Almost every family has a trademark recipe, whether it's Grandma's famous sausage stuffing or Aunt Margaret's gooey cinnamon rolls. These dishes are demanded at holidays, fussed over by guests, and passed down through generations like priceless heirlooms.
For Angie's Boomchickapop founder Angie Bastian, that family dish was popcorn.
"I grew up on a farm, and we had popcorn with dinner on Sunday night," she said. "Popcorn was never at the movies for me—It was always in the kitchen."
Bastian made her popcorn and signature kettle corn just like her mom did, with only a few simple ingredients.
This sweet-salty snack would eventually become the seed for a booming business. But no one saw the success coming. In 2001, Angie and Dan Bastian were the quintessential Minnesota family, working as a nurse and Spanish teacher, respectively.
To earn a little extra money, the couple sold batches of Angie's kettle corn at farmers markets and street festivals.
Demand grew, and the Bastians added other flavors, like low-calorie sea salt popcorn. But no matter how big they got, the Bastians kept their popcorn simple—non-GMO, gluten-free, without any mystery ingredients or artificial additives.
In the 15 years since the Bastians first started popping corn, they've remained deeply connected to their roots. So deeply committed, in fact, that Angie's Boomchickapop is still based in the Bastian's sleepy hometown of Mankato, Minn.
Of course, that's not to say that the company hasn't started thinking on a bigger scale—in the last few years, Angie's Boomchickapop has become more interested in nationwide outreach and activism, too.
One of their recent campaigns centered around something Bastian was sure all of her customers were interested in: the popcorn itself. To help spread awareness of genetically modified foods, Bastian came up with the idea of having their customers try growing their own corn.
"We took non-GMO, untreated popcorn seeds and packaged them and gave them away free to people who were interested," she said. "Girl Scout troops and schools and families all over the country grew non-GMO popcorn last season."
All in all, the company gave away close to six million seeds. That means scores of people were able to grow their own food, see firsthand what farming is like, and—hopefully—understand the importance of non-GMO food.
And giving away free seeds isn't the only way this company gives back. In the last few years, Angie's Boomchickapop has offered a pink ribbon bag to raise money for breast cancer research. These donations have funded a Mayo Clinic study mapping the host genome in breast cancer patients, and to the individualized treatment of the patients in the study.
Though these two campaigns focused on entirely different goals, the basic principle is the same—what Bastian calls "scattering goodwill wherever we can, whenever we can."
And that makes their signature kettle corn even sweeter.
Photo credit: Paul Delmont