Spreading some peace on earth

Posted Dec. 26, 2008, at 8:55 p.m.

MONTVILLE, Maine — Cathy Roberts would like to spread peace throughout the world on a spatula of blueberry preserves.

The mother of three boys is the owner of Pieceworks Inc., a company with six employees that provides contract manufacturing services for other businesses. She also uses her business skills to foster peace in the world and collaboration among businesses.

In the building she and her husband, Cam Peirel, own on Route 3, Roberts manufactures and assembles a variety of items and their parts. Recent orders have included clay caps for knitting needles made by a Rhode Island company and “science education products” that included painting plaster of Paris body parts used in medi-cal instruction. She has manufactured the buttons for Belfast’s New Year’s By the Bay celebrations.

Roberts, 52, also produces “Peace Preserves” — a blueberry jam whose profits she donates to PeaceJam, an international organization dedicated to helping organize young people “who have decided to work together to solve the most pressing issues of our time,” according to the group’s Global Call to Action Web site.

Roberts said in a recent interview that she was inspired to do something to make a difference in the world after reading the best-seller called “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson, about one man’s campaign to build schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“When I read that book, I felt as though I really wanted to get involved in some way that did make a difference,” she said. “It sort of fit into what I’ve always believed.”

While volunteering at SAD 3’s Mount View High School as a parental adviser two years ago with students who were involved in the local PeaceJam group, she became interested in helping them promote peace by assisting with their fundraising.

For a while this spring, however, Roberts’ life took a detour that eventually led her to a new path.

Last April and May, after Roberts was diagnosed with breast cancer, she found she had time alone to reflect while driving daily to Augusta for radiation treatments. She came up with the idea of developing a product to sell through her business to raise money for the PeaceJam students to go to conferences. That product was Peace Preserves.

She worked with Pemberton’s Gourmet Foods, a co-packer, in Gray that now makes the jam.

“I provide them with the recipe, and they provide me with the service of making my jam,” she said. “They’re a licensed facility, and I don’t have to worry about producing something unsafe.”

Roberts donates 1½ percent of sales of Peace Preserves to the 10-year-old PeaceJam organization.

Two area businesses, Gifts of the Sea in Belfast and State of Maine Cheese Co. in Rockport, are selling the jam under its trade name, Peace Preserves.

“My idea is to expand Peace Preserves to support the school groups and world peace,” she said.

The similarity of the spelling of “piece” in her business and “peace” in her jam is no accident, for she always felt she would have some connection with peace activism.

Pieceworks has helped to keep manufacturing going on an outsourcing basis for small businesses.

“We’re not a massive manufacturing plant, and we don’t just do one thing. It has worked for other companies to ship things here and we ship them back,” she said.

“I’m supplying labor, and they’re supplying raw material,” she said of her clients.

Her idea is to support other small businesses that are making quality products and are interested in teaming up, and the Peace Preserves product fits into that business philosophy.

“I had to contact organic blueberry growers and have jam labels made,” she said. “I’d never done a food product before.

“I bought 800 pounds of blueberries to do this first batch of 1,800 jars,” she said. “If the idea sells, the organic blueberry farmers up north also will prosper from the business.”

Since the end of May, when she finished her radiation treatments, she hasn’t stopped moving on her idea.

As each day passes, she begins to see her dream of collaboration taking shape.

“It’s really a collaboration of businesses. I had to go to a label company, graphic designer, food analyst and farmers, and I had to rent freezer space for my blueberries,” she said.

She stored the 800 pounds of organically grown blueberries in freezers at John’s Organic Ice Cream in Liberty during preparations for jam-making time in November.

Roberts hopes to put together a gathering of small businesses in Maine and New Hampshire in January to discuss ways to overlap and help one another.

“When I think of the large businesses now that are being bailed out, but the small businesses that are not being bailed out, we have to be creative on our own and work together to help each other prosper,” she said.

A native of Warwick, R.I., Roberts and her husband sailed to Maine and ended up in Belfast Harbor in 1987.

After the couple bought land for a home in Montville, they built the two-story building on Route 3 in Montville to house Pieceworks on one floor and Pierel’s own cabinetmaking business on the other floor.

“He has been my partner, through and through,” she said of her husband.

Peace Preserves is available online at www.peacepreserves.com.

gchappell@bangordailynews.net

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