Brewing kombucha started as a hobby for Drew Holman. Now the ceramicist-turned-entrepreneur sees his fermented tea as a vehicle for economic justice.

By Holman’s accounting, the story behind Missoula’s new kombucha company — Back to the Mother — goes back about three years. Holman was working at the Good Food Store at the time, and noticed a high volume of California kombucha going out the doors. All that kombucha came with a hefty carbon footprint, so he set out to turn his home-brewed kombucha into a local option for Missoula’s masses.

“I actually put out a Craigslist ad, no joke, to see if anybody was interested in joining me on my project,” Holman says. “I slowly ended up getting some really interesting folks coming out of the woodwork.”

Instead of proceeding with what Holman describes as a “pyramid hierarchy,” he and his associates endeavored to create a “horizontal hierarchy” — in other words, a worker-owned cooperative. The process wasn’t easy. Montana code doesn’t provide a legal pathway for the incorporation of such organizations. Holman tapped Josh Davis, a five-year veteran of the worker-cooperative field, to help come up with a business model that would fit state law while achieving the group’s goal of wage equality. Back to the Mother now has four worker-owners, Holman says, and is bringing on a fifth.

kombucha

The same spirit that drove Back to the Mother’s owners to craft an equity-based business model is also driving how they package their product. The company purchases its bottles from Bayern Brewing, which has been recycling glass with a commercial bottle-washer for nearly six years. Holman says Back to the Mother plans to set up drop-off locations for used bottles at various spots around town. He sees kombucha as an avenue to a vibrant and healthy lifestyle, and says it’s important that the product reflect those values at an environmental level.

“Our long-term goal is to acquire land and move into a real sustainable model instead of having all our frozen fruits shipped in by outside companies,” Holman says, explaining that they eventually hope to grow their own ingredients. “We want to minimize the carbon footprint until it’s zero.”

Holman jokes that Back to the Mother might look like “an inflated hippy-dippy hipster movement,” but he insists the company’s values are integral to the endeavor. Corporations like Walmart “sponge off of us,” he says. “But if we can organize ourselves and reevaluate how we do business, how we interact with our communities, how we manage our impact on the planet, then we can really improve the human condition for everyone.

Staff Reporter

Alex Sakariassen began working at the Indy in early 2009. He primarily reports on state politics, the environment and the craft beer industry. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Choteau Acantha and Britain’s Brewery History Journal.

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