In 1975, Pines’ co-founder and president, Ron Seibold worked in the office that stored the remaining files of Cerophyl Laboratories, the company that first produced wheatgrass and other cereal grasses in a blend called “Cerophyl.” It was introduced commercially in 1937.
Ron spent nearly a year studying cereal grass research and the sales history of Cerophyl. He began to take Cerophyl tablets himself and noticed an immediate increase in energy, better bowel movements and an improvement in his skin.
Ron grew up on a farm and already knew the strong health effect of wheatgrass in the spring after a winter of slow growth. His father and other farmers in northeastern Kansas sometimes pastured their cattle on wheatgrass in the spring prior to the jointing stage. It was common knowledge that wheatgrass would bring health to sick animals and increase their milk production. Ron had instinctively chewed the leaves of wheatgrass in the spring as a boy and remembered the rush of energy he had felt.
With that knowledge and experience, Ron eagerly set about reading all published research in medical journals that had used Cerophyl in their studies. He also read the massive testimonial file from Cerophyl customers. It weighed more than ten pounds and took Ron weeks to go through all the letters. He was amazed at how many people had taken the time to write to Cerophyl praising their product. Many had overcome serious health problems and believed Cerophyl had been responsible.
After reviewing all that research and testimonials, Ron wanted to establish a company to reintroduce dehydrated wheatgrass as a convenient and economical dark green, leafy vegetable. He met Steve Malone in Hays, Kansas in 1976, and the two men promised each other they would commit to the vision and make the new company a reality.
Rather than approaching big investors or banks, Steve, who was a lifelong resident of Hays, lined up most of the investors. The two men convinced more than 200 people to invest an average of $200 each into three entities that later merged into Pines International.
Their vision was much more than simply marketing wheatgrass. They wanted to promote the American free enterprise spirit. The year was 1976, and it was the bicentennial for America. In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, many were disillusioned with the American system. Ron and Steve wanted to prove that the pure spirit of free enterprise and economic democracy were still alive in America.
They also wanted Pines to be known as an honest company with integrity that cared about improving the health of people. They wanted Pines to care about its employees and cared about the future of the planet. A part of their dream was to slow the loss of America’s quality farmland by converting as much of it as possible into organic agriculture. They believed in the power of common people to pool small investments that would build an international company to stand the test of time.
They chose the name “Pines” in recognition that the Pine tree as an internationally-recognized symbol of the peace that exists in nature. They were attracted by the idea that the investors, employees, customers and everyone associated with Pines International would be like trees in a pine forest.
They supported their concept with such sayings as, “One pine tree does not a forest make’ and “In a forest, each pine tree grows tall to keep out of each others’ shadows.” In other words, Steve and Ron viewed each of us is unique individuals who are all part of greater “forest.” We become strong as individuals through the cooperative effort of all the individual “trees” involved. It seemed the perfect analogy of the philosophy that had drawn so many diverse people together into Pines International sharing a common dream of sustainable organic agriculture and better health.
Steve and Ron started the company with $8,000 in cash from many of the first 50 stockholders. The rest were issued stock in return for services. The employees were paid in stock. The farmer and dehydration company also received stock instead of money.
After the first harvest, Steve and Ron hit the road with their message, “Pines Wheat Grass is an economical and convenient way to add more vegetable nutrition and fiber in your diet.” After the two men left to spread the good news about wheatgrass to the world, the office was shut down and moved to the home of two stockholders who, on a voluntary basis, took care of shipping the orders and answering the mail and phone.
Meanwhile, it was up to Steve and Ron to develop a market for the new product. They stayed at campgrounds at night and used campground showers and bathrooms to prepare for spreading their message during the day. At first, they tried to market Pines Wheat Grass as a multi-level product patterned after Amway. After a two weeks of hard work, it was clear that business plan was progressing too slowly. Bills for harvesting supplies, cold storage, tableting, bottling and shipping were soon going to be delinquent. Steve and Ron had to change plans.
On a whim, they stopped into a health food store in Denver. The store owner bought six bottles of Pines Wheat Grass. Their next stop was at original Vitamin Cottage in Lakewood, Colorado. The owner, Margaret Isley, befriended the pair and gave them valuable information about the Natural Food Industry. Further, she purchased 24 bottles!
The men were very inspired by Ms. Isley, who went on to become one of the great leaders of the Natural Foods Industry. Her family has now expanded the one store in Lakewood to more than 100 Natural Grocers throughout the Western United States.
After Ms. Isley’s excellent education, Steve and Ron were motivated and decided to market through the natural foods marketplace. They then started going from store to store in Denver. No one had ever heard of wheatgrass, but they could understand Steve and Ron’s message about eating more dark green, leafy vegetables and fiber. After only a few days, the pair had sold enough Pines Wheat Grass to enough Denver area stores that they were able to convince a natural foods distributor in Colorado to carry Pines Wheat Grass and to continue to supply the stores.
Ron and Steve repeated that pattern throughout the United States during the next eight months. They were in on the ground floor of the emerging Natural Foods Industry. They sold to each of the original stores that merged to became Whole Foods Markets. They served on committees to establish organic standards both in Kansas and throughout the United States.
Pines Wheat Grass was the original green superfood and the first product in what became “the green food section” of Whole Foods and other Natural Food Stores. When Steve and Ron were finished with their original travels in 1977, Pines Wheat Grass was being sold in more than 2,000 stores in the 35 states they had visited.
Steve and Ron began to hear that some people thought they could grow the same thing as Pines Wheat Grass indoors in extremely crowded and unnatural conditions. Instead of taking all winter to grow in often freezing temperatures as is natural to wheatgrass, plants are crowded 300 times closer together than natural and are forced to grow seven times faster than natural at temperatures three times higher than natural. Instead of taking the months it is supposed to take to grow to seven inches in height, these poor crowded plants are forced to grow to the same height in about 10 days indoors in conditions completely unnatural to the wheat plant.
Instead of roots going down deep in the soil after planting in the fall, in preparation for slow growth through the often-freezing winter temperatures, the roots of these unnaturally grown wheat plants became a tangled, moldy mess at the bottom of trays and became loaded with mold and bacteria.
Because Ron and Steve knew how wheatgrass was supposed to grow, they immediately realized that this method was not a natural way to grow wheatgrass. Some people were achieving a few of the results that Dr. Schnabel had documented with real wheatgrass grown naturally, but the crowded conditions and far too rapid growth resulted in high levels of mold and bacteria with a flavor that was nothing like real wheatgrass.
Curiously, this extremely unnatural way of growing wheatgrass was supposedly “supported” by the research conducted by Dr. Schnabel, other scientists and medical doctors, who never grew wheatgrass in such an unnatural way. They used dehydrated whole food wheatgrass powder from plants that were grown and harvested naturally outdoors in cold temperatures to achieve the monumental research in hospitals and as documented by the medical profession.
In fact, all the scientific research that has served as the basis for the use of wheatgrass came from hospitals and doctors using Cerophyl, the product introduced by company Ron had studied. Cerophyl was a blend of dehydrated whole food wheatgrass and other cereal grasses in a powder or tablet form. It was not wheatgrass juice from wheat plant grown in crowded conditions in a tray. The real wheatgrass powder used for the research was was grown outdoors in often-freezing temperatures and harvested in the spring when it was about the same as wheatgrass grown in a crowded tray grown for ten days. As a result of being grown so quickly in such crowded conditions, tray wheatgrass is not as dark green as real wheatgrass and contains only 25% as much chlorophyll.
For more than four decades as the fad for “wheatgrass shots” has remained popular, Steve and Ron have sought to make it clear that, although tray wheatgrass contains some of the benefits of real wheatgrass, Pines Wheat Grass is grown and harvested as nature intends in the manner used for the research that is quoted in books by Ann Wigmore, Viktoras Kulvinskas, Steve Meyerowitz and other authors and proponents of growing wheatgrass unnaturally.
None of that research was with juice from wheatgrass growing in a tray. It was whole leaf wheatgrass powder from plants that had been allowed to grow naturally, outdoors in often-freezing winter temperatures in northeastern Kansas. The leaves are much darker green and fleshy, not thin, spindly unnatural leaves that result from forcing wheatgrass to grow so quickly in such crowded and unnatural conditions.
Steve and Ron have sought to distance Pines Wheat Grass from tray-grown indoor wheatgrass shots. They have promoted Pines Wheat Grass as a food, not a medicine. Because the FDA cannot regulate what is said in a book, some of the health claims that are made about tray wheatgrass are not allowed for a food product sold commercially, so Pines never makes such claims.
Since they consider wheatgrass to be a food, all Steve and Ron have ever said regarding the amazing results people had had for more than 80 years with wholefood wheatgrass powder and tablets is this: “The Standard American Diet (SAD) is very deficient in green food nutrients. Because of that, when people take Pines Wheat Grass (or a even a shot of the unnaturally-grown tray-grown juice), amazing things often happened because people are finally getting the kind of nutrition that their bodies have been craving.”
Pines International was located in Hays for the first three years. For those initial years, Pines had outsourced most of its production. The company had depended on another company for bottling until they returned from their travels. After that, they filled the bottles in Hays but still had to ship the dehydrated wheatgrass powder off to Nevada to have it made into tablets before being shipped back to Hays.
Steve and Ron had developed a business plan that showed that the company could start making a profit if it had its own equipment. They approached bankers in Hays, but Hays is in Western Kansas, where the economics are based on cattle and oil. None of the bankers in Hays were interested, but Steve and Ron did find a bank on the other side of the state in Lawrence that would work with the company to obtain a small business loan. After receiving the loan, Steve and Ron moved their bottling equipment to Lawrence late in 1979, purchased a building, tableting equipment, and a much-needed tablet counting machine.
The men had forgotten that Cerophyl had been located near Lawrence. In 1984, Steve and Ron were looking for a place to put a new piece of equipment. They found themselves at an old alfalfa processing plant outside of Lawrence at Midland that had been shut down for several years.
As they toured the buildings, Steve saw an old black and white picture on the wall with the word, “Cerophyl Laboratories.” Both men nearly screamed with joy. They were standing in the same building that contained an actual laboratory Dr. Schnabel had used.
“Yes,” the owner said, “The plant used to be owned by Cerophyl laboratories and was used to dehydrate wheatgrass!” The men purchased this historic facility, including the laboratory where Dr. Schnabel had done some of his research.
Moving ahead, nearly thirty years later in 2012, Pines obtained the Cerophyl trademark. The company was honored to be able dedicate a new company sign with the Cerophyl logo and a sign in front of Dr. Schnabel’s laboratory, honoring his work. Dr. Schnabel’s daughter, Emily Schnabel Sloan, and two of her children were present for the dedication.
Returning to Pines history, in 1987 after Ron and Steve obtained another small business loan and built a new building at Schnabel’s Midland facility where he had produce Cerophyl. They moved Pines’ offices, tableting and bottling facilities there.
With the market for Pines Wheat Grass taking off in Asia and increased sales in the United States, the company built a second new building at Midland in 1991.
Today, the two men, the 200 shareholders and all the employees are fulfilling the vision that began in 1976. So far, more than 2,000 acres of farmland has been converted directly by Pines family to certified organic, and Pines provides support for other organic family farms the grow for Pines consisting of another 2,000 acres. Millions of people have benefited from Pines Wheat Grass and now hundreds of companies worldwide have used Pines’ marketing ideas and are selling green food products.
Pines has donated several million dollars worth of wheatgrass to feeding programs for malnourished people in the United States and around the world. Through its foundation, the company has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to environmental and organic farming causes and organizations.
After more than 40 years, the two men still promote the same message about the importance of increasing the amount of green food nutrition in our diets. They are no longer the only people spreading that message. In one sense, they are flattered when Pines’ competitors use nearly the exact same phrases that Steve and Ron developed many decades before, but sometimes it is discouraging when poor quality products use their messages. Although many have copied Pines’ message, few have followed our quality standards inspired by Dr. Charles Schnabel.
When these other companies do not follow Dr. Schnabel’s standards and package in cheap plastic bottles and paper packets that do not protect quality, Ron and Steve are concerned that people are not receiving as much green food nutrition per dollar as they could receive with the quality of Pines products. These products with low quality standards have caused some people to see and feel the benefits that they would have discovered if they had used Pines.
Even so, regardless of how they word it and even when their quality standards do not match those of PInes, all those marketing cereal grass and other green superfoods are basically saying what Ron and Steve first said in 1976: “Eat more green!”