“I realized you can’t have one sustainable, locally owned business, there must be a sustainable business system.”
Judy Wicks believes the way to a community’s heart is through its stomach.
She began the nonprofit White Dog Community Enterprises (an outgrowth of her famed White Dog Café) in an effort to create a sustainable, local economy—one that nurtures a real sense of community and fosters social and environmental awareness.
Sure, establishing a local economy benefits the community, reduces your carbon footprint, and gives people greater freedom and self-reliance, but where do you start? “Creating a local food system is the best way,” says Wicks, “because we buy food every day.”
Ten years ago, when Judy Wicks learned the horrors of industrialized pig farming, she took pork off the menu at her famed White Dog Cafe in Philadelphia—until she could find a farmer who raised pigs humanely.
“I realized you can’t have one sustainable, locally owned business, there must be a sustainable business system,” Wicks told a crowd of chefs, farmers, professors and citizens in Raleigh last week.
Wicks has spent the last 25 years helping to build those systems by fighting for her values, figuring out how to keep business local and sustainable, and then simply doing what needed to be done.
She helped build Philadelphia’s local food economy by investing 20 percent of the profits from her restaurant into White Dog Community Enterprises, a nonprofit dedicated to building a local food system and living economy in the Philadelphia region, which connects hundreds of restaurants with local farmers. Wicks’ earnings helped establish a pig farmers assistance program and the Fair Food Farmstand, now open year-round at the Reading Terminal Market downtown. Today the nonprofit is working to develop a distribution system that will deliver local food to area hospitals, among other projects.
In 2001, after identifying other key sectors that make up a living local economy—energy, shelter, clothing, investment, media, arts and culture—she created the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) to strengthen networks of locally owned businesses that embrace the “triple bottom line” concept—that businesses can be profitable while fostering social and environmental awareness.
“I see business as a series of economic exchanges—rewarding interactions with farmers who grow fruit and vegetables, animals that provide milk and meat, bakers who create delicious bread, the Zapatistas who grow my coffee beans, the list goes on,” Wicks said. “Business is about building relationships with people and with nature, the money is just a tool. My business is my way of expressing my love of life.”
She visited the Triangle last week to deliver the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) 2008 Sustainable Agriculture Lecture: “Local Living Economies: Green, Fair and Fun.” She shared her vision for a new business paradigm: one that fosters small, local and sustainable businesses that connect us to the environment and each other, bringing us more security and more joy.