Nicole Ledoux grew up on an 88-acre farm in North Brookfield, a tiny town north of the Sturbridge Pike exit in Central Massachusetts. The Ledoux family raised goats, sheep, cows, and chickens and tended an extensive fruit and vegetable garden. Nicole bought her first car with the money she made selling her family produce at a roadside farm stand. “The first time I bought chicken from a grocery store was when I was in college,” she said.
Ledoux and her husband, Rob Dalton, started 88 Acres, their seed-based food company, to solve a problem. Rob is allergic to peanuts and tree nuts—he had to be rushed to the hospital after a restaurant mishap on their fourth date—and Nicole wasn’t happy with the selection of stigmatizing and subpar “Allergy Free” products on the market. Faced with the prospect of sharing Rob’s unexciting, allergen-free food for the rest of her life, Nicole drew upon her background and rolled up her sleeves.
“Nicole grew up on an 88-acre organic farm in Central Massachusetts. I’m deathly allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. If you blend both of our backgrounds, plus Match.com, you obviously end up with a story about food entrepreneurship.” Rob laughed.
Nicole began with the goal of building recipes that were both free of major allergens—including peanuts, tree nuts, gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, and sesame—and great tasting. Seeds are a great alternative to nuts for high-performance snacks. Rob calls seeds “nutritional powerhouses”—they are small, simple, and contain healthy fat, clean protein, and energizing minerals and antioxidants. They’re also still the shining ingredient in all of 88 Acres creative recipes, which include Southwest Turmeric Salad Dressing, Double Chocolate Mocha Seed’nola, and Banana Bread Protein Bars. It wasn’t long before Nicole created the seed bars that would eventually become 88 Acres’ first product offering, sourcing ingredients from grocery stores and perfecting recipes in their basement-apartment kitchen in Boston. “We started tinkering at home and then began passing out bars and bites at different food and active lifestyle events in the Greater Boston area,” Nicole said. “We decided to give this a shot when the vast majority of people that were falling in love with our products didn’t have food allergies—they just loved the simplicity and the taste.” Pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, and watermelon seeds are the backbone of 88 Acres array of bars, butters, salad dressings, and seed’nola—88 Acres’ seed-based granola alternative. In addition to their health benefits, seeds are also a sustainable option—requiring much less water to grow than nuts. Roasted Watermelon Seed Butter, an 88 Acres favorite, comes from watermelons that need 78X less water per pound to produce than shelled almonds do, according to the research referenced on the 88 Acres website.
“Watermelon seeds have the mouthfeel of hummus and taste like bell pepper,” Nicole said. “They’re super high in protein and micronutrients.”Nicole and Rob create all of 88 Acres products in their Dorchester bakery, where they can control the manufacturing environment and build a business that reflects their values. What started as a solution to an operational problem became an opportunity to further their commitment to the local community in which they live.
“We couldn’t find any contract manufacturers that were willing to do small enough volume runs for us coming out of the gate, and we couldn’t find ones that were free of the most common food allergens,” said Nicole. “So, we took a step back—for us to build this the way that we wanted to, we decided we needed to build our own bakery and own the manufacturing.”Nicole and Rob were able to maintain better control of their bakery—including which ingredients come in and out and the overall quality of the product—and they were also able to set up a sustainable business, with no food waste, while driving community revitalization.
88 Acres pays its bakery employees realistic living wages and offers healthcare benefits, a path to leadership, and a culture of empowerment. Rob and Nicole value diversity in the workplace and have a 50-percent female-to-male employee ratio as well. In 2015, when they finished building their bakery, they had eight employees. By 2019, they had over fifty and had launched several new products, including their seed butter and seed’nola lines.
We thought you would enjoy hearing about Nicole and Rob and their adventure with 88 Acres. Why not try the sample of seed butter we’ve included in this month’s Walden share and let us know what you think at email@example.com? We love to promote local, like-minded businesses! Drop us a line if you know of any other brands you think we’d like. Thanks, again, for helping us make local work!
Our collaborative recipe from 88 Acres: Sikil Pak
Sikil (tomato) pak (pumpkin seed) is a traditional Mayan dish from the Yucatan region of Mexico. Because squash and pumpkins are native to Latin America, the seeds inside have been used by local populations as a rich source of nutrients for centuries. Pumpkin seeds can be found by street vendors across Mexico as flavorful snacks and are used in popular dishes like Sikil Pak as a salsa or dip. We love having Sikil Pak with fresh raw vegetables or tortilla chips for a mid-afternoon snack as well as pairing it with chicken.Cook Time – 10 minutes, Makes roughly 1/2 cup
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds
- 1/2 medium shallot, ﬁnely chopped
- 1/4 small jalepeño, stemmed, seeded, and ﬁnely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 Pumpkin Seed Butter Pouch
- 2 tablespoons parsley
- 2 tablespoons cilantro
- Zest of 1/2 lime
- Juice of 1/2 lime, about 1 tablespoon
- 1/4 cup canned ﬁre roasted tomatoes with juice
In a large sauté pan, toast the pumpkin seeds over medium heat for about 5 minutes until lightly golden. Stir frequently as pumpkin seeds are quick to burn. Let cool and transfer to a food processor.
In the same sauté pan, heat the canola oil over medium heat and add the shallots, jalepeño, garlic, and a generous pinch of salt. Cook for about 5 minutes, until softened. Transfer to food processor and let cool.
Add the Pumpkin Seed Butter, parsley, cilantro, lime zest, lime juice, and tomatoes with their juice to the food processor. Puree until it reaches a smooth consistency. Taste and add more salt if necessary.
We love pairing this dip with fresh vegetables or tortilla chips as the perfect grilling snack and spreading it onto chicken.
Hosting a larger group and want to make more? Here’s a larger version of the recipe! WLM_88Acres-SikilPak