Introduction | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5
The current history of Big Tree Farms is charmed with adventures and jaw dropping tales that will one day find their way into a book. Or perhaps even a movie. From Ben and Blairs hair raising adventures across Australia and Indonesia to Fredericks rampant jungle explorations through Central and South America, the stage of Big Tree Farms is a fusing of synergetic passions and a relentless quest for food and adventure, culminating in a company that continues to push the boundaries of how the food industry conducts business.
Big Tree Farms is run by co-ceos & owners Ben Ripple and Frederick Schilling, who came together in a serendipitous meeting that was foretold by an industry associate (we love you Shelley), just seconds before it happened. Twilight Zone style.
From that day, it was clear that the two were to join forces and make Big Tree Farms what it is today; one of the most respected vertically integrated food companies, serving our 14,000+ farmer partners and millions of customers worldwide, each with zealous passion and sincerity.
Chapter One: Dirt Under the Fingernails
In early June of 2000, Blair and Ben Ripple dug deep into rich volcanic soil and pulled out a handful of creamy white new potatoes. It was the first harvest for Big Tree Farms, Bali. Since those first humble beginnings on just under an eighth of an acre, Big Tree Farms has developed to become the premier producer of sustainably grown produce in Indonesia.
Now, over ten acres of land yields more than eighty different crops that are harvested daily in the wee hours of the morning, when ghostly clouds roll through the mountainous forest and the night crickets fill the air with a melodious symphony. From long time standards such as heavy heads of Broccoli, and crisp Romaines to more exotic heirlooms like French Chantenay Carrots, D’avignon Radishes, Pennsylvania Brandywine Tomatoes and Italian Chiogga Beets. Vines of succulent Passion fruit hang from 30 year-old coffee and cacao trees, Vanilla orchids trail up the trunks of shade producing Gamal and Dapdap trees and among it all are the beds of organic vegetables. Situated on the verdant slopes of Bali’s second highest volcanic peak, Big Tree Farms’ hand-carved terraces of produce flow seamlessly with the meandering contours of the jungle highland.
Having a vegetable farm was our first dream, the constant challenges of watching the sky and praying for no rain or pleading with the clouds to unleash their downpour, coaxing carrots to grow big and strong with compost, love and weeding, watching the seasons and veggies go through there ever changing dance and of course growing produce that is vibrant, delicious and organic will always be at our core. However, we soon realized that supporting ourselves through planting carrots here in Bali was never going to work. Out of that realization came some bold new ideas.
Chapter Two: Fireflies and Salt Pyramids
The first of these bold ideas was the Firefly Supper Series… a chance for the farmers, drivers, office employees and us to all get together and put on a delicious dinner using what we grow and present it to tourists and locals in a beautiful setting -our farm. Supper series began in 2002 and quickly had a local cult following. In 2005 Firefly appeared in Gourmet magazine and the rest is history.
Besides highlighting all of our own produce we also wanted to support other local producers that were creating amazing culinary products all over the island. We searched Bali for wine, cheese, oils, spices…some were good, some were great and others were exceptional. That is how we found the sea salt. Every dinner we had, someone would murmur praise about the sea salt…and we listened. We passed it around to our networks of chefs…and the wheels in our minds started to turn. This was exactly what we have been wanting and waiting to do, find and support local creators/producers/artisans and help them find a market so they could continue exactly what they have always been doing.
We jumped on this opportunity, created some samples and flew back to NY to show it around. Response was great and we had our first traditionally produced artisan product out on the market - Handcrafted Balinese our Sea salt. Our focus became clear and soon we followed the sea salt with wildcrafted Balinese Long peppers and now we are constantly searching, finding, creating and releasing new products all with the same idea in mind. Artisan produced, small batch products with market viability.
Then we met this guy by the name of Frederick Schilling, founder of Dagoba Organic Chocolate, in a very auspicious manner. This was also around 2005...
Chapter Three: Holy Cacao!
In 2006, Big Tree Farms started to work with a small group of cacao farmers on Western Bali. The goal was to create a more transparent market access for these farmers, by helping add value to their cacao and selling to the global premium chocolate market. With consultation by Frederick Schilling and a lot of hard work, our cacao program flourished and became the global model for a transparent sustainable cacao program. Then the question was asked, "how can we add more value to the cacao and not just sell the bulk beans?". The answer is of course, by taking the beans and transforming it into chocolate products.
Frederick became more and more interested in what was happening at Big Tree Farms. He had sold his company in late 2006 and in 2007, he pretty much became a full time unofficial and unpaid consultant to Big Tree Farms, helping figure out ways to create equipment that would be able to process the products we wanted to make - raw cacao powder and raw cacao butter. This is not as easy as one may think. Yet, after much trial and error, Big Tree Farms became the first company in the world to produce a Truly Raw Cold Processed organic cacao powder and butter.
Now this is all fine and dandy. We love cacao. Its in our blood. Its in our hearts. We simply love cacao. And the inventiveness of pioneering the worlds first truly raw and cold pressed cacao products was an achievement we still hold dear to our hearts. Yet, when Ben and Frederick met, it was very clear that synergies were sparking beyond 4th of July metrics. It was clear that this duo was going to be up to some serious fun. Frederick founded and built Dagoba Chocolate based on breaking the boundaries of the chocolate industry and innovating what people didnt know they wanted. Ben is a master at working and building supply chains for multiple commodities. What was being born was a company that not only worked with artisan groups, but would be able to take these traditional ingredients and transform them into productions that would, once again, push the industry into categories and products that consumers didnt know they wanted. And so Frederick became a partner in Big Tree Farms...
Chapter Four: Create or ...
We are wired this way. Inventiveness is in our blood. We take a rudimentary product and we will think of 14 different ways to make it newly applicable to some crazy, yet practical, lifestyle. When Frederick formally became partners in Big Tree Farms, things started to shift in the direction of where the company was going. The mind melding of Ben and Freddy starting to make ideas froth to the top and literally bubble over. The office white boards started to multiply. Mockups started to flood the shelves of our building. No food category was safe from our new ideas. Like women in a jewelry store, we were sparkling and shimmering!
So we created. And created more.
We continued to expand the Truly Raw line and to innovate with our broader cacao ingredients. We were the first to introduce a pure organic coconut palm sugar to the global natural food market in 2008, called SweetTree. And to this day, we are the worlds largest supplier of organic coconut palm sweeteners to the international market. We are firm believers that coconut sugar needs to be in every household across the world for the sake of optimizing health for humans ... it is such an amazing product!
We then pioneered the worlds first low temperature processed liquid coconut flower blossom nectar that retains its natural whitish color and higher nutrient content. This product is the pinnacle of liquid sweeteners. Affordable, sustainable, packed with nutrients, amino acids and minerals. And then we went even further and accomplished to create the worlds first Truly Raw Cold Processed (evaporated under 115?F) coconut palm nectar.
We then created an evaporated coconut water powder and called it CocoHydro... no need to ship the water around the world when you can just ship the coconut water nutrients. We immediately won numerous awards for this product.
And then, of course, we started making chocolate sweetened with our coconut sugar. This, friends, is a chocolate that we feel is an innovation for the chocolate industry that has been a long time coming.
And these are only the products that we have put on the market in the last few years. The white boards are still pretty full of grand ideas. But we couldnt just keep our creativity bound to food products. No, we had to think bigger, funner, something that would truly present to our customers and fans how we feel about the world and how we want to contribute and inspire the world to think outside the confounds of the status quo. So, we decided to build a new global headquarters. Out of BAMBOO. And from what we hear, it may be the worlds largest commercial bamboo structure. Interesting, huh?
Chapter Five: Bamboo Love
So, we set out to build a new Global Headquarters on the magical island of Bali, Indonesia. We new this would be a lasting statement of what Big Tree Farms stands for. Its a structure that houses a lot of the people that make Big Tree Farms what it is, so it had to be an appropriate vessel and magnifier for all this passion and intention.
It became clear that we had to build it out of bamboo, one of the worlds most sustainable building materials which grows abundantly in the tropics. So, we dreamed. We dreamed about how to build it, what it would look like, how we want it to exist in this world and ultimately become and extension of each member of the Big Tree Farms team.
Today, the "bamboo cathedral" is complete and fully operational. It is considered the world's largest commerical bamboo structure. It houses our offices, event center, retail space, commercial kitchen, chocolate factory, production facilities and our warehouse. It is a marvel of architecture, construction and art, none of which would exist if it were not for the extremely gifted and talented crew of builders that built this masterpiece.