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Published: Thursday, March 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Gluten-free cereal turns into a family business

  • Barbara Swartz pours cereal grains into a grinder while making Purple Sunrise at her Camano Island home on Wednesday. Swartz created the organic, glut...

    Genna Martin / The Herald

    Barbara Swartz pours cereal grains into a grinder while making Purple Sunrise at her Camano Island home on Wednesday. Swartz created the organic, gluten-free breakfast cereal for her daughter, who is vegan and has a sensitivity to wheat.

  • Barbara Swartz pours cereal grains into a grinder.

    Genna Martin / The Herald

    Barbara Swartz pours cereal grains into a grinder.

  • Barbara Swartz created Purple Sunrise, an organic, gluten-free breakfast cereal, for her daughter who is vegan and has a sensitivity to wheat.

    Genna Martin / The Herald

    Barbara Swartz created Purple Sunrise, an organic, gluten-free breakfast cereal, for her daughter who is vegan and has a sensitivity to wheat.

  • Purple Sunrise, an organic, gluten-free breakfast cereal, is sold online and in stores across several states.

    Genna Martin / The Herald

    Purple Sunrise, an organic, gluten-free breakfast cereal, is sold online and in stores across several states.

  • Barbara Swartz prepares a tub of cereal grains.

    Genna Martin / The Herald

    Barbara Swartz prepares a tub of cereal grains.

  • Barbara Swartz pours cereal grains into a mixer while making Purple Sunrise at her Camano Island home on Wednesday.

    Genna Martin / The Herald

    Barbara Swartz pours cereal grains into a mixer while making Purple Sunrise at her Camano Island home on Wednesday.

CAMANO ISLAND -- When Christy Swartz graduated from Stanwood High School in 2009 and moved all the way across the country to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, her mom was anxious.
A year later when Barbara Swartz found out her daughter was having trouble studying because of a growing sensitivity to wheat, the mama-bear instincts kicked in.
However, instead of searching for gluten-free foods she could buy and mail to Boston, Barbara Swartz decided to come up with a breakfast cereal that any college student would appreciate: It had to be organic, not taste like cardboard and be quick and easy to prepare.
Swartz, 55, experimented with a variety of whole grains, seeds and nuts. Eventually she decided on a mix of almonds, buckwheat, brown rice, amaranth, chia, millet, flax, cañahua and a gourmet black rice that in ancient China was reserved for the emperors.
The black rice is actually a dark purple, and when it's cooked with the other grains, the purple color dominates. So, Swartz flavored the cereal with a little vanilla and called it Purple Sunrise.
"Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, you eat it at sunrise and it's purple," she said. "Christy loved it. She could focus on her studies instead of a stomach ache. Then we started giving the cereal to friends as gifts. People raved about it, so we decided to see if we could sell it."
Christy Swartz said the process to find the right blend took her mother several months.
"After she got the balance right and sent it to me, it was actually wonderful and so delicious. It's the best cereal I've ever tried, and I've tried a ton," Christy said. "My mom is multitalented and she constantly impresses me with these random things she knows how to do."
Swartz, a graphic artist, and her husband, Chris, who has a doctorate in microbiology, turned their TV room into a commercial kitchen. Last October they got a state food processor's license to operate as Camano Island Mills.
On Saturday and Sunday, the Swartz family, including Christy, her fiance, and her brother Scott, plan a public unveiling of Purple Sunrise at Vegfest 2013 at the Seattle Center's Exhibition Hall.
The cereal is available online at www.camanoislandmills.com. Barbara's sister Kathy Blechel is working on getting the cereal into retail outlets.
Chris and Barbara Swartz own several other home-based businesses, including a website development company, all under the umbrella of Midnight Oil LLC.
"That's because we really do burn the midnight oil," Barbara said. "I'll be in the commercial kitchen at 1 a.m. milling, mixing and packaging Purple Sunrise."
The Swartzes bought a commercial scale, a mill that grinds the ingredients, a cement mixer machine that tosses it all together and a vacuum package sealer. Each package includes an oxygen absorber sachet to help keep the cereal fresh, they said.
"The investment was substantial and the premium grains we buy are expensive," Barbara Swartz said. A 16-ounce package of Purple Sunrise is sold online for $14.95 and cooks up about 16 servings. She packages between 35 and 70 pounds of cereal a day, Swartz said.
On top of their several businesses, the Swartzes are preparing for Christy's wedding on March 30. A gluten-free, vegan meal is planned for family members who will attend.
"We are so busy right now that we wish we could clone ourselves," Barbara Swartz said. "But it is fun, and our health has improved so much since we have been eating gluten-free. We have more energy."
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.
Story tags » Camano IslandStanwoodFoodSmall business

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