Katrina was meeting with a possible new vendor for the Back40 Mercantile at the Dallas show before we opened and after hearing Kat recite our store’s sustainability mission the woman says, in a fairly loud drawled out voice:
“OH SO YOU’RE ONE OF THOSE GREEN PEOPLE”
(when Kat retold it, “green” had two syllables)
Any grower, manufacturer, or retailer who commits to a sustainability mission faces myriad obstacles, and if you don’t have scale or staying power (aka capital), you are more likely to fail than you are to sell your business to Whole Foods and buy a biomass-powered mega yacht……
It has been our experience (6 months into this odyssey as green merchants) that the most difficult obstacle is public opinion and public perception.
If you talk about “it” too much, they will wait for you in the bushes and jump out when you least expect it and proclaim: “Sinner! I see you eating that Slim Jim! You know the hogs they use to make that meat stick are raised on GMO corn!! SHAME!”
-there’s meat in Slim Jims?-
I know for me I don’t want to be preached AT re my lifestyle choices. I didn’t litter today, but am I a bad person because I also didn’t recycle that soda can?
I can’t help it!! Have you seen how many garbage can choices there are these days? With all the different sized openings?
Being “Green” is hard , y’all.
I was at the Portland Oregon airport not long ago and they now have 7 garbage can colors, and a pen with a 1,000 pound sow called Recycle. I almost missed my flight trying to separate my trash from my waste, and my re-compost from my recycled. (what’s re-compost?)
I try to buy fresh, local, sustainable, organic food whenever possible, but, gosh darnit who doesn’t occasionally like a Snickers bar or maybe a 5 pound bag of Fritos?!
So, with that backdrop, please understand that I, and my 3 partners at the Back40 Mercantile, are not sustainability preachers…..far from it.
I’m the guy the preacher drags into church and demands I repent for my addiction to Dentyne gum and Milk Duds. I gave up those shrink-wrapped airport muffins 3 years and 5 months ago. (one day at a time).
Katrina maintains a secret (former secret, I suppose) “junk drawer” in our room at the Back40 Farm filled with emergency provisions: Goldfish, Good-n-Plenty, and Cheeze-its (don’t worry Kat, you know Lesley is too busy to read my blog).
Kat and I are aspiring practitioners of the sustainability movement….I read a lot of sustainability stuff, sometimes aloud if Kat is having a tough time falling asleep….I attend the occasional conference, and drive the occasional Greenpeace skiff out in front of a whaling ship, but I’m no Phil Dunphy hero saving the planet. Oh sure, I agree with Al Gore and I never use pesticides or herbicides or any of the other cides when growing my fruits and veggies, but I have been known to order my food into a faceless speaker from time to time.
Bill and Lesley? Other end of the spectrum.
The people who painted her house last week won the job not because they promised to use low VOC paint on HER house! They had to promise to only use low VOC paint from now on, forever.
Her lawn is always 2 shades less green than her neighbors’. Ironically, as it turns out, if you live a “green life”, you will be green with envy of your dark green neighbor’s lawn…..someone help me here I’m tired! Blogging is harder than it looks.
Back to our regularly scheduled broadcast:
Lesley and Bill are not sustainability preachers, per se, but they ARE sitting in the front pew of Sustainability Church…..and they are surrounded by people they have convinced to live the sustainable life. So, I would call them leaders, and I am not too proud to call myself a follower.
All kidding aside, for a few sentences: Everything I have learned about sustainability, Lesley and Bill have directly or indirectly taught me.
Bill is on the board of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. It can best be described as Mecca for the sustainability movement. (and it’s crawling with Foodies so only wear clothes that were new a long time ago).
And Lesley keeps us all honest and informed, and insists we be “intentional” in the way we treat the planet. I admire them both.
We want our store to be a fun place to visit. We want our customers to be able to buy products that were made by people we know, in plants we have visited….we want our customers to be able to use the 4 other senses we don’t use while shopping on-line.
If we only had purely defined organic and sustainable products however, our store itself wouldn’t be sustainable….reality is, American clothing companies use the far East, Turkey, Portugal, the U.K to make their products. As soon as America makes a cashmere sweater that can compete with Alan Paine in terms of quality? It’s on our shelves. In the meantime, you’ll have to suffer in the nicest sweater I’ve ever worn, while we continue to search for a Made in America cashmere sweater.
Everything can’t be “organic”….that’s ridiculous.
Reality is, organic clothing is not very exciting….it’s sort of like the rice cakes of the garment industry. Imagine wearing a sweater that you can grill and serve with fava beans and a nice Chianti…..
Let’s keep one foot in reality as we all try and live cleaner healthier lives.
We all want to be better stewards of the planet….we know that about our customers because so many of them were friends before they were customers.
And it is our business plan to provide you the opportunity to buy a great product that also provides an opportunity for a conscientious manufacturer to sell a great product. Say that 4 times and it will make sense; I promise.
It is my opinion that the reason our store has been so well received is because we have assembled a collection of very well made, very stylish and classy products that also happen to be made by small business owners who adhere to sustainable manufacturing processes, sold to you by passionate and professional people who take pride in their jobs.
The sustainable “movement” is filled with opportunity. It’s bursting at the seams.
But, if you make organic crackers and they taste like cardboard, they won’t sell well, and you have just succeeded in making a NON sustainable product (because your cracker business will be out of business). We want our store to be an organic cracker that tastes great……so great that you come back for more.…so much more, that our store becomes sustainable. And we want you to buy our products and shop in our store not because we’re those “green people”, but because we’re just like you: We want awesome unique products made by awesome unique people….pure and simple.26