The Root of It All
Every entrepreneur’s journey starts somewhere; Alex Piaski’s began at the dining room table with his family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the United States. For the Piaski household, food wasn’t just about feeding everyone; food was about making sure his family members were more than just roommates. Every day, no matter the circumstances, Alex Piaski’s parents made family dinner a priority. If someone had practice after school, or a club meeting that ran too late, it didn’t matter; dinner would be rescheduled for later so that everyone could make it.
With the influence of his family tradition, Alex saw food synonymous to connection and community. Throughout his life, up until attending UNC Chapel Hill in North Carolina, Alex tried to find ways of unifying communities through food. In college, Alex was reunited with his childhood friend Patrick Mateer, who shared similar aspirations. Alex and Patrick would quickly transition from friends to roommates and eventually business partners.
In 2014, Patrick worked at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market near Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Day in and day out, Patrick saw copious amounts of fresh organic produce wasted; there was an obvious disconnect between what was brought to the market versus what was sold. Where did the demand for fresh produce go? The answer was simple: grocery stores. Farmers didn’t have access to grocery stores and larger markets where most people shopped. In these grocery stores, consumers like Alex and Patrick bought produce imported from Mexico to make their beloved smoothie bowls. Although it was evident to Alex and Patrick that they could no longer be part of the problem, the gap between smallholder farmers and consumers remained. Farmers were unable to sell all their produce, consumers couldn’t buy local food year-round, and grocery stores had a corporate structure incapable of supporting small farmers. Alex and Patrick agreed this was a challenge worth solving and in 2014 became co-founders of Seal the Seasons.
Seal the Seasons partners with local family farms to freeze their fruit in season and distribute them to grocery stores year-round across six different regions of the country. In the words of Alex, this farm-to-freezer model is the future of food distribution; farmers receive a new, consistent revenue stream, grocery stores have more economic incentive to sell local produce, and consumers can access local, nutritious fruits and vegetables from a trusted source. Most importantly, the community between consumers and local farmers is strengthened. The company prioritizes transparency as it continues to show consumers where their food comes from while also paying homage to the hard-working farmers.
Alex says, “Farmers are the original entrepreneurs.” They take a plot of land and decide to make something from it. For Alex, the best and easiest part of founding a company like Seal the Seasons is that your key stakeholders are farmers. Farmers are long-term thinkers when it comes to business. They understand the importance of adapting to change and innovating out of necessity.
From the start, Alex and Patrick understood that farmers were the true entrepreneurs behind Seal the Seasons. Therefore, it is only necessary that farmers are presented at the main staple on the company’s packaging. On the back of every Seal the Seasons product, the responsible farmer’s picture, name, and signature are displayed. By making farmers the face of Seal the Seasons, more and more people are connected to where their food comes from. In addition, Alex and Patrick try to be intentional with the partnerships they form, and are committed to inclusive and regenerative agriculture practices; one great example is the Maine wild blueberries they carry, sourced from the Passamaquoddy tribe.
Here Comes the Dirt
Over the course of the next eight years, after Seal the Seasons was launched, Alex and Patrick used their good intentions to build a brand that successfully sources 4-5 million pounds per season, works with 80-90 family farms, and sells 40-50 products into grocery stores nationwide! However, much like farmers, Alex and Patrick would face their fair share of hardships during those years. In the words of Alex, “Whatever you read about founders is about 2% of what’s going on. The other 90% of your days don’t go too well, and as an entrepreneur, you must be resilient. There is no such thing as an “off’ day. So what does that 90% look like? According to Alex, it was many things:
- Logistics: Alex and Patrick knew the way they sourced their produce was extremely complicated. Since harvest happens once a year, they had to learn quickly how to do two things very well: freeze the right amount of fruit in the right seasons and have enough to sell to grocery stores year-round.
- Boundaries: According to Alex, co-founding a company is no different than entering a serious relationship. Both require open communication, boundaries, and respect. Since 2014, Alex and Patrick have been roommates, friends, and business partners. Alex acknowledges there’s a great comfort that comes when starting a business with your friend; you can lean on one another for mental support. In the early years of Seal the Seasons, Alex and Patrick also made sure to prioritize occasional check-ins with one another. In order to mitigate the uncertainty that comes with being a college student, Alex and Patrick wanted to ensure they were both committed to Seal the Seasons for the long run. However, Alex quickly realized how necessary and important it was for him and Patrick to set boundaries that allowed them to live a life independent of their friendship and partnership. In 2021, Alex and Patrick decided to discontinue being roommates and live on their own to help them prioritize their lives outside of Seal the Seasons.
- Sacrifices: Cash is always a problem, especially for a business in the food industry. About seven or eight times, Alex and Patrick had to forfeit their payroll or fund payroll themselves. Alex states, “there was great risk in operating every day and not knowing when the next paycheck was going to come.”
The biggest risk for Alex was staying committed to Seal the Seasons despite the obstacles he faced every day. Looking back now, Alex acknowledges there were many benefits that came from starting a business in college. He saw his naivety and energy as a superpower; by not constantly trying to rationalize things in an adult sense, he and Patrick were able to challenge the way food is sourced and distributed for their community of farmers and consumers.
What’s on the Horizon?
What can we expect from Seal the Seasons next? Its founders believe that it is well on its way to becoming a $100 million brand. As Seal the Seasons continues to grow, Alex hopes to get more food producers under their wing. Buying locally is an expensive and challenging venture for manufacturers, but with the support and guidance of Seal the Seasons, food processors can enable more businesses can take advantage of Food that is sourced from the region. Seal the Seasons is connecting farmers and consumers around the States like never before. Thanks to entrepreneurs like Alex, more of us can experience the privilege of farm to table.
- Check out Seal the Season’s farmers and frozen produce on their website: https://sealtheseasons.com/ (also the image source)
- Stay up to date by following their Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter: @sealtheseasons
[SBS1]2014–2022 = 8 years