Posts Tagged ‘United States’

by Megan Yarnall

TerraCycle is a national and international company that stays local. Sound like a paradox? It doesn’t have to be one.

Since there’s usually a big push around “buying local” at the holidays, when everyone is doing more shopping than usual and trying to get the best prices, I started wondering how staying local fits into the plans for a national and/or international company, and how those companies can help encourage consumers to stay local. I’m not talking companies like retail stores, but instead companies like TerraCycle or even those that aren’t often consumer-facing (think, a national film company or a social services company).

The temptation to go to the large, national retail stores that are offering substantial holiday discounts and incentives is hard to resist, understandably. So what will help consumers veer toward local stores regardless? And why should a company not personally involved with, say, shoes, when people are looking for shoes, be concerned?

My answer here is community and personality. Even for a national company, engaging consumers at every level – including local – is key. Not only that, but by showing that your company cares about local causes in the areas it has offices, or the area it serves individually, you show part of your company’s personality, and that your company has depth. When you care about what your community cares about, they will care about you as well. Participate in a walkathon or help coordinate a gift drive. TerraCycle does this in August with its Graffiti Jam, works with local community improvement non-profits such as Isles, and enables its Brigades to donate to local charities in their respective towns.

One factor that can also help consumers buy local is knowledge. Consumers need to know why buying local is beneficial and why not all of the focus should be on cheaper prices at large stores. In order to engage people in your community, team up with a local shop to offer a “Buy Local Challenge” like the one run by the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission.  Help them discover how to find discounts at local stores and local coupons (maybe suggest looking on community boards or in community handouts).

TerraCycle, a socially responsible company at our core, found a way to grow to 16 countries and still maintain our focus on being a local business. In each new market we expand, we find a local office, local shippers, local processing partners and hire citizens of that country to run our operations. The waste collected in a country stay in that country or region (in Argentina and Brazil for example uses the same facilities as needed) and nevers comes back to the US. So why we are turning into a global company each of our markets are kept very locally focused.

While national and international companies are concerned with more than local activities, it’s important to remember local connections and community so

companies can remember who they’re serving and can express their company’s personality and drives. What better time to do this than the holidays? So give your employees an extra day off if they volunteer at a local soup kitchen or food bank, donate to local charities on their behalf or find other ways to spread the holiday cheer to your workers and your community.

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by Alberto Gonzalez, founder and CEO of GustOrganics,www.gustorganics.com.

This is a fundamental question that, in an ideal world, we’d all be able to answer.

Knowing your farmer is about understanding his or her practices, motivations, challenges and ideas, but it’s also about transparency. Transparency in agriculture means better practices, and better practices results in better food. I truly believe that if all Americans were able to meet their farmers, we would have a much healthier population and society. 

I am fortunate enough to have met many of the lovely farmers who provide the organic meats, dairy, and produce for my restaurant, GustOrganics. And a few weeks ago, I got an invitation from Organic Valley to meet organic dairy farmers Susan, Aaron, and David Hardy on their farm in Mohawk, NY.

I completely understand that most people don’t have the chance to personally meet their farmers and visit their farms; therefore, I decided to ask the Hardy family some questions and share their answers here with you. —Alberto Gonzalez

Would you say you are a farmer or you work as one?

Susan: I am a farmer! Farming is our life, not just a job to us. We live with the land, we work with the land, we take care of the land, and it is in our souls. It is who we are. It has been wonderful to bring up our family on the farm and to raise our kids that way.

Why did you go organic?

David: There are a couple of reasons. When I was younger, I went to college and learned the conventional way of farming.  Then, in the mid-’80s I started reading this magazine called The New Farm (a Rodale Institute publication), and it opened my eyes to a whole new way of farming. In 1992, we bought this farm, and 1994 we started our new adventure as dairy farmers. We wanted to go the organic route because we didn’t like chemicals and we didn’t want herbicides—we like pasture. We particularly like the concept of rotational pasture because grazing is a more natural way of farming—it’s more sustainable and better for the cows’ health. If the soil and the grass are healthy, the cow, the milk, and the people are healthy. Going organic was something that came naturally.

What made you join Organic Valley Coop?

David: Because it is a farmer-owned and farmer-run coop. Everyone from top to bottom is farm-related or an active farm member. And everyone on the board of directors is an active farm member. So everyone has input. In regional meetings, all the farmers gather and share their experiences, and we learn and change based on that dialog. Organic farming is a community and Organic Valley is one big community.

Are family farms better? If so, why?

Susan: We definitely feel family farms are better. We would not have chosen any other way to bring up our kids and we think it teaches good work ethics.

David: Family farms are boots-on-the-ground rather than suit-and-tie kind of operations. Farming is a 365-day-a-year commitment, milking is a twice-a day-job, and each person contributes his or her time.

In a few words, what do you think about America’s food system?

David: The food system is controlled by a few large corporations, and what they pay the average farmer in the conventional world has been very stagnant for the past 30 years.  I think this is one of the reasons why conventional farms are so huge, because of the economies of scale. But as you get larger, you lose the localness and the connection to the land and the connection to the people who are buying your food. I think, if the corporations would improve the average pay of the conventional farmer, more farmers would change their practices to be more sustainable.

Is your farm sustainable?

David: We are a sustainable farm. We are an all-grass-based dairy farm. We are conserving soil

all the time, and we are building organic matter all the time. During times of excess rain, our soil keeps absorbing water and during the dry periods like this past summer, our pastures stay green, which is a testament to the resilience and the moisture-holding capacity of our soil. The longevity of our cows also speaks to sustainability. The average age of our cows is about 11 or 12 years old. In a conventional dairy farm, the average age of the cows is about 3.5 years.

Susan: I have 3 sons and 70 daughters [in obvious reference to her cows].

What kind of food do you eat?

Susan: We grow our own food.  We raise beef, pork, and chicken.  We have a large vegetable garden, and we pick apples and berries.  We bake our own bread with organic flour from the local coop. We also produce our own eggs and, of course, milk. During the whole year, we buy about 20 percent of our food from the store and 80 percent we produce ourselves.

What does happiness mean to you?

Susan: Working together and with my kids makes me very happy; having people like you with an encouraging vision and perseverance to see your vision through makes me happy, too.  Making a difference in the world also makes me happy. Having my family together at the table, sharing conversation and food, and having that food be all homegrown/homemade and taking a moment to realize and appreciate that—it’s quite a feeling of satisfying accomplishment.  I know that we have educated our children with strong work ethics and there is a ripple effect of that education, passing on an understanding of how important organic is (literally) from the ground up.

Please check these videos from the organic farm story:

Biodiversity by Dr. Guy Jodarski

Susan Hardy’s cows names

So, while only in an ideal world everyone can shake hands with their farmer and visit their farm, we can all make an effort to know how our food is produced. To me, there’s nothing at all idealistic about that.  —A.G.


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by Woody Tasch

First, let’s admire this fist:


The Economist put this on its cover earlier this year to celebrate the Arab Spring.

Let’s use it, today, for the Occupy Wall Street movement.

People raising their fists, peacefully, against “greed is good,” against wildly inequitable distribution of wealth, against fortunes made on derivatives and bail outs and what Warren Buffett called “financial weapons of mass destruction.” Fists raised against fast money–you know, the stuff of 1,000 pt. drops in the Dow in 20 minutes and Goldman Sachs bonuses “trimmed to $16 billion.”

People raising their fists not against tyrants and political oppression, but against distant bankers and invisible investments, going who knows where on the planet and doing who knows what to who knows who in the ever-accelerating pursuit of maximum financial speed—more, bigger, faster, and unlimited gains for them with their hands on the levers.

I see your fists and raise you a tent. A tent?

Not just any tent. This tent:

In this tent on a farm field in Vermont last year, 600 of us from more than 30 states and several foreign countries gathered and committed $4 million to 12 small food entrepreneurs from around the country who are creating jobs, getting toxics out of the food chain, restoring soil fertility, preserving ground water, keeping carbon in the soil and out of the atmosphere, fighting diabetes and otherwise striking at some of the root problems—literally and metaphorically—or our economy and our culture. Showing the way towards life after fast food and fast money.

This is the tent of Slow Money.

In it, we are beginning to put some of our money to work as far from Wall Street as far can be… that is, near where we live, in things that we understand, things that bring tangible, immediate benefits to our communities.

We are starting with small food enterprises, which bring fertility to the soil of the economy: small organic farms, grain mills, creameries, local slaughterhouses, seed companies, compost companies, restaurants that source locally, butchers and bakers and, sure, a bee’s-wax candle maker or two, food hubs, community kitchens, community markets, school gardens, niche organic brands, makers of sustainable agricultural inputs, and more.

Could this be the beginning of a new kind of investing, something as powerful, in its own right, as protest? As powerful as conscientious objecting? Can we call it conscientious investing?

We invite some of you to take a break, let your arms down and give your fists a rest for a moment, and join us.

Our goal: one million Americans investing 1% of their money in local food systems, within a decade. We think this is the path towards an economy that is healthier, fairer, more balanced, more sustainable.

We are still small, but sprouting. 20,000 people have signed the Slow Money Principles. 2,400 have joined the Slow Money Alliance, a national network and emerging group of eleven local chapters that are facilitating the flow of millions of dollars into scores of small food enterprises around the country. The 2011 national gathering held in San Francisco this Autumn took another step towards this goal of one million Americans investing 1% in local food systems. We featured 30 new entrepreneurs, all currently seeking capital.

Can we design new systems appropriate to the realities of investing in the 21st century? By starting with direct relationships we bypass the intermediation that is taken to an extreme in modern finance. Each individual’s action to take 1% of their money and invest it in these entrepreneurs is paving the path towards a new economy, one based less on extraction and consumption and more on preservation and restoration.

While we use the 99%er side of our brain to protest against the bad 1%, let’s also use the Slow Money side of our brain, and our heart, to roll our sleeves up and begin investing a good 1%.

And maybe, just maybe, we’ll find our way to life after fast money.

Woody Tasch is Chairman of Slow Money, a national 501(c)(3) organization formed to catalyze investment in local food systems. Tasch is author of Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered. To get involved, start by signing the Slow Money Principles at: http://slowmoney.org/principles

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