It’s A Family Affair!
We are so fortunate here in Europe and around the world to be able to go to our local supermarket or health food shop and find the finest quality macrobiotic ingredients on the shelves. Hand-crafted traditional miso, shoyu and tofu, toasted nori sheets, great oils and noodles, pasta and pickles are just some of the products in the Clearspring range that totals an amazing 280 organic and fine food items. That they are available to us is down to the dedication and hard work of Christopher Dawson, who founded the company over 25 years ago and has built it from a small business to a large and very successful company, producing and marketing the finest natural organic products worldwide.
We asked Chris to tell us more:
MBA: Hi Chris. How did your interest in organics and natural food start?
As a young person growing up in New Zealand, I became aware of the plight of farmers and the destruction of the natural environment there, caused by the huge amounts of sheep farming – 60 million sheep in a country with only three million people. I was also distressed by the slaughter of people and the destruction of natural vegetation and forests around the world caused by warfare, for example in Vietnam. This inspired me to search for better ways to do things and to want to study natural methods of farming, so in 1974 I moved to the UK to study organic farming and then went on to study Biodynamic agriculture at Emerson College in East Sussex. Then I had to choose either to become an organic farmer myself, or to create a platform to bring organic products to more people. I chose the latter as I felt it would bring greater influence and change.
MBA: How did you start Clearspring?
In 1977 I opened East-West Natural Foods shop in Old Street, London, as part of the Community Health Foundation – one of the first centres for Macrobiotic education. My main focus was on how to source the best quality ingredients and in 1979 I went to Japan where I spent the next 18 years working with food producers and farmers, helping and encouraging them to convert to organic methods and to use their traditional ways of food processing. In 1993 I started Clearspring as a wholesale company, bringing high quality, artisanal foods to the UK.
MBA: Clearspring has recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, how have things moved on in this time?
In the early days we were working with mostly Japanese producers. Now we have over 100 producers worldwide, and we supply our products to 55 countries.
MBA: What have been your core aims and principles in Clearspring?
My primary focus is to get consumers to see the importance of organic food and farming and to understand that this is the only way forward.
These are the three main aims we have: firstly, to build a global, organic food brand of gold standard, plant-based, heritage foods from both Eastern and Western food cultures, for a healthy way of life.
Secondly, to guarantee environmental and global food security for generations to come, by promoting both organic and biodynamic agriculture and supporting traditional seed hybridization rather than the current obsession with one-way GM. All heirloom seeds are open pollinated, and they must be saved and passed from generation to generation.
And thirdly, to provide a workplace with good ethics, where staff can become self-empowered, achieve their full potential and work daily with a strong sense of belonging.
This is encapsulated in Clearspring’s 3 Ps mission: To PROVIDE for future generations, to PROTECT the environment and to PROMOTE traditional and sustainable foods with integrity.
MBA: Many people around the world are now changing to a plant-based diet; all your products are plant-based, and almost all are organic – so you have been way ahead of the times! What can help people make this change and why is it important?
We know that there are not sufficient resources on the planet for everyone to be using animal foods as a main part of their diet, and that the commercial farming of soybeans to feed cattle is one of the most environmentally destructive practices. People need to be aware that by eating non-organic meat, they are contributing to the destruction of natural habitats, the depletion of the soil and to climate change. Organic methods of farming on the other hand build the soil and support living ecosystems for future generations.
Clearspring’s mantra is to “WORK AND PLAY TO CONVERT ONE MORE ACRE to ORGANIC EACH DAY”.
While in Japan, I was impressed by their wide range of plant-based dishes, especially miso soup. I did a calculation: if you take 100kg of soya beans to make miso, you will get 20,000 bowls of miso soup; you feed the same 100kg of soya beans to cattle, you will get a hundred 10g servings of meat. In Japan soybeans are known as “meat of the fields”. I saw that the Japanese had learnt how to take products from nature and get the most nutritional bioavailability from the vegetable kingdom. They did it with subtle fermentation, whereas in the West we took animals and converted them to food. Everybody was talking about food shortages and the necessity for GM. The reality is different. There is abundance in nature beyond our imagination.
MBA: What has brought you the most joy in recent times?
In 2012 my daughter Maria joined Clearspring and since then two more of my children have joined too and I recently welcomed my first grandchild into the family! I feel optimistic that Clearspring can continue into the future as a family business with the same passion that I have always had!
MBA: Chris, on behalf of all of as at the Macrobiotic Association we would like to thank you for your amazing achievement and for your continued support of our work and events promoting health, wellbeing and organic plant-based foods.
Visit Clearspring Website here.