In 2012, Meg Barnhart, Founder/Co-Creator of Zen of Slow Cooking, wanted to create a business that could employ individuals with learning challenges – adults like her son, Doug. When she started slow cooking in 2006, she never imagined her slow cooker would be a vehicle for change. With a vision in place, she began looking for a partner to help turn her dream into a reality. Jane McKay had just moved to Chicago from the UK with her young family and was developing recipes and writing for a local food artisan. When they met a few weeks later it was clear that they were meant to build Zen of Slow Cooking together.
It all began with the Zen of Slow Cooking food blog. Using their most popular recipes, Meg and Jane crafted a line of globally inspired spice blends to provide the flavor foundation for a delicious home-cooked meal. They are impacting more than tastebuds, however, as they are committed to helping individuals with developmental disabilities through an opportunity employment model.
Zen of Slow Cooking is based in Illinois, where only 25% of people with disabilities are employed. For adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, that number drops to just 9%. Recognizing a gap in their community, and acting on their belief that everyone has something positive to contribute to the world, Meg and Jane approached a local social enterprise, Planet Access Company (PAC) in 2014. PAC provides training and employment for adults with developmental disabilities. Through their partnership, PAC now managing spice collections, order fulfillment and shipment for Zen of Slow Cooking’s e-commerce business. Forty percent of PAC’s permanent team members are individuals with disabilities.
In 2013, Meg and Jane taught their first in-person cooking class at Project 1212, part of Urban Autism Solutions. They gathered one Saturday morning in the fall to teach eight adults with autism how to make a French Toast Casserole in their slow cooker. As they cracked eggs and mixed spices, they could tell one of the class members, Zachery was incredibly excited about the experience. After class, he shared his delight and bought a slow cooker. One year later, Zachery showed up with freshly baked pies for the group and said he had been selling his pies at their local farmers’ market. His confidence and effusive energy is a gratifying testimonial to the soothing effects of slow cooking.
Social impact is at the core of Zen of Slow Cooking’s business whether it’s creating employment for adults with developmental disabilities or encouraging an inclusive economy by becoming a Certified B Corporation. They joined Social Enterprise Alliance after Meg was asked to be part of SEA’s conference to discuss how to market a mission-focused brand. It was the first time she sat in a room filled with people who put mission before profit and felt that she had finally found a group that shared her vision for creating a business with a heart and soul.
To learn more about Zen of Slow Cooking, check out their member directory profile.