Entrepreneur culture and why Youngstown’s future depends on it

Let’s say the steel industry never left Youngstown. With new automation, most mills would only employ a fraction of the people. Unfortunately, the mills left and nothing has taken their place. 

While I cannot predict the future, I believe the future still needs to be invented. We need to be tinkering with side projects to create new businesses and new industries. Youngstown is such a great place to be an entrepreneur because cost of living is so low. But entrepreneurship is more than business. Entrepreneurship extends to community activism, art, politics, and any other field. An entrepreneur is someone who is creating systems change. 

Many people are taking advantages of Youngstown’s current economic state to make change, start businesses, and think up new projects. There are many great projects happening all over the city, I’ve been involved with clean ups, urban gardens, a business incubator. There are many more resources that I am not involved with, that are making a huge difference helping entrepreneurs start changing things. 

During college I sat around a communal table and talked business, politics, and discussed different ideas three times each day. I wish I had that today in Youngstown, something like Ben Franklin’s Junto, a group to talk about what they are doing and how to make each other better. Does something like this exist in the Youngstown area? If not, Who’s interested?

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Entrepreneur Culture: Making Youngstown a Project City

This week will be focused on sharing my ideas to help entrepreneurs get their projects going and also how to encourage entrepreneurship.

Parts

  1. Entrepreneur culture and why Youngstown’s future depends on it
  2. Community capital and resources we need to leverage
  3. Youngstown SOUP: how to support artists with a simple meal
  4. Elevator Pitches: share, sharpen, and support ideas

Follow along as I share these ideas and please criticize and provide feedback. I’ve been an entrepreneur in Youngstown for a few months with Flannel Farms and it has been a fast paced summer. My ideas are from my own experiences in Youngstown and Brown University. Thanks for reading!

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Part 2: Antifragile Agriculture: Food systems that gain from disorder

Yesterday, I highlighted the fragilities of the current food system with its dependence on mined resources in the post The Next 10000 Years of Agriculture. We must focus our energy on finding the best long term solutions. To do this we must take the operations of Sepp Holzer, Geoff Lawton, Joel Salatin, and Bill Mollison, copy them and improve them. 

Antifragility is a word that needs to be brought into the conversation around food. It was coined by Nassim Taleb, (a top modern philosopher in my opinion). He classified things into three classes: fragile, robust, and antifragile. The example given in the book Antifragile most applicable to the food system in the following: New York City’s restaurant industry is antifragile. Every bankrupt restaurateur improves the overall quality of the food, because the remaining restaurants must innovate to create better and better food.

If we have many ecologically designed farms, with tinkering and experimentation similar to what top chefs are doing with food, we will discover new methods to help feed the world.

We should strive for an antifragile system, with all food production gaining from individual experimentation. If large gains come from tinkering individuals, we have large upside collectively and low downside collectively. Our current system has large risk of downside, with little foreseeable upside.

The current risks to the food production system:

  • Dependence on fossil fuels
  • Dependence on fossil aquifers
  • Dependence on chemical fertilizers
  • Dependence on chemical pesticides
  • Risk of weeds resistance to pesticides
  • Risks of GMOs
  • Topsoil loss
  • Dependence on commodity markets for grain and fuel

I have not thought of how an individual farm can be antifragile, so we must make farms as robust as possible. To make the whole food system robust, we need more homesteads with home gardens and deep pantries. Since grocery stores only have enough food for a few days, we should add redundancy to our homes in case of emergency (i.e, snowstorm or hurricane). Localized food production is important in case of a break down in the national or global supply chain. Even if it was just a week, there probably isn’t enough food in the stores.

Robust farms will have the following characteristics (comment more if you think of any):

  • Diversified production
  • Minimal dependence on fossil fuels
  • No dependence on irrigation
  • No dependence on chemical fertility

An example of a more robust, diversified food system: Salatin’s Barbell

I’m excited to hear feedback on this subject, post any disagreements or other ideas to the comments!

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Part 1: The Next 10,000 Years of Agriculture

When Jeff Bezos came on the news this week after his purchase of the Washington Post, my interest in him piqued. I’ve been an admirer of Amazon’s business for a long time, but I have read everything I could find about Bezos this week.

The most interesting project he is working on is not his space company, but rather the 10,000 year clock bring built into a mountain in West Texas. (Where he owns hundreds of thousands of acres) The clock will chime every 1000 years. The $40 million project’s goal is to show the importance of long term thinking. So this got me thinking, what will the next 10,000 years of agriculture be like. A good thought experiment because it was invented about 10,000 years ago.

We’re on an unsustainable path, no type of mining can last forever. Political parties will disagree over the time frame, but it is inevitable. The earth contains finite resources. The troubling part is that our food production depends on these finite resources. Oil, natural gas, potassium, phosphorus, fossil aquifers, and topsoil. We may have enough extractable resources for the next century or five centuries. But what if humans would have had our mentality at the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago. We probably wouldn’t be around today to talk about it.

Like the 10,000 year clock, we must change our food system to focus on long term planning. We must take to heart the Native American proverb “we did not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children” and the Greek proverb “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in” How far off are we from this today?

There is a video on YouTube of a 1000 year old food forest that the same family has tended in Vietnam. We must take ideas like that, spread them, and improve on them. We must plant fruit trees to feed our children and grandchildren. We must create ecosystems that will feed our ancestors in a millennium.

How do we do this? More on building a long term system tomorrow with part two: Antifragile Agriculture: creating a food system that gains from disorder

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The Power of MusclePharm’s Brand

“The brands that can connect with the client in a real way will win.” – Gary Vaynerchuk

The power of MusclePharm’s brand

I have been a fan of Gary Vaynerchuk ever since I first heard him speak, a few years have passed and I now look at companies that are winning in the age of social. MusclePharm is a company that stood out to me on twitter before I knew the company was publically traded. Cory Gregory (@musclepharmpres) in an incredible storyteller on twitter, he attracts many retweets and responses of fans looking for recognition. Gregory is the face of MusclePharm and creates branded workouts and diet plans that create a lot of brand recognition.

MusclePharm has a list of all-star endorsement deals including superbowl winning quarterback Colin Kaepernick, UFC Middleweight champion Anderson Silva, rap superstar Flo Rida, and most recently Arnold Swarzeneggar. September 2013, the Arnold Series will launch with eight new products.

With a combination of twitter and Facebook interaction with fans, MusclePharm is building a strong online presence and more importantly, emotional context to the brand. The supplement industry has extremely low barriers to entry and from my experience, low brand loyalty among consumers.

What I Have Learned from MusclePharm

Work with human nature. We are social beings that love recognition and to talk about personal achievement. MusclePharm has grown their online presence by taking advantage of human nature. Everyone complains how people love to tweet every meal they eat or whenever they workout, but that’s not going to change. The businesses that embrace that behavior will win. With giveaways, images of workouts with MP logos their brand is using the social web of connection. When I search for a good shoulder workout on twitter (since I have my phone with my while working out anyway) and a simple one page image comes up with Laron Landry that I can screenshot and refer to, I’m going to use that every time I need a shoulder workout. Then every time I work out, I’m going to think of MusclePharm.

Disclosure: I am an investor of MusclePharm

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A Different Kind of Urban Farm

Most urban farms I’ve seen usually get the response, “wow that looks great” usually commenting on how a garden looks better than an unmowed lawn. My goal for the Ridge Farm (Ridge Ave & Oak Hill) is to make it a destination. I want it to be the White House Fruit Farm of Youngstown. I remember going to White House as a little kid, picking apples and cherries, chasing frogs around the pond, drinking 10 cent cups of apple cider, and eating blueberry donuts. White House was always the best field trip destination in school.

Ridge Farm will not only be a highly productive farm, but I want it to be an experience. I want kids to want to visit and want to eat fresh berries and tomatoes. I want people to make it a weekly destination to get all their produce.

In Sepp Holzer’s Permaculturethere is an example of a U-pick farm formed into pathway. With basket in hand, you pick and harvest whatever you want. In the middle there could be a picnic bench for people to enjoy a piece of fruit on stroll. Everything eaten while harvesting is free, and at the end there is a scale and someone to pay for the harvested fruits and vegetables.

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There will also be a large picnic area with an herb bed attached so fresh herbs can be added to meals and snacks.

The first hoophouse will be used for raising worms, a small aquaponics systems, and seed starting. A second hoophouse is possible for a larger aquaponics operation.

By utilizing all eight layers of a forest gardening system, hugelkultur beds with sloped sides, I hope to make Ridge Farm one of the most most productive parcels of land in the world. Big goal, but I think its possible.

Originally posted: http://flannelfarms.tumblr.com/post/57631211797/a-different-kind-of-urban-farm

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The Upside of Youngstown

Youngstown is very similar to Detroit, in wake of Detroit’s recent bankruptcy the future of Youngstown’s economy should be examined. While bankruptcy can be seen negatively, it is also a great reset. Opportunities are found at the bottom of markets, hence more millionaires were created during the great depression than any other time. Innovation and opportunity come from desperation. This is the reason I moved back to the Youngstown area to start an urban farm after graduating from Brown University in May.

When I was 17, Youngstown was rated one of the best cities to start a business. I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. After writing a paper about the Youngstown 2010 plan, I saw the potential future of the city. I found my way to urban agriculture when volunteering in Idora and a teenager riding his bike asked me if I had a job for him. I said no, but we talked for a few minutes about the lack of jobs in the city, especially for teenagers. That’s when it clicked, vacant land throughout the city could become productive, yielding produce and jobs. We must leverage our creativity and community to grow businesses from the ground up.

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