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One Sweet Party

Sweet Earth’s Grand Opening in Moss Landing

Founder_Caren_Hicks_serves_up_veggie_slidersSweet Earth Natural Foods recently relocated from their longtime home in Pacific Grove to Moss Landing and showed off their new digs at an open house last Saturday. Owners Brian and Kelly Swette could not have custom-ordered a more beautiful day for their grand opening at the former Diamond Organics plant just west of Highway One amid strawberry fields along the coast. Autumn sunlight streamed from a clear blue sky as Kelly Swette showed off the company’s beautiful outdoor garden with raised beds, where produce representative of Sweet Earth’s products was growing. Swette said that while the garden couldn’t support the production of Sweet Earth’s pies, soups, burritos and other products, it would allow their twenty or so employees to be able to spend some time in touch with the earth each day. She also plans to share the harvest with them.

Inside the sleek, modern 35,000 square foot facility, Executive Chef Chris Jensen—formerly of Monterey Pasta Company—showed off the company’s “wheat meat,” or seitan, a high-protein wheat gluten product similar in texture to meat. Jensen used plain seitan to make a classic Bolognese sauce with pasta, and Sweet Earth’s chipotle-marinated strips to make fajitas with onions and peppers.

100_1960The company has several product lines in addition to the seitan selections and signature veggie burgers. They make eight kinds of soup, including: Cuban black bean chili; Tuscan mushroom, kale, and barley; and Spanish red pepper and basil. Five kinds of vegan pies—including a creamy pumpkin—offer plenty of dessert options. There are also eight different kinds of vegetarian burritos. The frozen burritos include three vegan options: the Big Sur Breakfast burrito with seitan, tofu, potatoes and red peppers; the Kyoto, with Japanese adzuki beans, baby bok choy, spinach and edamame; and the Anasazi, with green chiles, anasazi beans, seitan, butternut squash and ginger. Swette said she wanted 8 varieties, “to demonstrate the worldly profiles of really premium ingredients.” She noted that unlike many frozen burritos, “you can really see the ingredients” in their product. You can taste them, too. Swette’s philosophy that vegetarian doesn’t have to be bland comes through loud and clear. In the Baja Breakfast Burrito, for example, there are big bites of huevos rancheros flavor with black beans, spicy chipotle seitan, green peppers, eggs and cheese. “I want a product that delivers flavor, rather than saying it has, ‘no this’ or ‘no that’ in it,” Swette said.

The move is a big change for Sweet Earth, which Caren Hicks founded in 1978 when she started making wraps and fresh burgers to sell in health food stores. She still works with the company; at the grand opening she could be found serving veggie sliders from the grill. As she talked about the business, her face lit up—especially when she talked about the employees. “They’re like family,” she said, noting that all but one of them made the move with the company to Moss Landing and had tenures ranging from 5 to 15 years. She proudly pointed out the company’s new “Zen Farmer” logo: a drawing of a farmer seated in the lotus position. “I drew the original logo when I was 21 years old,” she laughed; “when I saw this one, I said okay!”

Owner_Kelly_Sweeney_talks_about_Sweet_Earths_products_and_visionHer company has certainly grown up. Sweet Earth’s products are now available throughout California, as well as in Washington, Oregon, and most recently in Arizona. Hicks shares that at this year’s Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, they were both surprised and pleased to receive a “Best of Show” Award for the Big Sur Breakfast Burrito. “Every one of our crew was there and these people just started screaming and jumping up and down,” she said. “Kelly and Brian just sort of teared up.” Where the next steps in Sweet Earth’s journey will lead is anyone’s guess, but there’s no shortage of ideas or creative energy to take them where they want to go.

50262_265362760198672_1201805508_nSweet Earth’s products are available locally at numerous locations listed on their website, including Whole Foods, New Leaf Markets, and Cornucopia Market in Carmel. Salinas foodies can try out the burritos at the Cherry Bean Coffee House in Old Town.

About the author

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Elaine Hesser grew up in rural Pennsylvania and started cooking at age 6. By age 9, she'd made her first dinner and at midlife, is amazed when high school graduates can't scramble eggs. After the U.S. Army paid for her B.A., it also moved her to Monterey County, where she served on active duty at Ft. Ord and Ft. Hunter Liggett. She has a wide variety of interests, but is most passionate about faith, writing, and food - and encourages everyone never to stop learning and looking for truth.