Seth Tibbott, on Founding Tofurky

Before starting Turtle Island Foods in 1980, I had a fabulous career as a teacher/naturalist. My first job out of college was working at an outdoor school in Sinking Springs, Ohio for $25 per week plus room and board. For the next 8 years I worked in many naturalist jobs on the periphery of the public schools in Oregon. In 1980, a great conservative wind blew threw the land and one by one, my naturalist jobs started to disappear. Armed with my life savings of $2500 and a passionate love for soybeans, I rented a small space in the back of the Hope Coop Café in Forest Grove, OR and started making 100 pound batches of tempeh at night when the coop was empty.

I knew nothing about how to run a business, but felt founding Tofurky immediately gave me a certain freedom that I never knew in my naturalist days. No one was telling me when to get up, what to say and what to do. Each day was an exhilarating blank canvas with endless possibilities for new products, marketing schemes and production methods.   Here I could look people in the eye and think “no matter how weird this tempeh stuff looks to you, you don’t have to pay for it!” I was free fallin’ and loving the rush of the fall.

Fast-forward 32 years and that same feeling lives on in me today. I’ve watched a lot of innovative and highly passionate entrepreneurs bring on partners, investors and even sell the company outright to some of the biggest corporations on the planet. And in a way, the interest of these corporations in vegan foods is a pretty cool sign of progress. But with each change in ownership, these companies surrender a little bit of their magic. Customer service levels drop off, facebook posts and emails go unanswered, employee turnover rates soar and “brand management” replaces enthusiasm and innovation.

Our family owned, independent structure is perhaps the core value that we cherish the most. Sure we have had offers to sell, merge and take on outside investment. And as we go forward, the day might yet come that sends us in one of these directions. Believe me, we question the sanity of walking the independent path all the time. But at the end of the day, we get great joy from our work and our independence and are sustained by it. And what is the dollar value of that? It is my foremost hope that this blog will bring into better focus some of our values, motivations and challenges as well as acquaint you with the thought processes of some of the amazing people who keep Tofurky independent and thriving.

Good food is kind to people, animals, the environment, and especially tastebuds. That’s exactly the kind of food we’ve been making at Tofurky for more than 35 years.

  1. You are an inspiration! I am so glad you started tofurky and do what you do. The treehouse tempeh smoky maple bacon is absolutely amazing! Cannot thank you enough for the delicious VEGAN meals you have brought to the world!

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