Eating and Drinking, URI-Style

A salad made with Boston Greens lettuce

Of course it comes as no surprise to QuadAngles readers that their fellow URI graduates are out there helping people have delicious meals. Think Perry Raso ’02, M.S. ’06 and his Matunuck Oyster Bar and Farm, and other shellfishers featured in our Summer 2015 article, The Oyster is their World. URI alums work at businesses as diverse as Del’s, Newport Winery, and South County Honey; others help supply local food pantries and show us how to grow our own food.

Then there’s the new student group, Slow Food URI, and a new interdisciplinary major in sustainable agriculture and food systems. It’s the perfect discipline for students interested in careers in sustainable food production, food security, food safety, and food marketing and distribution. “What’s unique about our program compared to others around the country is that ours will have a coastal focus, integrating sustainable seafood with all the other foods that other programs emphasize,” says Professor Marta Gomez-Chiarri, coordinator of the new major.  

So, as spring approaches and we enter the season of good eating and drinking, here’s a look at a few more local food and drink stars.

Fully Rooted Juice

Amanda Repose ’14 may have studied entrepreneurial management at URI’s College of Business Administration, but she was terrified of getting stuck in an office. Drawn as she was to the campus gardens, and struck by courses that examined the impact of business on the environment and company cultures that try to make a difference, she started a fresh juice company, Fully Rooted, with three cofounders, while still in her junior year.

“The biggest inspiration behind our company was a good friend of mine, Steve Carlson,” she writes. “In his 20s he was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and had been receiving injection medication to keep his RA at bay. He began juicing carrots and apple, (the combo is now our classic juice) and locally grown, organic wheatgrass. He juiced every day, and within a year he was off all of his medications, including his injections, and is still off them now.

Not long after that, I began juicing and frequenting the farmers markets every Saturday. There was certainly a draw to the friendly faces and beautiful, hard-earned produce: the heart and soul of the local markets.”

She and three friends started the company; their first event was at a local yoga studio three years ago.

Over the past 3 years, we have made it into some of the best farmers markets in the state,” Repose writes. “We have been coached by farmers and other small businesses that are doing the same thing that we are doing but with their own products and stories of bringing better Rhode Island-based products to market. In the spring of 2015, we obtained a business loan (with the help of my business plan, which I drafted at URI) that allowed us to purchase a GIANT commercial juicer, taking our production from 1 gallon of juice per hour to 20–30 gallons of juice per hour! With a great deal of work and effort, I am delighted to say we are currently working on our wholesaling license to expand our reach from farmers markets to local cafes, fitness clubs, and grocers. Our sales have doubled every calendar year since we have been in business.”

Fully Rooted buys local whenever possible and donates 200 pounds of juice pulp to local farmers every weekend for pig and chicken feed. “As we grow, the amount of support we can give them and the amount we can give back will grow along with us—we are very excited for that! We have such extraordinary plans for the future, so stay tuned!”

That’s not all from Repose—during her junior year, she also helped to cofound a nonprofit, Delivering Hope. “It was absolutely crazy” to take on so much, she acknowledges. “Reflecting back, my passion was what I had, and has been a driving force in what I am able to do day-in and day-out.”

Fully Rooted has sought to sell their juice on campus, as reported in early March in the Good 5 Cent Cigar, but URI’s existing agreement with Coca Cola blocked any agreement.

“It is very unfortunate,” says Repose, “but that obviously isn’t the first hoop we’ve jumped through to get our business off the ground and into hands of consumers, and will not be the last. All we can do is continue to work hard and grow.”

Grey Sail Brewing

Michelle Kirms ’07 went to URI headed for a career in newspapers; Daniel Rivera ’10 was going to turn his DJ sideline into a full-time business. But like many, they were distracted from their pursuits by really good beer. More specifically, the pale ales and lagers produced by Grey Sail Brewing. Rivera was there to help owner Jennifer Brinton open the brewery doors in November 2011; Kirms joined the team 10 months later. Together with head brewer Josh LeTourneau, the trio run the daily operations at the brewery, housed in an old macaroni factory on Canal Street in Westerly. Over the last four years, Grey Sail has grown—from producing less than 1,000 barrels of beer annually to nearly 4,000 for the microbrewery’s fans in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

By the time Kirms graduated from URI’s journalism program in 2007, she realized she wasn’t going to be a reporter, but she had enjoyed doing graphic design for the Good 5 Cent Cigar. For several years, she worked as an ad designer for the Narragansett Times, while at home, Kirms and her husband were avid brewers. In 2012, her background in communications caught up with her hobby when Brinton hired her to manage social media for the fledgling brewery. Kirms started out designing ads, cleaning kegs and working the beer festivals. As the brewery grew, she moved into a full-time position as assistant brewer.

“I really wanted to be a part of this industry,” she says. “I honestly love going from a desk job to going to a job where I’m on my feet and always moving. It’s a life-changing experience for me—I get bored easily. Sometimes there is more work than time to do it, and it can be stressful having such trusting employers. But, it’s more good than bad. It is funny—journalism did get me this job because it got me into design.”

In December 2010, Rivera was a newly minted graduate of URI’s Entrepreneurial Management program, enjoying a home-brewed beer with his parents’ neighbors, Jennifer and Alan Brinton. The Brintons were about to launch Grey Sail and asked Rivera what he wanted to do with his career. Rivera intended to start his own entertainment company, but he was intrigued by the idea of working for a beer-based start-up.

“I was a light beer drinker at the time” he said. “I knew very little about beer. But, I also thought it would be the closest I would get to being an entrepreneur without raising money.”

He, too, has progressed from doing whatever was needed to get Grey Sail going, from sales rep to his current position of operations manager. He’s at work by 5 a.m. to prep for the Kirms and LeTorneau, and spends the rest of his day dealing with inventory, packaging and delivery logistics.

“If I would part ways with Grey Sail, one of the key things I’ve learned is that manufacturing is my calling,” he says. “It’s fun, interesting and constantly changing. I love being hands-on and watching the growing inventory numbers. One of the first things I realized through taking on different responsibilities is that the entrepreneurial degree gives you a good foundation.”   

Boston Greens

The high-tech greenhouse farming company Atlantic Produce put down roots—or more specifically, an 8,400-foot greenhouse—in West Kingston last year so that founder Lewis Valenti ’98 can work with URI scientists on the prototype for a hydroponic growing facility. The aim is to grow lettuce and other greens year-round, chemical-free. Already, the company is selling lettuce locally under the name Boston Greens, and in the next few years the company plans to expand into a 16-acre, $20-million facility that will recycle all its water and sustain itself in terms of power production.

The company is stuffed with URI alums—Susan Kucharski ’98, Kyle Stewart ’97 and Nicholas Testa ’11 all have senior roles—and we’re planning more coverage, so please stay tuned to a future issue of QuadAngles for more on Valenti and his company.


—By Pippa Jack and Ellen Liberman