By Meredith Bethune
Photography by Melanie Grizzel
Growing up, Happy Hemp owner Tara Miko Grayless lived in such varied locales as Missouri, New Mexico and Colorado, and she credits her mother for her early healthy lifestyle. “We never ate fast food,” she recalls. “We always sat down and ate meals, no matter how little money we had.”
Later, a twenty-three-year-old Grayless made a pivotal move to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico—a place known for attracting and supporting people on paths of creativity. “[It was] one of those places where you explore your artistic side,” she says. Though her entrepreneurial fire was lit by the experience, and her work in the jewelry industry there led to a fashion career in Los Angeles, she never felt entirely comfortable. “I didn’t want to have a moral hangover while contributing to something I really didn’t believe in,” she says. Also, several years after settling in Los Angeles, she became mysteriously ill with digestive issues.
Desperately seeking relief, Grayless began to experiment with a variety of super nutritious, natural foods—including hemp seeds. She discovered that the seeds are high in protein and mineral content, with an ideal ratio of omega fatty acids. They’re also a complete protein source, containing all nine of the essential amino acids, which is unique for plant foods. After adding the seeds to her diet, Grayless felt more energetic almost immediately and credits the concentrated boost of nutrition. “I felt like I had more pep in my step,” she says. “And by the third week, my stomach was feeling better.”
Hemp seeds, like chia and flax seeds, fall into the superfood category, but Grayless particularly appreciates hemp’s convenience. “You don’t have to grind them or soak them; you can just eat them!” she says. Toasted hemp seeds make a delightfully crunchy snack, while the raw seeds “melt in your mouth like a nutty butter,” she says. And since hemp seeds are a food with no known allergens, Grayless began using them as a substitute for nuts or breadcrumbs when making pesto, fish or even meatloaf.
Her enthusiasm about the discovery was contagious, and many of her friends and family started experimenting with hemp seeds too. “Across the board, I was getting such positive feedback from people,” Grayless says. She admits, though, that not everyone was receptive because of hemp’s infamous association. “Hemp does belong to the same species of plants as marijuana,” she says. But hemp is an entirely different plant that doesn’t have any psychoactive properties.She was particularly reticent to tell her grandparents about her new interest. “My grandfather is a stoic, ex-military man,” she says. “But he was actually quite familiar with [hemp’s] versatility, and responded: Oh, hemp is great! You can eat it and make rope and fabric.” He also told her that her great-grandfather had once grown it on his farm in Springfield, Missouri, before it became illegal in the United States. And even though Happy Hemp seeds are now available in more than 17 states nationwide, some are still reluctant to try them. “I have to tell people I’m not a drug dealer all the time,” Grayless jokes.
Settled now in Austin, Grayless says Happy Hemp is growing and doing well. “If this crazy thing was going to work, it wouldn’t work anywhere but here,” she says. And Austin’s chefs remain some of the company’s best customers. “Bryce [Gilmore] could not have been more supportive or more awesome,” Grayless says. “He spread the word; spread the seed.” Aside from Gilmore’s Barley Swine and Odd Duck, other local restaurant customers include Qui, Lenoir, Jack Allen’s Kitchen and Swift’s Attic. Living in Austin has also led to some innovative collaborations, such as a hemp milk developed with juice company Daily Greens that will be available in stores soon.
Yet, Grayless’s grandparents in Missouri remain some of her biggest boosters. “My grandmother has everyone eating hemp seeds in their retirement community,” she says with a laugh. “Happy Hemp got me back to my roots.”
Find out more at happy-hemp.com