Edible Schoolyard grad puts hemp burgers on map

The hemp burger, created by startup Bay Roots, includes onions, red peppers, brown rice, black beans, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, quinoa, and lots of spices — all organic — as well as hemp seeds. Photo: Bay Roots

Alice Waters’ disciples are a varied bunch. There are the chefs opening their own restaurants following the organic and local ethos. There are the fresh food evangelists planting vegetable gardens on school grounds. And then there is Will Gaudet Jr., who hopes to bring hemp burgers to the people.

Hemp is a byproduct of growing marijuana. It has long been used to make rope, clothing and beauty products. Hemp seeds are widely available at health food stores. But, because it remains illegal to farm marijuana in the United States, Gaudet’s intention with his startup, Bay Roots, is twofold; while he wants to promote the virtues of hemp seeds as a non-meat, healthy protein source, he also hopes to educate the public about the virtues of hemp, which might in turn bring more people around to the idea of legalizing marijuana.

Gaudet, himself a product of Waters’ Edible Schoolyard at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, called Waters nothing short of “a revolutionary,” speaking recently in the Edible Schoolyard, as chickens and ducks wandered freely nearby.

Will Gaudet Jr. and Alexa Dennis prepare the signature product of their food startup: hemp burgers. Photo: Bay Roots

“At the time, I probably just wanted to play basketball,” he said, rather than learning how to grow food. “This program is why I’ve had such inspiration to eat healthy all these years. You get older and realize that people were trying to instill valuable things.”

Gaudet, 21, who grew up in the Berkeley Hills but moved with his parents to the Seattle area for high school, is the kind of guy who hugs everyone – including this reporter —  upon first meeting. He has peace signs and pot leaves tattooed on one forearm, pot leaves on his socks, and a pot leaf decal on the back of his iPhone.

He is joined at Bay Roots by his girlfriend Alexa Dennis, 19, from Snohomish, Wash., whom he met a folk festival.

The business idea took root while the pair lived on Maui for six months. Gaudet, who had worked in the medical marijuana industry in Washington, and Dennis, who was in the healing arts, went to Hawaii to learn organic farming. Their lodging did not pan out, and they were picked up while hitchhiking by a Silicon Valley millionaire. He let them stay on his property for two weeks until they found a new situation, and, one night, Gaudet found himself educating the man, a vegetarian who had invested in food trucks and restaurants, about the virtues of hemp.

Gaudet’s mother has severe food allergies, and had been experimenting with hemp seed burgers for years. While they tasted good, they were more like sloppy joes than burgers, Gaudet said, as their one fault was that they didn’t bind well. The investor offered to fund their test market in Maui, so they developed a recipe with a local chef using his mother’s as a starting point, and began selling them to a local health food store.

The burgers have other ingredients too (onions, red peppers, brown rice, black beans, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, quinoa, and lots of spices, including chipotle pepper — all of them organic) and have quite a zip to them. They are comparable to some of the better veggie burgers on the market (not all veggie burgers having been created equal).

While their daily run of 24 burgers continued to sell out in less than three hours in Maui, Gaudet flew to San Francisco to attend a hemp conference.

“I was intrigued by how big the industry is,” he said, “and came back so stoked.”

The idea for the Bay Roots business took root while the founders lived on Maui for six months. Photo: Bay Roots

Meanwhile, the potential investor was less stoked about Gaudet’s legalization agenda that he planned to market along with the burgers.

The one thing they did agree on was that it was better for Gaudet to find his passion and fail, rather than work for a start-up he didn’t feel passionate about.

One night, Dennis said, “We don’t need a start-up guy. We can do this together,” and the idea for Bay Roots was born.

By the beginning of this year, they had the name and the website, and they launched a crowd-sourcing campaign on IndieGoGo that’s ending soon (donors to it can get hemp burgers as a thank you perk) to help them get started here in the Bay Area. They’re currently living with Gaudet’s aunt in Orinda, and use commercial kitchen space to make the burgers there.

The couple say they moved to California because it’s cheaper to source ingredients here – though their hemp seed supplier is in Canada – and they are closer to their target markets on the West Coast.

Once Bay Roots is up and running, the pair plan to put facts and figures about hemp on the packaging as part of their endeavor.

Both Gaudet and Dennis believe that the petro-chemical and pharmaceutical industries are to blame for the fact that marijuana remains illegal. When asked why hemp products are legal to sell while it is forbidden to grow them domestically, Gaudet said, “if the production of hemp was legal in America with no limitations, there are certain industries that could be threatened.”

Casey Rettig, a Special Agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency’s San Francisco office said that hemp products made from seeds that can’t germinate to produce marijuana are exempt from the Controlled Substances Act, which is why they can be sold legally.

Hemp seeds are widely available at health food stores. But, it remains illegal to farm marijuana in the U.S., something Bay Roots is campaigning to change. Photo: Bay Roots

Meanwhile, Gaudet and Dennis hope their campaign takes off in major way, and that hemp burgers become the next big thing.

And they have a few other lofty goals.

“I want Bay Roots to be in a position where it has a voice in the community,” said Gaudet. “We want it to be a brand that moms and families can really trust. We’ve seen with GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and the lies corporations are making, that people are realizing they can’t trust a lot of the old brands. We want to be a company that supplies healthy organic food from hemp.”

Added Dennis with a big smile, “We want to live on our own hemp farm and be the couple who legalized hemp.”

To learn more about Bay Roots or contribute to their cause, visit Bay Roots’ website and Bay Roots Hemp Burgers’ s campaign on IndieGoGo.

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  • bob


  • tim

    that burger looks…well….not appetizing…sorry.

  • Do you mind sharing the recipe? I make vegan burgers all the time and yes they do taste awesome! I even make amazing raw versions!

  • budnorth

    “Hemp is a byproduct of growing marijuana”. Really. I’m afraid that level of stupidity has no place in a storied paper like the Chronicle.

  • Shari

    There are uncultivated hemp farms in SW Michigan, wish we could revitalize that industry!

  • tim

    wonder if they;ll serve that at their $2500/plate re-opening.

  • Tracy Darling, MD

    Hemp and Marijuana are not the same thing! Ugh…they of all people should know better. Read the history of hemp and you will understand why they got lumped (and demonized!) together in the early 1900s!

  • Good idea, a weed burger! There are so many pains and aches that marijuana can help relieve and do it so safely. Great $2.99 e-book on medical marijuana: MARIJUANA – Guide to Buying, Growing, Harvesting, and Making Medical Marijuana Oil and Delicious Candies to Treat Pain and Ailments by Mary Bendis, Second Edition. This book has great recipes for easy marijuana oil, delicious Cannabis Chocolates, and tasty Dragon Teeth Mints.

  • rocky

    Will the bun be gluten free? Every else seems to be. Although shelled hemps seeds are quite costly at health food stores, you can also buy them at a much affordable price at Costco.

  • rocky

    Hemp seeds are grown and packaged in Manitoba, Canada. The politicians in Washington have given away an entire industry to the Canadians. The conservatives in Washington believe in small taxes not small government.

  • Storm Crow

    It’s a shame that our farmers are prohibited from growing hemp for fiber and seed! Every single hemp seed and strand of hemp fiber MUST be imported, adding to our trade imbalance! Hemp seed is tasty, very nutritious and is a good source of Omega 3, which the modern diet severely lacks. It is time to legalize hemp and give agriculture a much needed boost with a new versatile crop that take little in the way of pesticides and fertilizers- unlike corn or cotton. And FYI- no “pothead” is going to try to hide his pot plants in a hemp field! That produces lower quality buds filled with seeds which makes them unsellable at the normal price.

  • Mel Content

    True, but there’s a certain stuck-in-the-Sixties crowd that will fawn over anything having to do with “hemp”.

  • Jean-Pierre Ruiz

    Dear Alix:

    While I wish Gaudet and Dennis the very best of luck
    and I found your article very interesting, please allow me to point out
    that hemp is not byproduct of marijuana. While they are both from the
    same source plant (Sativa), they are as different as a Chihuahua is from
    a St. Bernard…they are both dogs, but they are very different. This
    difference is not limited to the fact that hemp has no, or nearly
    undetectable levels of, THC, which is the psychotropic compound found in
    marijuana. They simply are different plants which in the 1920s, were
    joined together by DuPont who, with the financial backing of the Mellon
    Bank and the racist comments from the Hearst newspapers, had invented
    what became known as rayon (i.e., artificial silk) and wanted to grab
    market share from hemp products. Hearst newspapers wrote about how
    Mexican “high” on marihuana/hemp were intent on murder, while “Negroes”
    (with apologies to African-Americans) dared “to look at white men in the
    eyes.” While hemp was not, per se, made illegal, the regulations
    imposed upon its cultivation and distribution doomed it. Nevertheless,
    when the Japanese cut off the US supply of manila hemp (which is not
    really hemp) in 1942, the US government spent $10MM setting up a
    corporation to subsidize farmers to grow hemp for the war efforts. The
    government even made a movie “Hemp for Victory” (available on YouTube)
    extolling the virtues of hemp. The end of the war re-imposed the
    regulations. Today, one can grow hemp with a permit from the DEA which
    requires 8 ft. fences topped with barbed wire, artificial lighting of
    the entire growth area during nighttime, a locked gate and 24 hours/day
    surveillance. The regulation is known as the Controlled Substance Act of
    1970. The state of Hawaii was the last to apply for a federal permit in
    1996 to grow hemp on 1/4 acre. The DEA granted the permit in 1999 which
    has now expired terminating that experiment.

    In the 17th and
    18th Century, by law, American farmers had to grow hemp which was legal
    tender and could be used to pay one’s taxes. George Washington was a
    hemp farmer. Benjamin Franklin processed hemp. The Declaration of
    Independence, most of our books and paper currency were printed on hemp
    paper (much more Earth-conscious than pulp wood paper and longer

    Jean-Pierre Ruiz – President & CEO

    EcoStar Health, Inc.

  • Beatrice Kuyumgian-Rankin

    Good for you Jean-Pierre. Australian farmers have been growing hemp for a number of years under licence with the Department of Primary Industries but our government makes it illegal for hemp foods to be sold as human food, Although the Food Standards Authority has tested, researched and approve it for human consumption, an ignorant group of Ministers FOFR have the final say. They have been delaying their decision since 2009!!
    We really feel non-THC industrial hemp could be a solution to many ecological, and economical problems we’re all facing in the world. Hemp can provide all our basic human needs for future self-sustainability.

  • ABbaby

    Yeah, best of luck, dude and dudess!