Making a Difference with Mustard That Matters
By Enjoy Magazine
Seeds of Change
By Aaron Williams
RYAN VOSS WAS ONCE young and adventurous, living life on the edge during the day and working to pay for those adventures by night.
The 52-year-old recent Redding transplant was also a spiritual learner and thinker, taking the best teachings from a spectrum of religions and philosophies. But, ironically, he hadn’t heard the Parable of the Mustard Seed until years after a mountain bike accident left him a quadriplegic.
The Biblical teaching talks about how the tiny mustard seed grows into a large bush capable of sustaining and supporting other life.
Voss is literally living the parable as the creator of Mustard that Matters, a homemade gourmet mustard he makes, distributes and sells throughout Northern California, including at Enjoy the Store. His business also gives back part of its profits to help others in wheelchairs start their own businesses.
“Man, I’ve lived a great life,” Voss says. “I worked at night and played during the day. I travelled and did all the things that people wanted to do. L.A., San Francisco, Tahoe, Greece, I lived 38 years of a glorious life.”
Voss speaks matter-of-factly of that fateful day when he crashed his bike and knew instantly his life would be different.
“The beautiful thing is I’d trained for it,” he says of his inevitable mortality. “I had studied the great teachings for many years, simply because I knew I’d age and wouldn’t be able to continue with my lifestyle. It was inevitable.”
Those lessons helped him “deal with that change, adversity and have the wherewithal to accept things without pain, regret or madness and frustration,” he says.
Lying on the ground, Voss could only move his head, his hands curling up into fists. He decided he would jump up and assess his injuries. He couldn’t.
“I knew from being a lifeguard when I was young that I had a spinal cord injury,” he says of his C-5 injury. “I told my brother, ‘Grab my head. I broke my neck and life is going to change.’ ”
He thought, not regretfully, about his career in the restaurant industry being over.
“I figured the powers-that-be were saying it was time for me to sit down and check out life from another perspective,” he muses.
Voss spent time in the intensive care unit before entering rehab where, one day about two months after the accident, he was able to move his thumb. The next day, Voss turned his wrist.
“I (now) have good use of my upper arms,” he says. “The right hand doesn’t work so well, but the left has about 50 percent function and I have about 10 percent of able-bodied strength in my arms.”
He’s capable of using the phone, feeding himself and other things that allow him to be “somewhat independent.”
Lacking physical skills to earn a living, Voss worked with CCC students, teaching them basic math skills in order for them to earn their diplomas. He also volunteered at the library, teaching people to read and working with ESL learners, before venturing into working on end-of-life care and advance directives with a doctor he knew.
But he’d always told himself that when he turned 50, he’d start working – he never considered the life he’d previously lived to be work.
“I’d always loved mustard and wanted to stay in the food industry,” Voss says.
After two attempts, Voss, who moved to the North State last year from Napa County with his mother, Marjorie, and his brother and caregiver, Scott, knew he’d created the “best mustard I’ve ever tasted.”
The mustard is a hit and Voss makes batches as needed, but just like the Parable of the Mustard Seed, he’s using his mustard to make a bigger difference – 15 percent of his profits go toward startup costs and advice for new businesses for those in wheelchairs.
“I didn’t know the parable until I started making mustard and started studying it,” he says. “I just want to help others. Everything is all connected so deeply and beautifully.”
Meanwhile, the mustard is a hit, not only for its taste, but its presentation. High-end glass jars bought in Alameda give the product a distinct gourmet feel to accompany the product made from Canadian mustard seed, apple cider vinegar from Sebastopol, Cabernet Sauvignon, balsamic vinegars and water.
“I ground all the mustard seeds, releasing the oils in their freshest state,” Voss says. “I understand food and acid balance. Once people taste it, the moment they taste it, they want it.” •