Startup Profile: Using Narrative to Take the Food Movement to the Next Level
July 28, 2011 | Melinda Clark
That along with a desire to create a successful business that will push the sustainable food movement forward was the aim of Roadside Food Projects founder Nick Wiseman when he and two associates decided to launch the business about six months ago.
Let’s Push Things Forward
As a freshly minted startup still in its infancy, Roadside Food Projects will no doubt continue to evolve and change as it grows. Currently, the company is consulting and partnering on an array of projects that all share the goal of moving food forward. Various projects include helping EcoFriendly Foods, a well-known purveyor of pasture raised meats, expand its operations; contributing to the Number 68 Project, a dinner series that pushes Washington D.C. chefs to cook through a broader narrative; and running the food program for Washington City Paper’s Crafty Bastard fair.
Wiseman says the Crafty Bastard fair best exemplifies Roadside’s participation in the sustainable agriculture and food movement. Crafty Bastards, now in its eighth year, is an outdoor festival in D.C. that showcases handmade alternative arts and crafts from independent artists. Roadside is arranging a crafty food award and a DIY salon with demonstrations on topics such as pickling and building a solar oven. While an arts and crafts festival may not seem directly related to farming, that’s where the innovation comes in – it’s all about picking strategic venues at which to convey Roadside’s message.
“It’s about really crafting a new language and understanding the audience and trying to craft messages that really resonate with people and are enduring. That to me is innovation,” says Wiseman. He continues, “I think [Crafty Bastards] sort of uniquely explains what we do. We know we have a captive audience of 40,000 people. It’s really a creative integration of local business and local talent, that engage the audience and tell a story about craft foods…The message is not explicitly sustainable ag, but every crafter will be paired with a farmer that grows the product.”
Not Just Telling Stories
Wiseman thinks that narrative will play a key role in taking the food movement to the next level.
“We need to not only change the way [America] eats but change the way it grows its foods,” he says. “I think it has to be looked at holistically. Every decision we make, we try to look at it holistically – what’s the net impact…what’s the language we can craft that’s really going to resonate. We’re using food as a vehicle to tell really important stories. The importance of telling stories today is critical and I think good business does that.”
Sharing the story behind our food is not a new concept – one of the key tenets of the sustainable agriculture movement is knowing where one’s food comes from. But it’s the packaging of this information in creative new ways that leverage technology and media to create solutions that has contributed to Roadside’s early success. That, and their dedication to building solid, enduring relationships with their business partners.
The Root of Good Ingredients is Good Farming
Wiseman first entered the food world through the backdoor – as a line cook in fine dining restaurants in D.C. That’s where he was exposed to good ingredients, and, in his words, “learned that the root of good ingredients is good farming.”
It’s a lesson that he says not everybody learns. “What I’ve learned from cooking in fine dining restaurants…is what makes good ingredients. It was years of discovery to understand what good farming was. I think that’s a really hard lesson to learn and communicate.”
It’s clear, though, that the message is getting out – there’s a growing awareness about how food is grown, and agriculture’s impact on health and the environment. At 24, Wiseman is part of what he considers a pivotal generation, one that he thinks is uniquely open to this lesson.
“At the end of the day it’s about education and access,” he says. “And I think those two things go side by side and I think we’re working on both.”