We had the good fortune of connecting with Hannah Crum and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Hannah, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
Hi, I’m Hannah from Chicago – emphasis on those midwestern “a’s.” Growing up in the Midwest is a fruitful experience as you are forced to deal with ALL of the elements of nature, from frozen nose hairs and gray skies in the winter to hot humid summers complete with fireflies and cicadas buzzing, plus don’t forget ducking under the desk for tornado drills! The weather prepared me for all kinds of unpleasant circumstances in life and also cemented the need for community connection so that everyone remains safe, even when Mother Nature is flexing her might.
Summers were spent on Grandma and Grandpa Crum’s farm in a tiny town in southern Minnesota. Away from the bustle of the city, boredom led to exploring nature, playing board games like Strageo and Smess (Ninny’s Chess – do they even make this game anymore?) with the cousins. It also meant Nestle Quick, vanilla ice cream with Hershey’s chocolate sauce from a can, Kool-Aid with loads of sugar, Jello with fruit, and shelling peas for hours.
My parents met in a cult Christian church in Iowa that we attended 5-7 days a week. Pentacostal in nature, there was lots of speaking in tongues and laying on of hands. They were brainwashed into thinking that the world was ending. We had carders, spinning wheels, a loom, sacks of beans and grain in the basement – I suppose we were preppers before it became popular!
Dad had his own Heating Ventilation & Air Conditioning business at a young age and he was a mechanical genius without much formal training. What he was not was a good businessman and an investment that didn’t pan out left us broke and bankrupt. I remember at the age of 5 or 6 reading by candlelight because the electricity was turned off. When the church kicked my Dad out, who even at 19 was considered an ‘elder”, for speaking out against their latest money grabbing scheme to buy land in the Amazon and not adhering to the integrity of the Bible, he sat in the basement waiting for God to show him what was next. Thankfully, the lord moves in mysterious ways and it was mother who found him a job in Aurora, IL and we moved, leaving a mess and laundry in the washer behind.
Thus began an annual move every summer for the next 5 years until we landed in Skokie, IL when I was almost 12. We didn’t have TV until I turned 10, so our lives growing up were filled with playing outside in rural areas, exploring stream beds, dancing to albums on the record player, reading lots of books, playing imaginary games, putting on “shows” for the family and the like. I’ve always had a love of performing and that has naturally transitioned into a passion for teaching and educating others in my professional career. Moving around a lot also meant I had to be resilient and trust my own voice and intuition from a young age. This has played out a number of times throughout the years, from starting my own Kombucha blog and business (Kombucha Kamp) to launching and serving as President for Kombucha Brewers International, a non-profit trade association committed to promoting and protecting commercial Kombucha Brewers.
The lack of technology until an older age coupled with living in or visiting rural areas instilled a deep love of nature and in high school I joined the Environmental Club. I have been an advocate for “Green Living” ever since and Kombucha for me is a natural extension of my love for Mother Nature as every aspect of her being benefits every living thing on this planet (except pathogens!).
When Kombucha made herself known to me, I was at a unique point in my life. I was SAD – Standard American Diet – and my body was ready to try different dietaries and explore what truly makes her feel good. I can’t say I’ve uncovered all the secrets, especially because once you start investigating, you find that the American diet is incredibly toxic. Kombucha’s beauty lies in her ability to remove toxins from any environment, including our bodies – so she really is “ancient technology, modern wisdom” in the sense that we are leveraging a ferment that has a 2000 year history to help us deal with a modern problem – so we are wise to re-embrace Kombucha and ALL fermented foods and drinks to help diversify our microbiomes.
What should our readers know about your business?
As a longtime educator and kombucha advocate, I’ve been brewing fermented tea for more than 15 years. What started as a hobby, grew into a passion which then led to my career. With a mission to “change the world, one gut at a time,” I founded Kombucha Kamp in 2004 as an educational resource for consumers and homebrewers. After a few months of endless nights spent learning how to code, I launched my first full website & e-commerce platform. From homebrew hobbyist, to educator, to Master Brewer, Kombucha Kamp has grown organically as my experience has deepened. At Kombucha Kamp, we are committed to providing the most accurate and up-to-date information to Kombucha lovers and homebrewers at any stage in their experience. Years ago, I realized that for some reason, the Kombucha world is very secretive and doesn’t want to share the golden nuggets, but I’ve worked hard to change that. I want people to avoid anecdotal stories about the so-called miracles of Kombucha Tea and look for scientific fact. For example, there are many stories of people whose joints suddenly stop hurting when they begin drinking Kombucha, and there are even stories of Chernobyl residents who avoided cancer after the meltdown with daily consumption of Kombucha. But here are the facts: 1) Kombucha helps repair damage to the organs and 2) Kombucha reduces the absorption of dangerous gamma rays. Armed with these scientific facts and more, I’ve written more than 100 blog posts on KombuchaKamp.com and offer everyone a free DIY Guide book so each person can make up their own mind about the benefits of Kombucha and brew their own if they choose. And I still answer as many phone calls as possible because I know the products and the process of fermentation the best. Helping others understand what will work best for their needs regardless of experience level is our specialty, plus it provides a bit of a thrill to the caller when they realize they are talking to the Kombucha Mamma! Plus as a consultant to the industry, I work with everybody from occasional homebrewer to large national brands in the US and abroad. In fact, dozens of Kombucha brands have started with Kombucha Kamp’s website and cultures, and that’s something we’re extremely proud of!
In 2014, I furthered my passion and founded Kombucha Brewers International (KBI) alongside my husband, Alex LaGory, bringing our background of corporate consulting, industry reporting and class marketing efforts. My core mission is to promote and protect kombucha globally, as well as mentor millions of homebrewers and commercial producers around the world. With my determination and passion, I’ve supported the industry in many initiatives like actively pursuing legislation to stabilize the kombucha industry and protect manufacturers from being unfairly taxed through the KOMBUCHA Act, as well as publishing the world’s first kombucha Standard of Identity. Most recently, we launched the industry’s first Code of Practice – a quality standard for kombucha producers that creates industry-wide transparency for consumers to make informed choices. The new guidelines aim to protect the integrity of the kombucha category while allowing for continued evolution and innovation. The Code of Practice has been in development for five years, with the last three years devoted to incorporating feedback from stakeholders and KBI members. As an association, we have helped create international testing standards, spearheaded lobbying efforts, partnered with universities on research, launched education campaigns, and established KombuchaKon, the largest industry conference and trade show that offers the only opportunity for Kombucha professionals from around the world to meet in one place and tackle the issues they face as an industry.
Kombucha isn’t simply a tea to drink to be healthy, it’s a mentality and a lifestyle. It’s about looking at your food in a different way. Kombucha is a lens through which we can talk about broader issues and it’s a gateway into abundance. I have taught Kombucha making classes to all size groups, from individuals to workshops of 100+, all over the country for nearly 8 years for over a decade, spreading the message of Kombucha and its bacterial benefits far and wide through a variety of venues including festivals, health conferences, podcasts, interviews, articles and more.
Starting and growing your own business (or two!) is no walk in the park. Since launching Kombucha Kamp and KBI, I’ve faced my challenges, as every innovator faces, but nothing I haven’t been able to figure out for myself. Some lessons can only be learned the hard way, and figuring out how to determine who is truly on your side and who is just paying lip service is a skill that cannot be underestimated. Entrepreneurship has been a medium to which I’ve built a strong community of like-minded individuals, and I value the relationships I’ve forged along the way. I’m connected to people who care about whole foods, and it’s great to make those mutually beneficial relationships happen. We’re all so interconnected, I feel the more I can draw on other resources, the more diverse my business can grow.
After many years of long hours and stressful nights, rather than having “work-life” balance, I’ve come to understand that what I need in order to thrive is “life-work” balance. I have shifted my priorities from working umpteen hours to “prove” I’m valuable in the American capitalist model and instead recognizing the unhealthy and imbalanced thought patterns inherent in our current cultural model have given me the freedom to prioritize communing with nature – even if it’s on the front porch with my dog; cultivating new physical hobbies like paddle boarding that connect me to nature while also providing an escape from my desk and my head; and discovering new ways to be intimate with my husband, family and friends. With a renewed focus on health and immunity, that nagging little health issue I’ve been ignoring is leading me to deeper healing and nutritional support. In turn, it has led to a healthier emotional state, and the renewed clarity is guiding me to where I need to focus my efforts to support both of my businesses and evolve them to stay relevant in our ever-changing environment. As Kombucha Kamp’s mission states: always “trust YOUR gut.”
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
-I am an ocean lover, so we definitely have to hit up Venice Beach and it would be so fun to ride the Boardwalk from Santa Monica to Hermosa Beach. -From there we’d also take to the waves on paddle boards in the Marina where we can get an up close and personal look at some of the sea life
-For a treat, we have to hit ChocoVivo on Washington Blvd in my neighborhood as they are the only bean to bar chocolatier in Los Angeles – their “Chocolate Shake” is bitter, sweet, creamy and delicious.
-For our spiritual needs, we’d visit Mystic Journey to get a tarot reading and buy some crystals or books.
-I love discovering treasures at the various thrift stores in Venice and Mar Vista – being close to Culver City there are some “cast offs” from the movies at affordable prices.
-My favorite under recognized local sushi joint is U-Zen on Santa Monica Blvd in West LA. It has been our go to place for celebrating birthdays and life events for nearly 20 years. The seafood is fresh and Masa, the head chef, always has a few off the menu treats on hand for adventurous eaters.
-Olympic Spa is my favorite in city get-away as it is an oasis of hot and cold pools, himalayan salt room, delicious Korean food and their famous full body scrubs.I always emerge fresh as a daisy.
-For hiking, we’d head to Temescal canyon for breathtaking ocean views and spectacular canyon trails. Or Kenneth Hahn to catch a view of the city and enjoy the coi pond.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I dedicate my Shoutout to my husband Alex LaGory – he is the structure building bacteria to my wild and crazy yeast – we are a true SCOBY and I wouldn’t be The Kombucha Mamma without his love, support, blood, sweat and tears over the last two decades.