When we started Southern Wild we had a strong sense of the core values that our business would be built upon. But understanding the scale at which we’d need to operate was an entirely different matter…
We built this business to provide healthy, restorative food to people. We wanted to create those foods through local and organic sourcing in an attempt to minimise our environmental footprint and “play the long game” on behalf of the generations to come.
We knew that food production was not the most profitable endeavor. Despite the fact that some people see fermented foods as being overpriced, these living foods require a ot of processing labor and are actually a pretty low margin product.
Scaling up to get prices down?
The primary means in which to bring our prices down is by achieving economy of scale. This basically translates to:
- rent or build a factory,
- mechanise all the things, and
- sell lots and lots of units.
We were of course open to the notion of the business being a large scale success, and in fact it was our “Plan A” — as long as the bond between our core values and the scaling remained in tact.
As we started to build momentum we encountered problems sourcing organic tasmanian cabbages. We could of course go “off island” for organic brassica but that presented a new kind of predicament that we weren’t jazzed about either.
What about going “conventional”?
For a infinitesimal sliver of space-time we pondered the notion of moving away from our focus on organics (which would be much easier as there are PLENTY of conventional cabbages in TAS) but we just could not get excited to spend our days with produce that had been exposed to toxic chemicals.
We were in a bit of a bind as we could not foresee a short or medium-term future where organic local supplies would grow enough to support wholesale pricing.
As long as we were small-scale and supporting wholesale we would be effectively paying for the privilege of having our products stocked at retail outlets.
If it weren’t for our direct sales at Farmgate Market we’d probably already be all washed up!
Small biz in a “growth without end” paradigm
In many respects small businesses are the glue that binds our society, yet they come up against a perennial pressure to become ever-larger.
This concept of perpetually scaling to the nth degree irrespective of values seems fundamentally tied to our present day economic milieu. It’s like the system knows no other way to “survive” outside of the paradigm of growth-without-end, and yet the very survival of that system may well mean the end of survival for our species and the planet. Go figure!
This ubiquitous pressure to expand ad infinitum finds it’s way to many Tasmanian businesses. In writing this article I was reminded of a few examples shared by two Huon valley businesses in the last few years.
The first was a most excellent journal piece by Alex Taylor of Cygnet’s Golden Valley Farm. He describes a lot of the pressures to expand that he has been grappling with and how that has impacted his values and quality of life. Here’s a juicy excerpt but I recommend you read the entire thing:
…every year since I have expanded the amount of land I cultivate, I’ve expanded the amounts of veggies I produce, I’ve expanded the farm turnover and expanded the complexity of my business in terms of multi-locations, customers, outlets, staff, insurance, capital expenditure, costs and systems. I’ve expanded my income too…
And just a month ago, after another peak season even busier than last year, I was knackered. My partner gave me a heads up that she’s kind of tired of never seeing me, and when she does I fall asleep. I had to do some thinking.
I thought about exponential growth. Plants grow exponentially also —especially annual vegetables — days to germinate, then weeks to grow to a small seedling, then suddenly boom you have a vegetable ready to eat
But then what happens? (if you don’t eat it!). The plant makes a flower, sets a fruit or a pod, makes a seed or produces a tuber or rhizome, then it dies, contracts, the end of the road for that vegetable.
So plants have that exponential growth quite specifically aimed at death and reproduction, like breathing, a matched process of expansion and contraction. Whereas our current mode of living is just never ending, limitless unchecked growth, like a continually indrawn breath.
And that was kind of how I felt at the end of summer—tight with stress like an indrawn breath.
So after eight years of always choosing to work harder, grow more, sell more, make more, thinking I’ve been increasingly successful I’ve found that I am increasingly trapped! Trapped by endless expansion.
So I’ve been fulfilling our society’s expectation for a business: grow or die. Exponential growth. Of product, of profits, of consumption, of population. Of effort and labour.
The second was a very informative presentation by Andrew Smith of Willie Smith’s Cider Co. at the Future Business Showcase: Tasmania’s Food Future event hosted by UTAS in June 2016.
The full video of that event can be watched here. Andrew’s presentation starts 40 minutes in FYI. He talks a lot about food security, the pressure to expand and the incredible waste that gets generated when supplying to Australia’s “Big Two” supermarket chains.
Enter “Plan B” – The Southern Wild Membership Program!
We have decided to do away with the notion of becoming an overstretched and overindebted behemoth. We’ll jettison it and instead focus on the provision of a:
- premium quality
- home delivered
- locally and organically sourced
- seasonal ferment box
That is exclusively targeted to the good people of Southern Tasmania. It’s a hyperlocal microbusiness subscription scheme!
For all the fresh Tempeh crazies — you’ll be glad to know that we include an option for up to 3 fresh Tempeh blocks in the box too!
For more information or to sign up to the program check out our new membership page.
How many of YOU are out there?
Hobart has a population of around 220,000 people in it. We’d like to service as far south as Huonville and Cygnet, and east as Dodges Ferry. So that’s probably 250-280,000 people.
If we can get 125 subscribers (one for every 2000 Southern Tasmanians) we should be able to maintain a sustainable part-time income stream that tastes good and feels good to support. Should you choose to support this scheme you will be contributing to equitable wages for the kraut makers and the small, ethical growers (like Alex) who we source from.