Dr. John B. Elstrott, Jr.
During the 1960s, while peers like Drake Sadler were protesting the Vietnam War and fighting for personal freedoms, John was exploring the same questions both practically and intellectually through the study of economics. After completing his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge and his doctorate from the University of Colorado at Boulder—all in Economics—John began his journey as one of the United States’ early pioneers of conscious capitalism.
Growing up with both a father and a grandfather who were entrepreneurs inspired John to consider what his own work culture, values, and integrity would be. The subject of his doctoral dissertation, “Philosophical Foundations of Liberalism,” allowed him to dive farther into this exploration of the entrepreneur’s role in cultivating freedom, happiness, and prosperity. He longed to create corporations with higher values and purposes to make a positive impact on the world. He explains, “Once you build a business with good values, as that business grows, your social and economic impact will grow as well—that is, if you stay true to your values…Peace depends on prosperity.”
These guiding principles would go on to shape John’s career and position him as an influential thought leader in social business. Shortly after finishing his studies in 1975, while serving as Celestial Seasonings’ Chief Financial Officer, he met Drake Sadler, and the two have remained close friends ever since. In 1982, John joined the Board of Directors at Traditional Medicinals and is also a director at Traditional Medicinals Foundation. An academic first, John served a successful, award-winning 30-year tenure at New Orleans’ prestigious Tulane University, where he is now the Emeritus Director of the Levy-Rosenblum Institute for Entrepreneurship at Tulane’s Freeman School of Business.
Today, he serves at the Chairman of the Board for Whole Foods and sits on the boards of several public and private corporations and non-profit, community service organizations. Given his reputation and track record, we are proud to have John lending his expertise to Traditional Medicinals Foundation (TMF)—so much so, that we built one of the Revive! Project®’s schools and named it in his honor. Today, almost 500 children attend this remote school on the border between India and Pakistan.
Upon finishing his degree in Liberal Arts from the University of the Pacific at Stockton in 1972, Jim moved to Santa Barbara to join Sunburst Farms, an intentional spiritual community. The back-to-the-land movement of the times inspired communal living and collective responsibility—a fresh way of living for a young man born and raised by a small business owner. While managing and distributing Sunburst’s natural food stores, he met Drake Sadler and became Traditional Medicinals’ first distributor in the early 1970s. Jim’s savvy taught the Sunburst community that “in retail, you have to enjoy serving people.” He would go on to become one of the United States’ early pioneers of natural foods.
Sixteen years after starting his communal living experiment, Jim left Sunburst Farms and moved to Sonoma County, where he and his brother started a chain of natural food stores, Food for Thought. Health food had become ingrained in Jim’s notion of right livelihood and a natural door into the larger community. Food for Thought partnered with local educational, arts, and environmental non-profits to raise money for the community. When Whole Foods acquired the Food For Thought chain 10 years later, instead of moving on to simpler lives, the partners joined forces with another brother to create Shelton’s Natural Foods in Healdsburg, CA, allowing them to continue their early model of a small, family business actively engaged in the community.
At the root of Jim’s vocation is a genuine love of people. His spiritual journey has led him to India three times, including a visit to Dharamsala, where he and his wife studied under the Dalai Lama. Jim served as a hospice care worker and chaplain for 20 years and has served on the board of directors for several organizations, including Daily Acts—a non-profit that inspires people to take small, daily actions to change the planet, the Buddhist Meditation Center, and the Community Action Partnership. In between his service work, Jim paints portraits professionally and remains engaged in the family store. We are proud to have this inspiring pioneer serving as a guiding light for our social business advocacy work.
Drake’s path has been paved with social activism, visionary thinking, and the desire to empower others. Growing up with two entrepreneurial parents during the 1950s, they instilled in him a progressive world view and a fearless independence. When the Sadlers moved to rural western Sonoma County in 1954, he experienced an enviable peace and freedom that would later feed his interest in the back-to-the-land movement of the late 1960s.
While attending college, Drake became a passionate voice against the Vietnam War. Respected civil rights leader and community activist Eddie Mae Sloan quickly identified his potential and drafted him out of the anti-war movement into the war on poverty, teaching him how to harness change for social good. Under her demanding mentorship, Drake helped set up Head Start schools, Family Planning Centers, community health clinics, food cooperatives, youth programs, and economic development projects to empower low income families.
During this same time, Drake met folk herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, who introduced him to the power of plants and their traditional uses and together they co-founded Traditional Medicinals (TM) in 1974. Dedicated to revitalizing herbalism in North America, these natural health pioneers were also early advocates of social business practices, designed to empower the many impoverished herbal collectors and farmers in their sourcing communities. In so doing, they set the groundwork for what would become the guiding principles for TM and decades later the purpose of Traditional Medicinals Foundation (TMF).
As TMF’s Co-Founder and as TM’s Chief Visionary Officer, Drake works on supplier community resilience through water and food security, women’s empowerment, healthcare, and education. Focused on social business collaboration with partners around the world, he remains a passionate and determined advocate for right livelihood and social equality. He is especially grateful to share in this meaningful foundation work with his wife Nioma and a dedicated team of like minded spirits.