Karen Farrell, 35
President/owner, Topline Marketing
Karen Farrell decided at a very young age that the three things the world really needed were clean air, clean water and good food.
It’s a life philosophy the 35-year-old manufacturing representative has nurtured throughout the years – and which has ultimately permeated her business ideology, as well.
President and owner of Topline Marketing in South Portland, she and her team promote, support and grow the top companies in the natural products industry.
“There’s a great need for what we’re doing: Getting more organic, local, and natural products out into the market,” she said.
Topline represents natural and organic food stores and manufacturers throughout the United States – including high-profile local brands such as Burt’s Bees, GrandyOats granola, and DennyMike’s. Its cachet includes not only food, but also supplements, body care and eco-gifts, although a main goal going forward is expanding its recently launched grocery division, according to Farrell.
A former Whole Foods Market employee and a home-birth midwife who has volunteered her time in natural disaster-ravaged countries, she built the company almost from the ground up. Starting as its second employee when it was founded 10 years ago, she took over as owner in 2004, expanding its portfolio from a handful of employees and four regional brands to roughly 25 full-time, part-time and contract workers, and more than 30 brands across the country.
“I just really believe in an organic and local food supply system,” she said.
Indeed, as a kid, she spent a good amount of time in an unexpected place – the local health food store. And, when she decided to no longer eat what was put out on the family table, her supportive parents even gave her money to do her own shopping for organic and natural foods.
The impetus for all this? Bearing witness to the trials of her brother and father, both of whom were stricken with environmentally caused cancer when she was a youngster.
“It was definitely a personal decision to try to live healthier, and to understand more about why people became ill,” she said.
And once she started looking into it, she realized that chemical and fossil fuel-using manufacturing and distribution processes had an enormous impact on people’s health. Today, she claimed, there are more than 250,000 chemicals in the food system that weren’t there just a century ago.
And, she said, more consumers are catching on to this.
They’re “realizing more and more what I realized many years ago: That what you eat and what you purchase affects your local economy, your health, your politics – it affects everything,” she said.
– Taryn Plumb