Project Feast: Transforming Lives and Enriching Communities One Cook at a Time

Veena Prasad is a cultivator of potential. She adeptly identifies hidden skills and sees how they overlap with market needs, which led her to start Project Feast. Incorporated in January 2013, the organization has a mission to help immigrant and refugee cooks find sustainable employment in the food industry. They are off to an impressive start, with more than 150 people who have attended one of their cooking classes, more than 3500 guests who have eaten their food at catered events, and 20 people who have gone through their 6-week training program. And all of this was done with less than $5,000 investment! They recently participated in the Health Enterprise Development Initiative (HEDI) and this is the last post in the interview series with HEDI participants.

Tell me about Project Feast.

Project Feast is a nonprofit social enterprise with a mission to empower refugee and immigrants through commercial kitchen training and opportunities for hands on experience. We work with cooks from countries including Iraq, Eritrea, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mexico to create economic opportunity and social empowerment. We also provide a platform for cross-cultural interactions through our catering business and cooking classes.

What difference are you trying to make in the food system?

Food is our medium to bring people together. We are increasing access to various global cuisines and presenting them in a way that is accessible, allowing eaters to learn more about other cultures, meet people from these countries and begin to understand and learn about what is happening in their countries. We are also training immigrant and refugee cooks to find sustainable employment in the food industry.

What goals do you have for the project?

project-feast-nameWe are going to continue to offer our 6-week training a few times a year with the goal of bringing on 5-10 apprentices after they complete the training. They will be offered paid work to continue to work in the business and hone their skills in the commercial kitchen. They will also be exposed to other aspects of running a food business.

We also want to increase the way we consciously spread the cultures that our graduates represent, increasing the larger Seattle community’s understanding of what is happening in other areas of the world. If someone is having Burmese food for the first time, we want them to not only enjoy the food but ask why they haven’t had it before and what is happening in that country that we have refugees.

We also have the audacious goal of being 100% self sustaining through our catering and cooking classes within 5 years. We have some ideas on how to make this happen, but it is still an open question as to how we can do so in a way that ensures we are keeping true to our mission.

How has HEDI helped you refine your business model?

HEDI forced us to think through what we’ve done so far and where we want to go. Luni’s business model format helped us to determine what we had in place and what was missing in order to get us where we want to be. We are now more confident that we can ultimately get to 100% financial sustainability, but realize we have some work to do in developing our revenue generation models.

It was also helpful to put together an investor pitch and get feedback from my cohort and potential investors. I plan to use the pitch to get funding in the future.

What advice do you have for other nonprofit social enterprises?

Nonprofits could get more comfortable with business being a core aspect of what they do and learn how to earn revenue, not just grants. There is a perception that nonprofits shouldn’t earn money but it is possible to maintain the connection between earned revenue and the change you want to create in the world. It isn’t always easy to come up with that model, but focusing on your mission is a great place to start. For us, catering is how we make money, but it is also how people get hands on experience and exposure to running a business, all important pieces of our mission.

 

 

 

Delridge Grocery Co-op: An Evolving Multi-Stakeholder Co-op in West Seattle

Since 2009 a group of committed residents in the West Seattle neighborhood of Delridge has been exploring ways to bring healthier food options to their neighborhood. They’ve tried on various models, starting with a mobile market that gave away produce and now focusing on a member owned full line grocery cooperative that is co-located in Delridge Supportive Housing. They are in the midst of an intensive membership campaign, which was recently informed by their participation in the Health Enterprise Development Initiative. 

Tell me about Delridge Grocery Co-op.

Concerned about the absence of grocery stores and produce markets in our community, a group of Community members created a mission to bring sustainably-grown, pesticide-free produce at affordable prices to the Delridge corridor of West Seattle.  As a co-op, we invited input from future members and learned that there was a desire for a full-service neighborhood healthy foods grocery store.  We have created a partnership with Downtown Emergency Service Center and plan to open a 1500 square foot fgrocery co-op in the spring/summer of 2015. Currently, we are in the startup phase of signing up new member/owners, asking for member loans, and pursuing additional loan and grant options.

What difference are you trying to make in the food system? 

Reasonable and affordable access to food staples is a real concern in the eastern half of West SeattleBoard at the Store. We are inspired by successful food co-ops of the past and present and intrigued by the way the co-op model can adapt to the future and the unique needs of the community it serves.  We are well on our way towards opening the region’s first multi-stakeholder food co-op.  This means the store is owned by the consumers, food producers, farmers, and store workers.  In this way, we can combine the energies and talents of all sectors of the food system to promote education and shared knowledge of the issues surrounding our food.  The Delridge Grocery will nurture the community it is a part of by offering a store full of healthy food at affordable prices.

What goals do you have for the project? 

Our current goal is to open a store in the heart of the North Delridge neighborhood.  We are negotiating with our future landlords and intend to open in 2015.  Based on our projected store size, we need a significant number of members to pay towards their voting share.  As an outreach tool, as well as a way to bring local produce to the community now, we are excited to be operating a small summer produce stand near our future location in mid-July through mid-September.

How has HEDI helped you refine your business model? 

Your Co-op T shirtParticipation in the HEDI class has helped us at a crucial turning point.  As our member campaign was moving along slower than we had expected, we had to delay our plans for a summer 2014 opening.  The instructors encouraged us in and out of class to think of alternative models at this stage.  The summer produce stand option became our next step.

We also appreciated the constructive advice from our HEDI instructors, mentors, and fellow classmates in developing our investor pitch.  The homework led our board to develop more focus more on how we are communicating to our current and future members, as well as potential outside investors.

What advice do you have for other food businesses?

Be open to change and always look for ways to reevaluate and take on different perspectives.  And don’t forget to seek out mentors!

 

That Brown Girl Cooks: Changing the World One Bite at a Time

Kristy Brown has worked in noteworthy restaurants around Seattle but what she is most known for these days is her black bean hummus. Is it that good? Yes, it is that good! Her business, That Brown Girl Cooks, is rapidly growing from an underground hit to a popular dip that shouldn’t be missed.

Tell me about That Brown Girl Cooks.

We call ourselves a foodie lifestyle company. Though our main focus is hummus, we also do cooking classes, pop up events, and an annual fish fry. Our hummus is in eleven stores and five farmer’s market.

Our hummus is a creative twist on chickpea hummus. We use black eyed peas and our unique blend of spices. I wanted to find a way to incorporate the soul food I grew up with into healthy, unique vegetarian options. We served the hummus for years as part of our catering business and people continued to ask for it, so we knew we had to bring it back.

What difference are you trying to make in the food system?

We care about theKristi logo food you put into your body and send out nourishing wishes when we prepare it. Good food means healthy food – food that is grown, packaged and prepared in a way you can feel good about. Prior to starting this business I didn’t understand the value of eating close to home and the ability to connect with the people who grow and produce your food.

Interacting with the public is really important to us. We want to know what people think of the product and how they use it. We’ve given over 5,000 tastings at farmer’s markets so far this year! I love hearing people’s recipe ideas or just knowing that their babies love it.


What goals do you have for the business?

We are in a crucial growth phase of the business. We would like to get into some of the larger grocery chains and begin to expand our footprint. It can be a challenge to know what that means and how to put all the pieces in place. And it is a lot of work. I’m really excited to push the business to see how far it can go. We aim to change the world one bite at a time.


How has HEDI helped you refine your business model?

I’m currently in a crucial growth phase and Luni has helped talk me through what that means and how to plan for iKristi Brownt. Working with him was really an honor. The classes really helped me understand my place in the food chain.

Beyond that, what I value the most from the experience is the relationships I’ve been able to develop with the other business owners. The cohort model helped us build relationships that I continue to rely on when I need help.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?

You’ll never know it all and that’s okay! Focus on what you do well and become an expert in that. For everything else, get as much help as you can. Developing my support network has been critical to my business.

 

 

 

Hadar Iron Makes Fermenting Accessible Through Artistic Crocks

Hadar Iron makes ceramic fermenting jars for the home fermenter under her business Hadar Iron LLC. With the popular interest in DIY and a growing body of science about the importance of fermented foods for our health, Hadar Iron is both a timely and timeless business. Having recently completed the Health Enterprise Development Initiative training, Hadar is poised to respond to the increasing demand she is seeing for her unique crocks.

Tell me about Hadar Iron LLC.

In Ferment crock_kimchi
In Ferment jar with kimchee

Hadar Iron is a pottery and ceramic arts studio located in the Columbia City neighborhood of Seattle. I established the studio in 2012, offering functional pottery and ceramic art installations. I’m now enhancing my existing studio by launching In  Ferment, a line of home ceramic fermenting jars, mainly crocks, which are used for making fermented foods, and teaching fermenting workshops. I’ve worked in ceramics for 25 years and presently teach at the Seward Park Clay Studio.

What goals do you have for the business?

In Ferment has sold around 10-15 crocks per month for a year, out of which 3-5 shipped nationwide destinations. We sell 1-gallon size for $160 each, at the fermentation teaching workshops that I lead, online and personally from the studio.

The mission of In Ferment is to make the process and benefits of fermenting widely available by supplying affordable, yet high quality, fermenting equipment and helping people learn about the home fermenting practice. Upon increasing demand In Ferment is expanding the studio and its equipment to scale up its capacity of production. We seek production and sale of 40 crocks per month within a year, while doubling it within 3 years, in addition to developing other fermenting dishes and containers as part of the home fermenting experience such as containers for yogurt, kefir, and sourdough baking.

What difference are you trying to make in the food system?

We want to make daily consumption of fermented foods accessible. Our water-seal ceramic crocks are easy to operate with endless variations of fermented vegetables. The crocks have a trough at the rim, in which the lid rests in water to form a seal that prevents air infiltration while allowing gases to escape, eliminating mold and pungent smells during the process.

We are also proud to be reviving the awareness of health, experiment and adventure in one space. The symbiosis between art and food has a long tradition, which can easily be forgotten in our “instant gratification” culture. We use clay, ash glazes and firings of high temperature in the manufacture. Either thrown or cast, they are glazed individually and fired through traditional ceramic procedure that produces high quality with a unique visual of the ceramic art culture. Along with advocating and teaching about the health benefits of fermentation and its delicious variety of tastes, In Ferment brings the presence of art into the kitchen and the sense of quality food with attention to its sources and origin.

How has HEDI helped you refine your business model?

In Ferment_fermenting workshop
In Ferment fermenting workshop with Hadar

The HEDI studies have sharpened the tools to advance my business from a small operation to a bigger system, mainly by working on planning methods for the near and far future (1 to 5 years). The program has enhanced the transition from our ideas that have proved to work and create demand, into a sustainable profitable business. In particular, we’ve learned how to analyze the opportunity size of our product and develop specific approaches to each sale channel. Additionally, it gave us the sense of scale and a projection of growth, locally, regionally and across the nation.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs

In Ferment was shaped by both Mike Skinner’s “Effectuation” class and Luni Libes’s detailed Fledge program. Luni focused on the concept of “iteration,” which helped us move to action through testing and learning from evaluating the feedback. As a result, we are continuously making small changes and pursuing improvement. This dynamic, either in the marketing field or in seeking finance, generates enthusiasm and positive energy in the process of dealing with hurdles and expanding horizons.

 

Fresh Bucks Aims to Increase Sales at Farmers Markets

Though the popularity of farmer’s markets is growing, they still have a reputation of being too expensive for people with limited budgets. In fact, of all Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) spending in Washington, only .02% is spent at farmer’s markets. Brian Estes of Fresh Bucks aims to change that through a unique program that incentivizes shopping at the market while building our rural economies.

Tell me about Fresh Bucks.

Fresh Bucks is a service offered through farmers markets to benefit low-income customers and the farmers selling at market. By offering additional ‘Fresh Bucks’ (vouchers for buying fresh produce) for customers shopping with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (formerly food stamps), Farmers Markets are able to attract new customers, increase the amount of shopping done by customers each market visit, and encourage more regular patronage by SNAP clients.

What difference are you trying to make in the food system? 

We are working to increase the accessibility to healthy food for low-income households while helping farmers markets capture an increasing percentage of individuals shopping for food in their area. Fresh Bucks help build the local farm economy while creating equity in food access.

What goals do you have for the business?

FreshBucks2
A SNAP recipient using Fresh Bucks to purchase fresh produce from Alm Hill Gardens at Wallingford Farmers Market. Credit: Zachary D. Lyons

We want to increase the number of markets offering Fresh Bucks, and increase the degree to which SNAP clients are utilizing those markets. Our goal is to increase the regular intake of healthy foods while capturing more food dollars for our regional farm economy. We’d like to optimize the format, implementation, promotion and assessment of the program, working towards a model that can be employed statewide.

How has HEDI helped you refine your business model?

HEDI has helped us identify new strategies and frameworks for how we optimize our operation. It has helped us think outside of the box on efficiently pursuing outcomes, looking at revenue, and considering the challenges and opportunities with regard to long-term sustainability.
What advice do you have for similar programs? 

Think outside the box, be willing to pivot, ask hard questions and be willing to keep your eye on your long-term outcomes and goals.

Meet Ric Brewer, Snail Rancher

Ric Brewer has an unusual passion: snails. And what do you do with such a passion? Start a snail ranch, of course. Ric started Little Gray Farm in 2012. He has been participating in the Health Enterprise Development Initiative (HEDI) and recently took time out of his busy snail ranching schedule to tell us about his business and the impact of participating in HEDI. 

Tell me about Little Gray Farm. 

LGF is, to my knowledge, the only commercial escargot cultivator in the U.S. We are based on five acres in Quilcene, WA, which is on the Olympic Peninsula. Nearly all the escargots currently consumed in this country are canned ric in shelland from overseas. We have the ability to grow our own, so in a sense it’s a food security issue. Ironically enough, I bought the property before I actually planned on raising snails and then discovered it is on nearly the same latitude as the Burgundy region of France, the prime growing area for escargot, so it seemed only fitting that I pursue this.

Snails are gaining popularity worldwide. In France, they cannot keep up with the demand and are now importing 60% of the snails it uses! Seattle is a hub for creativity and innovation so it’s the perfect place to launch a domestic snail ranching industry.

What difference are you trying to make in the food system?

Although there are other people on very small scales selling wild snails in the U.S., I am trying to attempt two things: make a sustainable business that actually grows the snails in a controlled, permaculture based environment so that the life cycle is controlled from egg to adult, and also propagate heliciculture (the cultivation of snails) as a viable industry in this country.

I also want to “democratize” snails; they are an underutilized animal protein that is actually very healthy, when not drenched in butter. Plus they are a very versatile ingredient and can be used in a myriad of menus.

What goals do you have for the business? 

brewer1A few years ago I put together a recipe book, or general guide, on how to incorporate this easy protein into your diet. I’d love to work with a local chef to develop some unique recipes we can promote together. Some of my favorite ways to eat snails are on pizza on in ravioli with parmesan. They’re delicious!

In the short term, we are looking to buy a commercial, chamber-style vacuum sealer machine to ensure we have a fresh, safely packaged product. People can contribute through May 31st on Indigegogo and sign up for fun rewards like a snail in a sweater.

How has HEDI helped you refine your business model? 

I’m not a numbers guy, so when it became time to create a spreadsheet, I looked on it with dread. But when it was explained that a spreadsheet is basically telling a story of your business, it made much more sense. After all, we WANT people to know the story of our business! Even though it’s still not my favorite activity, each iteration of my spreadsheet gets a bit easier.

What advice do you have for other farmers and food businesses?

Expect creating your business to be hard, very hard. There will be times that you want to throw in the towel. There will be times you’re wondering if you’re crazy for doing it. But if you really feel it is your passion, your destiny, then you must do it. Regret is the only thing that lasts forever.

HEDI Update: Good Food Bags Explores New Business Models

Good Food Bag is a program of Seattle Tilth, an environmental nonprofit celebrating its 36th year of inspiring and educating people to safeguard our natural resources while building an equitable and sustainable local food system. Jess Bitting, the Good Food Bag Coordinator, has been participating in the Health Enterprise Development Initiative (HEDI) and recently sat down with Slow Money NW to discuss her experience with the program.

Tell me about your program.

The Good Food Bag program is run out of Seattle Tilth’s Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands, which is the largest urban farm in Seattle. It provides a weekly distribution of bags of fresh produce, taken to community hubs where people are already gathering. We target the neighbors of the farm, many of whom are low income and have limited access to healthy food.

The program has been running for over a year and we’ve distributed 2,000 Good Food Bags to 200 families, totaling over 5,000 pounds of nutrient dense produce.

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Photo Credit: Seattle Tilth

What difference are you trying to make in the food system?

We want to focus on a way to not just provide access to healthy food but to also save members time by bringing it to places where they are going daily. Our current focus is on childcare and senior centers through partnerships with Tiny Tots and Southeast Seattle Senior Center.

Organizations such as food banks offer mainly shelf stable options, whereas we focus on fresh food. This also provides the opportunity to talk about seasonality and nutrition. We include recipes that are quick, healthy and easy to make, and are approved by the registered dietician we have on staff.

What goals do you have for the program?

Like so many community-based organizations, we have limited capacity so we think it’s important to grow sustainably. That being said, we think this is a powerful model and would love to see it grow, or other organizations take it on in their own communities. We recently met with the City of Seattle and they are putting together a toolkit that will make it easy for others to replicate the program.

We would also like to expand our infrastructure, including adding more cold storage space. If you’re interested in supporting the growth of this program and the Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands, please visit our campaign page.

How has HEDI helped you refine your business model?

We are gaining a lot of insights from the program! We are confident the Good Food Bag program has great potential but we need to refine our model and make it more financially sustainable before we can increase the scale of our operations. Currently, our cost to pack a Good Food Bag is greater than the $5 price point, so external funding and donations are subsidizing the true cost of each bag. Our current industrial food system is also heavily subsidized, but it does not favor fresh produce or earn farmers a fair price for their production, so we need to be creative in making fresh local produce as affordable and accessible to all while making sure the people that grow and pick our food can stay on the land. We are also having conversations about who (beyond the customers) benefits from our work and how we can collaborate for ongoing success.

What advice do you have for other non-profits taking on social enterprise projects?

Prioritize your strategy and planning! Our program operates all year so it can be a challenge to find the time and resources to work on the bigger picture. Working with a program like HEDI has allowed us to do this important work and we are already seeing how it is changing our conversations about the future.