Shrub Farm

Tomo and Josh at Bellingham Farmers Market (Credit FotoMataio)

Tasty, refreshing, and eco-friendly beverages

There are times in life when you just need a drink. Maybe it’s been a long day, maybe you’re celebrating a big accomplishment. Maybe it’s just that you finally have a day to relax and enjoy some time to yourself. Whatever the occasion, the best beverages are something special; something that helps you fully sink into the moment.

In today’s world, there is no shortage of options for beverages. Whether you want a local beer, wine, or spirit, a juice or a kombucha, options are plentiful. But now there’s another option that’s becoming more popular among those who drink alcohol and those who refrain alike: shrubs.

Shrubs have been around for centuries in various forms, and the concept has remained unchanged throughout time. Fruits and other flavorful ingredients are preserved in vinegar to create a fruity, tangy concentrated elixir. This can then be mixed into drinks to add a complex flavor profile with little effort.

This unique beverage has undergone something of a revival over the past few years and is regaining popularity as people rediscover its benefits and various uses. At the leading edge of this revival are Josh and Tomo of Shrub Farm, based in Bellingham. The couple produces several varieties of shrubs using fresh, local ingredients direct from farms as well as organic apple cider vinegar from Washington State apples.

The road that led to Shrub Farm is a winding path. Josh and Tomo met while practicing massage on Maui. “We saw massage as a way to give back to people without producing waste products,” says Josh. Tomo, who grew up in Yokohama, started doing massage for a local lacrosse team before moving to the tropical climate of Hawaii. The two of them were enamored by the idea of starting a business, but couldn’t decide what business to start. It was important to be environmentally sound, as well as being able to give something to people that they believed in.

While they were mulling different ideas, they took a trip to Japan where Tomo’s mother introduced them to the world of shrubs for the first time. “It was the most refreshing thing I’d ever had,” recalls Josh. The full flavor of fresh blueberries preserved at their peak was enough to convince them that this was their calling. Before long they were selling shrubs at the farmers market on Maui using wild-harvested tropical fruits and other flavorful ingredients.

Eventually, though, the couple had to move. Shipping bottles across the ocean is costly both in monetary and environmental terms, and with a young son they were craving more family interaction. They chose to move to Bellingham, where Josh grew up, and continue the business.

The move to Bellingham has allowed Josh and Tomo to continue their journey toward environmental sustainability as well as excellent quality. They exclusively use their own Apple State Vinegar, the product of a partnership with an Eastern Washington processor. This vinegar is undiluted, so it’s more potent than commercially available vinegar. Other ingredients are sourced locally, including berries from local farms and shiso (a flavorful leafy green) which they harvest themselves at Rabbit Fields Farm!

Packaging materials are eco-friendly as well. “We have very little guilt about our products. We produce very little waste,” says Josh. Tomo chimes in, “we’ve streamlined our process to keep our footprint small.”

There are plenty of reasons beyond the environmental aspects for drinking Shrub Farm products. The vinegar and ingredients are all of the highest quality, and they do the hard work of finding those sources. They support local farmers, but they also don’t compromise. As Josh says, “we would rather wait until the ingredients are ready than go buy blueberries at Costco.” The end product reflects the quality inputs. In fact, Shrub Farm recently won a Good Food Award for their Ginger and Hawaiian Chili Shrub.

Another reason to support Shrub Farm is their corporate giving. Six percent of profits from Apple State Vinegar are donated to three charities working to preserve the Orca population. They also have occasional giving days where 100% of all sales go to charities.

     While it’s great to know that Shrub Farm is environmentally and socially responsible, it’s important to emphasize that this stuff is good. And versatile. Their blog contains recipes for both food and drinks, and you might be surprised about the ways you can use shrubs. Use a fruity shrub to make “buttermilk” pancakes with a fruity punch. Or make gummy candies by simmering some shrub with agar and pouring into a mold.

When a company combines a great product with environmental and social responsibility, it makes our choice as consumers very easy. Instead of feeling uncertain about the impact of your consumption, you can feel at peace knowing that all decisions are consciously made to have a small footprint. And that makes unwinding that much easier.

Shrub Farm