Fair Food Network’s Good Food Social Enterprise Lab
In March of 2010, Fair Food Network (FFN) gathered key information from recognized leaders in the field of community food systems with the goal of using the knowledge to help inform potential investment in the field. The information FFN sought from these leaders concerned the innovative programs and business activities that are currently being considered and implemented and the resources needed to bring these innovations to scale.
One important aspect about this gathering was that these leaders are ethnically diverse, hail from both rural and urban areas around the country, and engage in a wide range of activities (from a community grocery store to farming, distribution, agricultural business incubation, community organizing, and providing healthy, prepared meals to school children and seniors). The group identified the following areas of innovation:
- Market-based solutions, such as business incubators and resource-sharing opportunities to support entrepreneurs in agriculture, processing, distribution, and value-added product production;
- Nonprofits engaging in for-profit ventures to increase earned income and decrease dependency on private philanthropy;
- Engaging youth in “movement- building” to mobilize constituents for systemic change from the community level up to the realm of public policy.
In October of that year, FFN partnered with the Wallace Center at Winrock International and Zingerman’s Community of Businesses to offer a unique learning opportunity for 35 community food practitioners from Detroit and around the country. The laboratory studied Zingerman’s Community of Businesses as one example of a social enterprise. Topics covered and facilitated by Zingerman’s staff included customer service and open book finance, and participants attended a Zingerman’s partner meeting where ideas for new businesses and product lines were vetted. The group was also treated to exclusive tours of the deli, bakery, and creamery. The Ann Arbor portion of the lab was followed by tours of Detroit urban agriculture sites and a panel discussion on access to capital that included panelists from New Foundry Ventures in San Francisco, Enterprise Detroit (formerly Shore Bank Enterprise), and the MSU Product Center.
Since 2010 the GFSEL has continued to support good food businesses in a variety of ways. FoodLab Detroit is a network of triple-bottom line Detroit food entrepreneurs. Through GFSEL, FFN has financially supported the FoodLab Business Bootcamp since its inception in 2012. Other ways in which FFN has supported Detroit businesses include a learning journey to Cleveland to explore the city’s community kitchen network, scholarships to attend the BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) national conference, and scholarships for entrepreneurs to attend a course offered by the MSU Product Center on Acidified Foods and a HAACP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) course.
GFSEL' 2012 Learning Journey to
Burton Bell Carr Development Corporation in Cleveland
Spotlight on Beau Bien Fine Foods
One company in particular that has benefited from GFSEL offerings is Beau Bien Fine Foods, a Detroit-based jam-jelly-condiment company that was founded in 2010 by Molly O’Meara and Noelle Lothamer. The duo started with jam because it is shelf stable and was included under the state’s cottage food law – but neither of the co-founders had ever made jam before. The “jam appeal” was its flexibility, which allowed the founders to be creative and explore different flavor combinations.
Molly O'Meara & Noelle Lothamer of Beau Bien Fine Foods
Beau Bien’s production takes place at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra catering kitchen, a relationship that was cultivated through FoodLab Detroit. Production volume is 80-100 jars/week with 12-15 varieties. The products are sold at specialty stores – Ye Olde Butcher Shoppe, Nest, the new Detroit Whole Foods, Great Lakes Coffee, and Western Market in Ferndale. They also have limited distribution in Lansing and Kalamazoo specialty stores.
Beau Bien is a member of FoodLab and credits the network with providing exposure to other entrepreneurs through the local Food for Thought discussions and other gatherings. Attending the HAACP and acidified foods courses with scholarships from Fair Food Network helped them think about expanding their product line and get their products into stores such as Whole Foods.
Molly and Noelle advise other small business owners to build relationships and alliances with other small entrepreneurs, keep an open mind about your product(s), and listen to feedback. Most importantly, they say to expect growing pains.
What’s Next for GFSEL?
Future plans for GFSEL include a city-wide Good Food Enterprise Fair on June 19. The Fair will be an open house for food entrepreneurs to visit a variety of business support resources under one roof. Featured programs will be the Fair Food Fund Detroit, COLORS Co-op Academy, and others. Detroit entrepreneurs will also have another opportunity to take a learning journey this fall to experience food enterprises in another city. For more information on the Fair and the fall learning journey, contact Myra Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org.