McKinley Thomason: The Spice King

By William Harwood | May 03, 2017
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McKinley Thomason and a Heifer Project field team member smelling allspice saplings. Photos Courtesy of Mckinley Thomason

McKinley Thomason is keeping Nashville seasoned well while giving back to the farmers that grow the spice.

Whether you’re dining on hot chicken or halibut, chances are high that The Doug Jeffords Co. has already left a great taste in your mouth. For over half a century, The Doug Jeffords Co. has procured and blended proprietary seasonings and spices for food providers, private labels, and professional chefs in their facility in Cool Springs. Now, thanks to company president McKinley Thomason’s initiative, The Doug Jeffords Co. is also leaving a great taste behind in far flung places like Guatemala.

The story starts in 2013 when McKinley launched J.M. Thomason, a brand of nine seasonings geared for the home cook and named after his late father. Wanting to honor his father’s memory, McKinley decided J.M. Thomason would give back to the hard-working farmers producing the spices in Guatemala’s cloud forests. But how? Enter Heifer International, a non-profit whose model is not to provide people with fish so to speak, but to provide people with fishing poles. In the case of J.M. Thomason, the “fishing poles” take the form of nutmeg and all-spice trees, their trunks and limbs lending support for vanilla and pepper vines, their leaves providing shade for coffee, cocoa, and—most valuable of all—cardamom, the oro verde, the “green gold” that, through McKinley’s and Heifer International’s efforts, are making life better for the indigenous Mayan farmers.

It’s a good start and one McKinley very much wants to build upon. Currently, he is active in assisting Mayan farmers organize a cooperative, avoiding middle men so that the farmers can earn more for their efforts. But Guatemala’s growing success—the country is now the world’s number one producer of cardamom—has also come with problems. “An unintended consequence,” McKinley points out, “is deforestation as farmers burn firewood to dry cardamom seeds.”

To address this, McKinley is involved in seeking grants to bring in solar power and negate the need for wood. He is also helping Guatemala’s cloud forest farmers with the information they need to successfully meet American standards and to greatly reduce the damage done by thrips, cardamon seed-degrading insects, through organic means.

Helping McKinley with this worthy cause is both easy and tasty. Simply add some spice to your life by visiting to order seasonings and keep a good thing growing. Whether you choose the Guacho Espresso for a Brazilian-style steak or the Garam Masala for that tofu and coconut combo, the tastes you bring to your plate are making the world a better place.

Green (black) peppercorns to be processed in Nashville. Photos Courtesy of Mckinley Thomason
The J.M. Thomason seasoning line consists of nine spice blends in Joel Anderson designed tins: Gaucho Espresso, Garam Masala, Parisian Pastry Blend, Hot Chicken, Bourbon BBQ, Chili Lime, Porterhouse Steak, Streamside Angler and Tuscan Dipping Oil. Photos Courtesy of Mckinley Thomason
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