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Boocha Bears
Photograph: Courtesy of Boocha Bears

These New Yorkers are selling homemade kombucha in bear-shaped jars

"Boocha Bears"—sold via Instagram DMs—are raising money for an organization called Black Chef Movement.

Emma Orlow
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Emma Orlow
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Inspired by the efforts of Bakers Against Racism—an international collective of bake sales that launched during the pandemic to raise money for Black Lives Matter-related organizations—a pair of New Yorkers are starting their own cottage industry pop-up, selling homemade kombucha for a great cause. Their beverage line is called "Boocha Bears" and arrives in bear-shaped jars (similar, but slightly more girth-y than the bear-shaped jars that often hold honey) and proceeds go to a group called Black Chef Movement that has been on-the-ground, nourishing protestors with free meals since earlier this summer.

The initiative comes from roommates Syd Wheeler Larsen and Erica Bastida, who have been selling the kombucha jars out of their Ridgewood apartment (currently the team is only offering pick-up only) over Instagram DMs. Prior to the pandemic, Wheeler Larsen worked for music venues and Bastida worked in scenic production for theater, two industries that draw large crowds at cultural centers and will likely be some of last to reopen. 

"Small businesses here in Ridgewood are very connected. They're with the movement and really uplifting each other. We wanted to be a part of that and do our little part, and say, here you go and thank you. But it's also been a fun way to spend our time because we have so much time now," says Bastida.

After Wheeler Larsen was given a scoby "mother"—a layer of bacteria and yeast formed during the fermentation process—the duo got inspired to start using the kombucha-making process to raise funds. "Though someone might buy kombucha at the store, it's a process that no one wants to do. Scoby looks like a foot infection and no one wants to fuck with it," says Wheeler Larsen. The idea was also to offer something that was healthier and something that customers were less likely to make themselves, though the team notes that those who are pregnant or immunocompromised should not place an order given the fact that kombucha has low levels of alcohol in it.

"Our kombucha is fermented oolong and/or black tea that supports a healthy gut and immune system. We brew and bottle it at home in little bear jars, a process that takes about two weeks per batch. Our flavors are experimental and crowdsourced from our local subscribers. Some of our favorites include The Harry Styles (Watermelon Lime), The Abra (Rose Dragon Fruit), and The Frank Ocean (Orange Ginger)," says Wheeler Larsen of their flavor development process. So far, people have reserved bottles in advance to pick up every other Sunday and you can get in touch via Instagram DM to purchase. "Kombucha is a cool fundraiser because the production cost is relatively low other than the jars, so we're able to donate about 50% of each sale. Each bear is $5, and for subscribers who reuse and recycle their bottles to us, we offer a $1 thanks-for-saving-the-planet discount." The price is comparable to what bottled kombucha will cost you at the supermarket. The bottles are roughly 12 fl./oz (for reference, GT's Kombucha is sold for roughly $4 at 16 fl./oz). Yes, it's a more expensive product but it's made locally and by two out-of-work femmes. You get to have a say in the flavor customization, and, most importantly, your dollars support the work of Black chefs in Brooklyn giving a needed service to fuel the protests calling to end police brutality and white supremacy. 

"People know it's important to donate, but when they were going to buy food anyway, it's nice to use that to support a cause," says Wheeler Larsen. "Wear a mask, donate to a good cause and eat and drink things that are good for your immunity. Take care of yourself and if you can, invest in your health."  

Boocha Bears
Photograph: Courtesy of Boocha Bears

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