Community Support for Local Business

Community-supported business models provide an opportunity not only to raise local awareness for your venture, but also to generate revenue for your products from subscribers who trust you.

| July 2016

  • A wide range of food ventures can reap the benefits of offering prepaid subscriptions by returning up-front investments with their chosen products.
    Photo by Fotolia/Pathathai Chungyam
  • “Raising Dough: The Complete Guide to Financing a Socially Responsible Food Business” by Elizabeth Ü
    Photo courtesy of Chelsea Green Publishing

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.

Community-Supported Models

You are probably familiar with some form of community-supported agriculture, or CSA. The earliest CSAs in the United States were based on models already popular in Europe and Japan. In these traditions, farmers and a community of eaters add up the farmers’ total costs of living for one year, including operating the farm itself, and divide that by the number of members who commit to being part of the community. Each member pays a share of the farm’s costs, usually in advance of the growing season, and receives a share of the farm’s produce every week. In true CSAs the farmers have no other source of income outside of the cost shares contributed by the association of CSA members.

These days CSAs like those just described are rare. When most people think of CSA, they think of prepaid subscriptions for weekly boxes of produce. And the benefits of this model are no longer limited to fruit and vegetables. A wide range of food ventures can reap the benefits of offering prepaid subscriptions, in which the return on investment up front takes the form of products, usually of the producer’s choosing. There are also community-supported bakeries, dairies, restaurants, and other types of food businesses that raise money by selling gift certificates or other forms of stored value that customers can redeem for their choice of products later on. This chapter covers these forms of community-supported financing.

Cape Ann Fresh Catch: A Community-Supported Fishery

The city of Gloucester, Massachusetts, is the oldest settled fishing port in the United States and home to a community-supported fishery (CSF) program. In 2008, the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA) brought local fisherpeople and other concerned citizens of this coastal town together to start thinking about a way to preserve the working waterfront and its fishing infrastructure, which was under threat from development pressure. That same year NAMA also started the Fish Locally Collaborative, bringing together a diverse set of stakeholders representing fisherpeople, local fishing families, seafood consumers/users, local community-focused marine and social scientists, and other fisheries advocates with a clear mission: the recovery and maintenance of marine biodiversity through community-based fisheries. The Fish Locally Collaborative creates tools for fishing communities to succeed at changing the marketplace and policies that put them at an economic, social, and ecological disadvantage. “Most of the stakeholder initiatives in the past only included members of the fishing industry, but this time we wanted to broaden it to the eating part of the community as well,” explains Niaz Dorry, a tireless advocate of the rights and ecological benefits of the small-scale fishing communities as a means of protecting global marine biodiversity. Based in Gloucester, she is also coordinating director of NAMA.

The Fish Locally Collaborative meetings unearthed some of the unique opportunities and challenges in Gloucester. “Though it is under threat, Gloucester still has a fishery infrastructure here. Some fishing communities do not, such as Port Clyde, Maine, where the nearest markets and buyers are three hours away,” Niaz explains. Fish buyers are very much part of the community in Gloucester, and most shared fisherpeople’s concern about the possibility of losing the fishing infrastructure; they also welcomed the possibility of improving it. “We also realized that fisherpeople here had a reputation for being extractors. This was because most of the small-scale fishermen had lost power to the larger, extractive boats that did most of the damage to the fisheries. Unfortunately, they also did most of the lobbying,” she says. “Many of the small-scale boats were edged out of the market because of that.”

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