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Marine Veteran Launches New Hot Sauce Business

A San Diego veteran has launched his own business selling a new brand of hot sauce, based on his love of raw, edible plants. He's discovered the knowledge and skills he learned in a Marine reconnaissance unit are helping him to survive the difficult transition back to the civilian world.

A San Diego veteran has launched his own business selling a new brand of hot sauce, based on his love of raw, edible plants.

A batch of red hot sauce mixes up in the blender in the kitchens of a small food production company, Earth Source Organics, in Vista. The recipe - all raw, all organic - was devised by Mike Hanes, a blond, blue eyed Marine veteran.

“It has three super foods in there,” Haynes says. “It has maca, spirulina and mesquite.”

Hanes has launched a business selling his hot sauce, named Forager Mike’s "Dang !!!" hot sauce.

He checks the labels and the boxes of bottles ready to be distributed, and then goes outside to talk about how he developed a passion for raw, edible plants.

“I think it really started for me in SERE school” he said, “SERE school is a school all RECON Marines have to go through, because it is a prisoner of war training. It stands for Survive, Evade, Resist, Escape. They teach you how to survive if you are captured. I started learning about wild edible plants during that time, and it definitely became a passion after that.”

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When Haynes got back from Iraq in 2004 he did not have an easy time.

“The combat scenario is a totally different scenario,” he said, “and coming back and letting that go is very difficult at times. You don’t just come back and it’s all gone. Turning that ‘on’ switch, it’s triggered in combat, but turning it off is a very difficult process at times, and it takes time."

Haynes admitted that when he got out, he had serious trust and anger issues. He tried to hold down a job but it didn’t last long. He went back to school, and for two years he was homeless, living in canyons near Balboa Park downtown.

“I would go to school,” he said, “ do my homework in the computer room and when they closed, that’s when I would go out and find a place to crash out there at night. “

This is where the Marine reconnaissance training came in handy.

“We would patrol all night long,“ Hanes explained, “and then during the day, to hide from the enemy, we would be under thick brush all day long. I was safe in nature, that was kind of my comfort zone, and it still is at times.”

What turned Hanes’ life around was a six week course – the Veterans’ Sustainable Agriculture Training course or VSAT - at a place called Archie’s Acres in San Diego’s back country. There he found kindred spirits who taught him how to use his love of natural foods to make a business plan.

He presented that plan to potential investors and a purchaser at Whole Foods, Dwight Detter. Detter is a veteran himself, who served in the 1970s.

“There was a different connection with Mike,” Detter said, “I think it was being back from the war and remembering how difficult that transition was.”

Detter said he saw the potential of "Dang!!!" hot sauce, with its all-raw, organic ingredients, as a hot seller.

“It’s an interesting hot sauce,” he said. "A lot of hot sauces are there just to burn your mouth and create a lot of heat. What was fun with it was that it was organic and it had these three super foods that none of the other hot sauces had. So having a unique flavoring, some unique ingredients in it and along with Mike’s story, made it a triply fun hot sauce to put on the shelves.”

Detter helped Haynes with his labeling and his packaging, and last month Forager Mike’s "Dang!!!" hot sauce hit the shelves at Whole Foods.

Hanes still spends a lot of time in nature.

“Being out in the woods and being able to forage and find edible plants is an extremely empowering process and I build upon that every day,“ he said, “I kind of incorporate that into my business to establish these high integrity foods. “

Hanes is thinking beyond his own survival now. He has a 9-year-old daughter, and she’s giving him the motivation to think beyond surviving the present and begin building dreams for the future. His love of nature has turned out to be a key to his survival in ways he never expected.

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