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Meet Melinda Williamson of Morning Light Kombucha

Today we’d like to introduce you to Melinda Williamson.

Hi Melinda, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
The idea for Morning Light Kombucha was born in 2015 from a desire to share with others a product that had helped me tremendously in my health struggles. 12 years ago, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and to manage my disease, I returned to what I had been taught in my life that medicines surround us. So from that day forward, I turned to food as medicine for healing. I introduced fermented and whole foods, including kombucha, into my daughter and I’s diets, and it was a life-changing experience. I wanted the opportunity to share this product and my experience with others. As a Native American woman, I know firsthand my people’s daily health disparities. The rates of autoimmune disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and cancers among Native people and other people of color are alarming. I knew that if I could find healing in this tea, others could too. I decided to start my own business.

We all face challenges, but looking back, would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Running Morning Light Kombucha during the pandemic has been a challenge. Owning a business always has its challenges, especially in a rural area. As we have grown, we’ve had issues finding space to rent/buy. We were finding distributors and keeping up with demand. Our sales pre-covid came from direct-to-customer sales at farmers’ markets, local events, and from our wholesale accounts. When covid hit, we could no longer operate face to face, and business suffered for a little bit as we pivoted our business model. We created an online store and began delivering and offering contactless curbside pickup at our kitchen. With the support of my family, who help me run my operations, we have been able to weather through the storms and not go out of business. We didn’t know it then, but moving to an online platform was a blessing in disguise. It allowed us to reach a different audience we didn’t even know we were missing out on.

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
When I decided to start a business, I knew there would be great challenges, and as a single mother, I wanted to make a plan and start on good footing. I made a 5-year plan for my daughter and me, which included saving money, finishing up my Masters’s degree, and moving home to be closer to the family for the support I would need to start my business. During that time, I built my foundational business values because what was important to me was what my business stood for. I wasn’t starting a business to have a business. I wanted to make a difference. And so our 3 foundational values were formed: first was our commitment to sustainability. This land we walk on, the water we drink, and the air we breathe should never be taken for granted. We must do our part every day to give back to what it provides for us, so in every part of our operations, we do our part, from offering our kombucha on tap in refillable bottles to composting all of our brewery waste. By offering refills, we can save thousands of glass bottles from ending up in landfill. We consciously decided to launch a canned kombucha line in 2021 because of the infinite recyclability of cans. We also recycle, reuse, and compost nearly 100% of all waste we generate in our kombucha production, offer bottle exchanges (like the milkman!), and offer compostable and reusable items to our customers. Our second foundational value involves knowing where our food comes from. This was an integral aspect of my healing. Understanding how our food is produced for our kombucha was important. So right off the bat, we partnered with local farmers who practice sustainable agricultural practices to source our ingredients for flavoring. These partnerships not only allow us to support our local farming economy but also allow for conversations about the importance of knowing where our food comes from in a state like Kansas, where those conversations just aren’t happening regularly. Our organic and fair trade tea is purchased directly from a small tea garden in Northern Bangladesh; the purchase of our tea helps support the Bangladeshi community. Another way we acquire our ingredients is by harvesting our traditional and wild foods on our reservation lands and in the surrounding area. We take our children out with us while we harvest, and the teachings that go along with harvesting with our children are an invaluable part of our livelihood as Native people. Thirdly and probably one of the most important foundational values we hold, is our commitment to giving back to Indigenous communities. Helping one another is built into who we are, Nishnabe people (Native people); since the beginning, we have donated a portion of our sales back to these communities across the US, Canada, and beyond. Making these donations has allowed us to help many organizations, individuals, and programs that are doing great things in Indian Country and let them know that they are not alone in their efforts. They have community and support beyond their home borders. We have given over $10,000 to indigenous communities in the US, Canada, and South America. We feel that we can use our platform to bring a voice to Native issues occurring in our country and other parts of the world.

What do you like best about our city? What do you like least?
I love coming to the city for the various things to do, the food, the nightlife, the fun events, and the hustle and bustle of city life.

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