AS SEEN IN The Lawrence Business Ledger/ Written by Billie David
Though it may be news to many of us, green foods are all the rage in the natural foods industry. “Cereal grasses have been used for centuries,” said Pines’ marketing director Allen Levine. “The ancient Egyptians used them. Alfalfa means ‘the father of all foods.”
Cereal grasses, which include young wheat, oats, rye and barley plants, are more nutritious than the grains harvested from the mature plant, Levine said. “The grass stage of the grains are their most nutritious stage. It’s the most nutritious product you can grow.”
For those who are concerned about the consequences of eating grasses, Levine said that they are quite digestible. “You’re getting the nutrition naturally,” he said, “like the best spinach salad you’ve ever had. It comes in an all natural form that the body recognizes. It’s a vegetable.
Cereal grasses were used as a vitamin supplement beginning in the 1930’s, before multi-vitamins replaced them. “Part of the philosophy behind this is that the USDA recommends three to five servings of vegetables a day,” Levine said, adding that few Americans actually meet that standard. “This is a very convenient way to get the vegetable nutrition you need in a very quick way and a very concentrated way.
Pines International plants their own winter wheat to produce their wheat grass products. “We plant in the fall, and it grows through the winter,” Levine said. “The roots get their nutrition from the soil, so the longer you can keep it in the soil, the more nutritious it will be.”
The wheat grass is harvested at a specific point of development called the jointing stage. This is the point at which the plant is at its most nutritious because it has stored up food for the wheat head. Once the wheat head starts to grow, the nutritional level drops rapidly.
The harvested grass is quickly dehydrated, packed into nitrogen-filled bags and stored at -20 degrees C. to prevent loss of nutritional value. It is then shipped to the Lawrence processing plant, where it is manufactured into tablets or powder and placed into nitrogen-flushed amber glass bottles to further prevent nutritional deterioration.
Pines also offers barley grass, which is identical to wheat grass in nutritional value, and alfalfa, wheat, barley, beet and rhubarb juice powders as well as wheat grass pasta. In addition, the company processes and markets spices and herbs grown organically by other farmers in order to help make the organic foods industry more economically feasible for the smaller farmers.
Pines International was founded in 1976 by Ron Seibold, president of the corporation, and Steve Malone, CEO.
“Pines actually was started to promote organic farming and wildlife refuges,” Levine said. “It was started in western Kansas and moved to Lawrence because Lawrence was a community supportive of natural products.”
In keeping with its original purpose, Pines has contributed money to protect and preserve land by converting it into organic farmland and wildlife preserves. And, in keeping with its philosophy of providing nutritionally sound food in an ecologically responsible manner, Pines donates some of its products to malnourished people around the world.
“Pines annually donates to famine relief programs,” Levine said. “This year we’ll probably give between $300,000 and $400,000 worth.”
The company gives through an organization called Feed My People, and much of the food this year is slated to go to Liberia, Levine said.
This year’s donations were complicated by a recent fire. “When the company came to Lawrence, it was a very small company. It started out at a building at 23rd and Haskell. About a month ago, that building burned to the ground,” Levine said.
That’s where 45,000 pounds of cereal grass was stored, waiting to be shipped out for famine relief. “We’re going ahead with our donations anyway,” Levine said. “It was very sad to see our former headquarters go up in smoke.”
The manufacture of green foods is a rapidly growing industry in the U.S., Levine explained. “It’s an enormous business. There’s a much larger understanding of health and nutritional issues, and as baby boomers reach middle age, they’re looking for natural ways to stay healthy. It’s a good time to be in the natural products business.”
The company’s newest product is called Mighty Greens. “It was launched a year ago.” Levine said. Mighty Greens is a drink powder consisting mainly of wheat grass, barley grass, oat grass, rye grass, and alfalfa.
Levine joined Pines International just under two years ago, while he was a member of the Lawrence City Commission. He was originally hired to work part time on non-agricultural land use issues. Then the international manager left, and Levine filled his position. When the marketing director stepped down, Levine took his place.
“It’s a relatively small company,” Levine explained. “People around here wear a lot of different hats.”
Levine prefers to do business that way. “When you’re selling the product, you know more about it because you’ve taken it from the raw form to the finished product. You know how it’s processed,” he said.
Pines International, which took its name from the international symbol of peace in nature – the pine tree – hopes to continue with its original mission in the future, Levine said.
“The goals of the company have not changed in 21 years,” he explained, adding that they want to remain at the forefront of the industry’s technology as well as be leaders in corporate integrity.
“We will continue purchasing land for wildlife refuges and making food donations,” he said. “We hope we set good examples of quality products as well as quality corporate citizenship.”