Tasty juices, sorbet, and fruit drinks that are good for the taste buds, body, and environment. That is Sambazon, which stands for Sustainable Management of the Brazilian AmAZON.
Seaver College graduate Jeremy Black (‘96) started the company with his brother and friend in 2000.
Thirteen years later, Sambazon products are sold in thousands of stores around the country - probably one near you. Celebrities, athletes, and the like are also embracing the company’s delicious (and nutritious) Amazonian flavors.
The B Corporation is a sustainable business that uses antioxidant-rich foods of the Amazon like açaí [pronounced: ah-sah-ee] to make yummy drinks and treats. The organization even boasts its own team of scientific and nutrition experts who help support the health benefits of the products. Aside from being good for the body, Sambazon is also sustainable and socially responsible. The company works with more than 10,000 family farmers. It has also helped fund local schools and partnered with major organizations like World Wildlife Fund to help develop more sustainable practices in the Amazon.
In addition to this amazing work, Jeremy is also involved with Plant with Purpose, a San Diego-based nonprofit organization that helps impoverished communities create economic opportunity through environmental restoration. Since 1984, the group has planted more than 9 million trees – wow!
Waves of Service recently interviewed Jeremy to find out more about his incredible life in service.
WOS: How did you get involved with Sambazon and Plant with Purpose?
Jeremy: My brother Ryan and our good friend Ed Nichols returned from a trip to Brazil in 2000 excited about açaí and, after hearing about the health benefits of the Amazonian fruit and the potential to create a business that would help create an economic incentive to protect the rainforest, I knew that this wasn’t just a great business opportunity, but an opportunity to create real positive change in the world. I learned about Plant with Purpose at my local church in 2008 and loved the idea of helping people get out of poverty by providing them with environmental education and resources to grow their own organic food - both to feed their families and sell to their communities and beyond. It’s like the saying: give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.
WOS: Describe your current roles at these organizations.
Jeremy: At Sambazon, I’m the Chief Brand Officer, which means I work on a variety of brand and product development-related projects like new flavors in our juice/smoothie lines. Last year, we created a series of videos educating people about some of our Amazon Superfoods like açaí by taking them to the source and talking about the real health benefits and sustainability around harvesting them. With Plant with Purpose I simply donate resources and try to help create awareness of what they are doing.
WOS: What inspired you to get involved with environmental causes?
Jeremy: Traveling and learning about what’s really going on. Growing up, I think there is an assumption that “the people in charge” are being responsible and I quickly learned that, when it comes to the environment and food, that’s not the case. The fact that most Americans are consuming GMOs on a daily basis and we don’t have any good science to show that’s safe (actually a lot to the contrary) is not ok. And the fact that farmers are spraying toxic chemicals on the food we eat and poisoning the soil and water is also not ok. It’s our responsibility to be leaders and help to get the solutions (and there are tons of them) into people’s hands. It seems like a lot of my friends are starting to realize this now that they have children and are paying more attention to what they give them to eat.
WOS: What’s the best part of your job?
Jeremy: The organic food industry is a great community to work in and I’ve learned a lot from other entrepreneurs who are just as passionate about their companies and missions as we are about ours….and I have all the açai I can eat :)
WOS: What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Jeremy: Keeping the conversation relevant. It can seem like a broken record talking about organics and the environment to people sometimes when most people have heard about it. But it feels like momentum is really growing and a lot more people are wising up to the issues and, most importantly, what they are putting into their bodies.
WOS: How did your education at Pepperdine shape your career and you as a person?
Jeremy: Pepperdine was very challenging and it helped me develop good habits and discipline. There was also a strong element in community service and it helped me to further realize the importance of a commitment to that in my life.
WOS: What piece of advice would you give to others who would like to serve a cause, whether through a nonprofit, social enterprise, etc.?
Jeremy: I’d say the most important thing is to love what you do. Any job you end up taking on will take an enormous amount of time in your life. So, before you commit to something, make sure you love what you are going to be doing and feel like you’re not just selling a widget or being a cog in some wheel. Make sure you feel like you’re actually making a real positive difference in the world in a way that you are passionate about. And, if possible, take some time and travel (and don’t just go to all the easy places); get to Africa, India, and other countries that live differently than you’ve been brought up. See the world through others’ eyes. It will forever change you and you will never regret it.
WOS: Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
Jeremy: A concept I love to share with people is the idea that we all “Vote with our Dollars” every day and the “true cost” of things is the cost of the organic/fair trade versions. When you buy something as simple as a coffee, realize that you are creating demand for a replacement cup. Consider where that cup of coffee came from. Were the coffee beans sprayed with pesticides that polluted the soil and water in that third world country where it came from? Was the worker paid a fraction of a living wage to harvest it? Consider this….an organic/fair trade cup of coffee (or apple, or insert any product you purchase) may cost MORE than the non-organic/non fair trade version, but why is this? It’s because it’s cheaper to spray chemicals and pollute the environment and not pay people fair living wages. That’s not the “true cost.” The true cost is what that organic/fair trade product costs because it’s responsibly farmed and paid a fair living wage to harvest it. So, the true cost is the more expensive cup and you shouldn’t even be considering buying the cheaper non organic version- unless you feel okay taking a discount for polluting the environment and paying someone less than living wages to provide for you what you need.