Tag Archives: Food Marketing

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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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.

Top 10 Selling Grocery Items (Change Needed!)

Take a look at this information regarding the Top 10 items people are spending money on at food stores.

While you’re reading through the list, make a note of what is missing. Consider what it takes to create each product, e.g., value-added process, ingredients, etc. Think about which food crops are needed to create each product. And, if you can, think about how the money flows from your pocket to which participants in the food value chain.

For the 52 weeks ending June 14, 2009, the Top 10-selling grocery items are (NOTE – ranked by dollar sales, in $billions):

ITEM                                                  SALES ($B)                     % CHANGE

1.)  Carbonated Beverages                                     $12.00                                         1.86

2.)  Milk                                                                          $11.20                                        -8.44

3.)  Fresh Bread & Rolls                                             $9.57                                         4.77

4.)  Beer/Ale/Hard Cider                                          $8.17                                          5.42

5.)  Salty Snacks                                                            $8.09                                         9.75

6.)  Natural Cheese                                                      $7.64                                         7.75

7.)  Frozen Dinners/Entrees                                    $6.13                                          0.18

8.)  Cold Cereal                                                               $6.11                                          2.12

9.)  Wine                                                                            $5.49                                         3.72

10.) Cigarettes                                                                $4.63                                        -2.18

SOURCE: INFORMATION RESOURCES INC. (IRI)

While its great to see Milk on the list (although share is dropping fast), as well as Grains (i.e., bread, cereal), did you also notice that Vegetables (2-1/2 cups recommended per day), Fruits (1-1/2 cups) and Meat & Beans (5 ounces) were not on the list?  Considering how many empty calories are wrapped up in soda and snacks, you can start to see why America has a problem with its waistline.

The other important thing that jumps out is how much of this list is occupied by highly processed “foods”, including sodas, snacks and (many) frozen dinners/entrees. Lots of added sugar, salt and oils originating from heavily subsidized corn and soy crops, much of which is grown using genetically modified seeds, chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

Do you see anything on the list that diversified farms are benefiting from?  Dairy farms show up, but if you’ve been following their industry as of late you know most smaller dairies are facing serious financial troubles.

Without getting into the many influences that make this list look the way it does, from food science to marketing to consumer behaviors, I would like to issue a homework assignment to anyone interested in using your food expenditures to increasingly benefit farmers (rather than the industrial food system that dominates today’s market).

  1. Over the next 2-3 months capture information on your own household’s grocery purchases.
  2. Compare the data you capture to the list above.
  3. Develop a game plan to replace processed foods with fresh fruits and vegetables and your preferred protein sources (meat, beans, etc.).
  4. After several months of effort, gauge how you and others in your household feel.

My expectations is that your body, mind and soul will feel nourished in ways that strongly reinforce your decision to shift how you spend your food dollars.

Give it a try. Make a difference.

Every Kitchen Table is a proud supporter of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday series.

10 Things We Should Teach Every Kid about Food

Food is essential to our survival. It impacts our health and wellbeing. It has the power to bring people together.

Food can be manipulated in many ways, from cooking to processing to using it as fuel. It provides tremendous opportunities to create value, and, as such, food is big business.

Much of the food we eat starts as a simple seed, or one that has been genetically manipulated to achieve some desired objective. From there, food can be growing in any number of ways, from conventional to organic and beyond, before it finds its way to our plates.

Food touches nearly every aspect of live, so it is essential that we understand it in the fullest context possible to ensure we, as consumers, make well-informed, everyday decisions. Unfortunately, for many of us our days of being educated and/or changing our ways are mostly behind us.

That is why we must focus on our children by finding creative ways to reintroduce food in its broadest sense into their everyday activities, starting with school, in order to close the knowledge gap between farm and plate.

Here are the 10 things I would integrate into our children’s educational curriculum to give them a fighting chance at making the joys of sustainable food central in their lives.

  1. The Food We Eat – Since most kids have little knowledge of where the food they eat comes from, we start with an understanding of what we eat as a society. Showing them a simple breakdown of consumer food expenditures, e.g., 25% on fast food, will give them a sense of our food priorities. As kids mature, discussions about how our food choices impact other thing would evolve into a new Sustainable Economics (SE) track in middle and high schools. Sustainable Economics, in my mind, is the replacement for the traditional Home Economics, which carries too much baggage. As you will read below, SE shows up in a number of places.
  2. Farming in America & Abroad – If you are active in discussions regarding sustainable food, you have repeatedly heard about the knowledge gap that has grown over the years between consumers and where their food comes from. Ideally, kids at a young age should take field trips to diverse, working farms to see first-hand what goes on day after day on a farm. From there the discussion should turn to the history of farming in America, current trends, how farms are financed, what they grow/raise and so on. Along the way, kids should also be introduced to the idea of farming as a career, something that I can never recall hearing during my childhood.
  3. Plant Biology – Since kids love getting dirty, this might be one of the more popular topics during the elementary school years – playing in the dirt (soil). In addition to studying soil and its different compositions, every kid should witness firsthand the magic contained within a simple seed. Watching seeds germinate and grow into plants, bear fruit, die and return to the soil will help them understand one of the more important circles of life. With more basic science under their belts, attention can be turned to heirloom, hybrid and genetically modified seeds to expand their understanding of ways man manipulates seeds and why, as well as fertilizers and pesticides and their impacts on the water we drink, air we breathe and food we eat.
  4. Gardening – While understanding larger-scale farming operations is important, kids should also be taught the possibilities of human-scale gardening, something they can practice throughout their lives. This topic represents a cornerstone of my proposed Sustainable Economics curriculum since it gives kids the power to control where some of their food comes from, whether that food is used at school or taken home.
  5. Cooking – Another cornerstone of Sustainable Economics would be instruction on cooking, something that should be required just like physical education given the importance it plays in our health and wellbeing. Topics that can be superficially explored at the younger ages before more in-depth dives in middle and high schools might include techniques, tools, recipes, flavors, sensory experiences, chemistry, seasonal menus and more.
  6. Composting – Food waste is created throughout the food cycle, so teaching kids about the importance of composting is a final cornerstone of Sustainable Economics. Using Will Allen of Growing Power as an example, kids should be encouraged to embrace composting soil, dig their hands in it and get to know worms and other creatures working hard to break down our food waste. They should also learn the proper ways to use compost to help nourish the soil and help certain plants grow stronger and produce more tasty food.
  7. Industrial Food System – Moving into middle school, the emphasis on getting their hands dirty and familiarizing themselves with kitchens and cooking should be gradually replaced with expanding their understanding of food systems, i.e., how food is grown, processed and delivered to consumers. America’s industrialized food system could be nicely integrated into macro and micro economic studies, covering such topics as economies of scale, regional to global economies, industry consolidation, monopolies, process uniformity, etc. Kids should also be taught to contrast this dominate food system with historic systems, as well as (re)emerging regional food economies.
  8. Food Advertising – The food industry spends tens of billions of dollars every year promoting its food products. The level of sophistication used in food advertisements and marketing methodologies cannot be understated. Nor can its effectiveness at influencing choices people make about what, when and where they eat. Developing classroom exercises to help kids understand advertising techniques would go a long way toward ensuring that this highly targeted demographic learns to read between the lines.
  9. Government Programs – While it may seem a little dry on the surface, studying the changing role of our government in the food system could be turned into some pretty entertaining and impactful materials. Just look at some of the more popular food documentaries that have come out in the last couple of years, especially ones like King Corn. It may be difficult for kids to think about ways to influence government programs, but without a base of knowledge they won’t even bother trying.
  10. Food Entrepreneurship – When it comes to innovations in food, especially with regard to sustainable food, I have a strong bias toward teaching kids about the Pro Food framework I developed. Pro Food focuses primarily on regional food economies, so kids should also be exposed to entrepreneurs that are working to change the larger industrial food system mentioned above, since it will likely continue to be the primary source of food during their lifetimes. Like farming, there are many career opportunities in and around the food we eat, so it is important that we encourage young people to consider careers in sustainable food.

In the end, knowledge is power, and giving successive generations the power to demand fresh, environmentally sustainable and tasty food offers a glimmer of hope for the many advocates in the trenches today working to revolutionize our food systems.

Of course, like so many other things, getting sustainable food into school curriculums may be very difficult given many entrenched and powerful interests. The good news is that everything on this list can be adapted to our home lives. It will take a commitment of time, energy and probably a little money, but the results will be priceless.

Every Kitchen Table is a proud supporter of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday and The Kathleen Show’s Prevention not Prescription initiatives.

Extending the Pro Food Pathway

Guest Blogger: Carrie Oliver is the CEO & Founder of The Oliver Ranch Company and founded The Artisan Beef Institute. Carrie is dedicated to helping people learn more about what’s on their plate and discovering that, like a fine wine, a lot goes into raising better cattle. She blogs at Discover the World of Artisan Beef and Twitters under @OliverRanch.

What better way to shake off a bad case of writer’s block than to meet the origin of your last meal face-to-face?  Earlier this summer a fellow food entrepreneur, Rob Smart, had written a post on his Every Kitchen Table blog about Pro Food, a burgeoning post-organic food movement, to which I’d been trying to respond for weeks.  Casting around for a distraction I turned to Twitter only to see a post from one pastured pork farmer, Heather Walters (@Rosemont_Farm) to another, Neal Foley (@PodChef):

Heather:   @Podchef &^%$!! that was a horrid link!

Who can resist clicking through a link like that? Much to my surprise, I was met with an image of three heads in a wheelbarrow, two pigs and one cattle, the latter with shaggy black hair and horns.  Horrid perhaps to Heather, but even more haunting to me since Neal had so graciously served me some mouth-watering rib-eye steaks for dinner a few weeks before.

Me:            @Podchef Hmm, re: horrid links & chicken carcasses… is that the beef I tasted?

Neal:         @OliverRanch Re, the heads in the barrow? Yes, that bottom one was Torino the steer & some of his piggie friends.

I had just met my meat. And my writer’s block was cured.

What does all this have to do with Rob’s original post, and its follow up, The Five Stones of Pro Food?  Rob outlined a set of principles on which food entrepreneurs could draw to create and support a new, pro-consumer, pro-farmer food system.  The five stones are decentralization, triple bottom line, sustainable food, transparency, and accessibility.

I relate to Rob’s five principles; I founded my own company in part on principles like these.  But while these are great business and moral guidelines, they didn’t quite capture my heart or frankly, my stomach. At the end of the day, to truly drive change, I believe that food still has to be about food.  My heartstrings need a tug and my stomach has to yearn for this food.  My stomach is all about “food appeal” (flavor, texture, and other functional benefits) and my heart is all about community (emotional and experiential benefits).

As a fellow food entrepreneur, Rob has graciously allowed me to use the story of Torino the Steer to cast a couple more stones.

Consumer Feedback Results in Better Food

In a more decentralized, transparent food system we have the chance to create and celebrate feedback loops between farmers and consumers, so that producers can incorporate consumer appeal into their decision criteria.  With Torino the Steer, we have the ideal, you might even argue utopian scenario: the person who most influenced the flavor and texture of that beef ate at the same table as I, and the other main influencer, the butcher, was just one phone call away.

I gave feedback to Neal, “This beef is just delicious!  It has a great chew, straightforward personality and medium impression.  It has a sweet almost delicate start and is a bit herbal. It’s an ideal steak for someone just embarking on a journey of artisan beef discovery (what I call Gateway Beef™).”  Neal’s response?  “Well that’s interesting, there are actually 11 herbs growing on that pasture; they were planted there in the 1950s and have thrived ever since.”  Now Neal has his first confirmation that the herbs are a good thing, not just a random thing.

Imagine if every farmer could access that kind of feedback.  OK, granted we cannot all sit down with our farmers and share a meal together, but greater transparency should result in the consumer knowing who made their food and give them the ability, one way or another, to tell the producer what they find most appealing.

The value? I can buy beef from Neal and know that I’ll enjoy it. I also discovered that I like beef that is finished on herby pastures.  We both can tell others what the beef tastes like so they have an idea if they might like it, too.  And Neal can consider what he might do next time – stay the course or work to make his beef even better.

Of course this extreme case isn’t easily scalable and the next most proximate – farmers markets and CSA programs — also serve a limited market.  However, I think entrepreneurs should be excited by the possibilities of using the Internet and new retail formats to take these types of experiences to larger market segments.  As long as we create and maintain transparency, even at scale we can create or enable a continuous, self-reinforcing feedback loop between farm and fork, thus improving the flavor, texture, and overall quality of the food we eat.

Advantage:  Pro Food

Community

Sitting down to share a meal with friends, family, and strangers has long been a communal activity.  Together with knowing more about what is on my plate, I think we need to start reversing the disturbing trend towards depersonalizing our cooking and eating experiences.  It wasn’t that long ago that a natural part of the dinner conversation was about where the butcher sourced the turkey and how we simply must tell Mr. Jones that the milk from his Jersey cows is the only milk we buy.

Shopping in today’s big box stores, including conventional supermarkets, warehouse stores and so on is, comparatively speaking, a complete disconnect.  From a food-community point of view, we’ve become detached.  An unseen stock person stacks pre-wrapped consumables on the shelf at midnight.  Not that this impacts the food itself in any way, but this is about as far from an intimate food experience as one can get.

By way of contrast, eating Torino the Steer with Neal and his family was a supremely communal act. Having seen first hand the way this family loves their land, livestock, and the other food they raise, I enjoyed that meal and came to appreciate my food at a deeper level than had I purchased the salad, berry pie or rib-eye steaks anonymously at a supermarket.

Indeed, ask anyone who’s been to a dinner on a farm or met a producer at an in-store demonstration, farmers market, or CSA pick up: there is something about knowing the source of one’s food that creates a certain sense of community, if not bonding, with the people in who make our food.

While knowing everyone who had a hand in bringing every food item to our plates is impractical, we can begin to restore a sense of community around food simply by letting our customers know where it came from in the first place.  Who knows where that first baby step might take us?

In a Pro Food system we’ll also probably see each other a lot more.  Some entrepreneurs might create small footprint, neighborhood stores in which we will recognize and befriend other patrons and store employees over time.  I still remember shopping with my mom at Robert’s Market in Oakland.  Half the time spent shopping seemed to be chatting it up with the butcher or friends she ran into in the aisles.

This is not a clarion call for a return to the past.  For better or worse, big box supermarkets beat out mom & pop stores for a reason, namely price.  To their credit, Wild Oats and Whole Foods reintroduced the concept of knowledgeable employees and presented food artistically, taking some of the commodity out along the way. How can today’s entrepreneurs challenge the current retail business model to extend the reach of such community based shopping experiences beyond high-income urban centers?

Other entrepreneurs, including myself, might create online or other communities outside of brick and mortar to achieve similar goals.  Social media tools offer the opportunity to build personal relationships and create rich discussions across political, geographical, professional, or personal boundaries.  A case in point:  a recent Twitter-based #AgChat discussion on antibiotic use in livestock included sustainable food advocates, farmers, ranchers, public relations managers, trade associations, veterinarians, journalists, food bloggers, butchers, and lawyers.  Just about the most inclusive community you could imagine, with a total contribution much greater than the sum of the parts.

Advantage:  Pro Food

The opportunity to rethink our food system is not by nature limited to entrepreneurs.  In fact, I would argue that our successes will fall short of expectations if we try to innovate without taking advantage of the two big constituents that I have talked about here, namely the consumer, and the food community in its broadest sense.  Decentralization, triple bottom line, sustainable food, transparency, and accessibility are important pillars, but I’ll bet our future will be brightest if we engage the consumer and encourage community at every juncture along our path.

What’s Ag Got To Do With It?

Sara Franklin is the Capacity Building Coordinator at WHY Hunger, a NYC-based non-profit that advocates for and works to build the capacity of the grassroots movement towards sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty. She has been a farmer, freelance food and agriculture writer, and worked with various ag- and hunger-related non-profits. She can be reached at sara.b.franklin@gmail.com

President Obama’s plans to reform the healthcare system in U.S. have taken over the headlines in the past several weeks.  Doctors, economists, insurance executives, public health experts—all of them are being afforded the chance add their two cents on how to fix our broken healthcare system. The voices that are strikingly absent, though, are those of the agricultural community. What, you may ask, does agriculture have to do with overhauling the healthcare system? My answer– everything.

My awakening to the connection between agriculture, social justice, and health came during a semester abroad in South Africa. There, during a stint in a public hospital in a small city surrounded by rural territories, I watched as HIV-positive mothers waited for hours each month—some having traveled two days in packed vans—to receive a free box of nutrient-dense foods from the government. Those mothers were, without exception, Black and poor. Few of them had access to land as their families did before apartheid, and thus their ability to provide good food for themselves and their families had been systematically stripped from them. Today, with the AIDS epidemic spreading like wildfire across the country, the poor’s labor force—and thus earned income—has fallen sharply, making it difficult to afford food at market. As malnutrition and acute hunger have become more common among poor populations in South Africa, HIV and Tuberculosis spread faster and faster, as both diseases are easily passed to those with compromised immune systems from inadequate nutrition.

What does South Africa’s social and medical plight have anything do with with healthcare in America? We’re a first world country, after all. Indeed, and although our labor force may not be dwindling from HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis as South Africa’s is, we have our own epidemics to deal with, foremost among them obesity and all the diseases it brings with it such as Type II Diabetes and severe heart problems. America’s children are strung out on high fructose corn syrup—concealed in nearly every food in our supermarkets—and thus cannot concentrate in school or develop properly, making it difficult for them to succeed academically and, subsequently, in the job market. According to study after study (or firsthand experience from spending an hour in any public emergency room), the groups most affected by diet-related health problems are the poor and non-White.

Eva Salber, one of the pioneers of the community health movement once wrote, “diseases resulting from societal inequities can’t be cured by medical care alone—no matter its excellence.” One of the most blaring inequities in our society today lies beyond lack of access to medical treatment in the inaccessibility of the means by which to prevent ill-health in the first place: good food.

The effects of our broken food system affect all of us, even the small percentage of Americans who choose—and can afford—to eat a healthy, safe diet.  Treating chronic diseases is a major drain on our healthcare system an tax dollars, as is true in South Africa, and even equitable and accessible medical care for all will not provide a silver bullet fix to our population’s deteriorating health. If we are ever to enact lasting change on our health as a population, we all need healthy food to be accessible and affordable. Not the kind of healthy food that announces itself as such with a flashy label on a vacuum-packed wrapper, but the kind that comes from an ecologically and economically sound agricultural system, one that produces vegetables, fruits, grains, and animal products, not simply commodities to be processed into food products.We–individually and collectively– need real food to attain health.

America has watched, somewhat wide-eyed and dumbfounded, as a modern “back to the land” movement has emerged. Wealthy White college students, the ones have traditionally vied for summer internships in law, medicine, and finance—are increasingly swapping suits for dirty jeans and a spot on a farm crew for the summer. The number of farmers markets has exploded. And even among the most underserved communities in the country, the number of community-gardens, community supported agriculture (CSA) operations, and community kitchens are growing faster than summer zucchini. But we can’t allow the movement towards systematic change in our food system to stop there. Without policy in place to support a new generation of farmers who have economic incentives to grow food for consumption rather than producing commodity crops (i.e. soy beans, corn, and wheat) for the corporate processing industry, and until we can make procuring farmland in rural areas and greenspace in densely populated communities less cost prohibitive, we will never be able to produce the amount of healthy food we need to support a healthy population.

We can argue until we’re blue in the face about the merits of publicly- versus privately-funded healthcare. We can ration medical services or not. The quality versus quantity debate as it relates to medical care can rage on for years. And we can calculate the potential cost of every permutation we come up with. But unless we begin to address root causes of ill health in this country—hunger, poverty, social injustice, and an agricultural system that feeds corporate greed rather than the citizens of this country—the costly burden on our health and thus our medical system will never diminish. President Obama and members of Congress, take a hint from the First Lady and her wildly popular garden and invite the farmers to the table. Our nation’s health depends on it.



Sara B. Franklin
Food Justice Advocate, Organic Grower, Writer
WHY Hunger, Capacity Building Coordinator

Breaking Ground: Musings from a Novice Farmer
http://www.fertilegroundusa.com/breaking-ground.html

Seeing Through Food Industry’s “Personal Responsibility” Smoke Screen

I grew up in a home where family meals were the norm. Nearly every night, nine of us would crowd around the kitchen table to enjoy a home-cooked meal together, recount our days, laugh and argue, celebrating each unique personality’s contribution to the whole. Each meal made the fabric of our family stronger. Those experiences have stayed with me as I’ve grown and started a family of my own, where I happily continue the tradition of sitting down together nightly to share a meal and exchange stories.

For us, food is at the core of what makes us strong, happy and healthy as a family and as individuals. It isn’t about calories, nutrients, micro nutrients and so on. It’s about engaging our senses, strengthening our community by buying local foods whenever possible and sharing with our friends and neighbors. It’s about creating a healthy foundation for our growing children.

We knowingly spend a greater portion of our income on food than the average American household, which works because we forgo things that bring us less value, e.g., cable television, new cars, fancy vacations and more. This sort of conscious decision making is at the core of personal responsibility, and is something we work hard at every day. Living in a rural community, surrounded by farms and dairies and being outside the reach of most mainstream media surely helps.

But today, the individual’s ability to exercise personal responsibility has been severely compromised by our industrial food system. Yet defenders of the status quo consistently use “personal responsibility” as a smoke screen to cover the tracks of industrial food, tracks that run roughshod over the mirage of choice and personal responsibility.

It is clear that industrial food knowingly develops and promotes food-like substances that make us fat, spread diet-related diseases and disregard unsustainable impacts on our environment. Backed by hundreds of billions of dollars in product development, marketing, advertising and lobbying, along with government regulations favoring industrial food, there is seemingly nothing standing in their way.

Except for those who believe it is time to rein in processed foods. Our numbers are rapidly growing, making us increasingly capable of driving real, meaningful change, especially through entrepreneurial means (see Pro Food). These changes will take many forms, but here is one that I find particularly compelling.

First, we significantly reduce the number of highly processed food-like products (and the many empty calories they deliver). Next, we repopulate those now-empty shelves with whole and minimally-processed foods. Finally, with fewer processed foods, which take up considerable floor space in today’s supermarkets, we begin replacing these unsustainable retail dinosaurs with intimate, community-oriented food stores (<5,000 square feet), designed from the ground up, to help consumers expand in-home food preparation, what we used to call “cooking.” And with triple-bottom-line operating models (see Pro Food advantages), these new stores will sustainably balance people, planet and profits, something industrial food unfortunately can’t do without ultimately destroying itself.

Clearly, such changes would rock today’s industrial food system, but leaving it as is perpetuates the problems we face. As most major food companies are publicly traded they must increase sales, reduce costs or both, quarter after quarter, to increase shareholder value or face the consequences (Note: shareholders (owners) are not the same as stakeholders, which would include eaters, whose interests, beyond food expenditures, are secondary). This singular bottom line focus drives them to do whatever is necessary to maximize profit, which they typically achieve through sales of new products with high initial profit margins. That is upwards of 17,000 new “food” products are introduced every year.

These highly processed, engineered foods, never before seen, but often extending an established brand name, are not guaranteed financial success, so food companies invest tens of billions of dollars every year in sophisticated marketing programs and advertising campaigns to build demand, with a heavy emphasis on hawking heavily sugared wares to children and convenience to their ever more harried parents. Undeniably, these highly sophisticated product development and demand creation engines are significantly influencing consumers; worse, these campaigns are often coordinated to affect us in subconscious ways: the potent combination of food science and marketing at work!

Without continuous financial improvements, the value of food companies would suffer greatly. That isn’t happening. Consider that since 1979 (30 years ago) General Mills stock price is up 577%, while Wal-Mart has registered an astonishing 420,000% increase (from less than $0.12 per share to $49.14; hasn’t always been in food retail, but rapidly ascended to #1 in category). Then there’s Cargill with estimated revenues at $120 billion, which would make it a Top 10 publicly traded company. Clearly, food companies are meeting shareholder expectations, which doesn’t bode well for consumers, who are largely “responsible” for this financial success.

As for the significant financial pain and organizational upheaval the changes Pro Food envisions will have on the industrial food system, while the transition will be difficult, not sudden, America’s entrepreneurs will get a running start. And if there is one thing we can count on, it’s our entrepreneurs: the best in the world at picking themselves up, brushing themselves off and getting back to work.

The results of such a revolution in how we grow, process and consume food will be significant. Sustainable businesses will become the norm, offering rewarding careers for people interested in more than a single bottom line. Regional economies will begin rebuilding after being decimated for decades by large food retailers. Our food system, through hard work, sustainable technologies and a longer-term perspective, will regain its balance with nature. And, most important, food will become an enjoyable, enriching part of our daily lives, rather than just another accessory.

Join the Pro Food Revolution…already in progress.

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