I began working with organic growing back in the 80′s, working at an organic farm in Virginia. The purpose of raising the food organically was to provide healthful, beneficial, clean food to the neighbors, while not only protecting, but actively building the soil quality for future harvests, as well as preserving the water and air quality and the health of the farmers.
Fast forward thirty years. I’m no longer farming, and didn’t even plant a garden during this busy year. Instead, as a small specialty food producer, I am in Vermont crafting a company, a product line, a brand, a movement. Yet still most of my thought goes into the food I make and its nourishment value to the friends and neighbors who enjoy eating my sweet potato products.
Most of my business advisors encourage me to have an “exit strategy”. In entrepreneurship, that means essentially, “How are you going to sell the business when you don’t want to run it any more?”
The options typically include: hand it down to your kids, sell to the employees, sell to an individual buyer, sell to a venture capital firm, or sell to a mega-corporation. Success at the latter looks like this.
The dream of many of my colleagues is to sell out big, for that $10 or $15 million that will set them, their children, and maybe their children’s children up for life. (Don’t worry, there is no one trying to buy Yummy Yammy! Yet.) Given that I’ve spent my whole adult life working for nonprofit salaries, I get the allure. So what happens for me if I sell out eventually to, say, Muir Glen, (owned by General Mills)? Obviously, the cool things: kids get orthodontia, we pay off the mortgage, take a vacation, kids can go to college. I have time to garden. Sounds good. Financially, selling gradually to staff, or your kids, or even a single investor, can hardly compare. And, I assure you, after ten or fifteen years of building a food company, a permanent, sweet vacation can sound irresistible to even the hippiest of us.
Surely in that scenario I would worry about what happens to the quality of the food, the company culture, the employees’ security. But much more importantly, what happens when almost all natural/organic/artisinal foods are shepherded by corporate giants? What massive, subtle changes happen to the food industry, and our entire culture? Here’s a short video of the founder of Eden Foods describing the massive, subtle shifts happening in organic standards because of corporate control, for example. Unacceptable.
I can’t help it, I’m a dreamer.
What if something else existed … something that could buy us all out, once we’ve proven success and exhausted ourselves? What if it were something beneficial, something designed to benefit health, soil, people, air, water, education, well being, through the profits that now go to ConAgra and PepsiCo?
I don’t know the answer. But I’ve started dreaming. What can you imagine? What massive, subtle shift can we all create, together?
Lisa Johnson, Y’Ambassador, Yummy Yammy