Commitment to Your Business Values

Before getting off the ground, every business venture should consider, prioritize, and write down a set of values with which to align their business goals.

| July 2016

A quality food-based business has the ability to provide solutions to our nation’s numerous social and environmental issues. However, entrepreneurs of such ventures have a significant lack of access to the funds they need to get off the ground, let alone grow. Written primarily for people managing socially responsible food businesses, Raising Dough (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2013) by Elizabeth Ü is a guidebook to resources, strategies, and lessons that will benefit any entrepreneur and their supporters, investors, and partners. Ü is a social finance expert, and her descriptions of case studies and personal experience will lead readers through the many stages of a new business, from choosing an ownership model to understanding funding sources like loans, grants, and even crowdfunding. This book is an irreplaceable guide to sustainable finance, and it lays out the tools and planning required to help your small, food-based business launch and thrive.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Raising Dough.

Clarifying Your Values

In 2007 Katie McCaskey and her boyfriend, Brian Wiedemann, moved from New York City to the small town of Staunton, Virginia, where Katie had grown up. One night they realized they needed feta cheese for the recipe they were preparing for dinner. Whereas they would have had no problem finding feta in New York City, there were no grocery stores left within walking distance of their home in Staunton. When Katie happened to mention her feta-free dinner experience to the owner of her local coffee shop, she learned that a man named George Bowers had operated a grocery store in the very same building around the turn of the twentieth century. “Wouldn’t it be great to have a grocery store in the neighborhood again?” Katie mused.

A few weeks later the coffee shop owner told Katie that he and his wife had decided to reopen the grocery store in the location next to their shop. They had already invested a significant amount of money into the business; would Katie and Brian like to join them as minority partners? “These people were fun, enthusiastic, and nice! It sounded like they had great experience, connections in the community, and connections to local farmers,” Katie recalls. “Personality-wise, it seemed like a really good fit. They were talking about all the things that we cared about: community, neighborhood, local food.” She and Brian liked the idea of being able to invest in the community while also helping create the kind of neighborhood store that they themselves would like to spend time in — one that would carry both local products and gourmet “essentials,” including feta cheese.

Katie and Brian invested $20,000 of their own funds, which gave them a minority ownership stake in the business. In 2008 the George Bowers Grocery Store received the first microloan from the newly established Staunton Creative Community Fund, a grand total of $5,000. “This was a small percent of the overall cost of renovating the 130-year-old building and buying inventory for the store,” Katie says, “but we weren’t going to say no! Fortunately, we were also able to get a $17,000 line of credit from a community bank.” The two couples opened the new grocery store at the end of 2008, much to the delight of the community.

Within a few months, however, the business partnership began to sour. Katie and Brian found themselves shouldering the bulk of the daily work of operating the store, and their partners — who were going through a divorce — were less and less available to share the workload. In addition to differences over appropriate work ethics, the couples found themselves at odds over the procurement standards for the store’s inventory, despite the fact that they had seemed to agree that purchasing local food was a major priority. “One day, one of our partners came back with a load of cheese from Costco. I was shocked. I asked, ‘Why did you do that? This isn’t local at all,’ and the response was, ‘Well, it’s from our local Costco.’ It was agonizing! We clearly didn’t share the same values around what ‘local’ means.”

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