Edible-Alpha® - Tera Johnson
The Edible-Alpha® podcast is your source for actionable insights into making money in food.
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #100, we bring back FFI founder Tera Johnson, who is now CEO of Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT, an organic farmland finance company. She was the featured presenter for our October 26 “Enhancing Farm Revenues with Conservation Practices & Ecosystem Services” webinar, which forms the basis of this podcast. Tera defines ecosystem services on-farm conservation practices and structural improvements that farmers can get at least partially reimbursed or credited for. Examples include converting cropland to CRP, planting riparian buffers to protect waterways, acquiring high tunnels for controlled growing, or leasing space for solar arrays. Farmers can sometimes stack these practices, purposing the same piece of land for multiple benefits and credits. The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has a thick catalog of programs and initiatives for farmers, and the financial kickbacks can be significant. However, the options can be tricky to wade through and understand which would make sense on an individual farm. Some USDA offices provide excellent assistance, but this isn’t always the case. Some conservation practices, such as nutrient mitigation, are gaining traction with other sectors as well. More county and municipal governments and sewage districts are incentivizing farmers to keep phosphorus and other nutrients on-farm and out of waterways. Farmer incentives for solar installation are gaining steam, too, especially in the expansive, sunny West. The financial benefits of these programs for farmers can be significant. However, the reimbursement process may be complex and drawn out. Sometimes farmers must foot the bill upfront, or their exact earnings may be outcome dependent, such as solar- or wind-power generation. Next, Tera and Andy discuss carbon sequestration, a key tenet of regenerative ag—and a hot topic lately, with more and more stakeholders incentivizing farmers to capture carbon in the soil. But, as Tera notes, we’re in the Stone Age of this market, so it’s kind of a Wild West, lacking universal measurement or impact standards. Many farmers are receiving offers from carbon credit buyers, but don’t know who to trust. And whether organic and regenerative farmers who’ve been sequestering carbon for years are being justifiably recognized or compensated for their efforts is still murky. Tera says these kinks should all get ironed out eventually, as this is clearly the future of ag. Webinar participant Marie Raboin, who works in phosphorous crediting and adaptive management in Dane County, Wisconsin, while also running Brix Cider, adds important context to the discussion: Even though science shows many conservation practices work, farmers aren’t always eager adopters. This requires them to think very differently about their farm, and they need to feel like they can trust the people and organizations propositioning them. Marie says farm businesses work very differently than most, and outside parties must respect their culture, language and way of doing things. Despite the complexities and yet-to-be-worked-out aspects of ecosystem services and conservation practices, both Tera and FFI strongly believe they are well worth farmers exploring for their many environmental and economic benefits.
1 hr 7 min
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #99, FFI farm financial consultant Andy Larson interviews Larissa McKenna, humane farming program director of Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT). Founded in 1982, this Chicago-based nonprofit holds the vision that all food-producing animals be raised in a healthy and humane manner and that everyone has access to safe and humanely produced food. FACT offers grants, scholarships, mentorship and webinars for farmers nationwide to give them the skills and resources to raise animals on well-managed pasture-based systems. Though not a certifying agency, FACT helps farmers take steps toward particular production principles. As Larissa explains, these include ensuring that animals, at minimum, get adequate space, access to the outdoors, clean water and air, the opportunity to express natural behaviors, and natural, healthful diets. Also, antibiotics should be used only when disease is present. As more consumers are learning about the variation in animal production methods, they are increasingly demanding humanely produced products. FACT helps educate shoppers about packaging labels and claims—which ones are meaningful, which are not—to guide their purchasing decisions. Larissa walks through some of the most reliable third-party certifications, such as Certified Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane and Animal Welfare Certified and the American Grassfed Association’s standards. Such certifications can aid farmers’ business by boosting brand awareness, opening grant opportunities and, of course, improving animal welfare. However, certification isn’t always the goal of the farmers Larissa works with—and that’s perfectly OK. FACT’s mission is to help them improve their production methods, and different farmers have different starting points. For example, some are moving from conventional confinement systems while others come to FACT with some humane practices already in play. Regardless of specific circumstances, Larissa lauds the farmers’ innovation, creativity and cost-efficiency in figuring out ways to improve their systems. There is often a strong economic case for making these changes to complement their multiple environmental and animal-welfare benefits. Lastly, Andy and Larissa discuss FACT’s myriad offerings, including webinars and trainings covering topics such as grazing management and livestock protection, as well as grants for on-farm improvement projects and scholarships for outside education. And in response to farmer demand for more business- and finance-related assistance, FACT is now teaming up with FFI to offer free boot camps and webinars starting this fall. Our mutual goal in providing these valuable opportunities is to help livestock and poultry farmers’ businesses thrive, so learn more and apply today!
55 min 25 sec
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #98, we flip the script, with Food Finance Institute interim director Sarah Larson interviewing FFI founder and outgoing director Tera Johnson. After building up FFI and the Edible-Alpha® brand over the last eight years, Tera is moving on to her next entrepreneurial venture as CEO of Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT. To start, Tera explains how she first identified the need for FFI and got it off the ground. Through building teraswhey from scratch and then selling the company, she’d acquired a unique knowledge base and skill set around financing food and agriculture enterprises—expertise that was badly needed. So, Tera pitched her idea to the University of Wisconsin System, the system agreed with the need, and FFI was launched within the Institute for Business and Entrepreneurship. At first, FFI was just Tera doing one-on-one consulting with clients. With way too much work for one person, she applied for and received a USDA Local Food Promotion Program grant to hire a program director. From there, they began developing curricula for boot camps and webinars, started training consultants nationally and launched the Edible-Alpha® podcast. Before long, FFI was working with food and farm enterprises across the U.S., and the podcast was carrying impact far and wide (46,000 downloads to date!). Tera intentionally combined the food and farm sectors into FFI’s focus, knowing that many of the same tenets (such as money follows business model) and needs (such as understanding numbers before courting financing) apply to both. The COVID-19 pandemic has blurred the lines even further, with farms pivoting to direct-to-consumer, food hubs pivoting to hunger relief, food brands pivoting from retail distribution to e-commerce, etc. This has made FFI’s financial education and technical assistance all the more pertinent. Next, Tera and Sarah talk through the biggest financing gaps today. Tera says most food brands need working capital, which remains the toughest to get. Many farms now need working capital too since they’re selling direct-to-consumer, although, unlike brands, farms have access to value-added producer grants. Food hubs and other food system-related entities are finding more help from foundations, economic development funds and government grants. When asked how she has built both teraswhey and FFI to last, Tera says it’s just like she tells businesses in boot camps: do something defensively unique that people actually want, develop a business model around it and figure out how to finance, staff and market it. Embedded in that is creating a culture and hiring an excellent team - FFI now is 5+ strong - that can carry out the work even without the founder. “What I love about the Edible-Alpha® learning platform, combined with the consultant network, is it doesn’t need one person anymore,” Tera says. “It has grown way beyond me.” Although FFI is sad to see Tera go, she has left a sound business model behind and a strong staff of experts to carry the torch forward. Though, as Tera says "she is on the same merryground just riding a different horse"- as the founder having presence on our FFI Vision Board and with so many intersections between Iroquois and FFI, she won’t be far away.
1 hr 11 min
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #97, Tera interviews Jesse Rye, co-executive director of Farm Fresh Rhode Island, a nationally acclaimed nonprofit food hub that connects local farmers and eaters and helps strengthen New England’s food infrastructure. Launched as a Brown University student project in 2004, the organization has grown tremendously and recently built a 60,000-square-foot permanent home in Providence. With a $4.2 million annual budget, Farm Fresh Rhode Island runs several successful programs. There’s Mobile Market, which aggregates and distributes food from over 115 local farmers and producers, and Harvest Kitchen, which produces value-added products from local produce while providing job training for at-risk youth. Farm Fresh also operates 10 farmers markets and provides the infrastructure for 25 more. Additionally, the organization has a farm-to-school and community education program, and it facilitates Bonus Bucks, a one-to-one match for people using SNAP. Of course, Farm Fresh Rhode Island didn’t start out so ambitiously. It began by developing a food guide to link local farmers with locavore consumers and businesses. Then over time, Jesse says, “we’ve had strong organizational growth, driven through technological innovation, sound business and organizational practices, and an extremely dedicated staff and team of volunteers.” Jesse joined Farm Fresh as managing director in 2012, amidst a rapid growth phase. He found his niche implementing support structures around growth, including financial systems, collections management and human resources—"all the things a young food hub or organization needs to think about.” Around 2015, the organization, then renting office, market and warehouse space in Pawtucket, began discussing finding a forever home. Over the next few years, they refined their vision, pitched to potential funders and built momentum around the project. “We were out there selling people the idea of a hub where Farm Fresh could grow as an organization and keep doing our mission-driven work, but also as a place where density of other business focused on farming and food could come together,” Jesse says. “It’s very much a cluster of economic activity that could bolster the regional food system but also have a really big impact on those businesses.” Ultimately, Farm Fresh secured government funding, plus significant philanthropic support—a mix that Jesse says has been crucial. In 2017, the group purchased a 3-acre property in Providence, began building an environmentally conscious, purpose-designed facility, and started courting other food and farm businesses to rent spaces. COVID-19 struck just as construction was complete—a lucky break because it let Farm Fresh move its summer farmers market inside. But with institutional customers dropping out rapidly, its other programs were impacted overnight. Within a week, Farm Fresh opened its wholesale ordering platform to home delivery. Orders jumped tenfold; one day they delivered $90,000 in food. The food hub also partook in the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program, which segued into hunger relief work that continues today. As the pandemic has settled down, Farm Fresh has been able to move some tenants into the building and push forward with many initiatives. We’re excited to see how this dynamic organization continues to scale and evolve. This podcast is packed with inspiration, so definitely tune in!
1 hr 19 min
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #96, Tera welcomes Jennifer Bloeser, co-founder and CEO of Oregon Coast Wasabi, the largest wasabi farm in the U.S. Launched in 2010, the e-commerce company sells an array of fresh and shelf-stable wasabi products to restaurants, retailers, distributors and consumers, as well as plant starts to gardeners. First, Jennifer demystifies wasabi, a slow-growing perennial that most Americans only know as the spicy green paste served with sushi. Wasabi is brassica native to Japanese streambeds, so it prefers shade and cool temperatures, making the foggy, temperate Oregon shoreline near Tillamook the ideal place to grow it. That’s precisely why Oregon Coast Wasabi set up shop there, cultivating plants in nine low-tech greenhouses. Next, Jennifer explains wasabi’s growth cycle and details the flavor, heat factor and culinary potential of each plant part. The revered plant also has many traditional medicinal properties. She says that while growing wasabi at scale requires infrastructure, home gardeners can easily maintain a few plants in pots. Oregon Coast Wasabi is one of only three wasabi growers nationwide, and in the beginning, they sold only wholesale to food distributors. A few years in, they expanded into restaurants and retail and set up an e-commerce site for consumer sales. Though it took some time—and stress—to dial in shipping methods, Jennifer figured it out and the business grew steadily. She says the company has benefitted from consumers becoming more adventurous with food and more people discovering that the wasabi at sushi restaurants is usually fake. Early media coverage helped too. And with so little competition in this niche market, customers easily find Oregon Coast Wasabi, so they haven’t needed to invest much in marketing—yet. Jennifer knows that with continued growth, that will change. Right now, the company is in the midst of expanding. They’d been pressing the limits of the current greenhouse space for a while, so Jennifer had been eying a land purchase. The uncertainties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic made her hesitant, but after the company weathered last year just fine, she went for it, signing a sale agreement on a 4-acre property in May. The previous owner let her start building infrastructure and greenhouses right away, and she self-financed and did much of the construction herself. After closing on the property in August, a construction loan will kick in, allowing the company to pay down its bills. They’ve completed four 3,000-square-foot greenhouses so far, and the property can hold 12 to 14 more. Retaining the original greenhouses will keep sales coming in over the 12 to 18 months it will take for the new crops to mature.
1 hr 1 min
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #95, Tera sits down with Kevin Bachhuber, founder of Bachhuber Consulting and Madison Cricket Farm to learn about the emergent industry of insect agriculture and its potential for pet food, human food and so much more. Kevin, quite simply, is a cricket guy. Inspired by a 2013 United Nations report advising the world to eat more insects, he started Big Cricket Farms, the nation’s first FDA-inspected human food–grade cricket-growing operation. With this pioneering venture, Kevin helped carve out the federal regulatory framework and built deep relationships with fellow insect farmers. He ran that business for two years, until unforeseen circumstances forced its shutdown. Then in 2016, Kevin launched Bachhuber Consulting, a niche agency dedicated to insect agriculture and related systems. Leveraging his first-hand expertise and industry relationships, he offers advice, technical assistance and training to insect growers nationwide. Recently, Kevin caught the farming bug again and, this past January, opened his own operation, which raises and sells bandit crickets into the live feed market, with a focus on pet store owners. Crickets have a super speedy lifecycle, so they multiply fast. This allowed Madison Cricket Farm to break even in less than two months and scale up very quickly, recently relocating from a 700-sqare-foot facility to a 3,000-square-foot home base. Still, the business has a long way to grow. Kevin says a mature cricket farm typically has 100,000 to 250,000 square feet of rearing space—the size of two city blocks! He’s unsure whether he’ll want to get that big, or maybe go bigger. Since there’s a lot of unmet need in the Upper Midwest, he says the first step is sizing out that market. Next, Kevin and Tera discuss the human food market, which Madison Cricket Farm isn’t ready to explore yet, partly due to its relatively small footprint. But also, the live feed industry yields higher margins and isn’t easily disrupted by cheap cricket powders from overseas like the human food market is. Still, if and when Americans embrace eating protein-packed insects, likely for sustainability reasons, there will be ample opportunities for Kevin’s company. He can see maybe collaborating on product development in the future, but he knows his expertise and passion lie in the production side. For now, he’s most interested in growing his bug population, optimizing processes and exploring full-cycle agriculture, such as selling cricket poop to vegetable growers. Along with the endless possibilities with cricket farming, there continue to be challenges, namely finding suitable facilities and navigating the murky regulatory environment. But Kevin, with his unique knowledge and eagerness to learn, build and test out new things, is certainly set up to succeed.
52 min 4 sec
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #94, Tera chats with James Maiocco, chief operations officer at Barn2Door, a Seattle-based provider of software and services that help farmers grow and manage direct sales. The company was already growing fast before COVID-19. But now, with even more farmers looking to direct-market and more consumers embracing e-commerce and seeking out local products, Barn2Door’s business is booming. Before founding the company six years ago, CEO Janelle Maiocco started an online marketplace to connect chefs and consumers with local farmers. But she soon realized the marketplace concept didn’t fully meet farmers’ needs or facilitate direct farmer-buyer relationships, so she scrapped that business and launched Barn2Door. With this innovative new model, farmers pay a software fee but keep 100% of their sales and totally own their relationships with customers. James says that nine out of 10 consumers want to buy local, but they just don’t know how to discover farmers. That’s why Barn2Door teaches farmers—many of whom are new to e-commerce and intimidated by everything it entails—how to be discovered, accessible, engaging and easy to purchase from so they can cultivate recurring sales and enduring one-on-one relationships with buyers. On the software side, Barn2Door’s turnkey solutions help farmers manage their products, reach customers and conduct transactions through multiple channels and touchpoints. The most successful farmers, James says, do business on two to three channels, such as email, social media or Nextdoor. Barn2Door’s close partnerships with Mailchimp, Square Space and other entities enable seamless integration among channels, ultimately saving farmers time, money and headaches. These partnerships also allow Barn2Door to capture a wealth of data, which it readily shares with farmers to help them make better-informed decisions on sales and marketing strategies. Whether it’s which packaging sizes or product mixes sell best, how frequent blog posts should be, how many calls to action they need per webpage, or how much farmers can charge for delivery, data are available to guide them. But of course, Barn2Door’s work entails a lot more than backend engineering and numbers. Knowing that every farmer’s situation, priorities and goals are unique, the company assigns each an account manager who works closely with them to strategize the best tactics to implement for success. Barn2Door also offers virtual bootcamps and academies for further education and to foster farmers learning from one another. This is just a teaser of Tera and James’s conversation! He shares a bunch of valuable insights throughout this podcast—and even a few data-supported marketing tips that can make a big difference in any farmer’s business.
53 min 18 sec
We revisit a podcast from our archives, episode #43 with Peter Robertson, founder of RP’s Pasta and co-founder of Tribe 9 Foods. Peter touches on managing growth and changing with the consumer.
1 hr 7 min
The Good Acre’s David Van Eeckhout talks with Tera about the Twin Cities food hub’s evolving role in uplifting diverse farmers, supporting local food makers and increasing community access to high-quality local produce.
1 hr 9 min
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #92, Tera chats with Henry Aschauer, co-founder of Forage Kombucha and Forage Kitchen in Madison, Wisconsin. What began as a single healthy fast-casual restaurant on State Street has expanded to include two more local eateries plus a budding beverage brand now sold in nearly 800 retail doors across 18 states. In launching Forage Kitchen in 2015, Henry and his partners hoped it would be the first of many locations. After some slight menu tweaking, the restaurant became a hit, attracting a broad clientele with its fresh-made salads and grain bowls—and proving that the concept worked. This paved the way to open a second outpost in March 2019 and a third in September 2019. Originally, Forage Kitchen crafted its own juices and lemonades but brought in kombucha from elsewhere. “Maybe being young and naïve, we began to tinker with the idea of making our own, not knowing full well what that entails,” Henry explains. Once his team developed a HACCP plan and got the proper regulatory clearance, they began brewing and bottling kombucha in the Forage Kitchen basement and selling it to customers in January 2017. Just like the restaurant, the fermented tea beverages were also a hit. Plus, producing and serving them onsite allowed them to trial different flavors in a real-life setting, giving them excellent feedback. They secured a distribution partner and established retail sales outside of Forage Kitchen. To build capacity and grow the brand, Henry and partners looked to move kombucha production into a dedicated facility. Additionally, intent on offering a convenient, approachable and affordable—yet still high-quality—kombucha, they switched from bottles to cans. They contemplated the co-packer route, which is notoriously difficult for small beverages brands, especially those involving fermentation, but no suitable partner emerged. Ultimately, they found production space locally and began self-manufacturing in October 2018. From there, Forage Kombucha grew tremendously, having expanded capacity and added a few more regional distributors to widen its territory beyond Wisconsin. After banner kombucha and restaurant sales in 2019, Henry expected sustained growth in 2020—but a certain virus had other plans. Though COVID-19 pandemic hit the restaurant industry hard and made it tough for beverage brands to land new retail accounts, both Forage Kitchen and Forage Kombucha managed to grow. Now that the pandemic is winding down, Henry says more doors are opening on the retail front. Currently, Forage Kombucha is in the process of gaining USDA Organic certification, which should broaden its appeal further. Henry and Tera talk about the valuable interplay between the restaurants and kombucha business, in terms of consumer recognition, brand proposition and cash flow management. He hopes the future includes an even broader reach, additional Forage Kitchen locations and more brand-aligned beverage launches.
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #91, Tera talks to Rod Ofte, a fourth-generation farmer and wearer of many hats, whose latest venture is a small USDA-inspected meat-processing plant outside Viroqua, Wisconsin. Nordik Meats opened last July, right in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rod and Tera discuss the business’s wild first year plus the state of local meat processing nationwide. Like a lot of farm kids, Rod initially didn’t want anything to do with agriculture. He went to West Point, worked for Mars in Germany for 14 years and traveled the world. But when it came time to start a family, he and his wife moved back to southwestern Wisconsin, bought a farm and began raising grass-fed beef. Next, Rod started a food and beverage consultancy and became general manager of the Wisconsin Grass-fed Beef Cooperative (WGBC), owner of the Wisconsin Meadows brand. Through these experiences, Rod grew frustrated by the dwindling availability of local meat processing for small producers and co-ops. He wanted to help reduce farmers’ pain—and costs—by getting involved with processing in the Driftless Region of Wisconsin, but capital constraints held him back. Finally, in December 2019, Rod and a few other WGBC members and partners purchased the shuttered Driftless Meats plant. With a closing date set for April 1, 2020, the partners began due diligence. By March, COVID-19 was storming the nation, upending the food supply chain and exacerbating longstanding issues in the meat business. Suddenly, processors were in higher demand than ever. Nordik began booking appointments in advance, smartly requiring a reservation deposit, which provided capital for building up the facility, website and other infrastructure. Upon opening July 1, the plant was booked solid nine months out. Nordik Meats handles hogs, lamb, sheep, goats and some beef and offers slaughter, cutting and value-added production. Demand for appointments has since cooled, just as it has for most meat processors. But as Rod tells Tera, the pandemic-spawned demand had been overblown, primarily a product of ranchers overbooking slots for fear they wouldn’t find processing when they needed it. Next, they discuss the seasonality of the business, which poses challenges—i.e., maintaining revenue, retaining skilled workers—for meat processors everywhere. Rod then gives his take on how the pandemic has impacted consumer behavior and buying patterns, such as more home-cooking, increased demand for local meat and greater acceptance of cuts once deemed less desirable, and whether these trends will last. Finally, Tera and Rod talk about the problems with meat processing, which largely stem from massive corporate consolidation and the many obstacles faced by small players and potential new entrants. Yet despite these challenges, Rod believes it’s possible for small-scale meat processing to reemerge a la the current microbrewery renaissance. In closing, he offers sage advice for food and ag entrepreneurs looking to tackle this space.
52 min 21 sec
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #90, Tera interviews This Old Farm founder Jessica Roosa, who has spent the last 11 years scaling a small USDA-inspected meat processing facility and local food hub in Colfax, Indiana. They discuss the complexities, costs and rewards of entering this business, offering important insights for food and ag entrepreneurs eying the in-demand meat processing space. Jessica started organic farming some 20 years ago, committed to raising sheep and poultry responsibly. Frustrated with the meat processing options available, she decided to start her own processing business, one that would ensure full traceability to enable product-label claims such as grass-fed and USDA Organic. Funded by a value-added producer grant, Jessica conducted a feasibility study to determine whether to build new onsite or purchase an existing facility nearby. The latter option proved much more economical, and soon she acquired an old custom-exempt facility for $150,000, investing another $100,000 to get it up and running. Then in December 2010, with her new business barely off the ground, the facility burned down. Devastated but undeterred, Jessica built a better facility in its place, one she could take under USDA inspection to allow This Old Farm to ship across state lines. Although she’d loved to have erected a bigger building to expand capacity, she stuck close to the original facility’s footprint in order to be operational by that July when the processing business ramps up. This Old Farm would need to capture this revenue in 2011, to ensure her young venture would not go kaput. After recounting the business’s beginnings, Jessica and Tera discussed the current state of meat processing in the U.S. There are major gaps in availability and efficiency, with farmers driving an average of 400 miles to access processing. There are niche processors and big industrial processors, but not much in the middle. The business’s seasonality adds complexities too, as does the dearth of skilled labor. This Old Farm employs about 40 people, most of them full-time, for the slaughter, processing and value-added sides of the business. Guaranteeing 100% traceability requires a lot of effort and decreases efficiency, which is why most processors don’t do it. But this service assures farmers that the products they’re getting back, whether steaks, hamburger or sausage, come from their animals—a big marketing advantage. Currently, This Old Farm is expanding capacity, with three different buildouts in the works. Jessica is holding off on one of those projects until she can be certain she’ll have the customer base to support it. The company is also opening an urban butcher shop in West Lafayette this summer. Finally, Tera and Jessica talk financing. Meat processing is costly to break into, especially for newcomers who don’t have generational assets. Back when Jessica started, it would’ve cost her $1 million or more to build a facility on-farm—and that was without beef processing—which is why she bought the old facility. Along with her VAPG, she received funding from a small business innovation and research grant, a local food promotion program and a $300,000 bank loan. Now she’s weighing what types of investment vehicles to pursue for future scaling.
1 hr 5 min
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #89, Tera is joined by Ryan Wagner, Justin VerMeer and Spencer Schaller, the trio behind Driftless Provisions, an artisanal salami company based in Viroqua, Wisconsin. Since launching in 2017, the guys have grown the business steadily and smartly, recently taking production in-house. Ryan got the idea for a premium salami company several years ago, having realized the charcuterie market in Wisconsin was wide open. After business school, he moved to the Driftless Area, a hilly region in the state’s southwest corner that’s dotted with small, sustainable farms, and invited his pal Justin to join him. While working as the business manager at the acclaimed Driftless Café, Ryan met Spencer, the sous chef, who had started an in-house butchery there. Together, they developed a charcuterie program at the café, giving Ryan his salami-making start. Because fermenting and dry-curing salami is a complex and precise multiweek process, it took some time and tweaking to develop a product for market. Meanwhile, Ryan and Justin raised money via Kickstarter and learned what launching a charcuterie company—a high-barrier-of-entry business—would entail (Spencer didn’t join the company officially until 2021). They also dialed in their brand proposition to convey the Driftless Area’s ethos of respect for the land. This influenced many decisions, including basing the company in Viroqua, a town of about 4,400 surrounded by family farms, and sourcing only humanely raised pork. To cure and dry the salami, Ryan and Justin would need a USDA-certified meat processing facility with multiple climate-controlled environments—an astronomical cost. Given the working-capital constraints, they felt it would be smarter to start with a co-packer, a decision that influenced the smaller gauge size of their salami. Working with co-packers on a highly nuanced product is never easy, and Driftless Provisions cycled through a few in the first few years. However, contracting out manufacturing allowed them to get their products out there, first at farmers markets and then at retail. This, in turn, helped them build up their direct-to-consumer e-commerce business, which proved fortuitous once COVID-19 hit. It also let them prove their concept to future investors. After switching co-packers mid-pandemic, Driftless Provisions caught a break. A space once occupied by a cheese manufacturer opened up at the Food Enterprise Center of Viroqua, a 100,000-square-foot multi-tenet facility. Since it was climate-controlled already, the company didn’t have to spend a ton of money to retrofit the space. After raising about $230,000, they brought in equipment from Italy to set themselves up for long-term success. They expect they can reach up to $600,000 in sales before needing to upgrade the space. Now, with the pandemic winding down, business is ramping up, especially on the retail side. Ryan, Justin and Spencer look forward to being able to demo and sample again, as charcuterie requires consumer education. They are also experimenting with other meats besides pork and exploring complementary revenue streams. We see many great things ahead for this company!
1 hr 2 min
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #88, Tera talks with Katie Mleziva, founder of Real Food Brands, host of the Real Food Brands Marketing Podcast and instructor for our upcoming Building a Brand That Stands Out training course. FFI is a strong advocate for locking down your brand strategy early on so it can be systematically and intentionally engrained in all areas of your business. As a brand strategist, Katie helps natural food and beverage companies do this through defining, aligning and activating clear, consistent brand strategies that resonate with consumers. Before striking out on her own, Katie worked in brand management and marketing for Kraft and other Fortune 500 companies, which informed the concepts she teaches now: “I took those big-business ideals, streamlined them down and resized them for small entrepreneurial startups and emerging brands looking to scale up.” Next, she and Tera discussed the importance of branding for food companies. Basically, unless a brand establishes an emotional connection with consumers and why it’s special, shoppers may see it as just another brand of cheese, cookies, kombucha, [insert any product here]. Katie said entrepreneurs are often so engrossed in their products and business operations that they don’t truly think through how their brand benefits consumers—or know how to convey that benefit through branding. She helps them to think externally so they can transition from just having great products to owning a strong brand. As FFI Founder Tera Johnson often highlights in our Boot Camp your business is more than your products! But to do that, food, farm, and beverage entrepreneurs must first lock down their values and vision—know who they are as a brand before attempting to sell it to others. Then, Katie stresses the three C’s: consumers, competition and company. Brands should identify their target consumers based on demographics and psychographics and determine how exactly the brand benefits them. Next, they should look at what their competitors are doing and saying to ensure their brand offers a suite of attributes that truly stands out from the competition. Based on consumer needs and the competitive landscape, companies can establish a few main brand pillars, qualities such as sustainability or locally sourced ingredients. Katie explained the importance of aligning brand strategy around those pillars: “If your whole brand strategy is the north star, this is the light that shines on the path to say we’re on right path. If we’re building everything around these pillars, we know we’re sticking to what we said we wanted to do in terms of overall vision.” Another important element is brand voice, which should be consistent throughout marketing, messaging, packaging, and internal and external communications. Cohesive voice gets the team on the same page and lets consumers know what to expect. After defining (or refining) and aligning the brand strategy comes activation—how the company executes based on its business goals. This involves everything from posting on Instagram to creating an advertisement. This work can be challenging for entrepreneurs, yet it is definitely worth tackling. That’s why Katie is so passionate about coaching brands through the process. We look forward to working with her on our three-day Building a Brand That Stands Out workshop May 19 to 21. Hope you can join us too!
1 hr 4 min
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #87, Tera is joined by Stacy Peterson, founder and CEO of Connoils, a manufacturer, distributor and wholesale supplier of oil and oil powder ingredients for food and beverages, dietary supplements, personal care and pet food. As a seasoned entrepreneur—and one who works on the ingredients side of food—she provides valuable insights for listeners. Kicking off the conversation, Stacy shared the history of the company she launched in 2007. It all started when her then-employer, Cargill, decided to discontinue its line of nutritional oils, eliminating her job along with it. Seeing an opportunity to keep serving those customers while ensuring her own employment, Stacy proposed forming an independent company to acquire the product line. Cargill agreed and sold her its remaining inventory at a discount. So, with an established product line and customer base, Stacy began her entrepreneurial journey. At first, she was a one-woman show. She worked out of her home, stored inventory at the food-grade storage facility where her husband worked and relied on contract manufacturers for oil encapsulation. As the business grew, Stacy began hiring help, and after a few years, moved the company to a 7,500-square-foot facility to bring more of the work in-house. Connoils eventually outgrew that space too, building a brand-new 25,000-square-foot facility in Big Bend, Wisconsin, last year, complete with solar panels on the roof. The new space better allows Connoils to be a one-stop shop for its customers, offering manufacturing, spray-drying, encapsulation, bottling, private-labeling, white-labeling, R&D consultation and shipping. The company’s portfolio now includes about 200 types of oils in multiple formats, including canola, avocado, sesame seed, evening primrose, CBD, medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and fish oils, sourced primarily from the U.S. and Mexico. Like all businesses in the food space, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Connoils early on, with some customers delaying product launches and orders ramping up for ingredients used in sanitation products. Domestic sourcing has proved fortuitous, given the ongoing logistical problems with international supply chains. Looking forward, Stacy sees more growth ahead for Connoils, especially in MCTs, CBD, immune health products and pet nutrition. She is currently mapping out strategies to boost efficiencies and continue scaling smartly. To wrap up the interview, Stacy offered her best advice for food entrepreneurs just starting out, including the importance of mentorship, collaboration and joining business groups such as Vistage. Tune into the full podcast!
41 min 20 sec
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #86, Tera sits down with Eric DeLuca, founder of Leverage Point Consulting, a market development firm focused on land-based, sustainable and socially responsible enterprises. Eric also serves as one of the Food Finance Institute's Food Systems Expert-in-Residence, instructing the Scenario Planning immersion training. With vast experience in organizational and food-systems development, strategy and finance, he helps food and farm businesses strategize and secure funding to scale. One of Eric’s areas of expertise is scenario planning, a proven method by which companies map out multiple potential futures and craft action plans for each. The idea is that by considering and strategizing around various outcomes, businesses will be better prepared to navigate “unforeseen” events, such as a drastic decline in market demand, a devastating drought, a significant capital loss or a global pandemic. After sharing the fascinating history of scenario planning, Eric delved deeper into what it is, first by saying what it is not: a crystal ball. Rather than predicting the future, it involves examining all plausible futures with a pragmatic, unbiased eye and then telling a story around them. While it’s tempting to focus on scenarios a company wants to happen, it’s critical to consider all scenarios that could happen. This involves ditching the rose-colored glasses, testing long-held assumptions and viewpoints, and really thinking through outcomes both positive and negative. Scenario planning would behoove most any business at any time, but the COVID-19 crisis has made it especially crucial. Eric and Tera met in 2018, when he completed FFI’s Value-added Food & Farm Business Consultant Certification Training. They further reconnected through the Edible-Alpha® Consultant Huddles last year, which led them to team up to develop a Scenario Planning training program to help scaling food and farm businesses in this time of crazy uncertainty. In discussing the pilot cohort they led, they remarked how beneficial it was for the participants to step away from their day-to-day to strategize in this way. Entrepreneurs spend so much time working in their business—especially these days, with the pandemic still throwing wrenches—that they struggle to find time to work on their business. But in the boot camp environment, each participant was able to move from the tactical thinking they use to run their companies and put out fires every day to thinking more strategically. This shift then greatly impacted how they described their business models and brands. Next, Eric shared his recent experiences working with advisory boards and funds and how their priorities have shifted in response to the pandemic, recent social justice reckoning and intensifying threats of climate change. He said there is now more emphasis on diversity, inclusion and ensuring that funding and business assistance opportunities feel accessible to all and truly match the needs of potential recipients. Listen to the podcast to hear the full discussion on scenario planning. For more info on FFI’s Scenario Planning program and to be considered for an upcoming cohort, click here.
53 min 44 sec
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #85, Tera talks with John Wepking about building Meadowlark Organics, a diversified small-grain farm enterprise on 800-plus acres in the Driftless Area of southwestern Wisconsin. Their conversation shows how mentorship and sweat equity can lead to a successful farm transition. John met his future wife and business partner Halee while working in restaurants and bakeries in New York City. Both ready for a change, they moved to John’s home state of Wisconsin and attempted to revitalize his family’s farm. After toiling away but seeing no clear road to sole ownership, they answered a Craigslist ad from an organic corn and soy farmer in the Driftless Area who wanted to pass on his knowledge and eventually his land. Paul Bickford had envisioned a young farmer or couple with a bit of equity, which John and Halee didn’t have, but he hired them anyway for their passion, work ethic and eagerness to learn. Thrust into the mix immediately, the couple learned a lot from Paul in short order. Meanwhile, they secured an FSA microloan for beginning farmers and purchased 22 breeding heifers and a yearling bull. With a 5-45-50 loan, they bought 80 acres of hilly grazing pastures, flatter spaces to grow annual crops and a homestead. To generate income while their cattle matured and they could grow their herd, John convinced Paul to plant 40 acres of hard red winter wheat to be milled at Lonesome Stone Milling 20 miles away. Paul had never grown grains before, but John knew from his bakery and restaurant experience that he could build a market for organic small-grain flours. The plan worked, so they expanded their grain crops and on-site processing capabilities, with working capital provided by a value-added producer grant. Paul’s long track record, credit worthiness and experience helped them secure debt financing along the way. Not long into their partnership, John, Halee and Paul began discussing farm transition. While Paul could always just sell off his land and equipment upon retirement, he feels it’s more important to shepherd the next generation of farmers—just like his father did for him—and ensure continuity on the farm. According to their transition plan, the couple is purchasing the first half of the farm on a 20-year note and will eventually secure the second half. A similar thing happened with Lonesome Stone Milling. After toll milling for Meadowlark Organics for several years, owner Gilbert Williams wanted to transition his business, so he sold John and Halee his mill. They are now moving it onto their farm, along with a few other mills for different grains. They aim to continue scaling up their flour operation, sourcing a variety of small grains from other local organic farmers, thereby uplifting the community around them. Check out the podcast to hear Meadowlark Organics’ full story, including more details about their financing, diversified income stream and path to farm ownership.
1 hr 2 min
In podcast #84, Tera talks to Amazon expert Michael Zhang, CEO and founder of Fenrici Brands. The lifestyle company, started in 2018, sells over 50 items exclusively on Amazon generating over $4 million in sales. Combining that success with his previous experience as VP of Ecommerce and Innovation at Lands’ End, Michael has added Amazon coaching and consulting to his business portfolio. In this episode, he and Tera discuss what it takes to sell well on Amazon. Often, smaller companies are intimidated by Amazon, but Michael reassures what will set you up for success is no different than what you are used to in retail or other sales channels. Three key things he calls out: You need to be committed to selling on Amazon, which includes investing in advertising and promotion and spending regular time managing your account. You need to have confidence in your products, should know the unique problems your products solve and have clear messaging around your unique differentiator. You need to be prepared to manage your inventory and to have the cash flow to support stocking Amazon distribution centers with your products. Once you make the commitment to sell on Amazon, it is important you set yourself up for the best launch possible. When it comes to fulfillment, Michael recommends setting your business up as FBA – Fulfilled by Amazon, which ensures you get the “Prime” badge. When it comes to positioning, a tip is to look at similar competitors and their product listings. By reading the 5-star reviews, you can see what customers like about those products and borrow words they are using to describe their experience to improve your listing. Similarly, by reading 1-star reviews, you can glean insights about what customers are missing in those competitor products and speak to those features or aspects of the experience within your listing. Once you have launched on Amazon, it is important to drive traffic to your listing through advertising and promotion. Don’t be afraid to spend time experimenting with Amazon advertising. It is important to have a paid program, but you can start out small, as low as $5/day, and grow your spend. One paid option is Cost Per Click Ads. These ads help your products get placed at the top of search results. In addition, you can set up coupons, a special store for your product, lightning deals and more to increase traffic to your listings. There are also many free ways to create a narrative around your brand, including writing posts and adding to the live stream on Amazon.com. As you build your Amazon business, don’t lose sight of the importance of building out your social media promotions and digital advertising to further your channel growth. Amazon notices when you drive traffic, and it is important to fully activate this channel once you’ve committed to it. Ratings are an important contributor to your success on Amazon. Michael recommends new-to-Amazon businesses take advantage of the Early Reviewer program and encourages you to check the Amazon Vine program as well. In their first month on Amazon, Michael’s company sold $100,000 in products. At the end of their first year, they reached $1 million in sales, and after three years in business, they surpassed $4 million. This illustrates that a committed and savvy entrepreneur who had the time and resources can certainly build their business on Amazon solo. But often food entrepreneurs are busy making their products and wearing many other hats to keep their business afloat. If that is the case, finding a third-party Amazon expert is a solid strategy. Michael says the best thing to look for in a partner is results: What can they do for you in 3 to 6 months? For more insights into selling online check our our free course here!
1 hr 19 min
In podcast #83, recorded at Edible-Alpha® Live!, Tera interviews Galen Saturley of Breadtopia, a virtual baking-education hub and seller of grains, flours and baking equipment based in Fairfield, Iowa. What started as a passion project for Galen’s mom and stepdad in 2006 is now a booming e-commerce business with an engaged national community, which have only grown stronger through the COVID-19 pandemic. From the start, Breadtopia’s main mission has been to ensure that “baking perfect bread at home is available to everyone.” Founders Eric and Denyce created a content-driven website, featuring recipes, how-to videos and interviews, and funded it through sales of baking equipment, sourdough starters and organic wheat and rye flours. This was back in e-commerce’s infancy, so they learned as they went while milling grains to order and packaging products in their garage. As interest in Breadtopia mounted and sales grew, the mom-and-pop operation had to scale. They rented a bigger workspace space in Fairfield, brought on a few employees and expanded into ancient grains and other flour types. Before long, they needed even more space. Once Galen joined the business in 2012, he helped upgrade the milling operation and streamline inventory, and the company settled into 15% to 30% year-on-year growth When Galen first met Tera in 2018, he shared their designs for a new 8,000-square-foot facility. Tera suggested they go even bigger, which proved sage advice. When a 40,000-square-foot space downtown became available last October, Breadtopia found its new home. Amidst its busiest season ever, the team moved everything over, figured out operations and got ready for a stellar 2020. Little did they know, COVID-19 was right around the corner. In early March, as the nation locked down and everyone started baking bread, average daily orders surged from 125 to 600, sending the team scrambling. To continue meeting loyal customers’ expectations while also serving the influx of new ones, the company went from eight employees to 30. As grains and flours became nearly impossible to find at grocery stores, Breadtopia’s sales kept climbing. The company’s close relationships with small farmers and plentiful backstock allowed it to come through when few other retailers could. Galen said the team didn’t relax until June, when orders leveled off. Thanks to the heady sales of last spring, they began transforming HQ into a literal breadtopia—complete with a bakery, education center, retail shop and commercial kitchens—a few years ahead of schedule. Tera and Galen also talked about online sales strategies, including Breadtopia’s experiences with Amazon, and the company’s next project: working with farmers and grain organization to build a sustainable local food system. Be sure to catch this podcast for the whole Breadtopia story and e-commerce lessons for food and farm businesses of all sizes!
1 hr 25 min
For Tera’s final Edible-Alpha® Live! famous founder interview, she spoke with Paul Willis, director and founding hog farmer of Niman Ranch. An ardent animal welfare advocate, he helped transform the pork industry by scaling up the humanely raised, free-range model. A longtime Iowa hog farmer, Paul proudly raised pigs on pasture, but by the 1990s, CAFOs were threatening to put little guys like him out of business. The message, he told Tera, was to “get bigger or get out.” Paul refused to do either and began exploring his options. Knowing most Iowans at the time wouldn’t pay a premium for his pork—or purchase more than just the chops—he spent years looking for a viable market. Eventually, he met Bill Niman, who was successfully marketing humanely raised beef in and around San Francisco, a much more progressive food scene. Paul sent Bill a pork chop, Bill loved the taste and Paul’s values, and a partnership was born. Paul formed Niman Ranch Pork Company and began sending hogs to the West Coast for processing and sale. Under a hybrid LLC–co-op model, the company grew its network of farmers to meet increasing demand, guaranteeing them a premium for their animals plus stock in the company. Also, from the get-go, Paul wanted a way to distinguish his humane methods from those of CAFOs. There wasn’t an official recognized standard back then, so he helped create the Certified Humane standard, now a trusted, widely known seal. The money held as farmers’ stock provided working capital for the company to continue scaling. That, plus a forgivable loan from the Iowa Department of Economic Development, furthered its growth, and landing Whole Foods Market and later Chipotle as customers helped turn Niman Ranch into a sought-after national brand. As more consumers nationwide have woken up the value of humanely raised, free-range pork, demand has only intensified. A few years back, family-owned Perdue Farms bought out Niman Ranch along with its specialty processor. Because Perdue was rich in resources, the co-op was disbanded and farmers paid back every penny. Paul stayed on as director to ensure Niman Ranch’s values and commitments to farmers were upheld under new corporate ownership. “The integrity of everything we do is 100% intact,” Paul said. “It’s even better today because we have some money.” In fact, his influence has even prompted Perdue to improve its animal welfare practices. Paul is proud that today Niman Ranch has 700 farmers and ranchers in its network. Although he could certainly call it quits after all he’s accomplished, he’s not ready just yet—which, Tera noted, is our gain, because the food world needs Paul Willis. His passion and innovation have helped hundreds of small farmers and ranchers stay in business while offering consumers nationwide more sustainable—and better tasting—protein choices. Tune in to Tera’s full interview with Paul, as well her chats with other famous founders from Edible-Alpha® Live!
43 min 1 sec
Tera’s second Edible-Alpha® Live! famous founder interview featured David Miller, co-founder and CEO of Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT. Founded in 2007, this innovative finance company provides secure land access to organic and regenerative farmers through long-term leases and mortgages. To kick off the conversation, David delved into the genesis of the company. After a 30-year career in banking and real estate financial management, he had purchased a family farm he wanted to transition to organic, doing his part to change the “dead-soil monoculture” of the Midwest and benefit the environment and human health. Simultaneously, he and longtime friend Dr. Steven Rivard had been discussing the dearth of solid investment opportunities and came up with an idea: What if they could connect mission-driven investors with organic farmers, who struggle with land security and whose needs often go unmet by traditional financing? Many people thought they were crazy for asking investors to sink money into a long-term proposition with no option to exit. But as David explained, that structure was necessary to secure sustainable leases and garner farmers’ trust. Soon, enough investors had seen the value in supporting small to midsize organic farms to get Iroquois Valley off the ground. This was impact investing long before that term was used. David described how the company has evolved over 14 years to meet the financial needs of farmers. Iroquois Valley became a Certified B Corporation and, three years ago, a Public Benefit Corporation, which allows everyday people, not just accredited investors, to invest. The company also added a redemption mechanism for investors and mortgages and operating lines of credit for farmers. Iroquois Valley increasingly collaborates with other credit providers, nonprofits and other entities to broaden impact. Lately, they’ve begun planting trees on farms, helping to build investment cases for silvopasture, permaculture and other regenerative agriculture practices that don’t easily attract conventional financing. The company also recently purchased its own farm, Rock Creek Farm south of Chicago, for research, collaboration and demonstration. Although Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT has already done a ton to foster the next generation of organic and regenerative farmers, David and company are nowhere near finished. They are continually buying more conventional farmland to convert and working to scale up these sustainable systems for the good of people and the planet. Tune in to Tera’s full interview with David, as well her chats with other famous founders from Edible-Alpha® Live!
42 min 4 sec
Among the highlights of the inaugural Edible-Alpha® Live! event, held online December 9, Tera interviewed agriculture pioneer Gary Zimmer and his daughter Leilani Zimmer Durand. As the founder of Madison, Wisconsin-based Midwestern BioAg, Gary is considered the father of “biological farming”—essentially the first iteration of regenerative agriculture—which focuses on balancing soil biology, chemistry and structure to produce greater, higher-quality yields. When Gary started the company in 1983, his approach was virtually unheard of in the U.S. Convincing organic dairy farmers that the ticket to more efficiency and profitability was improving their soil required a lot of education. But as Midwestern BioAg’s processes and nutrient-rich and carbon-based fertilizers got great results, the company grew steadily, expanding beyond just dairy farms and beyond Wisconsin. Gary and Leilani also wrote the book on biological farming—literally—which helped spread his philosophy and practices around the world. Still, investors weren’t lining up to jump in. Gary bootstrapped the endeavor, including establishing the fertilizer processing arm, landing no outside capital and getting by on debt financing. And when he couldn’t convince university researchers to help him test his innovations, he established his own organic, 100% grass-fed dairy farm for in-house R&D and demos. Today, the company continues to thrive, and Gary now works with some of the world’s largest farms, both organic and conventional, on incorporating biological farming. He also has his hand in many tangential projects, including processing ventures, a new consulting business with Leilani and an initiative to revitalize rye as a vital soil-regeneration crop. He’s also thinking about succession plans if ever he opts to slow down. Next, Tera asked Gary and Leilani what’s next for regenerative agriculture. This led to a great discussion on what the term truly means, its potential benefits for the planet, the role big food companies can play, how Big Ag needs to evolve, and how eco-minded consumers are a driving force for change. They also discussed the challenges and opportunities for food and farm entrepreneurs today and the need for more impact investment to further these endeavors. Visit the Edible-Alpha® YouTube channel to watch the extended Video Podcast that includes audience Q&A!
45 min 43 sec
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #79, Tera is joined by Joe Tomandl, Executive Director for the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship (DGA). This first-of-its-kind program launched in 2011 and trains aspiring dairy farmers on managed grazing, a regenerative system that carries major impact for the environment, food systems, and rural prosperity. Explaining the genesis of DGA, Joe noted that independent dairy farms have been declining for decades in Wisconsin, contributing to the demise of rural communities. One reason is it’s tough to teach the myriad aspects of dairy farming, especially managed grazing, in a classroom. Seeing the success of trade apprenticeships, Joe realized this was this ideal model for onboarding new farmers. So, DGA was born, offering 3,700 hours of paid, hands-on training plus 300 hours of classroom instruction. Along with providing a natural, low-overhead onramp for new farmers through workforce training, education, and networking, the program also benefits current farmers seeking assistance or eventual successors. Knowing that the pathway to dairy was similarly difficult outside of Wisconsin, DGA expanded nationwide in 2015. It now has a presence in 15 states, with 200 approved training farms and 45 apprentices currently in the program. Next, Joe and Tera explored the philosophy behind managed grazing. Put simply, it involves rotating cows through paddocks of permanent grass and ground cover to have them do as much of the forage harvesting and manure spreading as possible. This natural approach is a far cry from conventional systems, which require a ton of time, money, and fuel. But this isn’t simply opening a fence and shooing the cows out. It’s an art, requiring farmers to meticulously monitor fields, forage, and weather patterns to ensure cows hit each paddock at the optimum growth, density, and nutrition stage. Done right, this approach increases field productivity over time. It also has major environmental benefits. Whereas conventional dairy farmers till and expose soil, causing rains to sweep phosphorous and manure into watersheds, managed grazing keeps soil covered, which reinvigorates the soil, prevents runoff, and sequesters carbon. Plus, the carbon-generating fuel inputs are drastically less, and grazing cows, with their nutrient-producing ruminant stomachs, help revitalize ecosystems. Now DGA is looking to scale the system for max impact. As Joe put it, “there is incredible opportunity within managed grazing dairy system to address big challenges—from nutrient-dense food to processing and distribution systems to climate, soils, water, and environment—with independent farms where the land base is matched much closer to what the livestock-carrying capacity is.” As industries look to go net zero in the coming decades, managed-grazing operations can help them achieve their goals while also uplifting rural communities. But scaling this system will require innovative finance and impact investors to step up, more consumers to demand sustainably produced dairy and the value proposition for farmers to be realized. DGA is on a mission to line up these variables and move managed grazing mainstream to benefit the climate, the food system, farm succession, and rural prosperity. Learn more about impact investing and innovators like DGA at our upcoming Edible-Alpha® Live! Event!
1 hr 4 min
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #78, Tera is joined by Mark and Judy Thomas, co-founders of Garfield Produce Co., an indoor vertical farm and wholesale food operation in Chicago. The “failed retirees” started this for-profit business/social enterprise in 2014 to provide job opportunities for people with employment barriers. Following successful careers—Mark as a newspaper production leader, Judy as a corporate lawyer—the Thomases volunteered at a food bank and shelter in East Garfield Park, one of Chicago’s roughest areas. Through their service, they learned that many in this neighborhood struggled to find jobs nearby, especially men who’d been incarcerated. Mark had been wanting to start a business, so they decided to launch an urban hydroponic farm right in this neighborhood, hoping it could open doors for people recently out of prison and ready to build a better life. Given their social mission, the Thomases could’ve gone the nonprofit route. Instead, they tapped into their business and accounting acumen and made Garfield Produce a for-profit venture. As Mark explained, this ensured a focus on revenue, expenses, bottom line and careful growth and would allow them to share equity with employees if the business proved successful. Tera commended their approach, noting that many urban agriculture entrepreneurs, while well intended, grapple with the business side and don’t end up making it. After constructing a food-safe climate-controlled grow room with the help of grants, Mark and Judy determined that microgreens made the most sense to grow. As specialty products, microgreens command a much higher price than commodity produce and appeal to high-end chefs looking for consistent, top-quality supplies. The Thomases’ business plan, including their focus on the foodservice channel, worked wonderfully. Garfield Produce amassed a large clientele while providing great job opportunities locally. By the beginning of 2020, the company was finally in the black. Then came COVID-19. When Illinois’s governor ordered all restaurants to close in March, Garfield Produce’s sales sank 95% overnight. Fortunately, the company received government grants and loans and was selected for the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program, all of which kept the business alive through the fall. Now, as the pandemic persists and restaurants remain closed or at limited capacity, the company is building up its e-commerce and retail channels to reach more consumers and exploring growing baby greens to appeal to a wider audience. Through it all, Garfield Produce has maintained what Mark called “the best, most self-directed work team I’ve ever had.” That’s high praise, seeing as Mark once oversaw some 7,000 employees. The Thomases have proven that, beyond just giving ex-cons a chance, working closely with them to develop their job skills and practicing open-book management increases employee engagement and teamwork. Mark and Judy are excellent examples of how leading with empathy and emphasizing self-empowerment can transform lives while also benefiting the bottom line.
1 hr 10 min
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #77, Tera talks with Sean Lenihan, founder of The Honest Bison, a direct-to-consumer purveyor of 100% grass-fed bison and other meats. Committed to total transparency, The Honest Bison gives consumers easy access to premium, nutritious, ethically and sustainably raised nutritious animal proteins as an alternative to conventionally raised, grain-fed red meats. While starting the company as a side hustle in 2012, Sean spent two years visiting ranches and slaughterhouses, attending conferences and learning everything he could about the bison industry. He was surprised to discover that bison, which carry a sustainability and health halo, were mostly still finished in feedlots. But as Sean explained to Tera, following the conventional beef industry’s template had been a market necessity for those who built the bison industry from scratch. However, after seeing the carcass of a healthy-looking 100% grass-fed animal next to the carcass of a sick, stressed cow raised in confinement, he knew it was time for change. With the Better Food Movement sweeping the nation at the time, Sean felt there were now plenty of consumers who were hungry for more sustainable, humane and nutritious meats from a brand they could trust. The Honest Bison earns that trust by partnering closely with ranchers who use regenerative practices. The company furthers its sustainability by selling unwanted carcass parts to other CPGs to use in their products. But back in 2014, Sean knew the regular retail route likely wouldn’t work for this premium produt. E-commerce, on the other hand, while not very popular for food back then, could. “When we started selling frozen meat over the internet in 2014, you had to have someone super motivated for the benefits and very emotionally against normal meat production,” Sean said. He was right, and as time went on and more consumers become concerned about their health and the environment, the customer base swelled. Fast-forward to 2020—which has exposed the countless problems with the food supply chain, made climate change unignorable and empowered consumers to get closer to their food sources—The Honest Bison has grown 400% this year alone. “As this crisis has accelerated things, buying frozen meat over the internet is more popular now than last year,” Sean said. “We are riding that wave but also meeting the challenges that come along with a great change, some of which are exciting and some that are super scary.” Like many food businesses today, the Honest Bison is dealing with the shortage of cold-chain storage, newly reconfigured distribution networks and delivery snafus. Sean has had to hire more team members to handle the volume and all that comes with it. And with investors still hesitant to back regenerative agriculture endeavors, the company has managed with limited resources. Sean and Tera go on to discuss the rapidly changing food industry, where more innovation is needed, what it’ll take to continue revolutionizing the food industry and how it’s more important than ever to offer consumers good value and transparency. Tune in to hear their full fascinating, insightful conversation.
1 hr 37 min
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #76, Tera talks with Mike Costello and Amy Dawson, owners of Lost Creek Farm in Lost Creek, West Virginia. Although Mike officially holds the titles of chef and farmer while Amy is farm manager and baker, the duo does everything in tandem, from restoring the long-vacated family farmstead to sharing the rich cultural heritage of their Appalachian-inspired farm-to-table cuisine. Both Mike and Amy grew up on farms in West Virginia, but neither started their career in food. Mike initially wanted to be a chef but headed to journalism school instead, which taught him the value of place and storytelling. Amy earned a law degree. Eventually, their interests in food and farming were reignited, and when the opportunity arose in 2013 to purchase the property and reconstruct the farmhouse Amy’s great-great grandfather built in the 1880s, they jumped on it. So began a long, challenging but highly rewarding journey. For two years, Mike and Amy rented an apartment nearby while restoring the farmhouse and doing popup dinners and guest chef nights. They marketed their business as Lost Creek Farm from the start, knowing they’d eventually host formal dinners on the farm featuring ingredients grown and foraged onsite. Once their farm-to-table dinners got going, they went all in on elevating the unique ingredients, recipes and culinary traditions of Appalachia. Along with growing heirloom beans, corn, squash and other vegetables from seeds passed down for generations, their efforts include lots of historical research and collecting oral histories. Because to Mike and Amy, the stories behind ingredients and dishes, which illustrate people’s connection to place, are just as important as flavor. This is especially true given the widespread misconceptions about what Appalachian cuisine actually entails. As the years have gone by, Mike and Amy have built a solid business, attracting guests from all over the country to their farm-to-table dinners. The late Anthony Bourdain and his crew even spent a day dining, swapping stories and filming with them to be featured in one the final episodes of his TV show. But Lost Creek Farm also attracts a fair number of locals familiar with common Appalachian food narratives of shame and desperation. West Virginia's culinary traditions were largely born of necessity––that is, food people ate not because they wanted to, but because they had to. Rather than defining food by the shame of hard times, Lost Creek Farm offers proud narratives about innovative cooks who created complex, healthy dishes with extremely limited resources. Through culinary storytelling, Mike and Amy strive to change the way West Virginians see food as a source of place-based identity. Although they were geared up for a bustling 2020, COVID-19 forced Lost Creek Farm to cancel all dinners and other events for the year. Mike and Amy have stayed plenty busy, though, developing their education curriculum, planning the buildout of their commercial kitchen and classroom, and producing a long-form-narrative podcast, The Pickle Shelf Radio Hour. Lost Creek Farm’s success has proven that people are hungry for authentic, local experiences, flavors and culture. If anything, the pandemic has increased their appetite, which should bode well for this unique multifaceted business.
1 hr 12 min
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #75, Tera interviews Briana Warner, CEO of Atlantic Sea Farms, the nation’s first commercial seaweed farm, based in Saco, Maine. Since Briana took the reins in 2018, the company has developed a dynamic mission-based brand around promoting kelp consumption, diversifying the coastal economy and mitigating climate change. Although nutrient-rich kelp has gained popularity in recent years, Briana explained that 98% of it is grown in Asia, often in dirty water, then dried, imported and sometimes rehydrated and dyed. This includes seaweed salad from sushi restaurants and those seaweed snacks millennials love. Atlantic Sea Farms, on the other hand, is vertically integrated, providing the first U.S.-grown kelp products for foodservice and retail. The company started out cultivating its own seaweed in Maine’s cold, clean waters but needed a different strategy to scale. Now it contracts a couple dozen local lobster fishermen—who already had the boats, equipment and ocean know-how—to grow kelp on lines in the off-season. Atlantic Sea Farms provides the seeds and training, then, once the kelp is harvested, picks it up at the dock and drives it to its facility to flash-freeze or process immediately. The result is two frozen and three fermented SKUs for retail, plus a foodservice line. But this business is about much more than crafting nutritious, delicious, sustainable food. As Briana told Tera, the effects of climate change have hit coastal Maine hard, with carbon-driven ocean acidification decimating commercial fishing. The lobster industry has been spared for now, but catches are expected to decline as the ocean keeps changing. Therefore, by building up a market for kelp, Atlantic Sea Farms is helping fishermen to diversify their income now while honing a new skill that’ll keep netting them money if and when lobster collapses. Along with its economic-development mission, the company also confronts climate change head-on just by planting kelp. This seaweed sucks up carbon from the ocean, making local waters less acidic and benefitting the entire aquatic ecosystem. There’s a social justice piece too. Atlantic Sea Farms pays staff fair wages, supports a healthy work-life balance and gives its farmer partners buying guarantees. Briana admitted that this massive undertaking, with all its interconnected and moving parts, is a giant experiment. The company is learning every step of the way as it builds an entirely new industry and market in the U.S. The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t made things any easier. But Atlantic Sea Farms has pivoted where necessary, such as by fast-tracking its national retail launch earlier this year as its foodservice channel got trounced. Briana is grateful to have a solid slate of impact investors who are devoted to the mission and supportive of switching strategies. While it’s still too soon to tell how well the products will perform at retail, Briana believes the combo of award-winning flavors and clear environmental and social values will elevate Atlantic Sea Farms into a trusted, must-have brand. In doing well by doing good, she hopes to be a model for future kelp operations and other industries.
1 hr 12 min
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #74, Tera chats with Marie Raboin, co-founder with husband Matt of Brix Cider in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. Four years after launching a wholesale cider business and a year and a half after opening a taproom and farm-to-table restaurant, Marie explains how her company pivoted strategies in response to COVID-19. Before delving into the pandemic’s impacts, Marie shares their struggles securing a building for the taproom. Once Brix Cider found its home in downtown Mount Horeb, a village of about 7,500 residents southwest of Madison, the cidery opened in January 2019—smack in the middle of a polar vortex. The cold weather kept business slow through April, but by patio season, it was rocking. The community fell in love with the revolving menu of top-quality ciders, locally sourced farm-to-table eats, live music, and film screenings. By early 2020, Brix Cider had hit its stride. Then came COVID-19. Devastated but determined not to put staff and clientele at risk, Marie and Matt made the hard call to close on March 13, ahead of most restaurants in the county and before the governor issued his stay-at-home order. The next day, the couple thought long and hard about next steps. With about 25 farmers relying on their orders, they wanted to avoid cutting off their vendors’ revenue stream while also keeping their own lights on. Marie and Matt hatched a plan: They’d turn the taproom into a food hub to distribute their partnering farmers’ meat, dairy, produce, and other goods to the community. Matt built an e-commerce site, and within days, Brix was taking orders for weekly boxes, packing them onsite, and offering touchless curbside pickup or delivery within a 10-mile radius. Brix’s pandemic pivot was a success. Weekly orders kept increasing. Community members had easy access to super-fresh, sustainably produced foods. Farmers had an alternative sales channel to make up for the suspended Brix orders. The company even partnered with the Mount Horeb food pantry to give financially strained community members access to this high-quality food. As the quarantine restrictions eased up and the weather warmed, grocery orders slowed down. Midsummer, Brix reopened the taproom for outdoor cider sipping and dining. Along with maintaining weekly box orders, they also converted the indoor space into a co-op for the community to shop for locally produced groceries. Marie isn’t sure what will come next for Brix. Much of that depends on the virus, the safety measures businesses must follow, and consumer shopping and dining habits during the ongoing recession. Brix secured multiple government grants and loans to fuel operations, and Marie and Matt have a few game plans ready for winter to keep them afloat until the taproom business picks up again in the summer. But like most food companies today, they are facing many unknowns. For now, though, Brix Cider is getting by while maintaining its vendor relationships and building stronger ties to the community. This company proves that with innovation, collaboration, and a willingness to pivot, businesses can weather storms such as COVID and set themselves up for long-term success.
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #73, Tera chats with Leslie Cooperband and Wes Jarrell, Ph.D., co-founders of Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery in Champaign, Illinois. The Animal Welfare Approved farm and farmstead is home to an organic fruit orchard and more than 100 milking goats that graze and browse on a diverse landscape. They also make and sell goat cheese and gelato onsite and run a thriving agritourism business. Both soil scientists, Leslie and Wes left Madison, Wisconsin, in 2003 to pursue their dream of sustainable farming. They purchased seven acres of soybean and corn land in central Illinois and transformed it to organic fruit orchards, pastures and hay fields. Starting a goat farm and creamery from scratch was challenging, as Illinois doesn’t have the dairy culture or expertise that America’s Dairyland does. But the resourceful duo made it happen. They became the state’s first licensed farmstead dairy in 2005, beginning with just four goats and growing their herd as they expanded acreage. In 2008, Leslie and Wes added a commercial kitchen to the farm, plus a 15-acre grass-legume-forb pasture. And because goats are natural browsers that love choices, they restored one piece of land as prairie and turned another into a woody browse filled with silver maple, honeysuckle, honey locust, willow, poplar and a diverse understory. The property is a work in progress, but once finished, Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery will have close to 20 acres and 16 paddocks for the herd to rotate through. This is definitely not the easiest way to raise goats for dairy. But Leslie and Wes aren’t interested in easy. Their commitment to silvopasture, a type of agroforestry that intentionally integrates trees, pasture and rotationally grazing livestock, is rooted in doing what’s best for their animals, for the quality of milk they produce and for the planet. Along with giving the goats a nutritionally varied diet, this regenerative farming method helps enrich the soil, sequester carbon and prevent erosion. While other progressive farmers are adopting silvopasture, Leslie and Wes don’t know of anyone else doing it with goats. This is all an experiment. Over the coming years, they will monitor the soil health, track which tree and plant species the herd responds to and see how the landscape evolves. They are hoping their project attracts other researchers and entrepreneurs to join in. Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery practices total transparency in everything they do. That’s a big reason why they invite people onto their farm for tours, classes and farm-to-table dinners and to enjoy fresh-made cheese and gelato. The COVID-19 pandemic has halted the dinners and events for now, but the farm and creamery remain open and they still sell their products at farmers’ markets and wholesale. Tune into the full podcast to learn more about these silvopasture pioneers and how regenerative agriculture can yield business opportunities.
1 hr 3 min
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #72, Tera talks to Sadie Scheffer, founder and CEO of Bread SRSLY, a gluten-free, vegan sourdough bread company based in San Francisco. Sadie began experimenting with gluten-free sourdough recipes in her apartment back in 2011 in attempt to woo her gluten-intolerant crush. Her baking not only won Jesse’s heart—it also led to a successful wholesale and e-commerce business rooted in values. In the early days of Bread SRSLY, Sadie offered a rotating menu of sourdough flavors, along with muffins and cookies. But as the company grew organically, she realized her tasty gluten-free sourdough bread was the brand, so best to focus on that. Bread SRSLY moved through a series of production spaces and worked with a co-packer for a few years before landing in the certified-gluten-free, certified-vegan kitchen it holds today. To complement its strong wholesale business, the company began selling direct to consumer in 2014 and built a loyal customer base. Having an e-commerce infrastructure in place proved fortuitous for the COVID-19 era, which has shifted massive food dollars online. Pre-pandemic, Bread SRSLY’s business was 75% wholesale, 25% e-commerce. Now it’s 50-50. And yet, despite a huge spike in demand this spring, this values-aligned company put its employees’ well-being ahead of profit, actually dialing back capacity to ensure no shortcuts would be taken on safety. A response team was assembled to plan ahead for various scenarios that COVID-19 could trigger, such as what to do if an employee tested positive. Well, one did, so the company shut down operations for three weeks while the whole team quarantined, receiving pay the entire time. Because of the pre-planning and ongoing engagement with employees, Sadie says shutting down was a stress-free decision and the company is prepared to do it again if necessary. Over the last few years, Sadie has come into her own as a leader. Of all her CEO responsibilities, she most enjoys cultivating strong teams and empowering others with leadership roles. She has “flattened out” the organization as much as possible to make it less hierarchical, thereby boosting employee engagement. She is especially proud of her sales and marketing team, which, driven by values, recently requested that Bread SRSLY join the Stop Hate for Profit campaign and pull its ads from Facebook and Instagram. The team is also examining how to be more inclusive in its messaging to engage a broader audience, and the company is exploring how to accept EBT dollars online. As the pandemic drags on, Bread SRSLY is focused on cultivating its growing e-commerce channel, launching its first new product in five years and hopefully moving into a more cohesive kitchen space. But no matter what the future holds, this company, with its highly engaged team and unwavering commitment to values, is built to prosper.
1 hr 4 min
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #71, Tera talks to Adam Bent, co-founder and CEO of Scout Canning, a Toronto, Ontario-based craft cannery launched in December 2018. This impact-driven company is revolutionizing the North American canned seafood market by celebrating a variety of locally harvested species—not just tuna—and shortening the supply chain, both of which help protect fragile ocean ecosystems. To start, Tera and Adam discussed how the canned seafood market has seen almost no innovation over the last several decades. Canned tuna, in part because it’s so cheap, remains the most popular species consumed from a can—and the second-most consumed seafood overall, behind only shrimp. The problem, as Adam explained, is the fish is predominantly caught overseas, where the supply chain is murky, labor conditions are terrible and ocean health isn’t prioritized. In co-founding Scout Canning, he and Chef Charlotte Langley, a seafood specialist and chef ambassador for Marine Stewardship Council, aimed to do things entirely differently—with integrity, purpose and a focus on sustainability. They are on a mission to move more seafood to the center of the plate by proving that shelf-stable canned products can be just as delicious and nutritious as fresh and frozen. They present a variety of tasty species to broaden consumer palates beyond tuna, dressing them up in rich oils, herbs and seasonings. But what really differentiates this company is that instead of importing seafood or buying from commodity markets, Scout Canning sources directly from MSC-certified fisheries and aquaculture operations in North America, ensuring a traceable, sustainable supply chain. Through its engaging branding and top-quality products, Scout educates consumers on the issues plaguing our oceans and their connection to climate change. Like most every food brand, Scout Canning has been impacted by COVID-19. The products were set to launch at Natural Products Expo West, which didn’t happen, forcing a pivot in distribution and marketing strategy. The company still landed key retail partnerships but also put more muscle behind its e-commerce strategy than originally planned. This has worked out swimmingly so far, with consumers clamoring for the canned seafood and even asking for a subscription option. The pandemic has also benefited Scout Canning in unexpected ways. In the early days, when consumers feared food shortages and panic-purchased shelves empty, demand for shelf-stable foods like Scout’s skyrocketed. Also, in speaking to our shaken nation, respected media outlets, influencers and culinarians touted canned seafood’s immense value, shining the spotlight on this oft-overlooked category. Although his brand’s launch looked different than expected, because Scout Canning is still small and nimble, it could change course when necessary and find success. The company is starting important conversations around sustainability and already transforming the stale category it was founded to disrupt. These wins show that, with purpose, resiliency and flexibility, emerging brands can indeed make a major impact, even during the unsteady coronavirus era.
1 hr 2 min
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #70, Tera chats with Paul Evers, co-founder and CEO of Bend, Oregon-based Riff Cold Brewed , about the successful startup’s origin story, the power of a strong brand and upcycling a would-be waste ingredient into a crave-worthy craft beverage. Unlike most food and beverage entrepreneurs, Paul’s primary priority was to create a brand that really resonated with consumers; next, he decided which products to pursue. With a background in brand-building and creative services, and as co-founder of Crux Fermentation Project, a craft brewery in Bend, he was well-suited to take the emerging cold-brewed coffee category by storm. After assembling a skilled team of founders that includes a cold-brewed coffee pioneer, Nate Armburst, and his son, Bobby, Paul and Bobby embarked to Colombia to learn all about coffee production from small, independent growers and brewing techniques from local cafés. Their trip was transformative and informed both Riff’s product development and design of its Taproom—the brand’s epicenter of innovation and consumer connections. There, Riff tests out new beverage concoctions on visitors and uses their immediate feedback as R&D. The Colombia excursion also opened Paul’s eyes to something unexpected that has shifted the brand’s purpose and mission. He learned that after the coffee bean (which is really a seed) is separated from the surrounding fruity pulp, 70% of the coffee fruit is thrown to waste. However, the sweet-tasting pulp, called cascara, is far from worthless: It’s packed with nutrients and caffeine and can be transformed into delicious foods and beverages. But because there’s very little market demand for it currently, cascara winds up in waterways and landfills. Shocked by this practice and the lack of information about it, Riff sponsored a study, supervised by a senior climate change scientist at Oregon State University, to accurately estimate the magnitude of discarded cascara and its environmental impact. The researchers determined that 100 billion pounds of cascara goes to waste, generating up to 13 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Determined to do something about this issue—and simultaneously reduce the footprint of its coffee-making endeavors—Riff began turning cascara into a line of natural energy drinks dubbed Alter Ego (named for being coffee's lesser-known counterpart). The beverages were set to debut at Natural Products Expo West, where the brand would also participate as one of ten semifinalists in New Hope’s pitch slam, but the event was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. Alter Ego launched online and at retail in the Northwest this spring, and distribution is expanding quickly. With its eco-forward mission firmly entrenched, Riff joined 1% for the Planet and the Upcycled Food Association and is teaming with fellow cascara product producers to create a cascara trade association. While Paul didn’t start this journey with cascara or even necessarily cold-brewed coffee on the brain, his story is an inspirational example of what brands can achieve when they remain open to all possibilities.
47 min 9 sec
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #69, Tera interviews Brad Rostowfske, founder of Raise the BAR Innovation and director of industry growth at FaB Wisconsin, about the food and beverage supply chain before COVID-19, the current state of affairs and what it could look like post-pandemic. Brad has long recognized the fragility of the system and has been working toward making it more dynamic, interactive and sustainable so it can better absorb shocks like this global health crisis. As Tera and Brad discussed, several aspects of the food and beverage supply chain weren’t working well pre-pandemic. He noted that grocery stores had been losing $75 billion annually due to products not being on shelf, whether because of out-of-stocks, late shipments or incomplete orders. Manufacturers were losing $50 million. These losses stemmed from squeezes to freight capacity, slow turnaround times at warehouses, the not-yet-rectified disruption of e-commerce and a laundry list of other factors. Then COVID-19 happened. Suddenly, traditional sales channels were altered, consumer demands skyrocketed, food-buying behaviors shifted and gas prices dropped, exposing the existing cracks in the system and widening them into gaping holes. As a result, many food businesses are now struggling to source ingredients, stick a steady manufacturing schedule, get their products into distribution, get them onto retail shelves or any combination thereof. Meanwhile, consumers are left wondering why the pasta aisles are still so sparse several months into this mess. But before all this transpired, Brad, along with FaB Wisconsin, had been engaging with key manufacturers, retailers and other stakeholders to map out a macro supply chain and address the system’s many pain points. He noted that no single entity “owns” the supply chain, yet the old-school system is not very collaborative, causing unnecessary snags and inefficiencies for all. However, if multiple stakeholders up and down the chain worked together, goods could flow much more smoothly. And if there were more transparency and intercommunication throughout the system, those seeking out freight, warehouse, cold-chain or manufacturing capacity could actually find it. Simultaneously, those with excess capacity could fill it instead of wasting money. Unfortunately, the pandemic has slowed progress on this front, as everyone is focused on keeping their own businesses running. Even so, Brad hopes that lessons learned through this experience can feed into a reimagined supply chain, one that is much less tenuous and can more easily flex to accommodate upheaval. He and Tera compared this vision to power microgrids, in that certain fractions can function semi-independently if needed so a shock to one part of the system won’t totally derail the whole shebang. They also discussed how the pandemic has introduced new dynamics that will impact the supply chain long-term and therefore must be accounted for in future planning. For example, the sharp increase in online grocery shopping will likely hold, as will people working from home, which changes the channels through which they acquire food. And how will the economic recession impact consumer spending on food overall? These are all big questions without clear answers, but they make it abundantly clear that the time to reevaluate and re-envision the food and beverage supply chain is now.
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #68, Tera talks with Kate Flynn, cofounder and CEO of Sun & Swell Foods, a Certified B Corporation based in Santa Barbara, California that offers organic whole food grab-and-go snacks and pantry staples. They discuss the challenges and benefits of being a mission-based brand, self-manufacturing and shifting strategies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kate and her husband, Bryan, started Sun & Swell in 2017 to fill an unmet need for simple, nutritious grab-and-go snacks made with organic real-food ingredients. Just two years earlier, Kate had overhauled her diet, started eating clean and began feeling better than ever because of it. Frustrated by the lack of suitable snack foods on the market, she and Bryan took to creating their own and sharing them with friends, eventually landing wholesale accounts. Though Kate was initially dead set against continuing to self-manufacture, they struggled to find a fitting co-packer for their precise specs and small volume, so they continued handcrafting their products in rented commercial kitchen spaces. Though Kate felt great about providing consumers with healthy snacks, she was never quite comfortable with Sun & Swell’s contribution to the single-use plastics problem. A few years into the business, she learned that compostable packaging technology was available but little used, so the brand took a leap and transitioned to the eco-friendlier solution. They discovered that some of the challenges presented by compostable packaging made it hard to move product through traditional food distribution channels, but rather than abandon it altogether, they opted to limit sales to select channels of distribution, such as e-commerce and corporate offices. Even though this choice has complicated operations, Kate firmly believes that compostable packaging’s ecological advantages make it worth the hassle—and she acknowledges that self-manufacturing has enabled Sun & Swell, which now has its own facility, to go this route. Self-manufacturing has also proved fortuitous as the coronavirus pandemic has played out. When half of Sun & Swell’s wholesale business froze in March, the company was able to pivot more easily. Along with ramping up their existing e-commerce business, they revamped their product portfolio to deliver all of their snacks in pantry-size bags. They also begin selling their ingredients in bulk as a new product line of ‘pantry staples’. Thrilled with the success of the bulk business and the fact that it allows them to carry out their mission in a bigger way, Sun & Swell is now adding ingredients beyond those used in their snacks, sourcing directly from family farms. Although Kate wasn’t keen on continuing to self-manufacture in the beginning, she is grateful for the opportunities it affords Sun & Swell, especially in surviving the pandemic and setting themselves up to thrive in the future. Because as she and Tera discussed, nobody knows what the world will look like once the virus threat lessens or how this experience will change consumer shopping patterns long-term.
51 min 38 sec
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #67, Tera chats with Rachael Young, founder and CEO of YAYAYA, an Austin, Texas-based beverage startup centered around the caffeinated plant yaupon. They discuss the ups and downs of bringing such a unique product to market and scaling a beverage business, including the challenges of raising capital. An ethnobotanist and avid forager, Rachael discovered and fell in love with yaupon a few years ago. Native to a handful of southern states, the plant contains caffeine and is rich in the feel-good phytochemical theobromine. Native Americans used yaupon as a tea-like beverage, calling it “the drink of social wellness.” But once Europeans settled in the U.S., it all but vanished from consumer consciousness—expect among cattle ranchers and farmers in the South, who view the plant as a prolific, hard-to-eradicate nuisance. After researching brewing methods and tinkering in her kitchen, Rachael developed a delicious beverage that provides a “gentle uplift” as opposed to the jolt delivered by energy drinks. Confident that others too would love yaupon once they learned about and tried it, she launched Texana Tea at Central Market in May 2018—still foraging, brewing and bottling by hand. Aiming to expand beyond Texas, Rachael rebranded the company as YAYAYA and relaunched in May 2019. Scaling up has had its challenges. Rachael’s first experience with a copacker didn’t go smoothly, and she’s been told several times that the education curve for her product is too high and she’d need $100 million to really make work. Whole Foods Market picked up YAYAYA for its Southwest region, but the March 2020 launch into the chain landed right in the thick of the COVID-19 outbreak. Rachel was also slated to pitch at Natural Products Expo West, but the pandemic derailed that opportunity. Despite these setbacks, YAYAYA has sold well at Whole Foods, Central Market, convenience stores and other accounts, and Rachael remains as passionate, driven and excited as ever about bringing yaupon to the masses. Given consumers’ shifting shopping patterns amidst the pandemic, she’s also working on building e-commerce. Next, Tera and Rachael tackled the topic of raising capital and how it can be tricky to find investors whose vision aligns with a founder’s. Entrepreneurs in tech-heavy markets such as Austin also often find that the local investment community isn’t well versed in making money in food. And while there has been progress in investing in female founders, women still have a harder time raising than male entrepreneurs. Tera stressed the importance of financial literacy and knowing all available financing options as key to overcoming these barriers.
1 hr 13 min
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #66, Tera sits down with Matthew Starr, founder of Rally Energy, a caffeinated mint and cough lozenge brand based in Madison, Wisconsin. Matthew has strategically grown his online business from zero to about $10,000 per month in just a few short years, making him the perfect guest to offer guidance right now, as the COVID-19 pandemic is pushing many food entrepreneurs to step up their ecommerce game. To kick off the conversation, Matthew discussed why, after launching Rally Energy as a retail brand in 2014, he decided to push harder into direct-to-consumer in 2017, aiming to do 50% of the company’s sales online. As he explained, moving a portion of sales to this channel makes it easier to manage inventory and cash flow. That’s because online business can be dialed up or down in relation to retail to better accommodate a company’s needs. From the jump, Matthew set quantitative goals for Rally Energy, something that many less-data-minded food entrepreneurs hesitate to do. But tangible targets are incredibly important because they help companies build a financial plan and make smart decisions to stay on track. And now that the pandemic has upended “business as usual” for so many food brands, having those quantitative goals to reference can help companies figure out their next moves. Next, Matthew and Tera talked through how food businesses unfamiliar with ecommerce should go about it, both those just looking to launch a brand and those that had previously sold only at retail. The first order of business is to build a website, which allows entrepreneurs to have honest conversations with themselves about what the brand is, what they want it to be, how they’ll hit their goals and whether they truly have a brand or just a product at the moment. This exercise will likely reveal many question marks, which is perfectly OK, because it’ll help the entrepreneur know what they don’t know and should therefore explore. Once the company has its legs under it a bit more, it’s time to think about driving attention to its website, along with its listing on Amazon and other online marketplaces. Matthew and Tera discussed effective strategies for doing this in 2020, many of which have changed from the top techniques of 10 or even five years ago. As part of this, companies must really hone their branding and messaging, ensuring that they resonate with the core customer base and align with the conversations that influential voices in the space are having. This is an ongoing process that necessitates engaging with both potential and current customers to find out directly how a brand, message and product are landing. To wrap up, Matthew emphasized that to launch a brand online successfully and continue to grow sales, it takes time, dedication and solid strategy. This all may appear daunting at first, but it’s entirely achievable. Tune into the full podcast to get more in-depth guidance on how to win at ecommerce. Watch our Getting Your Food Products Online course for more information on this topic.
1 hr 33 min
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #65, Tera interviews Heidi Huntington, vice president of finance at AVL Growth Partners in Boulder, Colorado, which lends finance and operations expertise to rapidly growing small and midsize companies. Heidi works with food-industry clients on everything from cash-flow reporting and forecasting to revenue-growth planning to debt and equity strategy. Knowing finance isn’t most food entrepreneurs’ forte, Tera asked her onto the podcast to discuss financial strategies for building and scaling successful companies—both in normal times and amidst the upheaval caused by COVID-19. Heidi started by explaining the various finance-related roles within businesses, including chief financial officer, controller, accountant and bookkeeper. Although many early-stage companies aren’t ready to or can’t afford to fill every position full-time—or they’re based in a small town or rural area where it can be tough to find talent—they can seek outside help, such as AVL Growth Partners, to support these needs. Having a firm grip on finances is vital as businesses attempt to scale. Heidi helps companies fine-tune their baseline assumptions of revenue and growth trajectory by walking through their P&Ls and dissecting how, when and why cash flows in and out of the business. Oftentimes, companies have less cash on hand than they realize. Because even when products are selling, it can take months for that money to show up in their account, yet they must keep spending cash to manufacture products and fill orders. Heidi said these exercises are an eye-opener for many entrepreneurs and that they inform which types of distribution opportunities a company can actually handle at its current stage. They also reveal how much money the business really needs to raise from outside investors when the time comes. Knowing this number is crucial, because either raising too much or raising too little capital can come back to bite a growing food brand. Next, Tera and Heidi discussed some specific costs food companies have, which vary depending on distribution model. Brick-and-mortar, ecommerce via Amazon and ecommerce via a brand’s own website each have their own nuances and timelines for sales converting to cash. They also delved into the differences between debt and equity and discussed why debt, if acquired strategically, can actually be an asset, not a black mark, when courting outside capital. Finally, they talk about why businesses need an operating line of credit to help them weather downturns and unpredictable circumstances such as a global pandemic. No matter their level of financial savvy, food entrepreneurs will take away key insights from this podcast to help them stay on a healthy track now and in the future.
1 hr 16 min
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #64, Tera catches up with Bryce and Jen Riemer of Riemer Family Farm in Brodhead, Wisconsin, which Bryce’s grandfather started in 1927. The couple began taking over the midsize farm from Bryce’s father about 10 years ago, transitioning from grain-fed beef to grass-fed beef and other pastured proteins while implementing regenerative agriculture practices. Even though Bryce grew up on the farm, he and Jen, who’ve been together since college, didn’t initially plan on joining the family business. The couple lived in suburban Chicago, where Bryce was a high school guidance counselor and Jen worked part-time will raising their daughters. But once they started selling his dad’s beef to friends, it lit a spark, and they began thinking seriously about how they could make farming work for their family. Finally, they decided to go for it and moved back to Bryce’s childhood home. Although the couple had a deep respect for his father’s farming career, as early adopters of the Good Food Movement, Bryce and Jen wanted to change things up to better align with their values and conscious consumer preferences. But they knew they needed to do so gradually. So, over the next several years, they worked with the resources at hand, started building a client base, and learned as much as they could about regenerative agriculture. When it made sense, they instilled changes such as establishing pastures, transitioning the cowherd, and adding chickens, turkeys, lambs, and pigs. Eventually, Bryce and Jen began farming full-time, with their three daughters pitching in and a dedicated, passionate team helping to keep it all running smoothly. His parents live across the street and provide instrumental support for their family and the business. Bryce and Jen are incredibly grateful for their generosity and marvel at how different their journey would be if they didn’t have a multigenerational family farm. Nowadays, Riemer Family Farm’s grass-fed and pasture-raised proteins business is booming. They do a strong direct-to-consumer business, which is especially advantageous given the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, building this model out to allow home delivery during COVID-19 has grown their business 200%+. And while Bryce and Jen still feel like students, both have become leaders in regenerative agriculture, often sharing their knowledge with other farmers and interested consumers. They encourage people to come visit their beautiful pastures, which provide habitat for butterflies and migrating birds, and see firsthand how this type of farming is so beneficial for animals, people, and the planet. Bryce and Jen’s story provides inspiration for any entrepreneur who wants to start a food or farm business that personifies their core values while meeting a consumer need.
1 hr 25 min
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #63, Tera and consultant Bartlett Durand discuss the difficult financial realities facing so many food entrepreneurs right now, as the entire nation grapples with the COVID-19 crisis. Bartlett knows practiced law at a bankruptcy firm and shares how companies can protect their interests when dealt a major blow—such as a hypothetical global pandemic grinding sales to a halt. First thing’s first: All businesses should draw up a 13-week rolling cash flow forecast to see how much money will be coming in and from where, what bills need paying, expected sales for the next quarter, and so on. This will show how much cash is actually on hand, which will help companies gauge the health of their business currently, as well as their probability of pushing through the pandemic and its economic aftermath. Whenever a cashflow forecast reveals scary numbers, entrepreneurs may feel powerless, doomed and desperate. But as Bartlett pointed out, in the current situation, when most every business is pinched, food companies actually have a lot of leverage with which to negotiate and advocate for themselves. They should first talk to their creditors, their landlords—even their landlord’s creditors—to try to work out solutions. These entities have good reason to cooperate because doing so protects their interests as well. Companies should also brainstorm new ways to generate revenue during this time and reach out to as many customers as possible to try to make sales. Of course, after doing a 13-week rolling cash flow forecast, some businesses will realize they’re just not going to make it. In fact, closing up shop may have been a long time coming, but when entrepreneurs are so determined and emotionally invested, they don’t always see it. Now, however, with a global pandemic that’s beyond their control, business owners have a solid out. Bartlett insisted that if it makes the most sense, it is perfectly OK to exit now. Next, he demystified and destigmatized bankruptcy for small businesses, explaining how it all works and insisting that it’s not a moral failing—it’s simply a legal mechanism to help companies sort out their debt. For those opting to go this route, Bartlett said the first steps are to “start hoarding cash” and hire an attorney. Having a retainer with a lawyer enables entrepreneurs to set aside money to ensure they get proper representation, and if unused can help pay off debts later. Having an attorney also gives the company more leverage with banks. Plus, an attorney can help explain how companies prioritize who should get paid when, from landlords to lenders to vendors. These are just the highlights of Tera and Bartlett’s conversation, so be sure to devour the entire podcast. It’s packed with easily digestible information that can help all food and farm entrepreneurs navigate these challenging financial times.
1 hr 4 min
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #62, Tera talks with Ted LeBow, cofounder and managing principle of Kitchen Table Consultants, about how small food and farm businesses can stay afloat through the current COVID-19 crisis. Because Ted works one-on-one with entrepreneurs to help them build profitable food and ag enterprises, Tera felt he’d be the perfect guest to guide listeners during these unprecedented times. Overall, Ted stressed staying as calm as possible amid the madness and practicing open communication with team members and partnering businesses. As for what small companies should prioritize right now, first figure out where cashflow stands, then contact customers, vendors and banks, which may be understanding and flexible. Next, small businesses should plot out their cashflow forecasts on a spreadsheet to get a picture of what the coming weeks and months might look like. Look at expenses to see where it may be possible to free up some money. Ted suggested starting with labor, which could include layoffs or furloughs, then landlords, who may allow some wiggle room. As for suppliers, address those most vital to the business’s long-term survival first and try to work with them on a plan. When talking with banks, Ted said it’s best to be honest and transparent, as he and Tera both expect them to be friendlier to small businesses than they were during the Great Recession. Also consider government loan programs and other financing options sprung from this crisis. But before borrowing more money, closely evaluate the business to ensure it has a real shot at surviving—or else entrepreneurs could be just digging a deeper hole. Companies should also avoid pivoting too much to chase after sales during this chaotic time, unless they really want to stick with the new direction long-term. Next, Ted explained how to do cashflow forecasts and pointed listeners to Kitchen Table Consultants’ website for helpful templates and webinars. He and Tera also touched on the agriculture sector and how all of this financial advice and strategy pertains to farmers specifically. Finally, they agreed to circle back in a month to six weeks to revisit these topics again, since the business climate will undoubtedly keep changing as this pandemic plays out. Be sure to tune into that conversation, as well as other upcoming Edible-Alpha® podcasts that’ll outline smart strategies for businesses weathering this storm. We’re all in this together.
56 min 58 sec
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #61, Tera catches up with Sascha Dhanjal, founder and president of Saffi Foods based in Madison, Wisconsin. Launched in 2014, this innovative company provides premium oils and vinegars to top-flight restaurants and foodservice operations nationwide and to retail bulk departments regionally, with an eye toward growth. The child of two entrepreneurs, Sascha’s journey began when she moved to Chile after college to work for an olive oil farm. Like many foreign oil producers, this farm struggled to break into the U.S. market, which is saturated with counterfeit oils that have driven prices down unfairly. Already having made inroads in the U.S., Sascha launched Saffi Foods to sell authentic oils and vinegars imported from Chile, Spain and Mexico at fair prices. Tasting the difference between her products and others on the market, Michelin Star restaurants, James Beard Award-winning chefs and catering companies across the country signed on as customers. Next, Saffi Foods moved into retail bulk sections to offer consumers its source-verified oils and vinegars with less packaging waste. Though this recent venture has been successful, it wasn’t always easy to convince retailers to bring in the brand. Even though they loved the sustainability premise, many are tepid about bulk liquids in general, because it takes time and effort to keep the dispensers full, clean and presentable; plus, in the past, shoppers have been less enthused about liquids than they are dry bulk goods. But Saffi Foods developed a solution to overcome these hurdles: custom dispensers that are easy for retailers to maintain and for shoppers to use, along with refillable dishwasher-safe glass bottles consumers can purchase. Following a successful test-run with co-ops, the dispenser design is now being tweaked to maximize aesthetics and usability—and prepare Saffi Foods for expansion into larger retail markets. After discussing her company’s growth trajectory, Sascha shared a few key lessons she’s learned along the way, such as the importance of seeking outside help and understanding the cost realities of expansion. She and Tera also touched on the importance of dialing in marketing messaging, knowing your numbers (especially as a female approaching the male-dominated investment space) and balancing the rigors of entrepreneurship with family. Overall, this podcast is packed with inspiration and tips for entrepreneurs looking to shake up markets with their innovative food products.
1 hr 4 min
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #60, Tera catches up with consultant Alli Ball, creator of the Retail Ready online course and the Food Biz Wiz podcast. A former grocery buyer for Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco, Alli struck out on her own in 2014 to follow her true passion: helping producers get into retail. At Bi-Rite, Alli had the bandwidth to nurture emerging food brands, helping them hone their offerings to maximize sales. But as she and Tera discussed, most grocery buyers don’t have this much capacity. So when an entrepreneur pitches a product, they often hear a quick “no” and receive little if any constructive feedback. But this doesn’t necessarily mean the product is a dud. Oftentimes, entrepreneurs are rejected because they don’t know the proper way or time to pitch to buyers—or how to speak buyers’ unique language. This is where Alli comes in. She coaches producers on how grocery buyers think, how to pitch effectively and how to boost their wholesale business. Along with one-on-one consultations, she offers her 12-module Retail Ready online course, which covers everything from identifying target audiences to crafting effective sell sheets to working with brokers and distributors. Students move through the course material at their own pace while also participating in biweekly live group chats with Alli. For additional support, current students and Retail Ready graduates join a Facebook group, where they can network, post questions and solve problems together. Then if brands wish to continue working with Alli one-on-one after completing Retail Ready, they have that opportunity. She also hosts the weekly Food Biz Wiz podcast, which delves into common challenges her students encounter and sometimes features PR experts, brokers, financial gurus and other industry stakeholders. Recently, Alli launched the Food Biz Wiz Quarterly Planner to help food companies set and achieve their business goals. To date, some 250 brands have taken Retail Ready and there are numerous success stories. But as Alli pointed out, she gives producers the tools to succeed at retail, but they have to do the work. Those who’ve really dug into the program and taken action are the ones that land on store shelves—and fly off of them. A whole lot goes in to getting new food products “retail ready,” and entrepreneurs often don’t know what they don’t know. Tapping into resources like Alli’s can make the difference between an awesome product that never reaches consumers and an awesome product that people love and purchase again and again.
1 hr 12 min
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #59, Tera talks with Dale and Pam Johnson, owners of Century Sun Oil in Pulaski, Wisconsin. They produce high-oleic organic sunflower oil on a farm Dale’s family has owned since 1882, selling at retail and in bulk to other industries. A longtime dairy farmer, Dale switched his acreage to organic in the mid-1990s, sold off his cows and began growing vegetables. But when big corporations bought up the local canneries, he and many other independent farmers lost their contracts. Plus, a new four-lane road had been built through his property, slicing one 80-acre field into 11 sections and making large-scale vegetable production difficult. So Dale got innovative. First, he grew organic vegetables on a smaller scale, sold them at his own farm market and converted some underused barn space into a processing facility. Next, he moved into hay, corn and soybeans, then decided to give organic sunflowers a shot. But unlike most sunflowers, the type Dale chose to grow aren’t high in omega-6 fatty acids. These seeds are chockfull of heart-healthy omega-9s, and with cold-pressing and double-filtering, they yield a rich-hued, shelf-stable unrefined cooking oil. Around this time, Pam moved to Wisconsin and joined the business. The couple tested the sunflower concept for about three years before officially launching Century Sun Oil in 2009. They found success selling at farmers’ markets and a few stores, eventually getting picked up by a distributor. In time, they stopped growing sunflowers altogether, opting instead to buy them from a handful of organic farmers so they could focus on making oil. Along with selling to consumers, Century Sun Oil has built a substantial bulk business catering to restaurants, foodservice operations and the cosmetics industry. The excess meal from processing gets sold as feed for cows, chickens and hogs. Century Sun Oil is an awesome example of ongoing evolution and innovation in organic agriculture. When a crop or farming system no longer works, market dynamics shift, landscape changes or unexpected channels emerge, farmers can research, recharge and refocus in new directions.
58 min 53 sec
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #58, Tera speaks with Paul Scharfman, president of Specialty Cheese Company in Reeseville, Wisconsin, known for its Hispanic and other ethnic cheeses. Since purchasing five small cheese factories in 1991, Paul has grown the business exponentially, increasing sales annually and employing 250 workers. Three decades ago, queso fresco, asadero and cotija cheeses weren’t obvious choices for cheesemakers, but Paul knew demand for these varieties was growing. Food scientists helped his team hone their Hispanic cheesemaking chops, and soon they were turning Wisconsin cow’s milk into in-demand ethnic cheeses. But in the meantime, Dodge County was losing residents to urban centers and small dairy farms were dwindling. Then when Reeseville High School closed, it decimated the town and sunk the community’s spirit. Specialty Cheese purchased the vacant school and transformed it into a modern processing and packaging facility, which fueled growth and necessitated hiring more and more workers. But in a town of less than 700 people—and with recent unemployment rates so low—attracting candidates proved challenging. Inspired by their empathy-driven “soft management” training, the management team began looking for workers who’d been unemployed. Many businesses would steer clear of these folks, assuming they were flawed or unwilling to work. But the truth was many Dodge County residents couldn’t work due to lack of child care, elder care or transportation. To solve the transportation issue, Specialty Cheese launched a rideshare program called Getting to Work. The company hires drivers to ferry employees from all over Dodge County and beyond to and from the Reeseville facility 24/7 for a small fee. Today, about 75 employees use this service, and a new childcare program is in development to allow even more people to work. Specialty Cheese also sponsors an annual art and music festival, which Paul hopes will attract young professionals to the area. Next, Paul and Tera discussed the untapped business opportunities in rural areas nationwide and how seizing upon them can revive communities both economically and culturally. Rural regions have plenty of land fit for agriculture, and since consumers today want to know who makes their food, small farmers and artisan food makers have a hungry market—which they can now access directly through ecommerce. Using sites like Amazon, entrepreneurs can bypass distributors and retailers and build “multimillion-dollar businesses based in rural nowheresville,” Paul said. America might be shocked to learn how many untapped food and agriculture business opportunities await in rural areas. Forward-thinking farmers and artisan food makers can start something special—and lucrative—from anywhere and, in turn, help revitalize their communities.
56 min 15 sec
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #57, Tera speaks with Abby and David Bachhuber from Lovefood Farm, a small, profitable, diversified organic vegetable farm in the Madison, WI area. Before starting their own farm, Abby had previous experience in the small family farm industry including her work at the Dairy Business Innovation Center and David worked as a project manager for 12 years at a neuroscience and psychology research lab: the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. A professional project manager, David got the “bug” for farming around the time the couple met. After growing things in every square foot of conceivable space in their yard, and absorbing the lessons that come with hands-on growing, they decided to pursue farming as a profession and build it into a profitable business. Abby and David started farming one acre of rented land with a two-wheel BCS tractor and sold their vegetables through a small CSA, a farmers market and a farmstand outside their home. David worked with The Center for Healthy Minds to reduce his hours in the summer so that he could farm part-time while still keeping his University position, though he worked 100 hours a week to keep up with everything before switching to farming full time. As lifelong learners committed to the success of their new farm, they participated in workshops at the Angelic Organics Learning Center (including a “loving brutality” in helping them assess the viability of their business), mentorship with the late Chris Blanchard and education through MOSES’s mentor program. David switched to farming full time after their second year of operation. Abby had residual grant income coming in from past grants she had written which the farm has now replaced as a source of income. She has since gotten another full-time job with benefits to support the family though plans to join the farm in the future at the right time. After they could no longer rent their original one acre, they farmed at the Farley Center’s incubator program for two and half years. Finally, they bought their own 30 acres of farmland (with 5 acres currently in production) with the financial support of David’s mother and a land contract agreement. Their farm is the former site of the City of Stoughton’s compost operation, essentially a “black slate”, which allowed them to certify their crops as organic from the very beginning. They are now working on adding essential infrastructure, like hoop houses and a pack shed, with plans to build a greenhouse. Their current mix of distribution includes 3 farmers markets, 4 grocery stores, 100 family CSA members and between 5 and 20 restaurants in a given week, with a farmer friend providing distribution to local restaurants. Over the summer, Lovefood Farm scaled up to 8 part-time employees in response to David’s mentor’s recommendation to hire as a means to prevent their own personal burnout during the busy season. In the future, David and Abby expect to reap the benefits of their most recent round of perennial herbs, expand to medicinal herbs (both dried and fresh) and increase their restaurant distribution. In the podcast, Lovefood and Tera also reflect on the challenges faced by farmers due to climate change and the entrepreneurial problem solving needed to survive variability in current weather patterns and the marketplace. Abby commented that they are constantly revisiting their “yes” to farming to evaluate if it makes sense to continue. They plan to grow their farm and its sales in the coming years to further support their family. Note: This podcast was recorded in the late Summer of 2019.
1 hr 7 min
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #56, Tera speaks with Mary Ann Bellazzini from Campo Di Bella winery, farm and farm-to-table restaurant. Campo Di Bella is a diversified agritourism operation, rooted in the Bellazzini’s Italian heritage and located on 20 acres of rolling hills in South Central Wisconsin. Owner Background When Mary Ann Bellazzini and her family moved to Wisconsin, they didn’t plan to be farmers. She and her husband grew up in first generation Italian families and they knew food. Their journey started with a large garden on their five-acre property. Encouragement from friends first led the couple to selling their excess vegetables at the local farmers market. Next, they launched a CSA, and later they purchased a farm four times the size of their original property. Their agritourism business grew from there. Winery The Bellanzzinis purchased their 20-acre farm in 2008, and they added 265 grapevines. Growing grapes for use in wine production is a challenge in Wisconsin’s climate. Delays due to various weather and farm issues meant they didn’t harvest their first grapes until 2014; however, the couple created one variety of wine from this harvest and it sold out. In 2017, when their batch of wine failed because of an extremely cold winter and damp spring, they experimented with making cold-hardy, traditional red wine vinegar. With support from state grant funding, these first vinegars will be available in winter 2019. Campo Di Bella attempted to produce a rosé in 2018. With feedback from local mentor Philippe Coquard of Wollersheim Winery, they determined that though their rosé was a good dry wine, it was not appropriate for the Wisconsin market. In another example of “making lemons out of lemonade,” they turned this rosé into vermouth using brandy from Michigan and spices from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They currently maintain just shy of an acre of grapes and release one variety of wine per year, which they sell at their restaurant alongside other wines. Farm to Table Restaurant + Farm Stay In 2013, Mary Ann and her husband tested their restaurant concept in various offsite locations. One year later, they decided to build the infrastructure to host dinners on their own land. They incorporated a wine cellar in the basement and used the main floor for dinner service and tastings. In fall of 2014, they piloted Saturday farm-to-table dinners with wine sales on the premises. In 2015, they opened the restaurant full time on the weekends; the weekend menu includes a three-course Friday cenetta dinner for $35–$45 and a five-course Saturday farm-to-table dinner for $55-$65. Guests come from as far away as Chicago and Minneapolis for their high-quality meals and treat the farm as a destination that delivers a unique dining experience. In 2018, they turned the second floor of the restaurant building into an AirBnB suite. Campo Di Bella is a great example of a farm embracing the entrepreneurial spirit and pivoting their business model to adapt to both emerging market and environmental conditions. Mary Ann is excited to see her kids, and kids of other farm entrepreneurs, start to envision their own unique paths for keeping the family farm viable for future generations. To learn more about Campo Di Bella or to book a dinner, visit: https://www.campodibella.com/
52 min 5 sec
Franchisers make money through initial franchise fee for setup costs, controlling product sales (by buying product, then selling to the stores after marking it up), and royalties, which come off of top line sales of the franchised business in return for the support and process development of the franchiser. This is often the biggest source of income for franchisers.
51 min 10 sec
SAGE contributes to the food system by helping elevate the data around the impact of food and agriculture in a way that helps people understand the connections between this sector and the rest of society and the economy.
58 min 33 sec
Kitchen Sync gets different people at the table – including the private sector – using the right language to invite everyone in to a problem solving and solutions-based session that meets their values and needs, rather than trying to change minds about those fundamental concepts. In bringing those people to the table, they are also better able to visualize and communicate the multitude of actors it will take to improve the food system for the long term.
1 hr 1 min
The heart of Kitchen Table Consultants' work is one-on-one coaching with food and farm clients, but as their work has grown they have started helping other organizations provide better technical assistance. Rather than just make plans or recommendations for clients, it is critically important to their firm’s mission and values that they “roll up their sleeves” alongside the clients to help them implement their recommendations.
1 hr 3 min