Dan Gibbs of Hometown Farms is so close he can almost smell it: a thriving urban vertical market, where affordable, plump, ripe organic tomatoes and leafy greens dense with nutrients are grown upstairs, and the only travel required is to a marketplace on the first floor, eliminating the need for an expensive middleman.
San Diego farmer’s market doyenne Catt White dreams of enough financing to stuff the San Diego Public Market full of tasty, skillful vendors to rival other successful public markets like Seattle’s Pike’s Place or San Francisco’s Ferry Building.
Josh Robinson envisions a new kind of farm for San Diego. His idea is the Sustainable Living Institute, where farming becomes more lucrative by stacking design methods. That means underneath the avocado trees (which can produce roughly $12,000 per acre in revenue) are flocks of foraging hens that provide both fertilizer and another revenue stream: eggs. Add a layer of herbs, dragon fruit, and honeybees and Robinson says the revenue will be pumped up to $16,000 per acre. That is, if he had the funding to get the project launched.
What each of the 11 entrepreneurs who presented Wednesday evening at San Diego’s second Slow Money SoCal event have in common is the need for an infusion of cash. And they were hoping someone in the audience might be impressed enough to invest in them. The idea stems from the national Slow Money organization, which focuses on sustainable food enterprises and encourages those with capital to invest those funds in ventures close to home.
“If people just invested 1 percent in local San Diego companies, there would be such a sea change in the success of companies doing this,” said the event organizer Frank Golbeck.
Golbeck too, tried to tantalize the audience with growth charts and trend reports that highlight why his Golden Coast Mead product is destined to be a winner.
Some ideas were better than others. Nearly all of the presenters threw out buzzwords the crowd wanted to hear: organic, artisanal, local, sustainable. Slightly disappointing was the fact that several of the budding businesses highlighted weren’t what I’d consider local, except for the fact that the owners are based here. Lots of nutritional bars based on raw chocolate or quinoa (which have their own sustainability issues) are made from ingredients that don’t grow here. A beauty company, thrown into the mix, highlighted the “local herbs” they forage from a mountain in Oregon. D’oh! Even Golbeck’s mead, as tasty as it is, is hedging bets that the nation’s honeybee woes find a cure. Then again, San Diego’s thriving beer scene imports nearly everything, from water to hops to barley to bottles that are sourced elsewhere, and yet, we still embrace it as a local product. Maybe I’m being too picky.
Despite my nose-wrinkling at a few of the pitches, what I sensed at the event was a sincere effort among this community to bolster one another and to steer San Diego toward becoming an incubator of food businesses that might someday nourish us all.