Archive for September, 2008

Locally-raised, Grass Fed Beef

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

Big things usually start small.  The local food movement started small among those reacting against the industrialization of our food supply, and its impact our health, food quality, and the environment, but it is growing rapidly.  The number of Community Supported Agriculture groups (CSAs) has grown dramatically, allowing consumers to buy a portion of the produce from local farmers, guaranteeing top quality in-season produce for themselves, and a better return for farmers. 

The environmental benefits of local food have received a lot of attention, with people looking at “food miles” and the impact of food distribution on climate change.  The difference in local food is not just where it is raised, but how it is raised, and the resulting quality of the product.  Local food is often higher in quality than food passing through the national food distribution system, provided an added benefit, and probably the most important one to many consumers. 

Beef in your grocery store is often transported across the country, and even if the price is high the quality might not match.  The vast majority of beef in grocery stores today is raised on corn, and lots of it.  In his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma“, Michael Pollan describes how most cattle in the US are raised, completing their lives being fed vast quantities of corn in feedlot CAFOs, concentrated animal feeding operations with thousands of animals crowded together.  The animals in feedlots are given hormones and antibiotics, encouraging the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria that contribute to human illness.  Their meat is fatty, and probably loaded with the wrong kind of fats, those that lead to heart disease.  Finally, the transport of the cattle and meat across the country and through the industrialized food system put an additional strain on the environment.

Locally produced grass fed meat is better for the environment and for our health, as reported by the Union of Concerned Scientists.   Cows evolved to graze on grasses, not in crowded pens eating corns.  Cows raised grazing on grass are healthier, with no need of constant antibiotic protection, and they are leaner.  The beef from these cattle is also higher in the omega-3 fatty acids widely believed to protect against heart disease.

Local Meats - Grassfed cattle on Palomar Mountain

Local Meats - Grassfed cattle on Palomar Mountain

Photo from The La Jolla Butcher Shop/ Home Grown Meats.
The problems with our existing meat supply and how it is produced and transported are opportunities for those who can provide locally raised, grass fed beef or other local meat products.   Butcher shops across the country once did exactly that, only to see their ranks dwindle in the face of the industrialized food system.  With the local food movement though, butcher shops providing locally raised meat may see a resurgence.
Homegrown Meats and The La Jolla Butcher Shop has just opened in August 2008 in San Diego, focusing on providing locally grown meats.  Their grass fed beef is from cattle that graze on a ranch on Palomar Mountain, a short drive away from San Diego.  These cattle never see a feedlot and receive no antibiotics or hormones, raised on organic grass instead.  The partners who have opened the butcher shop have been friends with the ranchers for years, and when the ranchers were ready to expand, the time seemed right to open the store.  The ranchers and store owners are working together, guaranteeing the store owners a steady supply of high quality local meat, and ensuring the ranchers a good return and a steady price for their hard work. 
It doesn’t hurt that the local grass fed beef is high quality, probably the best you can find.  It’s a little different from the fatty corn-fed beef people are used to, but the difference is a good one.  “I did it because I love it,” said one of the partners in the butcher shop, Peter Morris, when I spoke with him recently.  ”But then you read and you see that this stuff is more natural, and also healthier, and it’s a real win-win.”
I’ve tried the grass fed beef from the shop and I thought it was great.  As with many green products, the key to the success of local foods is not just about their environmental or health benefits.  For many people the most important selling point will be their quality.  If these products taste better, as well as being healthier and good for the environment, then this will be a key to their success. 
“So far we’re doing well,” said Morris.  “Business has been getting better and better, and fun along the way.”  If all goes well, they might be part of a return of butcher shops and high-quality, locally raised grass fed beef that tastes great, is healthier, and better for the environment. 

Going Green with Vote Solar and Maroon 5

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

The rapid growth of the solar industry is creating jobs and businesses that reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.  Solar power still provides only a small portion of the electricity in the US, but several factors are driving the continued growth of solar power.  Solar energy is clean, renewable, and its cost is determined by the initial cost of putting systems in place, without a need for increasingly expensive fuel. 

To encourage the growth of the solar industry, the government has put in place policies and incentives that support it.  There are 24 states that have renewable energy portfolio standards requiring utilities to produce a portion of their power using clean energy alternatives like solar and wind to replace more polluting resources.  State governments have created incentives like the Million Solar Roofs initiative in California that is working to install 3000 megawatts worth of solar panels by 2016, saving the state an estimated $6 billion in the process.  Tax credits and rebates reduce the cost of solar energy, helping it to compete with energy from more polluting resources like coal, but putting these policies and laws into places is not always easy.  Providing tax credits to support renewable energy creates green collar jobs and makes economic sense, as well as helping the environment, but an extension of the tax credits for renewable energy past the end of 2008 has remained stuck in Congress.  Even now a last ditch effort is underway to provide an extension for these tax credits.

Vote Solar is working to support consistent, long-term support for solar power.  When key actions in government are coming up, Vote Solar alerts supporters so they can email or phone their representatives in Congress and express their support.  Government seems to respond when people are watching and let their representatives know.  While many are skeptical about government, by getting involved and supporting solar people help to drive its increased use.

Reverb's Eco-Village at a Maroon 5 Concert

Reverb's Eco-Village at a Maroon 5 Concert

One way Vote Solar is getting the message out about solar is by showing up at music events, collaborating with Reverb to connect with fans at concerts like the Maroon 5 and Counting Crows tour this year. Reverb works with a variety of eco-aware musical performers to green events and get the word out with fans about environmental issues and solutions.  The growing list of performers working with Reverb includes the Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, and Jack Johnson, among many others.  At these concerts Reverb creates an Eco-Village of booths promoting the green cause, and works to green the event itself by recycling, reducing waste, encouraging carpooling to the shows with PickupPal, and connecting to fans to carry the changes home after the show.

Last weekend I volunteered at the Maroon 5 show in San Diego, manning the Vote Solar booth in the Eco-Village set up by Reverb there.  Many interested fans dropped by the booth and signed up to get involved, and perhaps change their lives to be greener.  Every person who gets involved is another step in the right direction.  Solar still costs more than coal, but with continued growth and technical progress, its cost will continue decreasing.  Consistent federal action will help to make this happen.  You can help to make it happen too by getting involved.  Next time you see your friendly Vote Solar or Reverb volunteer at a concert, go say Hi and see what they have to say.  Then, enjoy the show.








KidWind and Green School Supplies

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

Wind power is growing leaps and bounds, with the total capacity for electricity produced from wind power growing 45% in 2007 alone.  If T. Boone Pickens has his way, wind power will grow to provide 20% of our electricity in just ten years.  Such rapid growth in wind power creates a huge opportunity for many businesses, opportunities that extend far beyond wind farms right into the classrooms of the next generation. 

Green schools are a growing trend, with schools going green in various ways.  Many schools are greening their facilities by installing solar panels, installing organic landscaping, and making their buildings energy efficient.  The USGBC has a green schools program tracking and encouraging the construction of green LEED certified school buildings, estimating that green schools can save $100,000 a year.  Saving money and creating a healthy work and study environment is good for everyone involved, but green school buildings are only the start. 

In 75 Green Businesses I talk about the opportunities for schools and teachers to green what happens inside of schools as well, describing work going on at schools greening their curriculum like the Bertschi school in Seattle.  Green businesses of the future will rely on the kids going through our educational system today.  A report from the American Solar Energy Society estimates that the green economy will generate 40 million jobs in the US by 2030, high-quality, rewarding jobs created by innovative, entrepreneurial businesses.  Parents and educators are realizing that our kids need to be prepared for this increasingly green world of the future.

Getting there will require a solid grounding in basics, but going beyond the basics will open up the possibility for kids to go even farther.  Learning about renewable energy, waste reduction, energy efficiency, water conservation, and organic agriculture will open up a broad range of future career and business opportunities.  And learning about these things by getting your hands on them is pretty fun too.

As more schools and teachers catch this trend, there is a need for teaching materials that can bring to life the principles involved.  Michael Arquin founded the KidWind Project five years ago to meet this need.  KidWind designs, produces and sells kits and materials to teach about wind turbines and other forms of renewable energy.  Their wind turbine kits are scalable, modular, and reasonably priced.  Walking the green walk, their materials are also increasingly produced domestically, using recycled material, using wind power.  The sales of KidWind have tripled every year so far, so that KidWind now employees ten people and will soon be launching KidSolar and KidH2 (about fuel cells).   In addition to selling wind turbine kits, KidWind provides workshops, curriculum materials, and other forms of outreach to the community.  We back our products up with extensive teacher training and free curricular materials,” says Arquin.  “We are not really in this to pack boxes - we are in it to help teachers learn how to integrate renewable energies into everyday teaching.”

The opportunity is not limited to green schools, but to eager and curious kids everywhere.  The greener that schools get, the more opportunities there will be to help them.  Green schools are going to need recycled paper, pencils from sustainably harvested trees, and healthy, organic school lunches.  Businesses that can meet these needs will be furthering the next generation of green entrepreneurs.  Helping them learn about the great green world we can create will help to make it happen. 


Glenn Croston is the author of “75 Green Businesses You Can Start to Make Money and Make a Difference”, describing a broad range of opportunities for entrepreneurs from many backgrounds to join the green business revolution.  He is also the founder of Starting Up Green, helping green entrepreneurs to succeed with tips, success stories, eco-entrepreneur profiles, and connections to experts.

Green Money: Person-to-Person Lending with Prosper

Friday, September 5th, 2008

One common concern among entrepreneurs is raising money they need to advance their company from startup to small business and beyond.  Small amounts of money can sometimes make a big difference for businesses early in their development, but money can be hard to find in today’s credit crunch.  Even quite credit-worthy businesses are finding small business loans hard to come by, or that loans are offered at much higher interest rates than expected.  Many have turned to credit cards to finance their ventures, and paid the price in the long run.  There are other ways to get access to money though, including person-to-person lending. 


In person-to-person lending, also called peer-to-peer lending, money is loaned by individuals, unlike bank loans.  Prosper is the largest person-to-person lending marketplace in the US, and has helped to mediate over $170 million in loans so far.  Borrowers make a loan listing for any use, and lenders bid for loans, driving down the rate.  Bids with the lowest rates are combined into one loan.  The purpose of loans can include using them for small businesses, although all loans are created as personal loans.  The size of loans ranges up to $25,000, providing an alternative to small business loans or credit cards.  Since Prosper is not a bank, they have actually seen their business increase even as traditional lending from banks dries up.


Prosper does not specifically target green entrepreneurs, but green businesses looking for small loans may fare well in this system.  Lenders in the Prosper system usually want to know how the money will be spent by borrowers, and are attracted to lend to borrowers like green entrepreneurs, helping to lower interest rates and attract money for these loans.  Lenders in Prosper can look at more than just a credit score to make their decisions.  A survey of lenders in Prosper found that 93% of lenders are interested in lending for green projects, and that 25% of lenders have bid on these projects.  Most banks on the other hand do not consider whether a business is green or not when considering a loan. 


I recently talked with Mike Arquin, founder of The KidWind Project, about borrowing through Prosper to help move his business forward.  KidWind is producing and selling educational materials like wind turbine kits for students and teachers, as well as providing training and curriculum materials about wind and other forms of renewable energy.  When they needed money for the development of new products, making injection molds, Mike found after exploring bank loans that the rates and terms with Prosper were very attractive.  “It was seven days and we got the money,” Mike said when I spoke with him.  Now, five years into the company, they are tripling in size each year and have ten people working for KidWind.  Person-to-person lending may not work for everyone, but it’s good to have another option available when you need money to grow your green business.