherwise be wasted—organic water from fruit. Every 12 ounces of Waju consumed equates to 12 ounces of water saved instead of wasted—i.e., 12 ounces of water that didn’t have to be pulled from an underground aquifer! Not only does Waju bring the refreshing bright taste of fruit, but according to the company it also provides ultra-hydration thanks to a boost of antioxidants and vitamin C that come directly from the fruit.

Waju debuted online in 2021 and can also be found in select natural grocery stores. The fruit water has been incredibly popular so far, hitting a sweet spot with consumers who are looking for products that satisfy on flavor and go above and beyond on climate and societal impact.

“I admire a lot of brands out there that are focused on social good in select ways,” says Chris, “like charitable good programs or through donations. But for me, it’s important that even our product itself has a direct societal impact which, in our case, empowers consumers to participate in the upcycled movement with each can they drink.”

Waju’s serious mission is counterbalanced by its fun and whimsical packaging, which recently won the company two Dieline design awards, including Functional Beverage Design of the Year. Waju draws in customers by depicting its organic fruit as vessels of discovery and positions consumers as explorers on a journey to discover better, more-sustainable beverages. Organic ingredients are highlighted by intriguing tag lines like “water that sparkles the imagination” and “upcycled fruit water,” which let consumers know that something truly exceptional awaits them inside the slim, forever recyclable can.

“Organic resonates with me because I’m thinking beyond just my own life,” says Chris. “Are these natural resources going to be available for our children? Our grandchildren? I want to do anything I can right now that will benefit the long-term health of our food system for generations to come—as a person and a founder. For me, that’s organic.”

Chris and Waju joined Organic Trade Association in early 2022 as part of OTA’s Diversity and Entrepreneurship Fund (DEF), which helps to elevate businesses led by persons of color. DEF and OTA Diversity Council leaders are members who are exceptionally passionate about creating a better food and farm system and understand the importance of advancing equity and access within organic.

“As a Black-owned company in an industry where founders of color make up only a tiny fraction of companies, I have this human mission to champion underrepresented communities and expose people to more founders of color who are creating really cool, innovative products that are shaping our future,” says Chris.

By joining OTA’s 9,500 members across the country, Chris and Waju can lead by example and show shoppers, business leaders, and food entrepreneurs that there is a place for them in the organic community. The climate crisis is already here. That’s why it’s imperative that organic grow not only as an industry, but also as a community. With two-thirds of the global population expected to face water scarcity by 2025, there is no better time than now to follow Waju’s lead.

Meet the Member: Green Heffa Farms

“Farmer Cee” (aka Clarenda Stanley), an enigmatic personality with a penchant for word play, never planned to be a farmer. A natural and poignant communicator, Cee had historically channeled her energy into marketing, fundraising, and other creative works. But in watching the graceful way she works across her 14+ acres of medicinal plants and herbs and witnessing the care with which Farmer Cee treats every living thing (even a precariously perched family of wasps), it seems almost destiny that Cee would become a farmer. Today, Farmer Cee is the CEO/President of Green Heffa Farms, a Certified B Corporation and organic farm located in northern Chatham County, North Carolina.

Farmer Cee and Green Heffa Farms are committed to the best practices in organic and heritage farming, as well as Cee’s 4Es: Economic empowerment, Equity, Environment, and Education.

“We’re seed to sip,” says Farmer Cee, “which means we take care of our plants from the beginning of their life until they end up in your cup. Our blends are unique, but not complicated. Not only are you getting the botanical benefits when you use our products, but you’re also supporting our values as a business. Our customers support us being good stewards through our organic practices, through our energy usage, the materials and packaging we choose, the whole package.”

Growing up in Alabama’s agrarian Black Belt, Cee was surrounded by organic growing practices—although she didn’t know it at the time. Cee’s grandmother gardened while her grandfather farmed, and both employed heritage growing techniques and traditional knowledge in how they engaged with the land, plants, and the thriving ecosystem around them.

“We didn’t call it organic,” says Farmer Cee, “so it took me a while to realize that some of the terminology used today is really just encapsulating practices that were already in place like on my grandparents’ farm. Once I learned about those tenets, I realized—oh yeah, that’s how we farm! Once I began to research more about organic farming, it felt like a remembrance.”

Cee leaned into that history when, in 2019, she suddenly became the sole operator of Green Heffa Farms. Thrust from the business development and operations to the growing side of the farm, Cee drew on her experiences as a child and on knowledge she had built up while working in the environmental and conservation spaces. By diving in whole-heartedly and staying open to the learning process, Cee was able to transform Green Heffa Farms into a thriving organic farm that grows not only high-quality herbs and botanicals, but also equity and economic empowerment.

“As a Black woman, there’s a very tenuous relationship with safety and respect in this culture,” says Farmer Cee. “Farming puts you in touch with your humanity because you’re literally touching life, nurturing and incubating growth. I can show love through farming in a way that allows me to do it without constantly looking over my shoulder.”

Farmer Cee is big on symbiosis. It’s why she farms the way she does, why she produces mind/body healing teas and steams, and why she believes connection is a critical part of widening the circle and growing the organic community. Connection is why Farmer Cee became an OTA member in early 2022 and also why Green Heffa Farms is a Certified B-Corporation. Farmer Cee wants to be an example to other Black farmers and those who procure agricultural goods who do not already intentionally include Black farmers in the organic supply chain.

“That was one of the things that really appealed to me about joining OTA, being part of making those circles more inclusive,” says Farmer Cee. “I wanted to make sure the voices of farmers like me were represented. And I want to connect with my fellow organic folks—I know all of them have tea in the breakroom, so let’s talk about making that Green Heffa tea!”

Farmer Cee’s teas and steams can be ordered directly on the Green Heffa Farms website (where you can also sign up for Farmer Cee’s newsletter) as well as through Thrive Market and in all Weaver Street Markets.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2022 Organic Report, you can view the full magazine here.