Want to Join the Good Food Movement?
This article is Part 2 in a series by Lisa Pellegrino, a self described “zero waste junkie” who started her own local food business selling a line of organic, craft pesto sauces.
The “good food” movement has many nodes and includes a cast of characters that ranges from sustainable farms to companies like Dave’s Killer Bread, to locally sourced meal-kits like PeachDish. But what exactly is “good food”? Depends on who you ask but in its most quintessential form, it’s about ethics. Was the food grown or raised in an ecologically conscious manner? Were the individuals who raised it or harvested it fairly compensated for their labor? The good food movement and the push to re-localize more sustainable food systems have porous boundaries between each other, and are akin to a band of harmonious cousins.
The local food movement has taken off over the last few years because not only is local food often fresher and more nutritious, but it’s also just a lot easier to trace. Simply put, it becomes vastly easier to answer the question, ‘Where does my food come from?’ “Traceability” is a term that I first heard used by Dianna Garfield Robinson, co-founder of SeaBright Seafoods. Her Alaskan wild caught salmon offers the guarantee of knowing exactly where your fish came from, and even who caught it!
Business as Beneficial and Bulk Realities
I decided around the new year that I would launch a business. I committed first to the broader idea of founding a company before I even knew what my product would be. I’ve been trying to carve a career out of waste management and design for years, and so I thought that if I really wanted to further the case for zero waste, then it’d be beneficial to see how far I could get as a business owner. But not just any business, a triple bottom line business. This is another term that I’ll quickly explain because I think we need more people in the conversation. Despite slick marketing, business and enterprise have a loooooong way to go before qualifying as truly “sustainable”, so the more minds on this, the better.
Essentially a triple bottom line business (or “TBL” cause acronyms, ya know) departs from business as usual because its focus is not solely on profits. A TBL company also has purpose woven into its culture and business practices by aiming to benefit people and the planet as well. This is one of the drivers of the new legal tax status called “Benefit Corporations”, as well as the “B Corps” certification made popular by B Labs.
I’ve chosen pesto as my medium for transforming waste streams into supply streams, and I’m loving the challenge of starting a TBL good food business. There’s been some fantastic hard lessons with starting PestoGrino, my line of organic craft pesto sauces. Like the fact that it’s nearly impossible to pay yourself a living wage right away let alone hire staff, and how our economic system really is ruled by the “economies of scale” principle. For example, it’s really hard to make the numbers work when my glass jars cost me over a $1 each, and my organic olive oil is nearly $30 for 3L. A larger sauce company due to the advantage of bulk purchasing could get their cost of jars down to .25￠-.10￠each, thus greatly increasing their profit margins.
There are many ways to start and grow a business, however my grad school taught me that the majority of businesses can go one of two ways, burn or earn. The first way is through capital campaigns and funding rounds via investors and venture capitalists. The second is essentially bootstrapping your business and growing slowly via profits. The latter always appealed to me more, and so I started PestoGrino with a $2200 injection of capital.
Values & Discoveries
Balance sheets aside, one of the catalysts for this article is to spread the good word about a win-win I stumbled upon through launching my good food business. This is a partnership that might not be obvious nor common, but could prove to be immensely helpful to removing a huge barrier to entry for other local food entrepreneurs. This partnership is:
Local food entrepreneurs + church commercial kitchens = win+win
I have been attending the Atlanta Friends Meeting for over 2 years now, and have been drawn to the Quaker faith for over 5 years. The lack of dogma and the egalitarian structure have really spoken to a deep place within me. Quakers are technically Christians but most I’ve known are more like Buddhists, and if there’s one teaching by Christ that all Quakers stand by, it’s the practice of nonviolence. It’s been exciting to discover guiding principles for not only my business, but for my life as well in what the Quakers refer to as the S.P.I.C.E.S.
One of the characteristics that capitalism promotes in society is accumulation, which in my book is essentially hoarding. Capital begets capital, thus wealth concentrates. This is a reinforcing feedback loop baked into our economic system. To learn more about “systems thinking” Marsha Willard and Peter Schulte do an excellent job peeling back the layers in this Kindling podcast. An often-cited example is if you are poor, you pay interest. If you are rich, you collect interest. Thus the challenge of mobility between socio-economic statuses, and the vanishing of the middle class.
However in the day and age of the internet, such underutilized assets and resources like cars and houses cannot remain dormant. The younger generations have awoken to some of the perils of ownership, favoring accessover possession. This new systems lever that is largely self-organized, is helping expand access to resources at a scale that’s never before been seen or experienced. As the hangover from religious corruption fades, I think we’ll see more people looking to houses of worship to open up resources to the community. And most houses of faith have commercial kitchens that go highly underused.
Cookin up some Mutual Benefit
A commercial kitchen is an essential element for local food entrepreneurs looking to get their food manufacturing license to be able to sell their value-added food products at farmers markets and beyond. Commercial kitchens for small food businesses are often very expensive, require a minimum number of weekly hours, and have rigid parameters around scheduling and ingredient storage. Commercial church kitchens can break that convention by offering customized arrangements with food founders who are trying to get their business off the ground. One of the only reasons why I’ve been able to launch PestoGrino has been because of the openness of the Atlanta Friends Meeting to allow me to use their commercial kitchen at a very affordable hourly rate.
As churches struggle to create diversified revenue streams, opening up their commercial kitchens to local food entrepreneurs is one of these beautiful, mutually beneficial relationships. The church gets an additional source of income (albeit modest), and the local food entrepreneur gains access to a facility that is normally out of reach.
Do you know a local food entrepreneur? Maybe you have dreams of launching a business with that recipe you’ve been perfecting over the years. For many our food supply has become a source of illness, but it can go back to its roots in health and wellness. Many farmers and artisans are answering the call to reclaim and re-localize our food supply to make food a source of medicine again. Please help spread this article so that more people can join in the good food movement.
Sometimes I get lost in the uncertainty of how I’m going to make this business work. Then I remember this roadmap taught to me by one of my grad school instructors, UJ from Blue Earth Network: