“We don’t scrimp, we don’t do powders, we don’t do isolates, we don’t do fillers. We really focus on truly good food,” Betsy Langton says, enthusiastically ticking off the way her nutrition bars, Betsy’s Bar None, stand out in a crowded marketplace. “We take great pride in being 100 percent organic, and are vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, nut-free, and grain-free.”
Langton, a 5th generation Oregonian and member of the Redd on Salmon Street, is serious about packing her product with both purpose and intention. While working as a psychiatric nurse in a number of Oregon correctional institutions, Betsy noticed how anxious her patients felt upon being discharged, and wondered if they had the skills and connections to find employment when they got out of prison.
“I thought, ‘well jeez, what can I do to contribute to this lack of employment outside — how can I offer something?'”
After more than a year of experimentation in her home kitchen, that something turned out to be a nutrition bar business that offered an employment pipeline for the formerly incarcerated. In the early days, Betsy made her product by hand at Oregon State University’s Food Innovation Center, using ice cream scoops to make the bars, hand-packaging, and delivering them. Eventually, to meet growing demand, she scaled up to working with a co-packer that could produce significantly more nutrition bars than human hands alone. But in this instance, the growth of her business meant she had to downsize her staff. She now manages the bulk of her business with her son.
In 2016, Betsy grew her business by moving to the Redd, a working food hub designed to support local enterprises with the infrastructure and amenities they need to scale and meet the needs of a robust, regional food economy.
“It’s kind of like being on the cutting edge of a pilot project that should go national!” she says of her experience at the Redd and its partnership with New Seasons Market, allowing her product to reach markets as far away as California.
“You have entrepreneurial support, you can provide entrepreneurial support to others, you can see people excited about doing things, you get to buy really good food that happens to be in the freezer,” Langton says. “You’re part of a bigger picture, a much bigger community, which is really, really heartfelt in this day and age.”
After a more than 30-year career as a midwife and nurse practitioner, this nurturing sentiment echoes her original intention for the business: creating a product with purpose. For Langton, this means that science and sustainability will continually inform and produce the best product for her customers.
“The more I learn, which is endlessly, the more I think, ‘Oh we should do that if it’s going to give people a better nutrition component.’”
And so it is that Langton’s business is entering its next phase. Betsy’s Bar None will relaunch — for the fifth time in just seven years — with the goal of sourcing all of her products from North America. Sweeteners now come from California dates instead of coconut from Asia, the hemp originates from Canada, and the flax seed and sunflower butter now come from North Dakota.
“We are almost 95 percent North American sourced, which is really fabulous,” Langton says. “Obviously, your footprint has diminished greatly — but you can also have some pretty significant and clear communication. You can visit your sources. It’s a pretty awesome thing.”
As the company begins to scale up and return to hiring a workforce, Betsy plans to once again employ workers leaving incarceration with the intention that they may manage the warehousing and marketing portion of the business. In the meantime, Langton donates a portion of her proceeds to the Insight Prison Project in California and will continue to do so regardless of the size of the business.
“Our justice system is really, really broken. It’s a humbling experience to understand that the life of crime comes out of racism and poverty and abuse. It’s not just an I’m-going-to-wake-up-today-and-really-mess-my-life-up attitude,” Langton explains. “Everybody makes mistakes, some are more difficult than others, and we all need to have that experience to right our wrongs and make amends. I feel that more deeply than anything, and when I think about these things, that’s when the bars really come alive for me.”