Being cooped up in the house has been really interesting for the past month. I was one of the first people to opt to stay home from work, and I haven’t left the house much since, outside of taking some trips to get dog food and the most essential thing I can think of, reading material, before the Safer at Home order took effect in Wisconsin.
Since then, most of my groceries have been delivered, or at the very least, procured by pickup, which it seems like most people are doing. Since I’ve heard locally and elsewhere that people are having a hard time finding certain foods, I thought I’d do a series of posts about the food I’ve been able to get through pickup and delivery, both local and national. The ideal, to me, is always getting supplies locally if possible.
I have been beyond excited about The Glass Pantry opening up in Milwaukee. First of all, it’s not too far from where I live. Second, it’s a store dedicated to reducing waste with the food and home products that we already buy. Third, Jenna, owner of The Glass Pantry, is dedicated to partnering with local businesses whenever she can. What’s not to like?!
After my second order in the span of a week from The Glass Pantry, I decided to ask Jenna for an interview to learn more about her venture, and what we can do to support her and other small businesses during this time and after.
How The Glass Pantry started
Caution: Personal journeys can be your low-waste gateway!
Jenna has been on a low-waste journey for a few years now. There’s really no “away” when you throw things away, so she’s been dedicated to reducing waste from even coming into her home in the first place. While everyone may have their own method of reducing waste in their home, the easiest way for Jenna’s family to do it was by bulk shopping. When they audited their garbage, they realized that most of their packaging was coming from food.
Now, even bulk shopping might seem like next-level to some people new to the idea of zero waste, but Jenna was a newbie to it, too! Before she decided to start exploring bulk bin shopping, she had really only used it before for things like raw nuts. Most of the stores she frequented didn’t have a robust bulk section.
Once you start going down the rabbit hole, you can see the opportunities, and the drawbacks.
Jenna started going to Outpost, Fresh Thyme, and other stores with bigger bulk sections. She learned more about what containers she could bring to the store and the tare process (pre-weighing) at each one. While she was off to a great start, her zero waste shopping hit a few snags. She wasn’t finding everything she needed. Depending on when she went shopping, different employees gave out conflicting information or didn’t quite understand the process. Even worse, stores would discontinue products she relied on, or she wouldn’t be able to find products in organic, something that’s really important to her.
But, she persevered! Jenna kept seeing zero-waste bulk shops pop up in the UK and the US, so she thought, OK, someone’s bound to open one here! After a year and a half, and no stores in Milwaukee, she realized that the person who needed to open one up was her.
Around the same time the idea for The Glass Pantry was born, Jenna’s son was born. She wasn’t planning on being a stay-at-home mom indefinitely, but knew that she wasn’t excited to return to her former job at an investment firm, either. She took the time home with her baby as the clean break she needed. And really, what better time to start a business when you’re not making any income already (cue laugh track).
But the only way to get what you need in one store is to start your own.
I definitely fantasize about what I’d put in a store I owned, and Jenna approached this project the same way. At least she knew that her store would have everything she wanted available to her locally. While starting a new business always brings about something unexpected, one of the biggest realizations Jenna had in putting The Glass Pantry together was how the entire supply chain worked: Even if shopping in bulk with reusable containers can be zero waste for the consumer, it may not be zero waste on the back-end. For example, if she’s buying olive oil and it’s coming in a five-gallon plastic pail, that may be less sustainable than someone going to a store and buying a glass bottle. The journey to building her business has led Jenna to re-examine her own low waste priorities.
Learning about the food system changed Jenna’s priorities
Starting the business has also led to Jenna learning more about the food system. We talked about how a lot of smaller food operations and farmers can’t afford to get certified organic, but can be as stringent or even more stringent than food suppliers that are certified. As a result, instead of being laser-focused on all organic food, Jenna has placed an ordering priority on providing sustainably sourced local food. She wants to support small farmers, growers, and small businesses as much as possible. Why look for the most popular low-waste soap brands in the country, for example, when we have great producers right here in Milwaukee (quick sidebar plug for my friend Libby’s soap – Abbondanza – which Jenna also sells on her site).
But local business has, and will always, be, at the forefront, even when operations haven’t gone as planned.
I’ve kind of glossed over the most important part, and that’s that The Glass Pantry didn’t open as expected. Instead, in the midst of COVID-19, Jenna has had to figure out how to shift her operations quickly. Jenna’s husband, who is also her web developer, asked her if she wanted to try doing online sales. After polling people for their interest, she launched a few products. Initially. She offered cleaning supplies, but after seeing how many people were getting frustrated with insufficient inventory of staples at local grocery stores, she decided to add food as well.. Right now, you can buy bulk dry goods, packaged in either recycled or compostable paper bags. While it’s not package-free, it’s a step in the right direction, and they deliver.
Why You Should Shop at The Glass Pantry
Two words: Free. Delivery.
In a city where almost every grocery delivery costs extra, The Glass Pantry has a really sweet deal going – If you place an order of $20 or more (not hard to do when there’s so much she offers), and you live in Milwaukee County, delivery is FREE. Like I said, I took advantage of this twice in one week, and I know I’m not done. So far, I’ve picked up a couple different flours as part of a sourdough starter experiment I’ve got going (more on that in a future blog), the best chocolate ever (Tabal, for those not in the know), tea, and some really good veggie chips!
Jenna’s going to keep delivering and offering pickup as long as it feels safe. She’s the only one who comes into the store outside of masked and gloved delivery drivers. All of your food is being handled and packaged by one person. While everyone has to make the decision about what feels safe for them, she believes she’s doing what feels right at this moment.
Get the staples that are out at overtaxed grocery stores, and support a new small business – win-win!
So, if you need staples – dry pasta, beans, rice, tea, snacks, flour, cleaning supplies – give the shop a visit! I have been so pleased with the selection, and can’t wait for my next order. Seeing as how I’m a popcorn addict, I’m sure that will be part of the next round for me.
While this could be the kind of event that makes people see the worst in humanity, Jenna has seen the opposite. She has been thrilled to see the community in Milwaukee come out to support local business. So let’s keep proving her right! Let me know what you’re looking forward to ordering, or what other local businesses you’ve been helping out, by writing in the comments or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org