Seth Tibbott, company founder and president, started making tempeh (a fermented soy product from Indonesia traditionally wrapped in banana leaves and sold in street markets) in 1977 as a hobby while living in a tent and working as a naturalist along the banks of the Nolichucky River, Tennessee. Reading Francis Moore Lappe’s 1971 classic, Diet For A Small Planet, was a revelation for him. Armed with the knowledge that it takes 16 pounds of grain and soy to produce one pound of beef and only eight ounces of soybeans to make one pound of tempeh, Seth had found his passion in the form of plant-based protein. He believed that there was a future in America for nutritious, delicious, vegetarian food.
In 1980, while in Forest Grove, OR, Seth Tibbott founded Turtle Island Foods with a personal investment of $2,500. He began to manufacture and market tempeh in the Pacific Northwest. His business grew slowly and steadily as he made his rounds to health foods stores up and down the west coast.
In 1982, the company expanded with the help of loans from Bob Tibbott, his brother and Betty Tibbott, his mother. His humble tempeh shop moved to an abandoned schoolhouse in the Cascade Mountain town of Husum, WA. During “the Husum Years” Turtle Island Foods was a small cottage industry, grossing around $3,000 a month and employing three part-time staff. To save money, Seth lived in a tree house for the next seven years.
Turtle Island Foods grew to become the 3rd largest tempeh manufacturer in the United States. This precipitated the company’s 1992 move to an 8,000 square foot cannery building Hood River, OR, where it is still housed to this day.
Did you know?
In 1980 Seth Tibbott founded Turtle Island Foods with a personal investment of $2,500.