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The Birth of Nature's Path

Posted by Arran Stephens on July 8th, 2009 under Arran's Musings

Dedicated work is worship, and physical existence is the crucible by which our transformation is made manifest. In my wee world, when the Lifestream business was reluctantly sold in 1981 due to a partnership impasse, I went from executive to waiting on tables at our vegetarian eatery. While undoubtedly good medicine for hubris, this soon became an under-challenge.

The Essene Gospel of Peace had long inspired me, a two thousand year-old Aramaic manuscript attributed to the Essene brotherhood, which once flourished by the Dead Sea, before the community was dispersed by Roman legions. Dr. Edmond Bordeaux-Szekely, scholar and translator of this obscure work, several Dead Sea Scrolls, and author of more than fifty books, moved to British Columbia, and we became friends before his death in 1978. I recall a delightful afternoon with the venerable professor and his wife, Norma, at their home in the Fraser Valley.

In his student years, Dr. Szekely had unlimited access to tens of thousands of ancient manuscripts and scrolls buried within secret Vatican libraries. Here, and in the Library of the Hapsburgs, Austria, he discovered the Essene teachings and the hidden origins of Christianity.

The Essene Gospel contains compelling evidence of the natural healing science of the Essenes, as well as the following recipe for sprouted bread:

Moisten your wheat, that the angel of water may enter it. Then set it in the air, that the angel of air also may embrace it. And leave it from morning to evening beneath the sun, that the angel of sunshine may descend upon it. And the blessing of the three angels will soon make the germ of life to sprout… Then crush your grain, and make thin wafers, as did your forefathers when they departed out of Egypt, the house of bondage…(1)

Inspired by this ancient recipe, my helpers and I developed a line of organic, nutrient-rich, sprouted, whole grain loaves which we called Manna Bread®, and thus Nature’s Path®—our future business was born. Manna Bread® became popular with health enthusiasts across North America.

After mom passed away in January 1988, Ratana and I made another of many treks to India. We were guests of Sant Darshan Singh who had retired in 1978 as the Deputy Secretary of the Indian government. He was a world-renowned mystic poet, wise spiritual leader, humanist and one of our revered mentors.

Weary of our ups and downs in business, Ratana urged me to ask him for advice to help set my feet firmly on the path of consistent profitability, and this is what he said:

‘Brother, you know that I have never entered into the business line, but when my son Bawa wanted to go into business, this is the advice I gave him, and as you are also like a son to me, the same I give to you:

  • First, keep to quality. Quality should never be sacrificed either for quantity or money. Be honest.
  • Second, we should expand our business to the extent that we can control it personally. Most of the problems in business come about because we expand beyond our control.
  • Third, we should be progressive, do our best, and make the most of our business but not be too ambitious. Be very cautious—expansion is very easy; retreating is very difficult. We should be contented with whatever the Lord blesses us.’

While I have attended many expensive seminars and read numerous books on business and personal motivation, this extemporaneous and free advice captures the quintessence of what is taught in sophisticated and costly seminars. While following these three precepts, our enterprise flourished beyond anyone’s expectation.

In 1989-90, Nature’s Path built North America’s first certified organic cereal processing plant, located in British Columbia. Daunting challenges had to be overcome, for I had no technical experience in large-scale factory production, no partners, and limited capital. For several trying months the machinery refused to cooperate, the sharks were circling and it appeared that the enterprise was about to be engulfed in a sea of red ink. I asked my dear wife if she would leave her profitable restaurant and come help resolve the daunting production and labor challenges of the new factory. She delegated management of the restaurant to others, and came and worked by my side night and day. All possible human efforts were made, but obviously they alone weren’t enough. So much and so many were dependent upon a breakthrough.

Ultimately we had to surrender our burden before the Divine and ask for succor, as it is said, “prayer succeeds where all human efforts fail.” And only then did the gleaming machinery begin to cooperate. Delicious cereal flakes and shapes began cascading off the assembly lines into bags and boxes, into stores and homes, minds and hearts. Debts were paid, and we moved forward, garnering several prizes for quality, taste, packaging, exports and ethics along the way. Thanks to excellent employees, and my wife and children’s unfailing support (they too came to help out at the plant), the company survived and thrived. By 1996, independent research confirmed Nature’s Path to be the number-one organic cereal brand in North America—a position it has maintained ever since. (2)

In 1995, fourteen years after losing Lifestream, we reacquired it from Kraft Foods/Philip Morris. Although Lifestream possessed little of its former vitality, one could still detect a flicker of a heartbeat and a promise.

In the summer of 1999, Nature’s Path opened its second certified organic processing facility in northern Washington State, to serve the expanding global market.

Dad’s advice to me as a child: ‘Always leave the earth better than you found it,’ and our mentor’s three universal business principles inspired and underpinned the enterprise. From that evolved the vision: nurturing people, nature and spirit, and goal: to become a trusted name for quality organic foods in every home; socially responsible, environmentally sustainable and financially viable. In the cycle of growing an enterprise, then and now, my wife and I surround ourselves with talented, self-motivated associates more capable in their particular fields than we, who believe in and practice the principal of excellence. Spiritual and business associations are kept separate, but without compromising ethics or losing sight of the larger vision. Each company team player holds diverse beliefs and follows different personal paths, like a mini-United Nations. Maturity must embrace diversity, tolerance, and mutual respect, and never forces one’s viewpoint. Success in any worldly enterprise is an outcome of higher principles, diligence and hard work. Nature’s Path is not the trunk, but a branch, albeit a far-reaching branch, under which, many find shelter and sustenance.

    1.    Edmond Bordeaux - Szekely, The Essene Gospel of Peace, International Biogenics
    2.    Society, (1981), Box 849, Nelson, B.C. Canada V1L 6A5
    3.    According to SPINS Information Systems, Inc.
    4.    http://www.mothandtheflame.com
 

Arran Stephens

As an artist, author, environmentalist, and founder of America’s largest certified organic cereal company, Arran is a voice of experience in the alternative food industry. His values — sustainability, community, and spirituality — have fuelled a pioneering career in business.