Serving the community, one mason jar at a time
The lines of people on the sidewalk of University Avenue in Berkeley aren’t waiting for a table at a hip restaurant. Instead they are here to pick up — among other things — bone broth in a glass mason jar.
Each week customers crowd the store during limited open hours on Wednesdays from 5 p.m to 7 p.m., Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to pick up items such as stewed meat, pastured eggs, raw cheese and locally made facial products. Most of it is in glass jars.
This worker-owned cooperative, Three Stone Hearth, has made it their mission to offer pre-prepared traditional food packaged in reusable and returnable Mason jars and “nourishing transformation through traditional wisdom,” to the Bay Area community.
Four decades after Alice Water’s innovative restaurant Chez Panisse opened in 1971, the Bay Area continues to be at the forefront of the local food movement. As restaurants continue to create relationships with farmers and inform customers of their commitment to locally sourced, organic, grass-fed, antibiotic free ingredients, the community continues to become educated about the ecological and personal health benefits of eating this way.
“I shop at Three Stone Hearth because sometimes I don’t have the time to make bone broth and I consider it the most important thing to have in my kitchen,” longtime customer of Three Stone Hearth, Torre McQueen said. It’s one thing I can add to our food that I know will have a huge nutritional impact on my family.”
The walls are brightly painted and reminiscent of the time when the large rectangular space Three Stone Hearth now occupies was a family-owned Thai restaurant. One skylight is bright green, another red and another purple, and all give off a welcoming glow.
The store is filled with pre-made food, including chile-chicken soup, sauerkraut, homemade sour cream, pineapple basil kombucha and three kinds of bone broth; these are just examples from the past several months. The menu changes weekly. Other non-perishables like kale chips, fermented granola and soaked and dried almonds sit on shelves surrounding two refrigerators.
Steve Gere, a long time customer of Three Stone Hearth, says he started shopping there when he and his wife became too busy to do mid-week meal prep and wanted the food his family was eating to be humanely raised and local.
“We could get take-out from a million restaurants that would be cheaper, but that was not what we wanted to do,” Gere said. “Knowing about the quality of the food was important — the way it is sourced and prepared.”
For Three Stone Hearth, traditional food means locally sourced, organic, nutrient-dense food made from pastured meats, eggs and dairy, organic vegetables, whole grains and legumes, natural sweeteners and traditional fats such as coconut oil, lard, tallow, olive oil and ghee.
In 2006, when they opened the doors in their first location at the north end of Aquatic Park in West Berkeley, the five original owners, Jessica Prentice, Porsche Combash, Misa Koketsu, Catherine Spanger and Larry Wisch, wanted their food sold in ecological containers and mason jars made the most sense.
According to the Institute for Local Self Reliance, glass is the most ecological form of packing available and lowers greenhouse gas emissions, carbon monoxide emissions, solid waste generation, energy consumption and water consumption.
Alexandra Hudson, owner of Kaleidoscope Living Foods, the company that makes the kale chips sold at Three Stone Hearth, says no market was willing to sell her product in jars since it was such a hassle. However, Three Stone Hearth built their web-based ordering system from scratch to include a two dollar jar deposit added to every item purchased in a glass jar, while also having a way to refund customers when they brought jars back.
“[Three Stone Hearth] lined up perfectly with what I wanted to do. They have made it so easy. If more stores were willing to do what Three Stone Hearth does, that would be great,” she said.
Today, large grey and red tubs line tables along one wall where people can return all their jars.
“We have high standards and a vision to make our food sustainable,” Jessica Prentice said.
Three Stone Hearth has adopted Holacracy, a business management system that removes power from a hierarchical system and distributes it to clear roles throughout the company.
A large chalkboard on the wall near the back of the room has circles divvying up portions of the business between all the workers. The idea of Holacracy is that the people in each group have the ability to take pride in what they are doing and move that portion of the business forward.
This worker-owned cooperative, the first of its kind, is truly trying to create social change, one mason jar at a time.