On Wednesday night, Abundance hosted a talk with Good Food Collective founder Chris Hartman. The event, free and open to the public, was organized as part of the co-op's newly launched Abundantly Clear Education Series on issues of local food systems and sustainability.
Entitled "Building a Sustainable Food System in Rochester," Chris Hartman described his path from being one of the community organizers behind the South Wedge Farmers' Market to becoming an "social entrepreneur." According to Wikipedia, social entrepreneurship "is the process of pursuing suitable solutions to social problems. More specifically, social entrepreneurs adopt a mission to create and sustain social value. They pursue opportunities to serve this mission, while continuously adapting and learning."
Hartman described his experience working on a small organic dairy farm in the Hudson Valley and how this shaped his understanding of the difficulties similarly sized farms face in the Rochester region. His vision was to expand and develop traditional models of support, such as Community-supported Agriculture (CSA) systems, into a viable business venture. The result was the Good Food Collective.
Good Food Collective broke $1 million in profits this year and now is able to provide CSA-style shares to its customers throughout all four seasons. In addition to the individual-facing business, Hartman recently launched Three Square Kitchen, a wholesale supplier of local meat, dairy, and produce for retailers and organizations. Three Square Kitchen's first customer was Abundance and today also provides the University of Rochester with select items, such as a local burger package for its high end on-campus dining facility.
Today Hartman employs 16 people who operate not only Good Food Collective, but the new Three Square Kitchen, a wholesaler.
The event was not just a pitch for Hartman's business; those who came to listen had a lot to say, too. One audience member, Elizabeth Henderson--an author, organic farmer and pioneer of the CSA movement in the United States--expressed concern over whether Hartman's model is truly a CSA and suggested that he use a different term to describe his business. Another local business owner asked Hartman about how he planned to make his farm shares more affordable to low-income consumers.
All in all, the conversation that followed these questions covered issues that are key to the question of sustaining a vibrant, healthy, and economically viable local food system. Hartman--who also works as full time teacher at the Harley School in Pittsford--has a strong and practical understanding of these issues as well as a fresh energy in thinking about new possibilities.
The Abundantly Clear public discussion course hopes to organize similar events in the near future to provide a space for exploring and understanding better the local food systems in Rochester.