By Luke Clum
Look down the shelves of any grocery store, and it’s “organic,” “green” and “sustainable” as far as the eye can see. These days, just about every company is looking to get in on the green movement, as well as the higher prices consumers will pay for an environmentally-conscious product (whether or not it actually is environmentally conscious and not just a marketing ploy is a story for another day).
But, while certainly a crucial component, green farming doesn’t stop at being earth-friendly. Truly green businesses often have a social mission as well. When it comes to farming, that means looking beyond just the types of chemicals applied to crops to the people on every end of the supply chain -- from the farmer to the shipper to the customer. In fact, many agribusinesses who practice what is termed a “farm direct” business model operate with the belief that keeping people’s best interests in mind will lead directly to environmental sustainability.
So just what is farm direct, and how can it function as a model for sustainable business?
In going farm direct, businesses dramatically reduce the number of hands through which products pass, and farm direct models can also reduce the amount of chemicals that need to be applied to produce to keep them looking fresh.
As with Stonyfield Yogurt, buyers like when their farmers are on a first name basis with their cows. In the short distance from farm to customer, going direct for buyers means being closer to the product, while for farmers it means getting to care and put effort into what they do rather than simply following the top-down mandates from a far away corporate headquarters.
As can be seen in the case of Sainsbury’s, this difference radiates into unexpected areas of an agribusiness’ production line. Several years ago, Sainsbury’s launched an initiative to reduce their carbon footprint. But rather than simply telling farmers to get going, and imposing punishments for not meeting guidelines, the company provided trainings, created opportunities for their farmers to share their discoveries, and offered regular assessments so farmers could track their progress. Farmers -- who the company acknowledged as the true experts -- engaged at a deep level, proposed innovative solutions, and helped the company exceed its goals.
Luke Clum is a designer and writer who lives in Seattle, WA. He is an avid outdoorsman who loves hiking and alpine climbing.