Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

An Entrepreneur’s Soliloquy

 

How do we measure success? No, I’m really asking.

Every organization has different metrics. Maybe for some, it’s maximizing shareholder value. Perhaps it’s the number of lightbulbs sold, manatees rescued, or lives changed. It could be staying afloat through the year. Or the day. Success can be an end, and also a beginning. However we define it, though, we must define it.

Not that it’s easy. When you operate to serve a mission, metrics are tricky because sometimes they are intangible. Sure, we can look at sales history and consider growth to be a success. But how many people made a Meal Kit and felt empowered to cook again? How many customers shared a meal with a family member, friend, or even stranger that they otherwise wouldn’t have? Who decided that they felt better, both physically and mentally, after eating a healthful meal and made a personal decision to stick with it? Whose day was better because they chose to shop with us?

Don’t get me wrong – financial metrics are important. Hugely important. They determine whether or not we can continue to exist, and we can’t very well make an impact if we don’t exist. Ultimately, though, every decision we make is based on the fundamental question: “will this help us serve our mission?” Reconciling the answer to that question with the need to be economically sustainable is a challenging task. And just as the business faces these questions, so does the person.

*               *               *

Travel is a contemplative time for me.

I spent the holidays stomping on formerly familiar grounds, from which I ripped my roots when I was about 17. Despite my lingering adolescent stubbornness, quixotically proclaiming that to remain in the place I was raised would be to admit defeat, returning to my family is unrivaled medicine. Cozying up in a place without expectations, where I can be who I am–in my least attractive state–and still be loved, is a feast for the soul. The holidays only amplify this feeling. There is a year’s end, a time to be grateful, and a fresh start that launches like a rocket after the world counts down in relative unison.

Still, returning to work after a vacation is always hard, and returning to life as a fledgling entrepreneur is harder still. With a full spirit and the temporary high of the calendar tabula rasa fueling me, I returned to Portland to face my still-new business in a nebula of both resolve and uncertainty. Running a business is hard, hard, hard. While I always assumed that if I worked in a cubicle for a long period of time I would wither and parch like a sad little potted plant under florescent lights, there are parts of me that envy those jobs. Clocking out, passing the buck, getting paid…I can’t say I don’t dream of these niceties. Beyond that, what about the existential questions? How do I know when to continue and when to call it a good learning experience and move on? Where is the line between perseverance and blind stubbornness (“Founder’s Syndrome,” I think it’s called…)? What does it all mean?!

This would be a nice place for a grand clarifying answer, but as this is life and not a fiction, I don’t have one. But I can say this (to myself): during our first market day of 2013, I saw smiling faces. “The Sheriff,” always the first customer at our morning market, was there this year as she was in the last. Ray came with his My Street Grocery shopping bag, which he fills each week. Al bought fruit and juices for himself, and for Michael, who couldn’t come because she was caring for her mother. We sold Meal Kits to be prepared at Central City Concern’s weekly nutrition and cooking class. Regular customers brought friends. Old friends became customers. People stopped just to tell us that they liked what we were doing. The rain fell from a sunless sky and I was basking in the warmth of a job–a community–that means something to me.

So, there you have it. My passion for this cause is strong. The burden of the day-to-day in any business can be draining, but nothing about my work is complete. There are hundreds of doors yet to be open, hundreds of hands outstretched in support, and hundreds…and hundreds…of people in need. I don’t have a perfect definition of success, but I know that my work hasn’t scratched the surface of impact yet. So I’ll call this my truth. My axiom. From there, I’ll assume the details will work themselves out.

Happy New Year. I’m glad to say that I mean each word in that phrase.

October in the Hood River Valley

 

April is a great time to visit Oregon’s Hood River Valley.  That’s when rows of cherry, apple and pear trees blossom white and pink against the backdrop of rolling hills, forests and a snow-covered Mt Hood.  July and August in the valley are stunning as deep red cherries fill the trees and fields of lavender carpet the valley floor. That’s also when brilliant yellow and gold sunflowers reach for the sky, and sweet blueberries taste their best.  Even September is a beautiful and delicious time in the valley when peaches, nectarines, plums, pears, raspberries, and sweet honey crisp apples await.

Of course, here we are in October and you may be surprised to discover that there’s still plenty to enjoy in the Hood River Valley.  You can still walk the rows of apple and pear trees while filling your bucket with sweet fruit.  You can still enjoy a cup of cool cider in the warm afternoon sun.  And on a sunny day views in all directions are breathtaking.  Picture the Columbia River Gorge, Mt Adams and of course Mt Hood as the backdrop for a leisurely picnic in a grassy field.  You can even do a little early Christmas shopping at a farm stands where you’ll find honeys, jams, ciders, and artwork from local artisans.  If it’s cool outside, warm up inside with a cup of coffee and a piece of fresh pie at one of the local bakeries.

The Hood River Valley is breathtaking most any time of year.  For more information including great descriptions of many farm stands and their products, visit Hood River County’s “Fruit Loop” website.

 

A Monday to Remember

 

Whew! Things have been moving quickly around here. I’d like to stop, catch my breath, and take a minute to tell you about our very full experience this past Monday.

First, I’d like to wish myself and my team a little happy-anniversary-to-us. It’s hard to believe, but Monday marks the 5 month anniversary of our launch! Five months may not seem like a long time (and it’s not), but we’ve come a long way since that first day, and I can say with confidence that we are thrilled for the future.

Second, we had the great honor of participating in the Oregon Social Business Challenge on Monday. The opportunity to talk about our work in front of a thousand social business experts, advocates, and entrepreneurs was really a dream. Now, if I had known when we were asked to present that I’d be following the keynote address of the great Muhammad Yunus — Nobel Peace Prize Winner and founder of the microcredit global phenomenon — I may have been more hesitant, but I’m infinitely happy that I did it because it only strengthened by passion for what we do. I’m always floored and humbled by the support we continue to receive from the community around us, and Monday was no exception. Hearing Professor Yunus speak about his incredible work was inspiring, and, when you pair that with his warm and approachable demeanor, you really get that fuzzy feeling inside that makes you feel like everything you’re doing makes sense. For all you entrepreneurs out there, or anyone who has set out to do something without a clear path paved for you, you know how important that kind of validation is; thank you, Professor Yunus, for all you do for the world, and (humbly) for me.

I was also asked to be a judge for the competition portion of the event, where I got to see student teams present their social business concepts with gusto and poise. The passion the students showed for their concepts was contagious; it feels to me like social business as a recognized field is spreading…and I’m excited. Finally, special shout out to EcoZoom, who also presented their world-changing work, Impact Entrepreneurs for being everywhere at once and never allowing their steadfast support to diminish even for an instant, Portland State University for continuing to be our cheerleader, and Mayor Sam Adams, for introducing me so kindly and for pronouncing my last name correctly. Nice work, y’all!

Photo credit: Andie Petkus Photography

Now, while all of this was incredibly special, invigorating, and worthwhile, what I’m perhaps most excited about is what my partners were doing during all of this, which is working hard in the field running our second Central City Concern Market. And…guess what? We had a RECORD BREAKING DAY! It was our best market ever by a long shot, and a huge portion of our sales were EBT transactions. (I’ll try to refrain from too much hyperbole here, but let me just say…YEAH!!!!!!!)

It was truly a Monday to remember. Thanks to everyone out there — customers, partners, friends, supporters, community members — for making what we do feel so good. You’re all indescribably important to us and to our work. Thank you.

And, I’ll leave it at that.

My best,
Amelia

Reasons to Ring the Dinner Bell

 

I totally get it.  Whether you’re a family of two or twenty-two, it’s not easy making family dinners happen.  But getting everyone to the dinner table at the same time even a few times a week is a great idea.  Some reasons might surprise you.

Staying Connected

One of the more simple reasons is that being together for dinner helps families stay connected.  When families are together with phones set aside and TVs turned off, conversations emerge that help us understand what’s happening in each other’s lives.  Even without profound conversation, time around the dinner table builds family bonds and sends the message that family is important.

Saving Money

Saving money is another reason.  When families eat dinner separately, it usually means some or all of us are eating out.  And eating out is more expensive than a eating at home.  A family of four can easily spend thirty dollars or more even at a fast food restaurant.  In contrast, a simple dinner at home costs half that, or less.  As an example, the My Street Grocery Brazilian Black Beans and Sausage Meal Kit is only $12 and makes 4-6 hearty portions.  Take the savings and put it aside for a family vacation.  The dollars will add up fast.

Adding Variety

Eating out not only costs more but it can also discourage eating different varieties of foods.  Introducing variety is important because it’s often healthier, and because it encourages kids and adults alike to explore the world around them.  Kids in particular sometimes need a little nudging to experiment beyond chicken strips and cheeseburgers.  They’ll grow up to be more interesting people if they learn to try new things.  Experimenting with new and different foods is a great place to start.

Building Family Memories

I have fond memories of certain family recipes while growing up.  Cheese enchiladas, Swiss steak, and lasagna are all comfort foods that I enjoyed at the family dinner table.  Even if they don’t know it now, kids in particular will appreciate family favorites later in life.  When they come home from college they’ll be asking for their favorite dinners that remind them of loved ones and of simpler times.

Staying in Control

When preparing dinner at home for the family, you control the ingredients.  This helps makes for a healthier meal.  Even seemingly innocent restaurant meals can be loaded with surprise and less-healthy ingredients.  I once asked a chef friend of mine how he makes his scrambled eggs so delicious.  His reply was “Butter, lots of butter.”  Even a simple breakfast of scrambled eggs away from home can contain more fat than you thought possible.  I walked by an open kitchen at a local restaurant once to see the chef painting loads of butter on top of a grilled steak with a brush.  Even simple foods can have unexpected (and not-so-healthy) ingredients.  Going out to eat is great fun and I encourage it.  But with a family dinner at home it’s likely you’re eating fewer calories and healthier ingredients.

Give it a Try

Bringing the family together at home for dinner is a great way to stay connected, save money, and add variety to our diets and our lives.  It also creates fond memories of favorite family recipes.  Finally, when you prepare dinner at home, you control the ingredients.  Most often this results in a healthier meal.  With a bit of effort, even the busiest families can get everyone at the dinner table at the same time a few nights a week.  Give it a try…You’ll be glad you did.

Confessions of an Impulsive Food Lover

 

I think it’s time that I finally admit it: I have a problem. For some women, it’s shoes, handbags, or jewelry. But for me, it’s all about food. Maybe you haven’t noticed yet, but we are in the midst of the apex of food season here in Portland and its surrounding areas. If you’ve been to a market lately (and you’re anything like me), you’ll be amazed and overwhelmed at everything our local farmers, ranchers, and food producers have to offer, and you may find yourself getting a little too excited. You can find everything from kale, berries, melons and tomatoes to hot and sweet peppers, apples, and even winter squash. Seriously…strawberries AND greens AND peppers AND pumpkins? How can it all be happening at once?!?

Must have all of them. 

(I joke about my experience at local markets, but this type of unplanned spending can happen even if you can only make it to the store on limited occasions. The typical big-box grocery store can be very overwhelming and enticing.) Because I’m a bit excitable and impulsive when it comes to food purchases, it’s easy to overspend. Money that I shouldn’t really be spending seems to magically disappear from my bank account without my knowledge. It’s as if a couple of little Marxist one dollar bills decided to fly the coop, but they keep rallying their friends to join them in their exodus, so they’re leaving in armies now.

The moral of this little confessional is that when you don’t create a food budget, and when you shop for one meal or a few impulse items at a time, you lose track of your spending habits and you begin to feel like food is far too expensive. Luckily, there is help out there! Our friends at Food Hero know our pain (that’s me and you – fellow food lover), and they’ve created lots of user friendly tools to help us budget and spend appropriately. The best part about it is, we can still buy the healthful, seasonal, fresh foods that we so desire AND stay within our budgets. In fact, buying locally and seasonally is a great way to save money on food.

At this wonderful site, you can find tools to help you create a food budget, waste less food, transform your leftovers, and identify when your favorite produce is in season. While you’re there, I encourage you to browse around and see what other tips and tools Food Hero has to offer. It’s a great resource.

At My Street, we’ve got tomatoes, berries, zucchini, melons, peaches, pears, and corn (to name a few items), and we’d love to help you add these seasonal, affordable foods to your well-planned food budget. You can even check on me while you’re there and make sure that I didn’t go rogue and buy another pair of beautiful, shiny tomatoes that I didn’t need, since we all know I already have at least three more pairs at home…

A Day in the Life

 

After a long day, we arrive at our final stop and get everything squared away for an hour and a half long market.  A few minutes later, I hear the roar of the bike gang rolling towards us.  I always get a kick out of these regulars.  Good guys, but definitely a handful.  They always tend to take things over, but they’re good people, and always make me laugh.

The leader, Jose, asks me in broken English whether he can have some free food.  I chuckle, and inquire, again, if he would ever walk into another store and ask for freebies.  He flashes his toothless grin and suggests that maybe he and his buddies could work for some food.  I hand the six of them some fliers and they race off to distribute throughout the community.

When they get back, I offer a pint of cherries to the crew, and Jose looks perplexed.  He informs me that he’s never had a cherry before.  After a warning about the pits, they chow down and I see that toothless smile again.  As the eight year olds peddle off, Jose yells that he’s going to go ask his Mother for some money so he can buy more cherries.

This is one example of the little things.  Others are Eve telling me that her day is going great now that we’ve arrived, Marion and her puppy Phoebe greeting us upon our arrival, as they always do, and then returning four more times over the hour we’re there in order to buy milk and produce for all of their friends who can’t make it outside that day, and Norma, who is convinced that I have a special talent for “always picking the most perfect cantaloupe for her” (it’s the smell test!).

Starting and running your own business can be extremely challenging sometimes.  However, working with amazingly intelligent people and organizations, as well as feeling as though we’re truly on to something, and making a difference in wonderful peoples lives, makes it all worthwhile.  Although it’s sometimes difficult to let go of some things that are out of your control, it’s all part of the learning process.  I couldn’t be happier with this amazing thing we’ve created, and the incredible reaction and support we receive from all of our communities.

Community Cookbook

 

One of the things that I adore about food is its versatility, not only of preparation, but also of purpose. When I think back to some of my most cherished memories, whether they be of world travel, family events, gatherings of friends, or solo adventures, food is often the medium around which things come together. Throughout the world, a meal is a common gesture that can serve as a communication tool when language fails. Food is used to symbolize milestones, to soothe grief, and to celebrate diversity. We believe that a home-cooked meal provides so much more than nourishment, and we want to share that joy as widely as we can.

At My Street Grocery, we weave this philosophy into our mission, particularly through our Meal Kit recipes and the relationships they help us to form with our customers. So, we’re thrilled to announce a project that reflects this ideology: our Community Cookbook! We’re drawing recipes from community members to build a cookbook that celebrates delicious, nourishing recipes and the stories behind them. If you’d like to participate, email your favorite recipe to cookbook@mystreetgrocery.com. If we choose your recipe, you’ll not only be featured in the cookbook, but you’ll also be entered to win coupons to use at any of our My Street Grocery market locations. Look for the Community Cookbook in various locations around Portland later this fall, and don’t miss out on the chance to share your food story!

You can download and print the recipe entry form here. Thanks to project sponsors Ecotrust, Alberta Co-op Grocery, People’s Co-op, and Abby’s Table, for championing this mission and helping to make the Community Cookbook a reality.