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In the kitchen: Rya Letham goes nuts

Entrepreneur decides to spread her love of coconuts

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There's just something about the taste and smell of coconut that transports you to an exotic place, even if it is only momentarily.

For that split second you can almost feel the sun beating down on your skin, the waves lapping at your feet, the sand slipping through your toes, spirits lifted.

That's just one of the perks that comes from dipping your spoon into a jar of coconut butter and savouring the taste sensation.

But longtime local and part-time yoga instructor Rya Letham also found that coconut butter satisfied her after-dinner sweet cravings and was a digestive aid.

The problem was that it was difficult to find in the stores.

So, she decided to make her own — to spread on toast, put in smoothies or, her preferred choice, just straight off the spoon.

"My favourite way is just straight out of the jar," said Letham from her home in Pemberton where her business, Living Light Coconut Tree, began just five short months ago.

In that whirlwind time, she has gone from the dream to the reality of seeing her jars on grocery shelves.

It all began in January.

Once she decided to open the business, a friend suggested the online funding platform, www.indiegogo.com.

Letham's goal was to raise $3,200, enough money to buy a high quality food processor/blender and pay for the first lab test on a jar of the flavour 'Original Abundance,' that would allow her to sell the product in grocery stores. She raised more than $4,100.

"It's like starting your business on a foundation of success and celebration," she said, of the daily affirmation of someone else believing in her concept with a little seed funding.

And so it began.

But starting a business from scratch, as Letham quickly learned, wasn't just about getting into the kitchen and making batches of coconut butter. There was a website to design, which she did herself, with a little help from friends.

There was a logo to dream up and labels to create, business cards to make up. She hired a friend to design the logo and did the rest herself.

There was packaging to research to ensure that it was biodegradable and environmentally friendly where possible.

And the organic ingredients had to be ethically sourced. Letham contacted her coconut distributor and learned that her organic coconuts come from Sri Lanka and she learned some basic information about the farm that they come from.

"It's all about conscious co-creation," she said.

And then she had to get her product to market — beNatural in Pemberton, Olives Community Market, Organic Leigh's Farm Market in Whistler and on her website www.livinglightcoconuttree.ca.

The first jars were sold in March. Letham is already expanding out of her home kitchen to a commercial kitchen once a week to meet the demand she hopes to see at the local farmer's markets this summer.

Sound easy?

Hardly. First there was the leap of faith. Then, the long hours, the steep learning curves, the sacrifice of almost all personal time.

The 33-year-old moved to Whistler from North Vancouver 15 years ago. It was the day after graduating from high school and she came to snowboard.

In that time she's finished a degree at the University of British Columbia in exercise science, while also studying nutrition. She later earned a degree in education at Simon Fraser University.

Meanwhile, she discovered her passion in yoga and went to India to learn more. She now teaches six classes a week.

She takes her philosophies in yoga to her business.

"A Dessert of En-Lighten'ment" states the jar, with its bright sea-blue label.

The naturally vegan product is free of sodium and salt. It is made not only with the flesh of coconuts — packed with fiber, protein, vitamins B1, B6, C and E, folic acid, calcium and iron — but also with coconut oil. Studies on coconut oil have also shown it to have antimicrobial effect.

While she's had little time to herself this year, Letham's not complaining. Rather, the opposite. It's as though she's found her calling.

"I am loving it," she said, apparent in the way she talks about her business.

And the dream doesn't end there.

Ultimately, she sees herself at her own coconut farm, spending half her time there, and the other half of her time making her products in a commercial kitchen here.

Already she's expanded from that first original flavour. Now the products range from Little Bean Vanilla to Co-Cashew to Green Zha'-LU. And then there's the Bite-Sized Orbs – little balls of coconut butter to tempt the taste buds.

To keep grounded, to keep from getting overwhelmed, Letham also writes daily affirmations and thank-yous and sends them to a friend to remind herself of why she's doing this and to stay mentally focused.

She asked if there's room to include this in her story: "I am super thankful for all friends and family that have helped me so far in many different (unique and amazing) ways."

That would be awesome, she said.

Strawberry Super Smoothie

With the first of the local berries just around the corner, enjoy this recipe:

Ingredients

  • add ingredients to blender in the following order: 
  • 1 cup organic strawberries (frozen or fresh)
  • 1 tbsp hemp hearts (for protein)
  • 1/2 tsp camu powder (for extra vitamin C and antioxidants)
  • 3-6 baby kale leaves

3-6 nettle leaves / 1 tbsp dried nettle (There are many health benefits to nettle; just Google it for more info! You can pick fresh nettles wearing gloves, then let the leaves dry for about a day and the sting goes away.)

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 Tbsp Original Abundance or Green ZHa'-LU Coconut Butter

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