It’s easy to admire an entrepreneur who takes a small idea and nourishes it into a full-fledged company. It’s even easier to admire that go-getter when his or her business benefits society. Here, we chat with the owners of three local companies who are striving to both make money and a difference.
You’ve heard of “farm to table.” Eileen Banyra would like to introduce you to “table to farm.” Her company, Community Compost, will pick up your table scraps and organic waste and compost it, then sell the compost to local farms. She calls it “earthcycling.”
“Forty percent of all food grown is thrown out,” Banyra says. And up to 66 percent of all landfill waste is organic material. “That’s crazy. We are trying to bring common sense back to the equation. The Hudson Valley is being tapped as a food hub, and if we ask more of our soil, we have to give our soil more back.”
She launched Community Compost this past spring, after researching the concept for about two years. “This idea isn’t new,” she says. “San Francisco has been doing it for 20 years. It’s happening around the country.” As an environmental land use planner, she wanted to bring it here, and has started service in New Paltz and Hoboken, N.J.
For a monthly fee of $20, her company will provide you with a five-gallon bucket to fill with your food scraps and other organic materials, including yard trimmings, wood waste, paper, and paperboard products. You leave the bucket on your driveway, front porch, or wherever you wish, and they collect the full bucket and drop off a clean one.
She understands that people may not want to pay for this service, and in fact, she says you don’t have to. “If you can compost yourself, don’t give it to me,” she says. But at some point, she believes, we will all be composting. “It’s just a matter of time until this will be just like recycling was 10 years ago,” she says. “It will be mandated — it already is in certain places, but New York is a little behind, and New Jersey is way behind.”
She is doing her part to help us catch up. “What’s great for me is, I love any environmental initiative,” she says. “People are excited about it. Little old ladies give me the thumbs-up as we drive around. People like the idea whether they are willing to pay for it or not. For me, there is satisfaction knowing it’s the right thing to do.”
To get composting, call 845-787-3478 or visit www.communitycompostco.com.
Like most of us, Kelly Lyndgaard had once been less than sympathetic to drug addicts, but when some women who were in a recovery program at the Walter Hoving Home in Garrison spoke at her church, she was astounded. “I had been very judgmental, but once I got to know them, I learned they often had no other choice,” she says. “Some of these gals had no shot. You hear their stories and it breaks your heart. Given the same set of circumstances, I was not sure I would have made a different choice.”
The odds these women overcame spurred Lyndgaard, of Hopewell Junction, into action. “I never saw transformation like I saw in those women,” she says. “There was no sense of, ‘I’m a victim.’ They could own their addiction, but say, ‘That is no longer who I am.’ I totally fell in love with them and told them, if you want help, I’m all in.”
As an executive with IBM, she “always had a passion about social business models,” she says. “It’s a great way to combine helping someone and teaching them how to gain business skills.” Lyndgaard’s idea: making and selling handbags out of used clothing to help the women learn about manufacturing, marketing and sales, and also feel good about earning their keep. “I met with the executive director and told her this idea. She said, ‘go to town.’”
In September 2013, she did, setting up production at the Hoving Home, a residential rehabilitation center for women overcoming alcoholism, drug addiction, and other life-controlling addictions. The first bags were not very good, she admits. And the “labor” constantly changes as women graduate from the program (women may only remain at the Hoving home for a period of six or 12 months). Still, they made $15,000 in profit in the first nine months, and all profits go to the Hoving Home.
But, “It’s not just the money,” says Lyndgaard. After one show in which they did $1,200 in sales, one of the women in recovery told her, “I’ve made $1,200 in one night before, but not like that.” “The joy on her face when she realized she had other skills and capabilities was amazing,” Lyndgaard says. “This tells them, you are artists, business people, and you have done something real and legitimate.”
Unshattered takes donations, monetary and also physical — sewing supplies and particularly leather or suede coats that “don’t have to be in good shape,” says Lyndgaard. She also invites people to host a bag sale party. For more information call 845-424-3674 or visit www.unshattered.org.
People who know Vicki Sylvester know one thing in particular about her. “I love dogs,” she says. “Everyone thinks of me as, ‘Vicki and her dogs.’”
Sylvester’s other passion is helping the developmentally disabled. She has worked for 33 for Community Based Services (CBS), a North Salem-based not-for-profit organization that provides care for people with autism and other developmental disabilities, and now she is its CEO. About two years ago, those two interests came together in a new company, Good Reasons, which employs disabled adults to make dog treats, with all profits going back to support CBS.
At the time, New York State was trying to find a way to get more people with disabilities into the workforce, she says. “Obviously that’s not easy, especially in a rough economy with a high unemployment rate. These people are not high on the hiring list.”
With three dogs of her own, she also knew that the pet industry is enormous. “I thought we could get in on that business, and just said, ‘let’s do dog treats,’” she recalls. “That’s how it was born.”
It was initially called Three Brown Dogs Barkery, for Sylvester’s three Springer Spaniels and C-suite members: Gracie, CEO (chief eating officer); Tucker, COO (chief “odorable” officer); and Hudson, CFO (chief finicky officer). She wanted to make all-natural, human-grade products, so she hired Allan Katz, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and former executive chef and owner of Allyns. They opened this past July, but changed the name because, “We are giving you ‘good reasons’ to buy our treats.”
The company currently has five disabled employees working in production and packaging. As it grows, more will be added. They produce six different products, including Hudson’s Pumpkin Peanut Butter Pieces, Charlie’s Cheddar Chomps, and Tucker’s Tummy Ticklin’ Turkey. “My dogs got fat from trying all the samples,” Sylvester says.
The treats are available at numerous locations, including Adams Fairacre Farms, Williams Lumber, some veterinarians and dog groomers, and many others throughout Putnam, Dutchess, and Westchester. You can find a list of them all — or order directly — at their website, www.goodreasons.com.