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Pioneering Sustainability through Bamboo Business ft. Olivia Van Etten


Welcome to Plant Based On Fire, your ultimate source for plant-based businesses and their inspiring stories. In our latest episode, we had the privilege to interview Olivia Van Etten, the visionary founder of Blondie's Bamboo. Olivia's journey as a first-generation female bamboo farmer has been nothing short of remarkable, and her passion for sustainability and repurposing resources is truly inspiring. In this blog, we'll delve into Olivia's story, her business, and the vision she holds for the future of plant-based entrepreneurship.


Discovering the Potential of Bamboo:

Olivia's journey into bamboo farming began during her tropical fruit internship in southeast Florida. Living off the grid, she fell in love with farming but sought a sustainable crop that required minimal replanting. Bamboo caught her attention as one of the world's most renewable resources. Despite facing challenges from the government's perception of bamboo as invasive, Olivia persevered and embarked on her mission to change people's perception of this incredible plant.


Blondie's Bamboo: From Tea to Sustainable Homes:

Blondie's Bamboo is at the forefront of the ready-to-drink bamboo tea industry. Olivia sources bamboo leaves locally, drying and infusing them to create unique flavors like elderberry-sweetened bamboo tea, lemon ginger, hibiscus, and lavender. Not only delicious, but these teas also offer numerous health benefits due to their high dietary silica content.

But the journey doesn't stop at tea. Olivia's passion for sustainability extends to other innovative products. She aims to produce bamboo-activated charcoal, an eco-friendly source for cooking with a delightful bamboo flavor. Additionally, her dream is to build sustainable bamboo tiny homes, providing hope and healing to those seeking alternative housing options.


Challenges and Triumphs:

Olivia's entrepreneurial journey hasn't been without obstacles. Denied a farm loan due to bamboo's invasive reputation, she turned this setback into an opportunity by repurposing unwanted bamboo into innovative products. Her persistence, passion, and unwavering belief in her vision allowed her to turn challenges into triumphs.


Educating and Empowering Others:

Blondie's Bamboo is not just a business; it's a movement focused on sustainability and community empowerment. Olivia's ambition is to teach the next generation about agriculture and sustainability, creating a positive impact for years to come. She shares her knowledge through social media platforms, offering insights into harvesting bamboo and treating it properly.


Future Endeavors:

As Olivia's business gains momentum, she plans to expand her product line to include CBD-infused bamboo teas and Delta 9 bamboo teas. These new offerings will provide customers with unique, healthy, and non-alcoholic beverage alternatives.


Supporting Blondie's Bamboo:

If you're intrigued by Olivia's mission and want to support her venture, you can find her products at local farmers' markets in Charlotte. You can also follow her on Instagram and TikTok to stay updated on her latest developments and learn more about the incredible benefits of bamboo.


Olivia Van Etten's story is a testament to the power of passion and perseverance in entrepreneurship. Her innovative approach to sustainability and repurposing resources through Blondie's Bamboo is an inspiration for plant-based business enthusiasts. As we join Olivia on her journey, we can't help but be captivated by her vision for a brighter, more sustainable future for us all. So, let's raise our glasses filled with delicious bamboo tea and toast to Olivia's success and the positive impact she's making on the world.


Together, we can create a greener and more sustainable planet, one bamboo leaf at a time. Keep the fire burning!



>Transcription


Bryan (00:01.19)

Hello and welcome to Plant Based on Fire, your podcast where we talk about plant-based businesses and their inspiring stories to thrive in the industry. I'm your host Brian and today we have a very amazing guest. Olivia Von Etten is the visionary founder of Blondie's Bamboo. It's a pioneering company at the forefront of the ready to drink bamboo tea.


It was born in Wadsboro, North Carolina, and Olivia is a trailblazing first-generation female bamboo farmer with a profound passion for sustainability and repurposing resources. She has a deep understanding of bamboo's potential, and Olivia specializes in the removal of unwanted bamboo and transforms it into innovative products, recognizing the need for sustainable alternatives.


Blondie's bamboo utilizes bamboo tea to fund research into bamboo-activated charcoal and sustainable bamboo tiny homes. While many people view bamboo as an invasive species, Olivia perceives it as one of the world's most renewable resources on the planet, and through her dedication and endeavors to plant, grow, and cultivate sustainable solutions that are going to shape a brighter future for all of us.


So I am so thrilled to have you here, Olivia, on this journey and learn more about your business and the vision for the future. So without further ado, Olivia Von Etten, everyone.


Olivia Van Etten (01:31.126)

Hey everybody, I'm Olivia. Nice to meet you guys. Thanks for having me on the podcast. I'm really excited to be here and share my vision of Blondie's bamboo with you all.


Bryan (01:39.826)

That is so awesome. It's such a unique and different thing. I've not, I mean, I got to taste it a few months back and I was just blown away by the flavors that it brings out and who knew bamboo tea. So tell me a little bit more about your journey on becoming this first generation bamboo farmer and how did you get Blondie's bamboo started?


Olivia Van Etten (02:01.846)

Yeah, so it's kind of a crazy story. Several years ago, I was living in southeast Florida and I was doing a tropical fruit internship on a permaculture farm down there in the Everglades. And I was living very remote. I'd never done any type of farming ever in my life. I just kind of got thrown into it. And I went from living in a suburb in North Carolina here to living out in the middle of nowhere in a container home


composting toilet, doing solar power showers, living really off the grid, and kind of seeing what sustainability has to offer and learning about all these new ventures. And so I fell in love with farming. And I don't know about you, but I'm a real lazy farmer, and I don't wanna have to keep planting over and over again. And so I was trying to find a sustainable crop that I could plant and harvest from for years to come. And so I did a lot of research and learned about bamboo.


because I had gone to a bamboo forest out in Cherokee, North Carolina when I was 16 and fell in love with just how beautiful the plant was and not even really knowing how sustainable or renewable bamboo was. And, you know, I ended up having to move back here to North Carolina. So I was trying to figure out what can I do? How can I start farming? And, you know, I started doing a lot of research and realized that bamboo is one of the most renewable resources on the planet.


anything and everything with it. You can wear it, you can build with it, you can cook with it, you can drink it, which I had no idea. And so, yeah, I started my journey with bamboo farming and basically what happened was I created a business plan to become a bamboo farmer and farm it as a sustainable crop. And what happened was the US government ended up denying me of a farm loan. They didn't consider bamboo a farmable crop because of how invasive it is.


Bryan (03:39.652)

Mm-hmm.


Olivia Van Etten (04:01.52)

You know, it's actually illegal in New Jersey. It's outlawed because of how invasive it is. So I had to work around trying to change the perception of bamboo, which was really insane with that part. So you know, I just started going out and seeing what I could do. And I drove around all over Concord and Canapolis and Wadesboro and you name it. I drove and anywhere I found bamboo, I'd knock on the door and I'd ask them, hey, can I come and cut your bamboo down for you? Do you want it?


time they wanted me to cut it down. So what I started doing was taking a unwanted plant and repurposing it into different products and from there I had to figure out what I was going to do with it.


Bryan (04:44.922)

Yeah, that's amazing. So it's such a unique thing. Like we're both based in Charlotte, North Carolina, really. And so that's how we met at a different event around town. And so you literally walk up to people's doors and knock on their door and say, hey, can I take all this beautiful bamboo you have in your backyard away? And they say, please, it's growing everywhere.


Olivia Van Etten (05:04.492)

Yeah.


They're like, get rid of it, please, here, I'll offer my first born child to you. But I actually went to a property here in Kannapolis to go harvest and, uh, the guy happened to be there while I.


Bryan (05:10.978)

Right? It's almost.


Olivia Van Etten (05:20.386)

was driving around and you know he said I've been trying to get rid of this bamboo for years and years and the problem with bamboo is it's very difficult to uproot. You know it's 18 inches in the ground so if you don't know how to properly harvest it and get rid of it, it grows back over three feet a day.


Bryan (05:37.554)

Wow, that's incredible. And I moved here six, seven years ago and I never thought bamboo grows in North Carolina. That seems like a China thing, you know what I mean? But literally any place that doesn't quite freeze, there's bamboo probably growing.


Olivia Van Etten (05:47.243)

Yeah.


Mm-hmm.


Yeah, pretty much. So there's over 1,500 different species of bamboo. There's a couple different varieties that grow here in North Carolina. We are considered a cold, hardy climate, so there's only certain varieties that grow. You have two of your main varieties of bamboo, the first being a monopodial bamboo, which is an individual plant that grows outward and produces six different plants around it. That's the invasive kind, that's the kind we have here. And then you have sympodial,


is clumping bamboo that grows in a clump and that's the one that most people are familiar with. It grows in China, Southeast Asia, Philippines. They use it in Bali a lot to produce different types of tiny home structures and structures built out of bamboo.


Bryan (06:39.218)

Yeah. And so you take the bamboo and tell us about like this activated charcoal side of it and then the tea side of it. Like I would have never thought you could drink bamboo and then I met you and we're here, we are drinking it and it's delicious. So.


Olivia Van Etten (06:52.926)

Yeah, it's really interesting. Nobody in the United States has ever heard of bamboo tea. I've never heard of bamboo tea. I had collected so much products when I was harvesting and I'm like trying to figure out what can I do with this? How can I be sustainable and use the entirety of the plant? And what I researched is in China, they would boil the bamboo leaves and drink it for upset stomach and digestive issues. So I made my first batch of bamboo tea and I prayed to God that it wouldn't kill me.


and thankfully it didn't. It's one of those things that I've just been learning as I go and then I found out about bamboo activated charcoal and they use it in Kenya as another sustainable source for cooking because they take the bamboo and they turn it into charcoal briquettes and then they cook with it and what it does is it gives the food a really delicious bamboo flavoring. It also offsets the carbon by 35%.


way more oxygen than trees, which is insane. It's technically a grass, so it's, to think that a grass could produce more oxygen than trees is crazy to me, but you know, one of the things I love about bamboo is that you can do literally anything and everything with it. So the problem that I've had is trying to reprogram the paradigm people have about bamboo and the perception of it being an invasive species. So what I'm doing is taking


unwanted plant, repurposing it and finding new uses that can help you know our communities.


Bryan (08:30.226)

Absolutely. My goodness. It's such an incredible thing. That's just one little way that we can unlock some sustainability around this planet that we so desperately need on so many levels. So not only do you harvest it and help the people around here, you're eating it, you're drinking it kind of a thing. And talk to us about this bamboo architectural design degree that you have.


Olivia Van Etten (08:52.332)

Yeah.


Yeah, so it's kind of insane. During COVID, I wanted to go to Bali to do an 11 week bamboo architectural build course. And you go to Bali, you learn how to take this plant and restructure it into these beautiful designs. And I fell in love with learning how to build and living in a container home when I lived in Florida taught me that there's other ways to have sustainable housing besides just our normal, you know,


or wood. So with the bamboo tiny home structures, what I really want to do is offer a place for people to come and have hope and healing. I want to have a 20 acre bamboo farm filled with different tiny home structures made out of bamboo where people can come and learn about the sustainability and renewability and even learn how to possibly build their own tiny home one day.


Bryan (09:46.074)

That is awesome. Yeah, I look forward to trying to send my kids to the school trip there to learn all about that. So, I mean, I think most people probably understand as bamboo grows really fast and is a truly sustainable thing, but I guess I think of bamboo as something that you can make some good bamboo floors out of or a bamboo cutting board or something, but.


Olivia Van Etten (09:48.994)

yet.


Olivia Van Etten (09:54.313)

Exactly.


Olivia Van Etten (10:09.725)

Yes.


Bryan (10:12.562)

I mean, how do you see the sustainability-ness of bamboo and its impact on generations?


Olivia Van Etten (10:19.198)

Yeah, for sure. So when I first got into bamboo, that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to create, you know, hardwood flooring out of bamboo, different types of handcrafted items, different clothing and things. And what I learned is that the processing of bamboo requires so much chemical additives that that's why nobody in the United States is doing it right now. In order to, you know, create these different types of hardwood flooring


you have to completely strip the bamboo, plane it, glue it together, you know, flatten it and heat it, and it's such an expensive process that a lot of people aren't doing it here. And so what I'm trying to do is figure out how to create these different structures out of bamboo, different types of products out of bamboo that are sustainable, that don't use any type of chemicals, that don't have these


Olivia Van Etten (11:19.412)

in order to create a beautiful project. You know, with bamboo, if you treat it correctly and you know how to work with it, it'll last for 60 to 80 years. And, you know, the only thing you have to worry about is getting rid of the termites and, you know, just natural bugs that eat bamboo, because it is a grass, and I don't know if you've ever had bamboo shoots before, but it's a widely eaten, you know, vegetable


Bryan (11:32.399)

Yeah.


Olivia Van Etten (11:48.912)

that comes from the shoot of the bamboo. And it's like very sugary, so a lot of bugs are attracted to it. So what we do is we treat the bamboo with borax and boric acid solution. And that keeps it going for years and years to come. And you know what I love is that one bamboo plant will be harvestable for the next 60 to 80 years, which means that, you know, the sustainability of not having to replant something every single year, and just letting it naturally grow


own and reap the harvest from it. I think that's huge. You know, so many farmers are aging out of the agricultural industry because of how, you know, exhausting it is on the physical body and how much work it requires. And they don't have anybody to pass their farms off to. And so, you know, being a first generation farmer and realizing that we got to think outside of the box when it comes to farming and that we don't just have to


Bryan (12:19.488)

Mm-hmm.


Olivia Van Etten (12:48.792)

can farm and if we just teach our children the education about agriculture and learning how to incorporate their own passions into it, I mean agriculture can be you know going on for years and years and years to come.


Bryan (13:01.67)

Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, I have my little garden out back here, but I mean, you're really focused on the tea as one of your main forays into educating people about the bamboo. So talk to us about the tea itself and what kind of differentiated your tea from something that I might be able to get off of Amazon from China. I mean, I'm sure that's on there someplace, right?


Olivia Van Etten (13:21.614)

Thank you.


Oh yeah, so I film in by Amazon, literally has everything. But the beautiful part about what I'm doing and that sets me apart from other bamboo tea companies is that most companies just offer you a little packet of a few bamboo leaves that you make at home and you have to pour the hot water and add your ingredients. And what I do is I take the unwanted plant, I dry my leaves myself so it's locally sourced, and then I create the tea, I add the ingredients, and then I put it in a bottle


drink, it's easily accessible, and it's cold and delicious. I think a big reason people have been weary about bamboo tea is that they're not familiar with it. They don't know anything about it. They hear that it helps with hair growth, but they have no idea the benefits and how rich it is in dietary silica. And dietary silica is a chemical compound that's responsible for forming our hair, skin, and nails. It helps with bone density.


internal inflammation and digestive issues. So when you drink my bamboo tea, what I've learned is that my customers have instant results from drinking a full bottle, which you go and you buy a sweet tea. Sorry, there's a bunch of crazy motorcycles around here, but you go and you buy a sweet tea, you buy an Arizona tea from the gas station, right? Sure, it tastes good, but it's filled with sugar. It's filled with things


Bryan (14:40.846)

No worries.


Olivia Van Etten (14:53.272)

for your body. And I'm not in the business of tea, I'm in the business of wellness and educating people on the health benefits of bamboo and how it can help you if you just add it to your diet. Yeah.


Bryan (15:05.422)

Absolutely. And so you've got what, four or five flavors out right now of the bamboo tea, sorry.


Olivia Van Etten (15:10.329)

Thanks.


Yeah, so currently, I know it's a mouthful, so we have an elderberry sweetened bamboo tea, we have an original unsweetened lemon ginger bamboo tea, we have an unsweetened hibiscus bamboo tea, and a lavender bamboo tea that we just added. And we use very locally sourced ingredients from other farmers. I get the hibiscus local, I get the lavender local, the elderberry honey I put in my sweet.


Bryan (15:15.587)

Yeah.


Olivia Van Etten (15:41.936)

as we join together with other farmers so that way we can support other people's businesses. And, you know, it's not about, it's not about just selling a product, right? It's about coming together as a community and seeing what we can offer to support these other small businesses. We're actually getting ready to launch our CBD bamboo too, which I'm really excited about. It's gonna be a full spectrum CBD. So that's gonna be our next project. Yeah.


Bryan (15:55.122)

Mm-hmm.


Bryan (16:04.818)

Very cool. Yeah. That is awesome. I do have a little bit of lavender growing over here, so when you need some more, call me. We can talk about getting you to harvest some of that. So that's exciting. So I was gonna ask you, what is some of the other research and new products that you're hoping to push out over the next six months? So it's the CBD line, anything else beyond that?


Olivia Van Etten (16:12.43)

Right? Yeah.


Oh my gosh.


Olivia Van Etten (16:24.854)

Mm-hmm.


So we're doing the CBD bamboo tea, and then we're also doing a Delta 9 bamboo tea as well with that. So my business partner, Steve, he is a part of CBD Digital World Online, and he manufactures CBD products for wholesale distribution. So we're partnering together to offer a unique tea that has never been done before. That's going to be an additional item for people to drink who want a non-alcoholic beverage that


them at the end of the day or whatever and just expanding so that way we're not just with one target market but we have multiple avenues to serve people.


Bryan (17:08.158)

is amazing. Yeah, I'm really looking forward to seeing some of those come out soon. So, you know, we're trying to help other plant-based businesses around town as well on that front. So what advice do you have for people interested in pursuing that kind of business model and helping create their own version of a sustainable business and repurposing materials?


Olivia Van Etten (17:28.061)

Yeah.


So what I've realized in business is that it's not about the products you sell, but the stories you tell. And if you lead with passion, persistence, and a definite major purpose in life, you can go as far as you want, you know, whether you think you can or whether you think you can't either way, you're right. And so I believe for myself today that if I'm doing what I love, and if I'm


Olivia Van Etten (17:58.544)

will come, you know, and if I put people in the core of my foundation and sustainability at the core of my foundation, then the money will follow and people will support what we're doing.


Bryan (18:11.558)

Yeah, and I mean, ever since the moment I first heard you start talking, I can feel your passion around the bamboo from every little aspect of what you're trying to build with your business. So congratulations on your successes so far. So how can people support your business? How do we get in touch?


Olivia Van Etten (18:21.89)

Yeah, thank you.


Olivia Van Etten (18:27.562)

Absolutely. So you can check out my website. It's blondiesbambuT.com. You can follow me on Instagram or on TikTok. It's blondiesbamboo. And that's really where I educate my consumers about what it's like harvesting bamboo, you know, how invasive it can be and how to treat bamboo that you have on your own property. I'm also located at several different farmers markets in Charlotte. I'm at South End Farmers Market every single Saturday.


Camp North End every second and fourth Wednesday, so there's a couple different avenues for you to reach me at. And hopefully within the next six months we'll be signing a retail contract here with Earth Fair and Whole Foods.


Bryan (19:09.266)

Awesome, yeah, we can't wait to see you get a little bit more national coverage on some of that front. So are you looking for ambassadors or other people outside of the Charlotte area too?


Olivia Van Etten (19:19.366)

Yeah, for sure. So what we're looking to do currently is just start small and then scale large. We want to, you know, keep our mission statement and our foundation true to who we are and true to what our purpose is. And then, you know, being able to scale there, I don't want to lose sight of what the product has to offer. So as long as we keep it small and then gradually work to scaling the business, we won't have any issues with success. Yeah.


Bryan (19:46.094)

Awesome. Well again, thank you so much, Olivia, for coming on the show with us today. And that sort of wraps up what time we had today for Plant Based on Fire. Yeah, it was so great to learn about bamboo and I hope you continue on your journey and come back and tell us all about these amazing successes soon. So thank you again, Olivia, for joining us and sharing your insights and experiences with our community. Until next time, everyone.


Olivia Van Etten (19:55.854)

Thank you for having me, Nath.


Bryan (20:13.01)

We'll see you soon on Plant Based on Fire, so keep the fire burning.

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