Today, as part of our monthly series of interviews with members of Groundwork’s Corporate and Community Partnership Program, we check in with Cherry Republic founder Bob Sutherland and Vice-President of Climate and Community Impact Sara Harding. Bob’s ties to Groundwork go way back to our earliest days, and his views have shaped our direction in so many ways. Thank you Bob and Sara for participating as a Resilient Level Corporate Sponsor! — Stephanie Prall, Development Specialist
What’s your Groundwork story?
Bob Sutherland’s strong ties to Groundwork date back to the organization’s founding in 1995 when it was called the Michigan Land Use Institute. Bob was honored to serve as president of MLUI’s board of directors from 1998 to 2004.
Cherry Republic commits to giving 1% of all gross revenue to environmental and community groups. Learn more!
How does Groundwork align with what is important in your work?
When Bob founded Cherry Republic in 1989, he did it with the intention of supporting local growers, in particular cherry farmers. He understood how critical northern Michigan’s agricultural roots are to the health and vitality of this area, both from the perspective of a resident and of a business owner. Then, after spending a weekend with Patagonia cofounder Yvon Chouinard in 2000, Bob committed Cherry Republic to giving 1% of all gross revenue to environmental and community groups. We also collect a 1% refundable “tariff” from our customers that is donated to agricultural programs in northern Michigan. Our primary focus is on preserving our farmland and strengthening the new small farm economy. Over the years, these programs have allowed us to grant nearly $3 million to worthy groups protecting our land, air, and water in Michigan. We consider this the most meaningful activity we do as a company.
Why do you choose to support Groundwork?
Groundwork’s mission of tackling land, energy, water, and farming issues in northern Michigan is a natural fit with Cherry Republic’s mission. In 2013, Cherry Republic was humbled to play an instrumental role in launching Groundwork’s 10 Cents a Meal for School Kids & Farms program. A regional initiative to provide schools with extra funding to buy more locally grown fruits and vegetables for students, the program was rolled out at Glen Lake Community Schools, TCAPS elementary schools, and Suttons Bay Public Schools. Cherry Republic’s grant of $28,000 was the biggest single donation the company had made at that point.
What is something you are currently excited about in your work and something on the horizon?
Cherry Republic is currently in the process of rolling out more new products in a single year than we ever have in our 30+ year history, and we can’t wait to share this bounty with our loyal customers! We also are revamping our Ann Arbor store to include an expanded wine counter and space for community interaction.
What’s something that you love about your local and sustainable community?
We love the passion northern Michigan residents have for our area. They understand the amazing gift of natural resources that surround us daily, and they are willing to get involved – whether by sharing their time, talent or treasure—to ensure that our land and water are well cared for so that generations to come can also enjoy its gifts.
What is your niche in the community and your market?
When Bob started Cherry Republic in 1989, he was literally selling cherry oatmeal cookies and T-shirts out of the trunk of his old Mazda. Today, our company sells over 200 cherry-related items, from dried cherries and nut mixes to salsas and barbecue sauces, candies and chocolates, beer and wine. But we provide our “Citizens of the Republic” much more than jars of cherry salsa. We send them home with the spirit of northern Michigan. Many of our longtime customers tell us that they look forward to visiting our stores in Traverse City and Leelanau County area all year long.
What does community mean to you?
It means showing up. Whether attending a political rally for candidates committed to protecting the environment, attending a TART Trail workday, or pulling up invasive plants at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, our local residents are standing by to help in whatever capacity is needed. And as a company with deep roots in our area, we believe “community” extends to the local business community as well. Each December, we host our 31 Days of Giving campaign, when we grant money to deserving nonprofits throughout Michigan. It is our goal to inspire other companies to follow this same model for the betterment of our communities and environment.
Stephanie Prall, Development Specialist