Hello! Who are you and what food business did you start?
My name is Troy DeSmet, and I am the founder of Freekeh Foods. I’ve been working in the Organic Foods Industry for over 20 years and after I crossed over from the conventional food industry, haven’t looked back since. As a part of the solution to food production, the work has given me purpose and feels good when I know that what I’m feeding people is healthy for them and our planet.
Freekeh is fire roasted green wheat. Freekeh is named after the process of rubbing fire roasted wheat to separate the kernel from the chaff.
Freekeh is harvested in early spring when the wheat is young and still green in the fields. As an early harvest crop, Freekeh may have played an important role in feeding early communities.
Since the cradle of civilization whole grains have been at the center of communities. Freekeh has been featured in recipes dating all the way back to 2300 BC which is why Freekeh is considered an ancient grain.
My career in Agriculture began out of high school when I began working for conventional grain elevators as a manual laborer, the work was tough and physical and carried me through college.
Upon graduating from college, the first salaried position was as a conventional grain trader. Newly married and with two small children and one on the way, I felt compelled or called to work for the purpose of healing our Earth. Environmental justice was in the forefront of my mind; and I considered the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and Environmental law.
My life changed one day as I was riding my motorcycle to work, beating my mind on what to do next, when I nearly hit the car stopped in front of me at a red light. Peering down at the license plate, the message struck, the license plate read FLTR IT.
Immediately realizing the meaning of the message, I let go of the ideas. That same day my boss gave me an article on the Organic Industry, and without hesitation knew it was my next chapter.
In 1997 the Organic Industry accounted for less than 1% of the food industry, which I took to mean there was a 99% opportunity for growth, and it was in line with my heart. Within 3 months I was moving across the country to begin working in a community of like-minded people that had purpose, a mission, and began to work for a cause I am passionate about.
We provide and share our product, Freekeh, to retailers, food service, for private label as well as distributors. Our joy is providing Freekeh to our clients that believe in and support a healthy food system and who enjoy serving delicious food that people can feel good about eating.
As a young business man who spent his entire life working for material gain, success, and position, my life changed in 2012 when I experienced near death by an Aortic Dissection & Aneurysm. The impact of the life threatening situation and subsequent recovery caused me to reflect on my life and my purpose.
At Freekeh Foods, the proceeds of our sales go to our employees, paying the Organic and Transitioning farmers a price that support their growth and family farms, and to expand operations and awareness of Freekeh as a potential solution for the impending water crisis.
What are your ballpark monthly or annual revenue numbers?
We anticipate our numbers will continue to increase. Revenues have grown from $20,000 annually to over $500,000 annually with Freekeh Foods.
As we continue to share information with our customers and educate them regarding the benefits for family farms, the benefits for the soil, and for human consumption we anticipate continued sustainable growth.
We are proud to supply our Freekeh, both Non-GMO and Organic with our partners who provide all of our cleaning and packaging needs in their 100% solar powered facility.
What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My background was working with Organic Farmers and Grain Elevators as an agent that would buy and supply large retailers and flour mills with Organic Wheat and Durum, so my database of farmers, processors, and customers across North America had been built from the previous 20 years of working in the Organic Foods Industry.
That said, Freekeh Foods is the painstaking result of many people selflessly coming together to be a part of a solution. Our Freekeh has been developed from the efforts of many, as well as the blood (I’m personally terrible around heavy equipment!), sweat (California summers are hot!), and tears (I’ve cried real tears in the wheat fields after missing a crop) of those who take great care in what they do.
There is no one person that can take credit for this product, it is the culmination of the efforts of everyone that have been associated with Freekeh Foods from it’s inception.
Developing Freekeh and our company has been our greatest challenge. The highs and lows, as I’m sure you understand, can be emotionally draining and also exhilarating. The process of making Freekeh has been our greatest challenge.
Timing is everything, and our approach demands our attention in every detail. The variables involved in seed selection, planting, irrigation and harvesting are just the beginning. We are involved every step of the way, and are literally managing our operations from seed selection and planting to delivering what we regard as the highest quality Freekeh in the world.
Our first crop was missed due to timing, so learning that when it’s time to make Freekeh, it doesn’t wait. Our second through twelfth production efforts were also failures, the equipment required is unique, expensive, and requires specific knowledge.
Finally, lucky number 13, we made our first batch and at 3 am on a Saturday morning we had succeeded. Those that were still awake, took great delight in popping the warm sweet kernels into our mouths and savored the satisfaction and delicious product we had created. Over the past several years we have refined the process and though our production season can be tough, we’re typically in bed by 9.
Take us through the process of developing, testing, and producing your first product.
Originally, we were asked to import Conventional Freekeh from a foreign supplier for a bulk bin program at a national supermarket chain. We imported the two containers and the customer purchased one, leaving us with the second container that the customer did not take at a later date. Realizing the customer was not going to take the second container, and
Understanding it was because the customer didn’t know what it was, how to cook it, or what it tasted like, our mission began.
We developed a retail product and launched nationally, within 6 months of our startup we had landed in over 2,500 grocery stores. The problem was the product wasn’t Organic, and so we set out to grow and make an Organic Freekeh. We were led by events and people to arrive at the process and purchased the equipment and set out to make our first batch of Organic Freekeh.
Describe the process of launching the business.
From infancy, Freekeh Foods has been personally financed, as well as financed through our partners at Davis Drier in Firebaugh, CA. We have used the proceeds from the sale of a previous company to finance equipment costs, and all activities related to the growing, cleaning, packaging, and distribution.
Our initial efforts focused on our retail product and we achieved widespre