Tag Archives: Business

Linking Dolphins & High Fructose Corn Syrup

Note: This summary is from a blog post at The Snap Blog, where I will be blogging going forward.

Immediately after watching The Cove, I needed to catch my breath after the final 10 heart-pounding minutes. Neither my 10-year-old son, who had been sitting closely by my side, especially during the final scenes, or I could find words right away.

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Challenges in Expanding Regional Food Ventures

Note: This summary is from my newest post on The Snap Blog, where I will be blogging going forward.

When I blur my eyes, I see sustainable food on every kitchen table. The ramifications of this vision are tremendous, which is why pursing it is not for the faint of heart or timid. The obstacles are equally substantial, starting with an entrenched and massive industrial food system.

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Introducing The Snap Blog…Our New Home!

Hello Readers,

I’m guessing by now that at least some of you may have thought I fell off the face of the earth. Close.

Instead, about six months ago I jumped feet first into my own ProFood venture – Sugarsnap located in Burlington, Vermont’s Intervale. Candidly, I had no idea how consuming this transition was going to be and expected to continue writing on a regular basis.

Well, after putting together a comprehensive business plan and private placement memorandum, I am happy to report that we have nearly completed our initial fund raising, and will soon accelerate our expansion plans. These changes are allowing me to start breathing again about the critical issues addressed at Every Kitchen Table.

The exciting part is that I am now partnering with some great people that have their own stories to tell. So, with this post I am formally merging Every Kitchen Table into The Snap Blog, the official blog of Sugarsnap.

You will once again see me posting on a regular basis, and will get the added benefit of reading the well-informed thoughts of my Sugarsnap partners. It may take us a couple months to hit our stride, but rest assured we will and the content will be great.

See you on The Snap Blog!

Cheers,

Rob Smart (a.k.a., @Jambutter)

P.S. You can also follow Sugarsnap on Twitter and Facebook.

Agritourism: Make your Farm a Destination

Guest Blogger: Craig Raysor, an agricultural and food attorney with the firm of Gillon & Associates, PLLC in Memphis, TN. You can follow him on twitter  @Agrilawyer.

As a desire of discovery of “where our food comes from” sweeps the urban/suburban landscape and brings people driving down your rural route that have never been on an unpaved road, you should seize this opportunity to develop your own brand. This can be done obviously through the food you sell, but also through making your farm a destination. Agritourism and agri-entertainment are great value-added products that can assist in keeping farmers on the farm and people interested in your products.

Harrison Pittman, Director of the National Agricultural Law Center, defines agritourism as any business conducted by a farmer or processor for the enjoyment or education of the public to promote the products of the farm and to generate additional farm income.  Harrison put together a very good article on agritourism back in 2006 that can be found here. These dual aims benefit the consumer as they are entertained and educated by and about your farm, and you as it increases direct revenue as well as creates branding of your products. Think of what Busch Gardens does for Budweiser or Hershey Park for Hershey. These are all products that the public would use, but there is a special bond the consumer can create when also entertained and educated on the products by these same companies.

Agritourism can even be more of a revenue builder with the rise of locavorism as many of your customers may be within fifty miles of your farm. You can organize an event a few weeks in advance and advertise the even through your website and during your direct market days. Anticipated ticket sales can help defray superfluous expenditures as you can accurately account for how much of whatever you may need.

Now here comes the gloomy lawyer part, after I got you psyched up about throwing in a hayride or a rock/country music laden wine/beer tasting. There are certain legal considerations you need to take into account before you begin inviting people into the barn or out into the field.

  1. As you invite people onto the land, you may have a higher duty of care;
  2. Your insurance may not cover agritourism;
  3. You may want to create a new business for the agritourism; and
  4. You want to look to the government for grant and market-building opportunities.

In order:

First, you are held to a higher duty of care since you invited these people onto your land, whether for payment or free of charge, than if you just allowed a friend on the land to kick it back with you or if they trespassed. The duty of care in the invitee situation, which you have in agritourism, is for you to use ordinary care to keep the premises reasonably safe for the benefit of the invitee. This means you are held to the same liability that the Wal-Mart in your town is held to regarding customer’s expectations. Therefore, it is important that you post where the invited guests are allowed to be on the farm as a protection against further liability. This also means that you need to have safe equipment, and properly trained personnel operating that equipment. Do not let your nine year old give a ride to the guests around the farm on a barely running tractor.

Please research your state statutes or, even more advisable, hire a specially trained attorney, to look over the state statute to see if you fit under a “Recreational use” statute if you do not charge for the person to be on the land. You may be free of all liability, except egregious or intentional acts, if your operation fits under a recreational use statute.

Second, see if you current insurance policies cover such activity, you may find many do not cover agritourism activities, because of the higher care and the higher likelihood of injury. You may have to get additional coverage or a separate policy altogether to protect your farm. You may have to do some additional digging in this arena, as many of your local carriers may not be able to offer such coverage. Please read here for more information regarding agritourism insurance.

Third, you may want to create a separate business formation for tax purposes and liability protection for your agritourism activity. This will allow only assets attributed to that company to be at risk in case of a lawsuit. There are a variety of different formation options that can be dictated by state law. There may even be encouragement within your state to form agritourism cooperatives as it has been in many southern states.

Fourth, check out your state’s ag department if they are getting behind the value-added product of agritourism. There are grants and matching-funds programs out there within the states and federal government. In addition, it can be a wonderful marketing tool for your farm to utilize in addition to your individual marketing. It has even become a tab on the general Tennessee tourism site with links to individual farms throughout the state.

These are a few ideas and suggestions to get you going, but remember to have fun with the new venture as well and use it as a time to let your farm and its products shine.

Mr. Smith Plays the Farm Card

Picture an angry young man with a sign. He appears to be agitated, holding a sign that condemns what his opponent stands for. There’s a chain link fence behind him.

Take a second to capture how you feel about those three sentences. Has your heart rate jumped? Do you associate with the protester? Do you want to get in his face?

Whatever your reaction, that is the first impression you get when reading The 10 Reasons They Hate You So, a clearly provocative post on the site Truth in Food.

With your blood now pumping, the author, Mike Smith, takes you through the first five parts of “his” defense of industrialized food (his agenda is clearly bigger than his own). Had he not presented the image I mentioned above or used words like “hate” in his title, the piece would have likely slipped under the radar. My guess is he knew exactly what he was doing.

Right from the start, Mr. Smith works hard to make “good food” advocates out to be a powerful force hellbent on destroying our abundant food system. He goes so far as to refer to these people as the “food-consumer-activist complex.” It’s laughable to pit citizens against the real force in our food system – the Food-Pharma-Health Complex, especially when you consider how unchecked these industries have become in the U.S. economy.

Now on to Mr. Smith’s Top 10:

#1:  They hate you because you trust in science.

Science is Mr. Smith’s answer to the world’s problems. The advancement of science has always offered tremendous power in improving our well-being. But when it becomes entirely controlled by for-profit entities that leverage it for the sole purpose of making money, all bets are off. You see, our democratically-elected government has been giving capitalism a free ride for decades, allowing near-monopolistic industries to hide behind science. Consumer health be damned, we’ve got to feed the world (and our shareholders) with calories (and cash), regardless of the side effects.  I’m fairly certain that most serious sustainable food advocates don’t question the value of science. What we do question is the application of scientific discovery, which has been concentrated in the hands of a handful of corporate giants through invention or acquisition with a single bottom line in mind – money.

#2: They hate you because you’re messing with their kids.

I’m not a highly educated woman, but I am the father of four kids. Does that mean I can’t be against industrialized food? Is it out of the question that I am concerned for more than my own family? It would seem that being concerned about the welfare of children equates to being a “new-age anti-tech advocate.” How does Mr. Smith rationalize such an absurd claim? He bashes leading sustainable food voices that have extensive knowledge backed by equally extensive research to back up their claims. Mr. Smith, I’m starting to believe you don’t like women; or kids for that matter.

#3: They hate you in order to fight the power.

What is science other than man’s way of trying to make sense of (and control in many cases) what is an otherwise complex world? I would never suggest that such a quest is without merit, but to put it ahead of the human spirit is what bothers many who push back against science-driven industry’s onslaught to reshape the natural world. Apparently, Mr. Smith believes that man has the potential to do this without harm. I wonder if he stopped to think that all of that is based on “belief.” On a related note, after bashing academically inclined thinkers several times by this point in his post, Mr. Smith is starting to appear very academic to me with his citing of Gandhi, Foucault, Borlaug, Berry and others. I wonder if he realizes that he may just be one of “us”.

#4. They hate you because you’re white.

Minority ownership of U.S. farms is concentrated in small, barely-getting-by farms, not the heavily subsidized, monoculture crop farms that feed our industrial food system. Stop playing the “Farm Card” Mr. Smith. It is without merit. I’d also recommend you stop acting like an academic with phrases like “today’s postmodern critics of food production deal in symbol and metaphor.” Letting your true colors show through like this can’t be good for your reputation in the non-foodie, profit-at-any-cost industrial food space.

#5: They hate you because you’re male.

Again, Mr. Smith plays the Farm Card, this time with regard to gender. He tries to make it sound as if all those women working on farms are on par with the male-dominated, monoculture, heavily subsidized farm operations that dominate farming acres and revenues. You miss again, Mr. Smith. The problem is that after making such an argument, first on race, then on gender, you give the reader such a clear indication of your bias. Did you intend to do that? Did you intend to convince those opposed to your position to convert? In either case, I must say your tactics lack sophistication and will have little impact other than to further polarize the debate. Well played. Not.

With that, I can hardly wait for Mr. Smith’s next five hateful reasons to further polarize the knowledge gap between farmers and eaters. I’m especially excited to read how he invokes Norman Rockwell and Ronald Reagan to make his points. Reagan is a no brainer, but Rockwell intrigues me.

Yipee!

SARE’s Farmer Rancher Grants – Helping Farmers to Market

Have you heard of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program? Since 1988, the SARE program has been helping advance profitable, environmentally sound and community oriented farm systems through grants to farmers and ranchers.

If haven’t heard of the SARE program, don’t worry; you’re not alone.

Thankfully, my friends over at Cooking Up A Story (CUpS) have developed the first in a wonderful series of stories showcasing the rich heritage, knowledge, and individual stories of some of our past farmer grant recipients. It starts with The Imperial Stock Ranch a 30,000 acre sheep ranch in Eastern Oregon, which began in 1871. CUpS does a wonderful job capturing the ranches challenges to its very survival, as well as its solution to direct,  market value-added yarn to retailers and apparel designers.

Please check out the complete story with video, and watch CUpS for future installments.

Great stuff!

From Fast Food Nation to Pro Food Ventures

In 2001, Houghton Mifflin Company published a book by Eric Schlosser titled Fast Food Nation –The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. Much like the work of Upton Sinclair in his 1906 title The Jungle, Mr. Schlosser, an award-winning investigative journalist exposed how the explosive growth of fast food in America had “hastened the malling of our landscape, widened the chasm between rich and poor, fueled an epidemic of obesity, and propelled American cultural imperialism abroad.”

For a handful of people, this book provided enough incentive to act, but nowhere near the critical mass needed to show up on most radar screens. That started to change with Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, published in 2006 and the 2009 release of Food, Inc., a food documentary incorporating much of the work of Schlosser and Pollan. Still, unless you were seeking out information on America’s industrial food system, and specifically how it was negatively impacting health, regional economies, and the environment or global trade, you probably had no idea that there were significant problems with America’s abundant food system.

TIME Magazine changed that with its August 21, 2009 cover story titled Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food. TIME brought the story of industrial food to mainstream America through its 40 million readers and Web users worldwide. As America’s most trusted new source, it shifted the balance of the debate about our need to reform our food system toward the sustainable food advocates that have been waging a noble, but slow campaign. Here are some highlights from TIME describing how ripe the time is for innovations in how we grow, sell and prepare food in America:

  • “…our energy-intensive food system uses 19% of U.S. fossil fuels, more than any other sector of the economy.”
  • “And perhaps worst of all, our food is increasingly bad for us, even dangerous.” • “…obesity adds $147 billion a year to our doctor bills.”
  • “With the exhaustion of the soil, the impact of global warming and the inevitably rising price of oil — which will affect everything from fertilizer to supermarket electricity bills — our industrial style of food production will end sooner or later.”
  • “…quantity of fertilizer is flat-out scary: more than 10 million tons for corn alone — and nearly 23 million for all crops.”
  • “…about 70% of antimicrobial drugs used in America are given not to people but to animals, which means we’re breeding more of those deadly organisms every day.”

When you consider this was presented to at least 40 million Americans, a vast majority who don’t know where their food comes from, you get a sense of how this single article will likely impact the evolution of sustainable food. The TIME article’s author specifically states, “So what will it take for sustainable food production to spread? It’s clear that scaling up must begin with a sort of scaling down — a distributed system of many local or regional food producers as opposed to just a few massive ones.”

As sustainable food discussions move into the mainstream, so will the opportunities for entrepreneurs and existing companies to bring to market innovative approaches to selling higher quality, healthier foods to increasing percentages of consumers, businesses and institutions. As these companies grow, they have an increasingly realistic chance to break the near death grip that industrial food has put on America’s food system:

  • Seed Companies: What was once a highly diversified, regional industry is now controlled primarily by pharmaceutical and chemical companies, including Monsanto, Dupont and Syngenta.
  • Farms: According to the USDA, “Small farms, while numerous, account for less than 2% of all U.S. farmland, while large farms account for 67%. Consequently, the growth in the number of large farms has increased the concentration of crop production.”
  • Meat Packers: According to Sustainable Table, four companies controlled processing of >80% of country’s beef and three of these same four companies joined a 4th in processing >60% of country’s pork. Four major companies in broiler chicken processing provide >50% of our chicken supply. Same for turkey meat.
  • Food Processors: The Top 50 U.S. processors accounted for $326 billion or ~25 percent of the global market. Add in European giants like Unilever, Nestle, Cadbury Schwebbs, Danone, etc., and you fast approach a majority of the market.
  • Food Retailers: Wal-Mart is at top of the heap with nearly $100 billion in food sales. The next 49 companies all report income over $1.0 billion dollars. On global scale, the USDA reports “Top 15 global supermarket companies account for >30% of sales.”

There are already examples of sustainable food innovations throughout the food chain, from Will Allen’s Growing Power to an alliance between Good Natured Family Farms and Ball Food Stores, to name a few. Early pioneers, with dirt on their hands, lessons learned and progress made, played a critical role in blazing trails for new ventures. Some of those companies have grown dramatically, e.g., Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (NASDAQ: GMCR; market cap of ~$2.5 billion). Others have been acquired by larger companies, e.g., Stonyfield Yogurt (acquired by Groupe Danone), Ben & Jerry’s (Unilever), Burt’s Bees (The Clorox Company). Still others have remained independent.

The next wave of ProFood start-ups will have the advantage of leveraging the many lessons learned by these pioneers. Unlike earlier sustainable food entrepreneurs, this next-generation will also have the benefit of a growing number of mission-driven investors showing up sustainable food conferences, e.g., Slow Money Alliance and New Seed Advisors, looking to drive sustainable food forward.