WW: Give me some more examples.
MS: In the United States, we looked at businesses like White Dog Café in Philadelphia, the Oklahoma Food Cooperative in Oklahoma City, Weaver Street Market in North Carolina, the Intervale in Vermont, and Swanton Berry Farms in California. Internationally, we looked at a bunch of producer cooperatives, including ones for onion farmers in the Philippines, for cocoa growers in Ghana, and for organic vegetables in Nepal. We also looked at really unusual businesses like Cabbages and Condoms, which are a dozen restaurants and resorts in Thailand that generate $2 million to support AIDS education and reproductive rights of women. Each of these qualified as a CFE because they were owned by the farmers, producers, or proprietors themselves, or by nearby investors.
WW: What were the most important findings of your report?
MS: Five points stand out for us. One is the point above that ownership matters as much as proximity. Second, CFEs exist in developed as well as developing countries and engage people at all income levels. Third, CFEs defy our common assumptions: they are often quite sophisticated about business; they often reach into global markets; they take on myriad business frameworks; and they are not necessarily small. Several of our case studies, like Organic Valley, a producer cooperative based in Wisconsin, have annual sales in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Fourth, CFEs are deploying more than a dozen interesting strategies that were once perceived as liabilities, and transform them into assets to compete effectively against multinational behemoths. Some examples are small markets, limited capital and high social standards. Finally — and perhaps most importantly — economic development efforts, both domestically and internationally (such as those led by the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program), could find great success by incorporating CFEs into their programs.
WW: Why did your sponsors, the WK Kellogg and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations, invest in this project?
MS: Both foundations are very intrigued by the opportunities presented by understanding the relationship between local foods and local economies. The project originated when the program officers at the two foundations met three years ago. Kellogg was increasingly appreciating the value of studying local food systems in the US. The Gates Foundation, which is primarily focused on international development, said, “This is interesting, but we really don’t understand what local food means”. Out of that discussion emerged a commitment to define CFEs and tease out the opportunities for economic development both in the U.S. and abroad.
WW: How did you pick the case studies?
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