Saturday, March 14, 2009

Regional fair trade

My wife and business partner for decades, Mary, describes it as making the brochure on your way to the sales call.

While I counsel that entrepreneurship is a slow process, the day-to-day activity level can be breathtakingly fast. It can sometimes feel like you're leaning into a howling wind tunnel at a 45 degree angle and struggling to stay rooted to the ground. Making the brochure on the way to the sales call stuff.

I am working on an economic development project with a wonderful new friend, Mark, a farmer, entrepreneur, and regional legend who lives in Wyoming Township, Iowa County, Wisconsin. There is a link to Mark and his Renaissance Farm below.

Mark and I are working with others on a project to cite a vegetable processing and freezing facility in the Village of Highland, WI. Highland has many strategic assets from an economic development point of view, but more importantly for me personally, it is also the pie capitol of Wisconsin.

Our goal is to help build a business model that allows sustainable, regional agricultural producers to thrive. It is also to create a robust, nimble, and sustainable production system that is sufficiently scaled to make that happen.

Mark and I were talking about how to describe this yesterday as we traveled to meet an important new market partner. Organic is a legal term, and while we certainly want to process organic certified foods, there will also be a role for farmers meeting our new organization's goals of regional and sustainable.

Mark said 'what about calling this process regional fair trade'?

Lovely. Just right. The standards for fair trade are generally understood and acceptable. The idea of applying those standards to sustainable regional economic development make perfect sense.

Mark bet himself that I'd use the term 'regional fair trade' during the meeting we were traveling to. He won the bet. I had it out in our introductions. Mary would have smiled knowingly.

I like the term a lot because it lets me speak to economic development on an appropriate scale with the kind of passion I feel for the entrepreneurs and the wide range of stakeholders who want to support them.

We kicked around what a standard for regional fair trade might look like and, riffing off Wikipedia, think this may be a starting place for the discussion:

Regional fair trade is a market-based approach to empower producers and promote regional economic sustainability. The work advocates the payment of fair prices, communities of all kinds working together for the benefit of everyone in their region, and sustainable environmental standards.

Regional fair trade's strategic intent is to create sustainable information, production, and marketing systems that enable producers, consumers, businesses, institutions, and communities to work together to jointly grow regional economic self-sufficiency and security. Regional fair trade creates this environment through 'open source', transparent, reproducible economic development programs that support the region's people, their livelihoods, and their environment.

This idea is not meant in any way to diminish the goals and roles of global fair trade efforts. Those must be supported of course. This idea of regional fair trade honors that groundbreaking, world-changing approach and applies it to new geographies. Neither is excluded. Both are required.

Regional fair trade. Open source economic development. Time to make a brochure….

Mark Olson and Renaissance Farm

A great article about Mark Olson and Renaissance Farm

Village of Highland, Iowa County, Wisconsin

Town of Wyoming, Iowa County, Wisconsin

No comments: