What do food trucks, a mobile healthy market, a pedal-powered tractor, a zero waste recycling and composting coop, and an oil, feed, and biodiesel company in Vermont have in common? They all presented their business plans at the sixth Slow Money Boston Entrepreneur Showcase on April 23.
The Slow Money Alliance is a national network that is facilitating responsible investments in small food enterprises around the United States. Although no money changes hands at the events, previous Slow Money Boston showcases have actually led to deals between investors and entrepreneurs who met there.
Whether you’ve got a nest egg to invest or don’t have a dime in your pocket, the showcases are a great way to learn about what’s coming soon from a farm, kitchen, or food truck near you. For instance:
Farmers who want to avoid the fossil fuel, fumes, and discomfort of a conventional tractor may soon be able to cultivate their fields by riding the fabulous pedal-powered Culticycle invented by farmer Tim Cook. While driving what is essentially a large bicycle through your fields may sound like a wacky way to weed, Cook explained that his Culticycle goes ¾ of the speed of a regular tractor and is not difficult to operate. The current cost for one of these cool devices is $1,550, but Cook hopes to raise funds to build more and get the price down.
And farmers will be both suppliers for and customers of Full Sun Company, a Vermont-based business that will produce expeller-pressed edible oils, high-protein feed meal, and biodiesel. Apparently, canola, sunflower, and soybean seeds grow well in New England, but they’re currently being taken out of the region to be processed, then shipped back here to be sold back to local farmers. By raising and selling these products in New England, Full Sun will save on transportation costs, and, of course, reduce the impact on the environment. Full Sun plans to sell the cooking oil to restaurants and then collect the oil for use as biodiesel on farms and elsewhere.
Coincidentally, fellow presenter CERO (Cooperative Energy, Recycling and Organics), a new Boston-based worker-owned cooperative, started out in the waste vegetable oil business, but realized that they could capture much more value by offering a full circle waste collection service. The city of Boston doesn’t provide waste disposal services for commercial enterprises, so businesses have to contract for their own trash pick-up. By separating organic food waste and recyclables from their trash, CERO will enable business to save money by reducing the amount of trash to be hauled away. Educating businesses and their staff about how to recycle and compost will be a major focus of this multicultural, multilingual coop. They seek to raise $600,000 to purchase trucks and equipment and will launch an Indiegogo campaign soon.
If you’re a fan of Mei Mei Street Kitchen’s Double Awesome egg and scallion pancake sandwich, you’ll be excited to hear that they’re opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Boston’s Audubon Circle this summer, which will complement their food truck business. By running their own food commissary rather than renting commercial kitchen space, this three-sibling operation will actually be halving their cost of production, as well as reducing their waste and energy use. Mei Mei sources products from 30 small and family farms in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, so their expansion is good news for farmers as well as eaters. But don’t worry, Egleston Farmers Market shoppers, Mei Mei will still be cooking up a storm for us on occasional Saturdays this summer.
I’m really excited about Fresh Food Generation, a new farm-to-plate, mission-driven food truck that will sell healthy prepared foods in low-income neighborhoods around Boston, including Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan. Co-owners Cassandria Carla Campbell and Jackson Renshaw, who met while working at The Food Project, seek to make their prices competitive with local fast food chains and will train and hire local youth to help run the business. The food truck will be a for-profit enterprise, while the youth education will be a non-profit. Hopefully, this hybrid model will enable them to achieve their ambitious goal.
Fresh Truck is also focused on getting healthy food into Boston neighborhoods that lack access to good food, but they’ll be selling whole (uncut) produce and other groceries, not prepared food, out of a retrofitted school bus. To learn more about their approach, check out my last blog post.
And if you want to stay current on innovative food businesses, sign up for the Great Boston Slow Money Meet-Up group.