Posts By Nicola Kerslake
Looking to his Roots, Former Engineer Launches Sustainable Olive Oil Business in Corning, CaliforniaJanuary 31, 2012 | Nicola Kerslake
When Dewey Lucero was laid off from his engineering job in 2005, he started to think about taking his career in a new direction. Growing up as the grandson of two olive farmers in California’s Central Valley, Lucero was accustomed to helping out with the harvest from a young age, and eventually turned to his roots. “I realized that I could build on my grandfathers’ work by developing an olive oil brand,” said Lucero, who told me about the origin of his sustainable olive oil business at a jam-packed tasting event last weekend. One of Lucero’s grandfathers had sold table olives, while the other sold to the region’s largest olive oil mill and occasionally crushed olives to bottle oil for friends and family.
Nearly three years ago, Jon Friedman and Brad McNamara left their careers in marketing to research the pressing issue of food miles, or the distance food is transported from the time of its production until it reaches the consumer. “It seemed crazy that we were shipping in lettuce from California. We figured there had to be a better way,” said Friedman. To address this issue, Friedman and McNamara launched Boston-based Freight Farms, a company that aims to convert used shipping containers into modular, portable crop production units toward the end of transforming urban surroundings into a sustainable food source, increasing access to fresh local food in any environment, and creating local economies.
Nevada has the fewest farmers of any state in the union – 3,131 compared to 81,033 in neighboring California, according to the USDA. Of these, only an estimated 200-400 are produce farmers, with ranchers dominating in the state.
“I’ve lived in Reno for 30 years, and didn’t even realize there were farmers here for the first 20,” admits Ann Louhela, Project Director of Western Nevada College’s Specialty Crop Institute.
That’s why along with its primary goal of providing small farmers in Nevada with an innovative education program to help them become more sustainable, the Specialty Crop Institute is also seeking to increase public awareness surrounding local agriculture in Nevada.
Nearly all authorities on entrepreneurialism preach the same message on founding your first start up: keep it close to home and trade what you know. Recently, I came across two twenty-something Frenchmen who threw out this rulebook, and seem to be thriving as a consequence. When Victor Combal-Weiss and Guillaume Virag began research for a European business plan competition, their aim was to prove that, in theory, a sustainable farming business would make sense in Asia.
“We started off viewing it as an interesting intellectual exercise,” said Virag.
From this exercise emerged Project Alba, a socially-minded startup that seeks to create sustainable economic development of rural areas in Cambodia by linking the country’s farmland producers with local and international urban consumers.