By Jennifer Bieman, St. Thomas Times-Journal
There's more than just sweet snacks in every bag of Living Alive Granola – there's a success story too -- a tale about overcoming obstacles, second chances and a triumphant battle against debilitating mental health issues.
Living Alive Granola co-founder Stephanie Brown, along with her business partner former Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Joe Preston, launched the company on Horton Market's opening day in May. In only four short months, the pair has got their St. Thomas-made products into at least 20 grocery stores throughout the region.
“We're working very hard together,” said Brown, who also moonlights as a musician when she's not in their St. Thomas granola kitchen or on the road promoting their products.
“He saw such an opportunity that he decided to partner with me... I'm really, really lucky.”
It's fitting that Brown and her the ex-MP business partner, who spent 11 years a community-focused parliamentarian, use local ingredients in their granola. The two are proud to put Elgin county honey, oats and maple syrup in their two chewy granola recipes.
It's not Brown's first foray into the world of granola making, it's a dream the entrepreneur has had since 2009. But when she tried to launch the business by herself seven years ago, she was defeated by her own mental health issues.
“I am really outspoken about my mental disabilities... I struggle with bipolar disorder. I became ill, in the hospital. I had to give it up. It was the most painful thing because I had built a great business,” she said, adding the new venture is a deeply personal one that gives her the power to be her own boss.
“When you have mental health difficulties it's hard to be employed. I really want to have a future. That's really motivating me,” she said.
Brown wants to set an example for others who are in the throes of mental illness. She wants to succeed despite the challenges and build a thriving business and rewarding career.
“It seems to be something that's a really big topic right now. But I think that if more of us come forward then it makes it so other families feel they can get help,” she said.
The mental health advocate doesn't wants to do more than just talk about mental health issues, she wants to contribute to local mental health projects too. Ten cents from each bag of granola is being donated to mental health organizations that serve St. Thomas and Elgin county. In the future, Brown said the St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital Foundation and Canadian Mental Health Association are on her radar.