Well, Walmart vs. Amazon is all about big business – a platform giant (Amazon) disrupting an OldBigCo (Walmart and its kin). Over the past two decades, Amazon bumped Walmart out of the race to a trillion-dollar market cap, and the OldCo from Bentonville had to reset and play the role of the upstart. The Token Act levels the playing field, forcing both to win where it really matters: In service to the customer.
But while BigCos are sexy and well known, it’s the small and medium-sized business ecosystem that determines whether or not we have an economy of mass flourishing. So let’s explore the Token Act from the point of view of a small business startup, in this case, a new neighborhood restaurant. I briefly touched upon this idea in my set up post, Don’t Break Up The Tech Oligarchs. Force Them To Share Instead. (If you haven’t already, you might want to read that post before this one, as I lay out the framework in which this scenario would play out.) What I envision below assumes the Token Act has passed, and we’re at least a year or two into its adoption by most major data players. Here we go…
I’m a permaculture farmer. My goal is to develop natural ecosystems that produce food. My dream is a world with ready access to a diet that nourishes the body of the consumer, provides a living for the producer, and leaves the Earth joyfully habitable.
I share that dream with a lot of people who call themselves permaculturalists, natural farmers, plantsmen, or foodies. I fear, however, that this doughty lot of green thumbs and stock-folk and food advocates is succumbing to tribalism; forgetting that saving the world means saving all of the people in it; even the ones that love cheap burgers and Coke. We’re digging foxholes and making monsters out of people who don’t agree with us, or who don’t understand, or who do understand but are powerless to act.
Note: this article has the title “Farming While Black” because it’s part of a series about perspectives of people of color in the food and agriculture business. This particular story, however, is told from my point of view as an enrolled member of the Choptico Band of Piscataway Indians — the indigenous people of southern and central Maryland.
As it often does, it started with a bumper sticker.
JM Stock Provisions — a butcher outfit with a location in Charlottesville — didn’t mean any harm when they posted this:
Mom always wanted a Lexus truck. She would talk about it incessantly, cooing about her “baby shoe” whenever one of the Japanese luxury upstarts shot by us on I-395 as she drove me to school. My eyes would roll, teenaged broodiness blinding me to another of Mom’s uncountable sacrifices; she couldn’t have her baby shoe because she was spending all her money sending me to this school. Money likely unimaginable to her as a Black farmer’s daughter growing up in the Virginia Tidewater. A successful farmer, even.
Her father, a stout and handsome man with skin the color of rich soil, quit his well-paying job as a cooper in North Carolina at the ripe old age of 20, relocating to Virginia to build a house on the farm his mother bought in 1914. A new house in Depression-era Virginia was peculiar. For that house to belong to a Black man sounded like a fish story. Strangers travelled for miles to watch Coston Beamon pound nails into his roof.
American farming, on any meaningful scale, is driven by one thing and one thing only: the almighty dollar. We’d all like to think that producing the food and fiber that nourishes us physically, mentally, and emotionally is about more than economics — but at the end of the day, farmers have to eat too.
That’s why Amazon’s proposed acquisition of Whole Foods is such a huge deal. When I spend time with farmers, many of them big commodity farmers in the Midwest, they (generally) aren’t ideologically opposed to growing organic or otherwise changing their management practices. The biggest reason they don’t do it is because it’s expensive, and there usually isn’t a market for it. And when they say market, they mean in the most literal sense — there is not a physical place where they can easily, and with certainty, go and sell thousands or millions of bushels of whatever they’ve grown for a good price (or any price, these days). Few local elevators separate organic produce, and otherwise finding specialty buyers and storage takes a whole lot of time that farmers don’t have.
Many farmers don’t grow organic because they don’t know where to sell it. But Amazon could change that.
“The global population is skyrocketing, the climate is changing, and diets are shifting. So how do you tackle the problem of feeding 9 billion people by 2050? Assemble an elite team of scientists for a year-long brainstorming session… What’s needed is akin to a moonshot. Or as committee co-chair John D. Floros put it, a “green revolution 2.0.””
This is from a month-old article in the Washington Post entitled “This quiet agricultural ‘moonshot’ could change the future of food.’ They are some of the scariest words I’ve seen put together in quite some time.
If you fear Amazon is about to swallow up the entire retail industry in its hungry online maw, this morning’s news that the company is buying Whole Foods will not reassure you. Amazon intends to pay $13+ billion to buy the high-end organic and luxury supermarket chain that customers love/hatingly refer to as “Whole Paycheck” thanks to its high prices (Bloomberg).
John Mackey, the Whole Foods CEO, would remain in charge of the business. In Texas Monthly profile published this week, Mackey vowed to stick to Whole Foods’ “conscious capitalism” mission despite pressure from equity investors to boost profits or sell the company.
Kara Goldin Founder & CEO, hint, Inc., had a feeling diet soda was not helping her. She was right.
One of the most interesting sessions at the NewCo Shift Forum earlier this year featured speakers who took on massive, established consumer packaged goods categories like food, beverages, or grooming (see our conversation with Michael Dubin of Dollar Shave Club, for example). In this short clip, watch Kara Goldin, the founder of hint water, explain how she came to build the fastest growing company in her category. Below is the talk, and a transcript edited for clarity.
Kara Goldin: What Bill (Kanarick, CMO of Sapient and moderator of the session), was saying in terms of the consumer was really where I saw myself years ago, that I was a changing consumer. A consumer that really was beginning to become more aware, not just of myself, but also of many of the consumer products that I was eating and drinking.