Thursday, April 29, 2010

Nourish me with Sustainable Fish

I had the privilege of attending Nourish Restaurant's Sustainable Local Fish Dinner on April 20th. Karen Masterson, Nourish's Owner collaborated with the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance to "Celebrate the earth, its ocean and those who bring us food from the ocean". Six local fishermen & women shared dinner to help us learn about why they fish, what inspires them, what fishing means to them, and how they are working to make sure they put food on our table while leaving the smallest possible impact on the ocean.
The guests of honor were:
- Ed Barrett of Marshfield, Massachusetts
- B.G. Brown of Gloucester, Massachusetts
- Shareen Davis of Chatham, Massachusetts
- Carolyn Eastman of Seabrook Beach, New Hampshire
- Paul Metivier of Salisbury, Massachusetts
- Lou Frattarelli of Bristol, Rhode Island
I shared the table with "Mom, Educator, & Fish Lady" Carolyn Eastman of Eastman's Local Catch Community Supported Fishery (CSF) in New Hampshire and Carole Ferguson of Organic Renaissance (another new organization working on some great things for the Northeast Regional food economy).

I'm terrible at remembering the specifics about dishes served at events like this, but I do know that we had monkfish, which for some people is not a favorite...I found it quite nice (though once I saw a picture of what they actually look like...yuck!). I was more interested in the ideas that we'd chew on relative to commercial fishing...and there was plenty to digest.

I do not claim to be in any way, shape, or form well-informed on fishery management and ocean stewardship. My preconception was that we're over-fishing and (like most other natural resources) depleting the resource. What became clear to me from listening to the conversation that evening was the wholehearted belief that in the fisheries these fishermen & women are familiar with that is not the case. There is a wide disconnect between the people doing the fishing and the people doing the regulating. The people doing the fishing think there's plenty to go around and the people doing the regulating think differently. I'm wagering that the "truth" lies somewhere in the middle. I couldn't help but admire the passion for their vocation, their communities, and their responsibility for maintaining the fisheries. It's hard work, and adding a new CSF on top of an already tough profession is something I respect.

I remember some comments about the fact that the people doing the regulating of fisheries have never even cast a line into the surf, never mind clambered aboard a fishing boat for the day. In other words, they do not seek to understand the market they affect with their decisions, and in many cases treat the fishing community in off-putting fashion..."lording" a bit with their smarty-pants PhDs and tweed jackets (OK, I added the tweed jacket comment for effect). It appears that they're on very different sides of the table. Of course, no regulators were there (that I met anyway) to "defend" themselves or contribute to the conversation. I wonder what that would have been like.

I'm sure the angst between the "regulated" and the "regulators" happens in many industries...though they each have their unique idiosyncrasies. And, no matter the best intentions and whole-hearted belief in an industry's/market's ability to self-regulate, I believe it is an exceedingly rare occurrence.

I'm glad I attended and supported the work of the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance and the growth of Nourish. If you make it to Lexington, MA, try the falafel sampler appetizer and then go across the street for a cup of coffee and a custom bike fitting at the newly opened Ride.Studio.Cafe; a collaborative effort between the founders of Diesel Cafe and Seven it'll be good.

Full disclosure: I'm an unabashed fan of Nourish and Diesel and a former employee of Seven that so wrong?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Frankenstein Fix: L3Cs (Part 3 of The Frankenstein Series)

In the previous two parts of The Frankenstein Series, I wrote about Dr. Frankenstein's Creature as an analogue for our economy; something we created as a benevolent contribution to the World but became something damaging. I also wrote about one of the potential cures for the The Creature's effects, B Corporations. Today I'll turn to another type of organization seeking to re-cast business/philanthropy, the Limited Profit Corporation or L3C. (image from vivavisibilityblog)

The official stuff (with special thanks to the contributors on the L3C Connect Group of LinkedIn): The L3C is a form of limited liability company (LLC) and possesses many characteristics of a typical LLC.
  • The L3C is a for-profit entity
  • The L3C offers a flexible ownership structure, wherein each member’s management responsibility and financial stake may vary according to individual needs
  • The L3C’s members enjoy limited liability for the actions and debts of the company
  • The L3C is classified as a “pass-through entity” for federal tax purposes.
Where it gets interesting is the underlying purpose of the entity; what did we create it to do? Although both and LLC and L3C are profit-making entities, the primary purpose of the L3C is not to earn a profit, but to achieve a socially beneficial objective, with profit a secondary goal. A traditional LLC may be organized and operated for any lawful business purpose, the L3C must be organized and operated at all times to satisfy the following requirements:
  • The company must “significantly further the accomplishment of one or more charitable or educational purposes,” and would not have been formed but for its relationship to the accomplishment of such purpose(s)
  • "No significant purpose of the company is the production of income or the appreciation of property” (the company is permitted to earn a profit)
  • The company must not be organized “to accomplish any political or legislative purposes.”
For philanthropic investors, the L3C’s organization deliberately mirrors the requirements in the Internal Revenue Code governing Program-Related Investments (PRIs). The L3C is designed to meet the IRS requirements for qualifying as a recipient of PRIs, however, the IRS has not ruled on whether investments to L3C's will qualify as PRIs.
A recent story about the reorganization of organic dairy farmers in Maine illustrates how this L3C organization can help in ways that traditional businesses may not have been able to. Here's what they're all about:
With a mission to “keep farmland and make farming profitable for farmers,” The Maine Farm Bureau teamed up with the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and the idea of operating as an L3C was born. As [David] Bright [Secretary of Maine's Own Organic Milk Company] tells me, the founders have a social purpose of “providing an environment in which diary farmers can make money farming.”
Seems like a good mission to me, and what "intangible" value does having working farms in communities provide, in addition to their strictly economic & nutritional impact?
Special "thank you" to Nancy Gallant for her energetic twittering about L3Cs, seeking to make her own impression in this space with Time Well Spent, and recommendation for additional resources:

interSector Partners
Americans for Community Development
I really can't help but throw this curve ball (in honor of the start of the baseball season) and something that one could chew on about B Corporations as well; who defines what is socially beneficial?
Whether we answer that question or not, new ways to organize businesses seeking outcomes beyond financial gain is something worth pursuing.