Public concern over the appointment of the next Secretary of Agriculture highlights the dismal state of the American food industry. Last month, we introduced you to Farm Forward, the non-profit advocacy group that aims to transform the way our nation eats and farms. Conversations with CEO Dr. Steven Gross, and Director Ben Goldsmith revealed a robust model for inter-sector success and corporate evolution.
Farm Forward brings food retailers, nonprofit animal advocacy organizations, scholars, small farmers, and community leaders into conversation with one another. They leverage this expertise and employ the several strategies to fight factory farm practices, including:
-Lobbying for auditing practices to improve animal welfare
-Pro-bono consulting for family farms working towards humane and sustainable production
-Promoting conscientious consumption and discussion of the social issues that underlie agribusiness through publications, social media marketing, and community campaigns
-Advancing scholarship and undergraduate teaching that promotes critical reflection on the farming industry
Farm Forward grew out the conviction that it is possible for business to be both ethical and profitable. According to Goldsmith, each member of the management team came to the movement after concluding personally that he could no longer be complicit in the abuse of animals. As individuals campaigning for animal welfare in the tradition of PETA activism, they saw a need for corporate engagement.
A former professor of psychology and consultant to Fortune 500 companies, Gross’ expertise is negotiations and conflict resolution. His method is long-term, team-oriented consultation. Evidence of his savvy lies in the Illinois Humane PAC – the first state PAC for animal welfare – which Gross founded and helped pass ten animal protection laws in ten years.
Gross underscored the importance of needs-assessment in both negotiations and lobbying. He has succeeded in bolstering animal welfare practices among some of the largest food corporations in America among them: Burger King, McDonald’s, Safeway, Wendy’s, and Whole Foods. To learn more about the winning strategy that drives Farm Forward, we revisited Gross’ first corporate negotiation as a public spokesperson for animal welfare- the milestone campaign against McDonalds.
In a strategic visit to a shareholder’s meeting, Gross confronted Jack Greenberg, then CEO of McDonalds Corporation, and a distant contact through Gross’ corporate consulting. A series of ineffective conversations with McDonald’s Director of Animal Welfare followed and eventually led to an international campaign against the company. The focus was McDonald’s target customers, children, and parents: a receptive audience to issues of animal welfare and food safety. Written off as a “terrorist,” Gross responded with amiability. He cultivated relationships, following a consultation model, and worked to generate good press for the corporation whenever possible.
McDonald’s Animal Welfare Program would go on to win the W. Howard Chase Award for excellence in issue management. Their reforms were ultimately hailed as the single most transformative development in the animal rights movement in 25 years by both Peter Singer and Temple Grandin. Gross’ advocacy tool kit is multifarious; his preference is to instigate change by proving it’s in the long-term best interest of the corporation.
Gross describes himself as an impatient activist, but at heart, he’s an optimist. In conversation, he offers affirmations, “Sound business requires sound ethics. Do the right thing and people will reward you.” Farm Forward’s success lies in a leadership that harnesses this powerful combination of idealism and pragmatism.
Farm Forward supports the efforts of the FoodDemocracyNow campaign and is currently working with a number of corporations to improve auditing and marketing tools. If you want to get involved or have unanswered questions for Dr. Gross, post them here and we’ll keep the conversation going…