A conversation with Wiley Webb, founder of Permanent, a local foods aggregator and technology company, about eliminating the overhead of local sourcing, wholesale buyers, the power of aggregation and more.
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How do we build local food sheds from the ground up? Wiley Webb argues that, after studying all the facets of the food system, working on farms and in food companies across the US, it is crucial to start with wholesale buyers.
WHOLESALE BUYERS ARE CRUCIAL
According to Wiley, ‘financial security and predictability is the number one thing’. Farmers work out financial security with some of their buyers, who had the time to sit down and talk about crop plans, align on a handshake agreement and take some of the risks out of the farmers’ business. At Permanent, they are trying to support that process, both for buyers to take the time and empathize with what is or could be growing, reserve inventory and save a pre-committed handshake agreement. And for farmers to communicate what they are doing, what’s differentiated and what they could grow.
“We’re working on adding dimension and aggregation to that, so, depth of information like actual volumes available over time. So buyers can menu plan in advance in alignment with what’s actually growing across 10, 50 suppliers in their supply shed, and farmers can communicate exactly what they have, offering incentives and discounts at the right places. And mostly just have the demand side think further ahead the same way farmers do about availability instead of shoving all of it into a volatile week-after-week market.” – Wiley Webb
“And lets buyers augment their week-over-week sourcing and adjustments to what they actually need, with longer commitments and all the supplier stories that they care about. It’s not common, but one of our advisors to the company hacked this together the old-fashioned way, calling 50 farmers in his region directly negotiating and handshaking on the price of chicken breasts for the whole school year. And he loved it, especially for an institution that’s not trying to maximize profit or play the market in any way. His entire food program enjoyed stable, consistent prices, farmers had a huge load off their shoulders and enjoyed a stable buyer. And we’re trying to make that a more common behaviour.” – Wiley Webb
HOW WILEY AND EMMA THINK AND ACT
Wiley and his partner Emma have landed on a small island off the coast of Washington called San Juan, with a population of 15,000 with a lot of amazing homesteads, fully self-sufficient, off-grid, ‘one version of the Garden of Eden way of living’. They started a farm and a nine-bedroom B&B that welcomes the public to expose everyone to as much abundance as possible and to grow as much life and diversity in every square inch of the property as they could.
“Baby steps and curiosity and love and one soul’s adventure follow on making every bite of food, some point of connection with the earth right underneath you or with the local food chatter around you.” – Wiley Webb
“Zooming out more spiritually and personally, I believe in regenerative agriculture and everything it stands for, like regenerative food economies and food sovereignty. It all begins with pleasure and attention and love for good food […] The level of flavour in abundance Earth gives us largely for free. If we only pause to appreciate it and receive that abundance… So, in short, I believe every intellectual idea about agronomics and regenerative practices, every policy change, and every food system’s economic motion, like Permanent… All starts from the heart when you walk through that gateway of abundance.” – Wiley Webb
THE SALAD BAR IS A PERFECT GATEWAY FOR REGEN FOOD
At Permanent, they are learning how to best engage and get the full depth of regenerative practices farm by farm. At the moment they’re starting with everyone organic-certified and GAP-certified (Good Agriculture Practices), which is required to sell to any institution or retailer.
“Through the power of telling the full story of production at the point of the end buyer and actual consumption, enjoyment celebration. We believe that that adds more pressure on buyers to get excited about sourcing from the best and provides actual incentives, dollars on the other side, for farmers to adopt better practices year over year. Without that demand side, it’s a lot to ask farmers to invest in a business that’s already so difficult. And yeah, we’re aligning the two more and more every year.” – Wiley Webb
OTHER POINTS DISCUSSED
Koen and Wiley also talked about:
- How to make the wholesale market more profitable
- Meet farmers where they are
- What Wiley would do if he had a billion dollars to put to work
- Wiley and Emma just launched their farm refinance via a participated loan with Steward
- Wendell Berry: The Pleasures of Eating
- Donella Meadow framework
- Our framework
- Russell Wallack, which trees to plant where? Answering the oldest question in agriculture
- Dan Miller on the crucial role of locally owned processing in regenerative agriculture
- Dan Miller on crowdfunding and its key role in regenerative agriculture
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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.