An Inside Look at Chive Sustainable Event Design and Catering

By Sarah Gold

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Although Boston might not be your typical foodie town, its restaurants have mastered the use of local food.  It seems like everywhere you turn, there is another new restaurant touting its seasonal and locally sourced menu; some even change the menu daily. When it comes to catered events, however, chefs and event planners seemed much slower to follow the movement – until about 3 years ago, when Chive Sustainable Event Design and Catering was founded. But, Chive isn’t only about local food. Sisters Jules and Jen Frost and long-time friend Lindsey Wishart have taken sustainability miles further than just serving up seasonal vegetables.

The women of Chive give a new look to the movement, promoting a 360-degree approach to living and doing business sustainably.  They live and breathe the word sustainability, focusing on four key areas – social, environmental, personal, and community sustainability.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Jen Frost and got an inside look at running a successful sustainable business. The energy and dedication these three women have put into the success and growth of Chive makes it hard to believe that the business grew out of one event for the Vice President of Timberland, with no written business plan to date.

Chive’s multidimensional take on sustainability

When talking with Jen about their approach to planning and executing events, it was clear they have thought through all aspects of running a sustainable business. When it comes to food, they source as much as possible from New England farms, and support farms consistently. They choose farms with organic practices and help those that haven’t been certified as organic to get certified. They have built relationships with the farmers and by providing consistent business, they have not only seen the farms grow, but many of the farms are now able to respond to requests for new products from Chive. The farm and the food is always center stage at their events. If you have been lucky enough to attend a Chive Event, you might have noticed that the names of the farms, not the women or chefs, are often at the top of the menus. The farms are also highlighted on their facebook page and in any press about specific events.

When food can’t be sourced locally, they still scrutinize over the product and brand, prioritizing domestic and organic products as much as possible. Fair trade, sustainable wages, favorable environmental practices, and direct-to-farm relationships are also important factors they look for when choosing suppliers for foods and drinks like chocolate and wine.

For the women of Chive, sustainability doesn’t stop with food preparation. They are a zero-waste company, using only products that can be recycled, reused, or composted both in their office and at events. They believe in reducing their carbon footprint as much as possible by using natural light when possible, cleaning with natural products, and choosing to partner with organizations that offset their carbon footprint in a variety of ways.

Possibly the most important ingredient to Chive’s success is their practice of human sustainability. Jen commented that it was important for them to “commit to sustaining ourselves. That means taking time outside of work, taking a vacation. We didn’t want to be those small business owners who haven’t taken a vacation in 3 years. It’s not sustainable.” It’s also important to Jen and her partners to pay sustainable wages to their employees and create a favorable work environment.

Chive Events goes beyond catering

None of the Chive women ever thought they’d work in catering, which is probably why the business extends beyond planning and catering events. Jules, Jen and Lindsey are on a mission to educate clients, farmers, business partners, and their community about living sustainably. Though talented caterers, they don’t plan to cater forever. “We see our events as a vehicle to educate people about sustainability,” noted Jen. Along with events, they educate through lectures at local universities like the Friedman seminar held on October 26th, as well as at businesses and green events.  They host farm days and other hands-on events to involve staff and the local community in the food preparation process.

They hope to eventually open an education center that would be a safe place for anyone from professional chefs and business owners to individuals and families to learn about sustainability. Jen described a desire to hold classes ranging from greening a kitchen to canning foods and choosing between different options at the grocery store when neither seems perfect. “For example, do I choose the oranges in a plastic bag from Florida or loose oranges from Argentina?” asked Jen. Her answer is to pick domestic; the travel time and environmental impact of getting oranges from Argentina is worse than the plastic bag in Jen’s opinion.

Running a successful small business is all about being flexible while staying true to your mission

“Don’t think you have to stick to any one thing except your mission and don’t lose your mission to save money,” advised Jen for anyone looking to start a new business.  Innovation and flexibility are key ingredients to success. “Sustainability is always changing,” she added. Chive makes the best choices they can with what is available now, but there might be a new, even better way of doing business next week.

“Always be innovative and don’t be afraid to make changes to try something new,” encouraged Jen.  That’s what drives any business forward.

Sarah is a second year student completing a dual degree in Nutrition Communication and the Didactic Program in Dietetics. When not writing for school, the Sprout, or her internship, Sarah enjoys running, teaching spin, and testing out new recipes to share with friends and family! Read more from Sarah at her personal blog:www.foodandfitnessfriend.com

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