The best part of my job as administrator of our Local Producer Loan Program isn’t giving out loans to our small producers – it’s watching loan recipients use those loans to grow their businesses. In the year and a half since we launched the program, Whole Foods Market has provided loans to 29 small producers of products ranging from grassfed beef and honey to wine sorbet and body care products. They are some of the hardest-working, most passionate people I’ve had the pleasure to meet, and it’s always so inspiring to see their plans come to fruition. One of our most exciting success stories is Laughing Giraffe Organics, a (very!) small company from Phoenix, Arizona that makes raw, vegan, organic, gluten-free granola and macaroons… that taste amazing! Justin Baumgartner started selling his product at a farmers market in 2006, where a local Whole Foods Market team member noticed him and asked about getting the product in our stores. That was the start of a great relationship. Due to its popularity and Justin’s entrepreneurial drive (would YOU call each store individually to make sure your product is in stock?), Laughing Giraffe soon expanded to more stores and then region-wide. After receiving not one, but TWO small loans, the products are now available in our Southern Pacific, Rocky Mountain, and Southwest regions. The products also recently were accepted by United Natural Foods, one of our primary distributors, a move which will allow access to Whole Foods Market stores throughout the western half of the United States. Did I mention that he managed this while he and his wife were caring for a newborn? Anyone who knows Justin knows what a hard worker he is, and we are so thrilled at his success. He was recently featured on the front page of the business section in the Arizona Republic, a wonderful recognition of his passion and dedication to great food made for people, by people. As Justin would say, be well.