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A Thought Takes Root... Tim Young blends enviornmental concerns with gourmet market

Ross Boissoneau - May 26th, 2005
Few people exhibit more commitment to the environment than Timothy Young.

He’s been on the board of the Michigan Land Use Institute, Friends of the Crystal River and the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council (NMEAC). He has spent time overseas in human relief efforts. He built his home himself, partially from logs that fell on his property, partially from recycled and reused materials.
This being a food story, there’s also the matter of his home-grown business. Food For Thought incorporates hand-picked wild foods, organic foods, and intriguing combinations of both in secret recipes for preserves, muffin and pancake mixes, honey, syrup, and even leeks.
The business has grown dramatically since he began it in 1995, but some of the original products are still among the most popular. “The blueberry merlot is our best seller, and the tart cherry cabernet is also popular,” said the unassuming company CEO and chef, who also points to the wild pickled leeks as a personal favorite.
The company’s catalog also includes such exotic fare as Organic Apricot Chardonnay, Organic Lavender Blueberry Preserves, Dried Wild Mushrooms, and Wild Leek Relish. But it doesn’t end there. Food For Thought also features coffee, soaps, and gift baskets, and Young’s ambitious plans include expanding his product line to include numerous environmentally-responsible products.

GREEN WEB
“I want this to be the website for green products,” he said. To that end, he’s rechristened his website, giftsthatmatter.com. And in addition to appearances at various food shows – Food For Thought has been featured at the Bon Appetit Wine and Spirits Focus in Chicago, for example – the company has also been part of the Green Fest in San Francisco.
“Did you know over 50% of people say they will spend more for a (green) product?” he asks. Whether you’re speaking about food or about the environment, Young is easily enthused.
You’re also likely to find yourself eating products prepared by Young and his staff (which varies from 15 in the height of summer to five in the off-season) for some of the area’s other food companies. He makes some of the products for Cherry Republic and other private label companies from their recipes.
“The private label companies are a big chunk of our business,” Young said.
No matter the philosophy, the business would not have survived if the goods didn’t measure up. No problem there, as the jams, preserves and other comestibles are original and delicious.
Of course, there’s still that pesky environmentally-conscious and sustainable approach he favors. That’s reflected in the company donating one percent of its gross to various environmental organizations. And there’s the volunteer program, where company employees can get a paid day off, so long as they spend that day volunteering.

SPREADING SUCCESS
Food For Thought products now can be found at over 25 stores throughout Northern Michigan and more downstate stores in areas such as Detroit, Ann Arbor, East Lansing and Grand Rapids; even in over 40 stores across the country. The success is gratifying to Young.
It can be measured in another way as well. No longer does Young have to work quite as hard as he did when he first started the business.
“I used to work 60 to 70 hours a week plus weekends. Now I work about 50 and get some weekends off,” he said.
 
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