Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

This Local Solar-Popped Popcorn Was a Decade in the Making

Popular
Bjorn Quenemoen and Jamie O'Shea (wearing the hat) were once college roommates but are now popcorn makers. Chris Panetta

By Alexandra Zissu

When Bjorn Quenemoen was a student at Bard College, he would host monthly popcorn parties. He would put up posters around campus, inviting everyone to his parties. At 10 p.m., on the appointed date, he would turn the lights down and put on some music.


Quenemoen would sell a handful of items, including Claussen pickles, Lucky Strike cigarettes and beer, but the real draw was his popcorn. He would pop it live, wearing a uniform (orange pants that his sister bought in Thailand, a maroon muscle shirt and a yellow headband). The recipe, heavy on nutritional yeast, comes from his family, who grew corn, among other crops, in Minnesota.

"Quenemoen, now 38, never stopped making popcorn. "Before I graduated, I got the idea that I could turn this recipe into a business," he said. And he did. The business — no longer a live event — is BjornQorn. The idea is so simple, it makes you kick yourself for not launching it first: non-GMO popcorn, solar popped and seasoned. Nothing more.

BjornQorn's enormous solar kettles were designed by Quenemoen's former college roommate, Jamie O'Shea. "We looked for a place where a farmer would let us build a crazy contraption," said O'Shea. Thanks to a family connection, we've installed them on Kelder's Farm in Kerhonkson, New York, across the street from the BjornQorn office — and not far from their old college campus.

About 20 percent of their corn is grown on Kelder's Farm, and the other 80 percent comes from Quenemoen's family farm. When demand is high, they supplement with organic kernels. "When we don't know the farmers, we buy organic," said Quenemoen. "When we do, we work with noncertified lands." He goes home to Minnesota to personally hand-sort the corn — the machinery available doesn't meet his needs. "There isn't a small-scale solution," he said. "All of the grain needs to be sorted. There can be foreign materials, like husks and rocks, in there."

Regardless of its origin, all of their corn is popped in the Hudson Valley kettles. Recently, the duo added a solar-electric facility to increase their production capacity. They also added two primary flavors to their product line: cloudy and spicy. Cloudy is the kernels that pop on non-sunny days, while spicy is quite hot.

On a rainy spring afternoon in their popcorn-scented office, Quenemoen and O'Shea reflect on their growth and try to imagine their future. It's been a few years since O'Shea was able to work at BjornQorn full-time. And they're past the point where Quenemoen has to stand on a ladder to work machinery and hand-deliver orders.

BjornQorn has made appearances in skits on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and Saturday Night Live, and their popcorn is stocked in the staff pantries of both shows. Etsy staff members have even dressed up as bags of BjornQorn for Halloween. "They're so crafty," said Quenemoen.

They're just as proud of selling at Hudson Valley stores and breweries as they are of their demand at Eataly in Boston, New York City and Los Angeles. And they're embarking on a trial run at Whole Foods Market. "We aren't sure yet about our quest for world domination," joked Quenemoen.

"There is still a lot of America left," he said. "We'll see how mainstream we can get this quirky popcorn to go."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A pangolin at a rescue center in Cambodia. Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay

By Malavika Vyawahare

China has banned the trade and consumption of wild animals in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak that has claimed more than 2,700 lives and infected more than 81,000 people, most of them in China, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

Read More
A man carries plastic shopping bags in Times Square on May 5, 2018 in New York City. Kena Betancur / VIEWpress / Corbis / Getty Images

Nearly one year after New York became the second state in the nation to pass a ban on grocery store plastic bags — the law is going into effect on Sunday.

Read More
Sponsored
White gold man-made diamond solitaire engagement ring. Clean Origin

While keeping track of the new trends in the diamond industry can be hard, it is still an essential task of any savvy consumer or industry observer. Whether you are looking to catch a deal on your next diamond purchase or researching the pros and cons of an investment within the diamond industry, keeping up with the trends is imperative.

Read More
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) (C) chants with housing and environmental advocates before a news conference to introduce legislation to transform public housing as part of her Green New Deal outside the U.S. Capitol Nov. 14, 2019 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) took to the floor of the House of Representatives yesterday to chide Republicans for not reading the Green New Deal, which she introduced over one year ago, as The Hill reported. She then read the entire 14-page document into the congressional record.

Read More
Anti Ivan Duque's demonstrator is seen holding a placard with the photos of social leader Alirio Sánchez Sánchez and the indigenous Hector Janer Latín, both killed in Cauca, Colombia during a protest against Ivan Duque visit in London which included a meeting about fracking, environmental issues, the peace process implementation, and questioning the risk that social leaders in Colombia face. Andres Pantoja / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

Colombia was the most dangerous nation in 2019 to be an environmental activist and experts suspect that conditions will only get worse.

Read More