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Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., is well known as a hub for entrepreneurship. So the school was the logical place to help start-ups offering farmers distribution services, marketing, and the like learn how to grow their business. A training was held at Babson at the end of December, and the New York Times covered it.

Stephanie Strom writes, “In spite of the surging demand for locally and regionally grown foods over the last few years, there is a chasm separating small and midsize farmers from their local markets.

“But a growing number of small businesses are springing up to provide local farmers and their customers with marketing, transportation, logistics and other services, like the Fresh Connection, a trucking business providing services to help farms around New York City make deliveries. …

“The Fair Food Network, a nonprofit organized to improve access to better food, recently held a second ‘business boot camp’ in Wellesley, Mass., for tiny companies working to increase ties between communities and local farmers, which culminated in a contest to win some $10,000. …

“For farmers selling products to a number of customers, there are so-called food hubs like Red Tomato, which connects its network of farms to existing wholesale distribution systems to make deliveries of locally grown fruits and vegetables to groceries, produce distributors, restaurants and schools in the Northeast. …

“Not all ways of improving consumer access to local and regional farm production involve distribution, however. Blue Ox Malthouse, for instance, is making malt from barley grown in Maine as a cover crop. Normally, farmers plow barley under or sell it cheaply for animal feed.  Blue Ox has given them a new and more lucrative market, though, buying up barley and turning it into malt in hopes of selling it to Maine’s thriving craft beer businesses. …

“It’s good for the farmers, who get a better price for a product they often just plowed under, and it’s good for the craft beer business, where brewers are always looking for points of distinction,” [founder Joel] Alex said.”

Read about some other great services for small farms here.

Photo: Michael Appleton for The New York Times
Mark Jaffe of the Fresh Connection picks up fresh eggs from a farmer’s stand in Union Square, Manhattan. He will make deliveries to restaurants and groceries.

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There’s a new think tank at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, one that’s focused on food access.

Food access, food “deserts,” and sustainable agriculture are big issues these days, and Food Sol founder Rachel Greenberger believes that addressing the challenges must involve bringing together all the stakeholders, even agribusiness.

Greenberger refers to her strategy as the “uncommon table,” writes Kathleen Pierce in the Boston Globe. “Located at Babson’s Social Innovation Lab, the company seeks to identify how so-called food deserts — geographical areas without access to a grocery store or fresh food — are formed, and how to make healthy food sustainable for all. …

“Greenberger, a 33-year-old Babson MBA graduate who studied food-system dynamics and consumer behavior in the sustainable food movement, came up with the concept for a company similar to a think tank, but centered on action. By creating a digital map to pinpoint food-related issues, Food Sol intends to highlight pressing topics such as food deserts and fair trade, linking experts in the field with would-be entrepreneurs to ignite working relationships. …

“Food Sol intends to foster ‘a way into thinking about innovation in the food-supply chain, whether it’s creating more cooperatives or building agribusiness in Fall River,’ says Cheryl Kiser [executive director of Babson’s innovation lab]. ‘We are a laboratory where people can come and engage in conversation.’ ”

The theory is that companies will pay to engage in a food think tank like this. In fact, Kiser hopes to involve Cargill Inc., Monsanto Co. , PepsiCo , the Coca-Cola Co., and more. Read more here.

The mention of entrepreneurs who might address food issues is reminding me of two young women who recently launched shipping-container grocery stores in food deserts. Read about that in this NY Times article.

“Carrie Ferrence, 33, and Jacqueline Gjurgevich, 32, were in business school at Bainbridge Graduate Institute in Washington State when they noticed that many local neighborhoods were ‘food deserts,’ without easy access to fresh local produce and other grocery staples.

“Their answer was StockBox Grocers, a company that repurposes old shipping containers as small grocery stores. The company won $12,500 in a local business plan competition and raised more than $20,000 online in a Kickstarter campaign to finance its first store, which opened in the Delridge neighborhood of Seattle in September.”

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