Saturday, August 01, 2009
Local food processing - the missing link
A great week for local food processing.
What a week of positive steps. Entrepreneurship is flowering in the world of local foods in ways that I have never seen. This is the renaissance age of entrepreneurship and it's happening extensively in local foods.
Several great highlights to report.
Wood Tasch was in Madison last Monday for their 5th Slow Money Institute. Woody and Slow Money are linked below.
My friend Bartlett Durand is from Otter Creek Organics in Iowa County, home farm of Gary Zimmer, a new friend I greatly admire and United States 2008 US Organic Farmer of the Year. Bartlett summed up the positive emotion in the room on the day of the Slow Money presentation when he fists-up challenged the room and the world with, "It starts here. It's starts now." That was not rhetoric. It was 'run toward the sounds of the guns' stuff (listen to the interview with Woody linked below to get an idea of the buzz in the room all day). The time for local foods is now. And it is erupting in Wisconsin in many amazing ways. Local food development and local food processing models will emerge from our region that will empower people worldwide.
I was privileged to be able to make a presentation about our Iowa County initiative, the Driftless Foods Co-Op, at the Slow Money Institute (SMI), along with my great partner in this adventure, Mark Olson from Renaissance Farm. Margaret Bau, legendary cooperative developer from USDA Rural Development and a member of our Driftless Foods organizing committee, also presented to the SMI.
The next day a few of us had an amazing two hour meeting with Mr. Rod Nilsestuen, our Secretary of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection in Wisconsin.
Mr. Nilsestuen was over-the-top helpful. Mark Olson and Lois Federman, both good friends I've written about, were at this gathering. When I think about all the meetings I've been to in my life, I count this among the few that I would call the most productive. We got to discuss the Iowa County initiative that we outlined at Slow Money the day before. Because we are proposing to organize as a cooperative, Secretary Nilsestuen's background and bias-for-action were transformative. What he was able to bring to our discussion was immeasurably helpful. Mark and I were executing valuable action steps before we hit the parking lot based on what we learned from the previous couple of hours.
Mr. Nilsestuen was the leader of the Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives for 24 years, which represented about 860 co-ops with 1.8 million members in endeavors ranging from finance and insurance to rural development and agriculture. In 2003, Mr. Nilsestuen was inducted into the National Cooperative Hall of Fame at the National Federation of Cooperatives.
Driftless Foods will be organized as a cooperative because it makes sense for this specific application. I have not been a co-op guy in the past, but there are some inherently beautiful ways to design systems of interdependent, self-supporting enterprises that are perfect for a cooperative structure.
And as for the bigger picture of creating those enterprises and nurturing entrepreneurship...
As a working entrepreneur, the only secret I can reliably pass on about what kind of businesses are best to start is that you should look for what's broken and create opportunities from that. I can't ever remember a moment where entrepreneurship was on such a verge to flourish and succeed.
In the world of local foods, local food processing is the missing link. We have created enormous demand for local foods with consumers, food stores, and restaurants. The production, or supply side, is not being developed in ways that are sufficient to meet this demand.
My immersion into Slow Money early in the week followed by clear, valuable, tactical support for action from key stakeholders in government, academia, and the investor community was invigorating. This is a moment for local foods and for economies of all shapes and sizes to, as Bartlett said above, recognize that the time to change is 'right here, right now'.
I am personally enchanted with the work of Slow Money, and I am empowered by the vision of Mr. Nilsestuen.
I've been a working entrepreneur for more than 35 years. I have never in my life seen this level of commitment to entrepreneurship and creating new enterprises. Watching it happen in the world of local foods is breathtakingly cool.
I can't wait for next week!
Woody Tasch interview with Bill Lubing
Secretary Nilsestuen's CV at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection.
Otter Creek Organics
Slow Money new friend Odessa Piper: "Local is the distance the heart can travel." Odessa is the founder of the world renown L'Etoile Restaurant in Madison. She has promised to share her essay behind this quote in a future post.