March 20, 2012
By Pfc. Trevon Peracca, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — From behind a .50-caliber machine gun turret on the streets of Baghdad to the shelves of San Diego supermarkets, one former Camp Pendleton reconnaissance Marine, found success in a spicy new hot sauce made from foraged foods.
After spending more than two years in the canyons of California as a homeless college student, Mike N. Hanes, chief executive officer of Forager Mike SuperFoods, began his epic journey in 1994 serving eight years in the Marine Corps.
Hanes’ career began with his first year in Okinawa, Japan, where he served duties as a communicator. He then moved to embassy duty where he served all over the world as Marine security guard. Hanes spent his last enlistment as a force reconnaissance Marine operator and communications specialist in 2003 during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Hanes began his plan to continue life outside of the Marine Corps. However things did not start out according to plan.
“I had a difficult time in transition, and I think that happens to a lot of combat veterans,” said Hanes, who was suffering from extreme anger issues and a number of other transitional problems. “Adjusting to everything in society is just totally different, and a lot of us have a hard time relating.”
“Something about being in the whole combat environment forces you to look at life a little different,” he said.
During this time of transition, Hanes found himself homeless for more than two years. It was only natural for him to revert back to what he knows best, and these were the skills he learned during his reconnaissance training and time as a Force Recon Marine.
“I would crawl up under the thickest brush I could find at night and then crash out,” said Hanes. “I looked for these places that I knew people wouldn’t get to. That was my comfort zone and it kept me away from the dangers of other people out there.”
Throughout all the stress of being homeless and dealing with a transition into civilian life, Hanes managed to find time to go back to school.
“I would do all my school work during the day, and in the evening I would continue in the computer room until it was time to leave,” said Hanes. “Once that time came, I would take off and head to the canyons near Balboa Park in San Diego to find a place to sleep for the night.”
Hanes obtained a bachelor’s degree in environmental social sciences from San Diego State University. During this time, he also pursued studies in health and nutrition and in primitive wilderness survival.
Hanes then met Colin and Karen Archipley in 2009 at Balboa Park during the Earth Day Fair. Little did he know this day would change him forever.
Colin and Karen have had the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training program for a while, however what it originally started out with was a transitional program for veterans dealing with post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
Hanes said the program appealed to him automatically because he has always had a bond with nature. Coming from recon, that was where he was naturally comfortable.
“What I was drawn to was getting out into this type of environment. This is the type of environment that’s very conducive to transitioning from a high-stress, destructive environment such as combat,” said Hanes. “Leaving that environment and coming to this program to learn how to grow food makes you become more of a creator and nurturer. In a sense, you’re fighting the real wars that need to be fought, such as the wars on heart disease and cancer through good food.”
Between 2004 and 2009 is when the spark for Hanes’ latest success, “DANG!!!” hot sauce began. During this time, Hanes became big with health, food and nutrition, by utilizing foraged foods.
Foraged foods are wild edible plants and other natural grown foods. According to Hanes, some flower tops are some of the healthiest wild foods available.
“I wanted to put together the highest integrity hot sauce, and that’s exactly what I did with each ingredient,” said Hanes.
Hanes gained a variety of skills and did not quite know what to do with them. So he ended up working at a company called Sunfood and Nutrition for a period of more than a year.
“That’s where I learned about raw foods and the distribution aspect of how to bottle something like a raw food without having to worry about shelf life,” said Hanes.
Hanes preferred the raw foods method because every time a food is cooked at a high temperature it will go through a de-nurturing process.
“Every time your food goes through a de-nurturing process, you lose beneficial aspects of that food,” said Hanes. “Take chocolate for instance, it has one the highest forms of Vitamin C, highest forms of magnesium (heart mineral), and highest in antioxidants. Once you cook that, all of the Vitamin C is gone.”
The concept of his new hot sauce creation was to put together freshly blended ingredients. Everything down to his cayenne pepper powder, which is dehydrated at less than 100 degrees to maintain the raw integrity, holds the high standards of “DANG!!!” hot sauce.
An investor visited while Hanes was becoming further educated on the business aspect on growing foods during his time at the VSAT program. Hanes took that opportunity to pass out his hot sauce and chips to everyone attending.
“What I was trying to do is show them is ‘I do have a product, it’s in a bottle with a cap and shrink wrap along with a label,’” said Hanes. “So the investor took the product home, tried it out and did his own research for a weeks after I presented my business plan, and then he called and said, ‘let’s make this thing happen.’ Ever since then, it’s been rolling forward.”