2012 Nelle Tobias Award honorees Dave Krick, Jami Adams and Kevin Kelpe mindfully connect sustainable food production and environmental protection in their for-profit business model. They understand and exemplify how entrepreneurs can create and support progressive community. Like Nelle Tobias, their daily work and their philanthropy are consistent with their values and vision.
Jami, Dave and Kevin have spent eight years learning by trial and error how to integrate local, seasonal foods into the year-round process of serving hundreds of guests a day at two popular downtown Boise restaurants, Red Feather Lounge and Bittercreek Ale House. Managing a staff of 70 to 85, they have built standards for serving organic, locally grown food. In 2011, they purchased 65% of their food directly from local sources.
“Our goal since heading down this road was to increase our local purchases at a sustainable level,” Dave says. “We picked 10% a year starting in 2006, with the goal to increase by 10% a year. Our ultimate goal is 75%, and the only limiter at this point is our kitchen design, a problem we’ll correct later this year.”
“Food is the ‘gateway drug’ of sustainability,'” Jami says. One of Dave and Jami’s first formal “local first” efforts was to help launch Treasure Valley Food Coalition, a nonprofit focused on the sustainability of the valley’s local food system. Both served on the board and helped steward TVFC into a long-term, ongoing concern. “Our efforts towards all areas of sustainability were ignited by our focus on local food,” Dave says.
Dave also sat on the initial steering committee of Think Boise First. “Just those words–Think Boise First–is the point of the whole organization,” Dave explains.
“The ‘product’ TBF sells is awareness of where people spend their money. It helps consumers stop and think before they make a spending choice. We have the same mission with food: Think about local choices first.” This work evolved into the formation of Sustainable Community Connections of Idaho, which became the umbrella nonprofit for both Think Boise First and Treasure Valley Food Coalition; Dave served as a SCC founding board member through 2011.
When it comes to direct philanthropy, Kevin says, “we look through the lens of food. Our company and our conversations about which groups to get involved with center on the idea of place – our community, our land, our culture, the history of this place. We ask if we are connected to the group asking for support. Are they using their competency to build this place? Is it rooted in Boise? Is it a Boise institution? How do they serve the community? When we say yes, we align with groups that feel the way we do.” With philanthropy, Dave advises, ” be tight about your mission as a business, and have goals, budgets and processes in place before you ever say yes, so you can do it well.”
” Our focus is food first,” Dave explains. “We prefer to invest our available capital in farmers or activities that benefit local food security issues. Everything else spins off of that. For example, we recognize the benefits and importance of having an environmental focus on waste. Waste is all around us, inclusive of food, energy, packaging, building materials and human capacity. Our goal as a business is focused on reducing all forms of waste. The 2012 launch of our Urban Worm business and Low Power Happy Hour are visible and fun examples.”
Both restaurants recycle cooking oil into fuel and use earthworms to compost food scraps. Jami had the idea of using wine bottles to make glasses, Sustainable Futures manifested that idea, and the restaurants now supply that glass.
“Being a conservationist is really smart for business,” Kevin says. “Capitalism and environmentalism can collaborate, can work together. It’s expensive to begin programs and train staff, but in the long run it’s good for the Earth and the business.”
Jamie grew up in the 1970’s, she says, in a time of great concern about conservation and environmental catastrophe from DDT. “I gained a great sense of conservation and recycling and thinking about the planet and how it effects the individual. As I got older and others in society opened their eyes to that philosophy, it has grown. Now there’s more opportunity for recycling and getting involved in community. We’ve deepened our roots into that aspect of the business, and individually, as well.”
The three entrepreneurs agree they first must make their business profitable, so they can stay in business, but say they are motivated to make money because they want to continue doing this broad-visioned community-building.
“Connecting consumers to the farmland is actually our real work,” Kevin says. “It’s intangible and invisible now, but in the long run is really important. Its benefits will be manifest many years down the road.”
By Photo and article by Diane Ronayne