Category: Uncategorized

Why I Started Earth Sunflower

Ever since I was young, I always wanted to search, travel, learn, and explore. I always wondered “What else is out there” so as I grew older I took every opportunity I could to travel and explore the world I was dying to see.

I started mainly in college in my freshman year. First place: Central Mexico (50 miles or so south of Puebla) on a service trip. We painted elementary schools, taught English, and helped local farmers with their harvest (I am awful at picking onions apparently).

Next for me: Arusha, Tanzania. I stayed there for 6 months through a study abroad program. It is still one of the most monumental trips I have ever been on. We learned in the classroom about the role of the UN in East Africa, public health issues, and anthropology (I went to the site where they discovered Lucy – the first human or Australopithecus Afarensis). With the power often going out at the school and only a fan with two blades to keep us cool with temperatures soaring over 90 everyday, the classroom learning had its challenges. The most learning I did was outside the classroom, watching, listening, and learning about the culture, the people, and the complex difficulties of living impoverished.

After Tanzania I packed up my bags again and moved to India for another 6 month study abroad program. Imagine going from East African culture to Indian… it was a difficult transition for me as I longed for the warm African chapati and lovely, hip shaking African music.

Making Chapati at home once I got back to the USA

India is what many call “organized chaos” and I have never believed anything more to be true. Rickshaws wizzing by at amazing speeds, with motorcyclists winding through next to the occasional BMW, and a random cow in the mix to really clog things up on the roads (cows are sacred in India so no one dared to move the cow out of the way). Women in the most amazing, beautiful colors I have ever seen, the smells so rich you don’t know which way to turn.

I focused educationally in India more on development. How to get India to a similar place as the UK or USA economically. I have always been interested in economic development, but when I stepped foot in India, I became focused more on social services.

I took an internship with a non-profit called Saheli that worked in the red-light district in Pune with sex workers. Saheli worked to provide them with empowerment tools, basic medical services such as HIV testing, as well as helping them get ID and food ration cards. It was an intense and eye-opening experience to say the least. The most so when I was brought into the red-light district to see the brothel conditions and meet with some of the women, unbeknownst to me (I did not speak fluent enough Hindi to understand what was happening) a customer was inquiring about how much for the white blond girl…. After that, the founder of Saheli no longer let me go directly into the red-light district to work with the women. I never told my father about this experience (I think I would have caused him a heart attack).

The only photo of me at Saheli as this was really not a place to bring in a camera. (This little girl was a child of a sex worker and they had a sort of child care unit on the first floor)

In Mexico, Tanzania (as well as other African countries I visited Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya & Sierra Leone) and India, I was enamored by how canny, thrifty, resilient and courageous the people that I met were. They lived, on average, on about $2 USD a day. What they did to survive… how they used the resources around them to make money, build homes, and provide and protect themselves and their families.

One thing that was consistent with EVERY. SINGLE. PLACE. I traveled was… litter & pollution. And unsurprisingly to me now, it was 95% plastic pollution. So much so in India that rivers stopped flowing correctly and children often get very sick from playing in such places. Plastic garbage picking was a very popular job for lower caste citizens in India (yes, the caste system is still very much alive in India).

An example of the plastic pollution affecting waterways in Pune, India.

I was shocked to see it, but after month two or three of living there, I began to be “normalized” by the pollution. After returning home however, it started to bother me more and more everyday. I started to think… Why are we using products made from oil? Why are we producing products that can never really “go-away”? Why are producing products that are designed to be used ONLY ONCE?!

The more I asked these questions and thought back to what I witnessed, empty Doritos bags, Coca Cola and Pepsi bottles EVERYWHERE, Dasani water bottles, Skittles and Reese’s pieces packaging, straws, utensils, Nestle coffee containers, I could easily continue.

What is interesting about all of these items is that they are mostly American brands… we send our single-use plastic products over to these developing countries that have absolutely no infrastructure to try and handle items that do not naturally biodegrade.

And finally, for what you’ve all been waiting for so patiently, why I started Earth Sunflower.

These questions I was asking, they kept me up at night. I kept thinking, what can I do about this? Mother Earth is so amazingly spectacular, I truly don’t think there are words in our language to describe it.

How can I channel my passion, motivation, and frustration into something that will actually make change, educate people about the realities of single-use plastic, clean up communities and simultaneously help the planet? Here, Earth Sunflower was born.

I created Earth Sunflower with two simple missions in mind:

1. Educate the masses about single-use plastic
2. Provide reusable, sustainable alternatives to the most commonly used single-use plastic items

At Delmar Farmers Market… only months after I launched the company! The original tagline was “Move Past Plastic”.

I am proud of what I’ve built, I am proud of the tribe that is being created around Earth Sunflower and the mission we can all stand behind. Earth Sunflower, and the mission I am sometimes overly passionate about, are the reason why I wake up every morning.

Thank you for supporting me. Thank you for supporting a woman-owned small business. Thank you for caring about the Earth, a place we ALL call home. Thank you for listening to my story about why I started Earth Sunflower. Thank you for believing in me. Forever grateful I am, onward and upward! We have a lot of work to do.

All the best,
Jill