MANAGEMENT: The Green Entrepreneurs Toolbox: Success stories across energy and food
HOST: Terry Mollner, chair, Stakeholders Capital and founder, The Trusteeship Institute, Northampton, MA
Jesse LaFlamme, Pete & Gerry’s Eggs, Monroe, NH
Daniel Leader, CEO/founder, Bread Alone, Boiceville, NY

Jesse LaFlamme knows how to tell the family farm story. He represents the third generation of Pete & Gerry’s Organic Eggs, the largest organic egg producer in New England whose buyers include Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and CostCo (for whom he shares glowing reviews).

As Jesse recounts, his great grandfather returned from the war, founding a thriving egg business at the dawn of industrial agriculture. Years later, Jesse explains, “The egg industry is the poster child for industrial agriculture gone bad.” The average small farm holds roughly one million chickens with two hundred and fifty thousand birds per barn.

When the farm was passed to Jesse’s parents, they immediately did away with the cages. They have since invested in additional barns (nine in all) with lower bird counts (one hundred and sixty per building) and have chosen to partner with neighboring family farms rather than to join agribusiness. As the farm grew, small inefficiencies demanded the creation of more efficient processes while continuing to support neighborhood economies – because authentic human relationships are essential to quality of life. We know all of our partnering farms intimately and monitor them attentively, he assures us.

Dan Leader of Bread Alone opened his European-style bakery in 1983 to offer hand-crafted, artisan loaves baked in a wood-fired brick oven. He now delivers throughout the Hudson Valley, the Berkshires, and into NYC, runs three cafes with handmade pastries, and sells at fifty farmers markets. Bread Alone may be purchased through Fresh Direct, Fairways, Whole Foods, Dean & Deluca and Zabar’s – to name the biggies. “Local” has become regional.

As audience to this panel, we were both charmed and wary. When should we stop trusting these supposed small-scale, responsible, local companies? When do they too become abusers of the collective, green goodwill, lured by success and squeezed by competitive pricing? How not to turn evil?

Mr. Leader explained that in order to compete with multinational companies entering the organics market, they must, above all, become more efficient without discarding their founding principles by resorting to low quality ingredients and unjust employment practices, or by relying on hidden carbon costs. To this end, Bread Alone is investing in a state of the art baking facility that will dramatically increase output by allowing local ingredients to be processed on-site. A grain mill is integrated into the design, while energy demands will be reduced through the use of heat exchangers.

Panelists spoke of the necessity for cooperative communication when negotiating in potentially cutthroat environments. Mr. Leader described a typical “negotiation” with big name wholesale buyers. They call and tell you what the conditions are. They do not ask for your opinion. Terry Mollner recounted when the board of Ben & Jerry’s received a hostile letter threatening to expose them for failing to source eggs locally and organically. The board graciously thanked the author for illuminating this oversight and immediately set out to remedy the situation.

Thus, the rosy promise of Pete & Gerry’s Eggs and Bread Alone is that the very values and infrastructures of these “green businesses” are so different from those of most present day corporations, that they truly represent the shift in which we yearn for our cultural paradigm.

Shira Wohlberg