Greyston Bakery: Baking Brownies + Building Lives

"We don't hire people to bake brownies; we bake brownies to hire people."

This is one of the first principles of Greyston Bakery. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is.

In a recent post, Showing You The Journey, I was trying to figure out how to show you how moved I was by learning about Greyston Bakery and the good work that they're doing. Hopefully I've figured it out.

For a bit of history, watch this video of The Greyston Story. Read here about Bernie Glassman and the idea of a social enterprise. Greyston is literally a case study showing that businesess can make a profit and do good in society too.

Last week, I was invited to visit Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, New York, along with several New York bloggers, and three other Boston area bloggers: Karen, from Fussy Eater, Athena, from Forays of a Finance Foodie, and Fiona, from A Boston Food Diary.

Before arriving, we all learned that the brownies that Greyston's makes are the ones used in Ben + Jerry's ice creams. So you know their brownies are off the charts good!

We toured the bakery and got a chance to see how the brownies are made. Many of us were surprised to see that the brownie recipe is so simple. Except for a few differences based on brownie flavor, they only use the few ingredients that we all use when baking from scratch at home: sugar, butter, flour, eggs, chocolate, vanilla, salt.

Some of us even had a chance to work on the line. I tried it myself and you really have to pay attention! We each also got to make our own tray of brownies (or blondies) by choosing the toppings and adding them to the batter. I've been enjoying mine at home. Sadly, there are only two left. Yes, I ate a tray of brownies almost all by myself. Don't judge me! G said that these were the best brownies that he ever tasted. There is a Greyston Bakery Cookbook filled with over 80 recipes. We were all given a copy and I'm looking forward to baking from it.

While we visited, we were able to speak with a number of employees. Greyston Bakery literally only exists to employ people and help them transform their lives. They have an open-hiring policy where anyone can come in, sign up to work, and get a fresh start.

A number of employees had problems with drugs or had been incarcerated and at one point felt that they had no options. Hearing their stories really made me think about what we stand for in this country.

Do we really believe in redemption and second chances? I know we do in the movies, but sometimes real life seems not as forgiving of past actions.

"Greyston is building lives."

This quote was spoken by one of Greyston's employees. He said that he felt like "a throwaway" before working there. A common theme spoken by several employees was how they were now happy to wake up in the morning. Their lives have purpose. They are able to earn an honest living and take care of their families.

One man was so emotional that he broke down and cried twice. All of us were on the verge of tears ourselves if not already crying. He was comforted by a fellow employee and they talked about how they felt like family.

When we look at some of the social problems in this country, we have to think about how many are related to people acting out because of feeling thrown away. Things got very real in that room. Emotions were raw. I don't think any of us will ever forget it. Greyston has no doubt saved many lives.

* * *

We also got a chance to tour the Greyston Community Garden. Local residents are able to grow food and flowers. Many are from other countries and grow foods from home that they cannot find in this country. We were told that many people share what they grow and there are hopes that they will be able to sell their produce at farmers markets at some point.

Greyston also provides many services: healthcare and permanent housing and workforce development. Look here for a wish list of things that are needed.

The whole person is cared for at Greyston. The Greyston Foundation is the umbrella organization that coordinates and supports all the programs that comprise the Greyston Mandala of services.

We briefly toured the Greyston Child Care Center, which is NAEYC accredited and cares for up to 80 children aged 6 weeks to 5 years old.

One of the most striking things about Yonkers was the spectacular views of the Hudson River. It took my breath away.

The view on the right is from the roof of the Greyston Bakery building, which was designed by architect Maya Lin.

Hopefully I've been able to convey to you how much I think of Greyston Bakery. I wish more American companies would adopt this model. Or at least something approaching it. So many people need work. Need a chance.

If any of you are thinking about spending your money with a company that does social good for corporate gifts or holiday gifts, then please consider supporting Greyston Bakery and Greyston Foundation.

They have many delicious items to choose from. Including gluten-free selections! And Greyston Foundation is a very worthy organization to make a donation to.

Thank you Greyston Bakery for hosting us and for the tour. I will never forget it.

*Updated 2/21/2011* Here's a slideshow from Karen's post that she just put up on youtube.

Disclaimer: Travel expenses sponsored by Greyston Bakery and Ben + Jerry's.

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Tracy said…
I read about Greyston's some years ago in Shambhala Sun, a Bubbhist publication--it is amazing work they do! Delicious-looking as well...mmm... Great post, Anali! :o) ((HUGS))
Suldog said…
This sounds like a magnificent company, and I'm glad you told me about them. I'm going to visit their website as soon as I post this.

As for eating a whole tray of brownies, don't sweat it. It doesn't sound strange to me at all! I love 'em, and have chowed down on four or five at a sitting, many times.
Nance said…
What an uplifting place to read about. I had no idea that Greyston even existed. Like the commenter above, I'm off to explore their website to read more. Incredible story.
Finance Foodie said…
Terrific Post! hope to see you soon!
SE'LAH... said…
what a neat trip. There's so much beauty all around us and nice to see socially conscious companies still exists.
Lisa Johnson said…
Sorry it's taken me so long to respond to comments! Time got away from me and I lost track. Forgive me? : )

tracy - I'm so glad to help get the word out about them. Such inspiration!

suldog - Thank you for visiting their site and for looking past my brownie indiscretion. :D

nance - I hope you enjoyed the site. I wish that there were a way for people to smell the brownies there : )

finance foodie - Thank you Athena! Hope to see you soon too!

se'lah - It was wonderful. I felt really good to be a part of it and get a chance to see more good happening in the world.

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