Creating Community

Last night, I was at a charity dinner. My wife is on the board of Angelic Organics. We have been interested in the farm to table movement for a long time. We support it in different ways. We buy a CSA from them.  It’s really good.  I love what SloFig is doing in Chicago as well.

They honored chef Rick Bayless. I loved what he had to say. Mr. Bayless has done a lot to support the farm to table movement via his restaurants.  By the way, he has an obsession with kohlrabi these days.

His “Aha” moment was one cold day when a farmer brought him some spinach. He tasted the spinach, and said it was extremely sweet. He asked the farmer, “How did you grow this?” The farmer replied, “I put it in a hoop house and at night it freezes a little which enhances the sweetness.” Bayless said, “I want to buy all the spinach, don’t tell another restaurant about it. Plant more.” The farmer didn’t have the money to plant more because he couldn’t afford another hoop house. Bayless financed it interest free.

He craved local product for his restaurant and farmers weren’t around. So, he created it.  I can attest to this from personal experience.  A guy I traded with, Andy Crawford and his wife Jaynie, had a lamb farm in Wisconsin.  Frontera Grille put it on the menu, and credited them as far back as 1997.  Alas, Jaynie has passed away and they had to sell all their sheep but it was amazing lamb.

Bayless says that the farmer’s markets that have cropped up all over America are “community”. He said, “When you go and you share recipes or tips and get into exchanges with other people, you are creating community.” I found that comment highly interesting. The only VC investment I have seen that replicates that is USV’s investment into La Ruche Qui Dit Oui.

Bayless hosts a charity dinner for his foundation.  It’s one night.  On that night they raise enough money to fund the foundation for the year.  All the board members donate their time.  All the chefs that cook do it unpaid.  All the restaurant employees that work that night do it for free.  All the food is donated by Bayless himself.  All the employees of his foundation are unpaid.  Virtually 100% of the money goes straight to the farmer.  Bayless started this when he found out how much a $10,000 grant to a farmer meant.

I understand factory farming.  There is a place for it.  But, at the same time the way the subsidies, rules and regulations are written out in Washington, it makes it extremely tough for a small family farmer to make a living.  It’s hard to innovate.  For example, try and set up a mobile slaughter operation with on demand slaughter hooked up via smartphone network.  Impossibly expensive-the technology is easy and cheap.

Creating networks and community is pretty hard.  A lot of times, people try to get in and streamline it.  Community is messy.  It has to be tolerant.  It has to flow, amoeba like.  Once you get the flow going, community can be a force of nature and create things much bigger than you thought.  In many cases, creating community makes people uncomfortable because in order to have them operate well, they need to be transparent.

It was an interesting evening.  Next year, I hope you can be a part of it.  In the meantime, if you want to “Take Action”, here is a way to do it.

  • awaldstein

    Huge fan of green markets. Are they in effect a community, not in my opinion.

    • Bayless made the case for that because a lot of sharing went on-and as soon as there is sharing there is community. I am a fan too, although there is a lot of price fixing that seems to go on which I am not a fan of! Would be fun to go to NYC, shop with you cook a dinner and do a bottle of wine!

      • awaldstein

        Agree–we are friends and food and wine brings people even closer.

        Loose definition of a community but no use cutting hairs.

        Enjoy!