Radio Cade

Working Food

December 04, 2019 Anna Prizzia Season 1 Episode 56
Radio Cade
Working Food
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Radio Cade
Working Food
Dec 04, 2019 Season 1 Episode 56
Anna Prizzia

Our food is brought to us from ever-increasing distances, but is this best for us? Anna Prizzia, the Founder of Working Food, views food as an entire ecosystem that must be cared for from seed to plate, farmer to consumer.  Prizzia tells us why she set out to make food more local, creating a community utilizing collaboration, economic opportunity, education, and seed stewardship. 


Show Notes Transcript

Our food is brought to us from ever-increasing distances, but is this best for us? Anna Prizzia, the Founder of Working Food, views food as an entire ecosystem that must be cared for from seed to plate, farmer to consumer.  Prizzia tells us why she set out to make food more local, creating a community utilizing collaboration, economic opportunity, education, and seed stewardship. 


Intro:

Inventors and their inventions. Welcome to Radio Cade a podcast from the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention in Gainesville, Florida, the museum is named after James Robert Cade, who invented Gatorade in 1965. My name is Richard Miles. We'll introduce you to inventors and the things that motivate them. We'll learn about their personal stories, how their inventions work, and how their ideas get from the laboratory to the marketplace.

James Di Virgilio:

Food. Where does it come from? Do you know where it's coming from? Is it local? Is it coming from across the world? Today's guest, Anna Prizzia, is someone who can help us solve that problem. It's become obviously much more of a hot button issue and hot button topic. And today we're going to dive in and explore, where does your food come from? From seed to the table who are the major players involved in those things? And how can we improve that process? Not only for health, but also for the community. For Radio Cade , I'm James Di Virgilio, my guest, Anna Prizzia the Director of Working Food. Anna , welcome to the show.

Anna Prizzia:

Thanks for having me.

James Di Virgilio:

So take us through this process when I was looking through working food and what it does and what it once was, there's so many things you do. Kind of walk us through the overall mission and then problem that you're solving in the community.

Anna Prizzia:

Sure. So working food is really seeking to sort of be a hub for local food systems, activities from seed to plate. So that's why we have so many things going on. We're really trying to take a comprehensive look at what's going on with our food system and not be the solution to all the problems or trying to address every piece of the system, but to be a go to place for people, to connect with resources in the community on local food, and definitely try to tackle some of the big issues and challenges we have here early on, because in much of the country, people have really taken up local food and food security and things of that nature as a big part of the work they're doing. And we found here in Florida and particularly in Alachua County, we're still struggling with those issues, but more and more, we're seeing local food nonprofits pop up and community organizations take it up. So we're excited. And for us, we do a number of things. One is saving seeds, seeds are the literal foundation of our food systems. So we want to make sure that we're protecting seeds that are adapted to our climate and our region and our tastes and our culture. And so we do that and then we provide those to our community. We also want to make sure people understand where their food comes from and how to cook food, why food is important to our bodies and to our culture. So we have lots of events and programs, and we do a youth garden in two different community centers on a weekly basis to connect students and kids, to gardening and food. And also for the fun that it is to be able to eat healthy and grow it yourself. And then we touch the economic side of things. So we actually incubate food entrepreneurs and we help those food entrepreneurs start businesses less by renting space from us by the hour and helping them navigate the regulatory pathways that you have to get through when you're trying to do food. And then we touch the policy side and we actually work with local and city government and help them to think through what are the ways in which they could better support that big system I was just talking about. So literally from seed to plate from people eating it and having fun at events to entrepreneurs, cooking it and creating new businesses to how policy and the decisions that our leaders make actually impact our system. We're really trying to touch every aspect.

James Di Virgilio:

There's a full range of services you are providing. Let's kind of take it back to the origin story. You're sitting in a room, you're having a conversation. You're somewhere, what was the original problem you were seeking to solve?

Anna Prizzia:

Access to local food. Me and my friends actually were hanging out and we really wanted more healthy, locally grown food. We wanted to be able to connect with farmers and we had a hard time with that. Or you could go to the farmer's market on Saturday and you could find a few growers, but I knew there was many more in Alachua County and not everyone had all the products that I wanted and needed. And I knew I should be able to find beef and goat milk and all kinds of other things that I wasn't finding at the farmer's market 10 or 15 years ago. So we started organizing. And at first we just started with chapter of a national nonprofit, slow food. And we did that for awhile . And the more we did and the more we got people connected to farmers and the more events we held, the more demand we had and the more people kept coming to us and asking us for ideas, resources, connections. And we realized that this was more than a hobby. This was more than something that we were going to do on nights and weekends. And so we started what was called Forage. And at the same time a fellow friend or group of friends were doing the same sort of thing around entrepreneurship and the food system. And they started coalescing around the fact that so many entrepreneurs wanted to start food business , but couldn't afford to build a multi hundred thousand dollar kitchen that they were going to need and didn't understand the navigating. And so they started a kitchen incubator called, Blue Oven Kitchens. And then about three or four years ago, we realized that it's expensive to run a nonprofit. And if you want to be successful as a nonprofit, the best thing you can do is to find revenue generating streams so that you act like a real business. And don't think of it as just this extractive sort of donor based process and also to be efficient with those overhead costs. So we merged and Blue Oven Kitchens and Forage joined forces to become Working Food.

James Di Virgilio:

Now I'm sure you had a lot of hurdles hearing your origin story going from this idea to now multiple ideas to now full suite of services, and then being a nonprofit, as you mentioned, which has interesting hurdles. Was there ever a thought process to be a, for-profit versus a nonprofit or what was the decision making that went into that once you decided to create those two entities into one?

Anna Prizzia:

Yeah, that's a good question. We definitely have thought about the, for-profit. And I think we still think about, I mean, we're still young, we're kind of toddlers in this arena, I would say. And there's still, I think, opportunity for us to grow a, for-profit arm that could bring revenue back to the organization, but really we're mission driven and it's mission first. So for us, we want to take the revenue we're making and we want to reinvest it back in the community and find other ways and better ways that we can serve the community. So for us, it was a no brainer to be a nonprofit. Also it did give us access to unique sources of revenue, grants, and institutional revenue sources in partnerships with our city County, et cetera. And food is something that we should be investing in. It's like housing and clothing and roads and transportation. It's a critical resource that people need. It meets that foundational need, right? And so we're seeing in other parts of the country, again, that our institutions are investing in those things. Like they do roads and housing. And so I felt that by creating a nonprofit, we could really show the ways in which our institutions could partner and invest more easily than we could in the private sector.

James Di Virgilio:

Okay Anna , why local food? It's been a big push. Is this just a fad? Is there a scientific reason? Why is local food Something that we should really care about?

Anna Prizzia:

There's a lot of reasons, but for me personally, it's about a couple things. One it's about our local economy. We want a strong, resilient, local economy here. And food is a foundation of that. We have a big rural agricultural area and we should be supporting those farmers. They're getting older and they're , and we're losing that land and that part of our character of our culture. And I don't want to lose that. And I also want to make sure that those family farms can stay in business and it starts circulating dollars back in our own economy, too , right? Because we support our local restaurants. They reinvest, they buy things from other local businesses and that money circulates more. They say the average business, if you buy from a big box, you'd get like 19 cents on the dollar that gets reinvested in your community versus upwards of 51 to 60 cents reinvested on the dollar when you're buying local. Another reason is because of food security. We are a global food system now, and I'm not going to give up my coffee or my chocolate. So I'm not saying the global food system is bad at all, but there is a real challenge with where our food comes from, how far it travels and the potential issues that come with that contamination. We've had many food safety issues and the global food system, regulation, trade agreements, all of those things impact our ability to feed ourselves. And so even just from a security standpoint, not individual food security, but community food security, being able to produce food here is a big deal because we know that we can feed ourselves in light of whatever happens globally. And then last but not least, it's about community. To me, it's about building relationships and meeting people and helping those that need food the most, and being able to make those decisions right here, where we can impact them versus giving up those decisions to large multinational corporations that we have no ability to control or interact with on a day to day basis.

James Di Virgilio:

Imagine Working Food, let's say five years from now, what would be some things mission wise, vision wise, that you would want to see happening?

Anna Prizzia:

Yeah. I love this question. I would love to see us actually expanding the component of our business. That's about helping our local farmers to make food more accessible and affordable. So by creating a large scale facility that could aggregate food from local farms, bring it in process. It, make it into value added products that we're used to seeing on grocery shelves in volume so that we could serve our schools. We could serve UF's dining halls. We could serve the hospitals. We could serve the jail. We could get that food in the hands of the places where people eat the majority of their meals. And that would also bring an economy of scale to our local food system that would allow everyday people to afford that food. And for it not to be this kind of like fancy trendy bougie thing that people think local food is, that's my dream.

James Di Virgilio:

Now this is a problem that you mentioned so often it's sort of a dream to have lower socioeconomic classes, being able to eat what you would consider to be local, organic, healthy sourced food. You want to mention, it tends to be much more expensive. So then you have a McDonald's or you have something at that level. Is this a challenge you see in the local market? Is this something that you are also going to be able to address, as you just mentioned with Working Food? And if so, how come it's taking so long to address this? What are some of the challenges to bring that price point down?

Anna Prizzia:

Well, I will say yes, I think it's something we want to address. And I think that the economies of scale help, I think that there's a real problem with our system though. I don't want to create an economics lecture out of this, but we've externalized all the costs of our food . So when our grandparents were kids, they were spending upwards of 30% of their income on food. We now spend less than 10% of our income on food. That amount of money didn't disappear. We just stopped taking into consideration all of those costs. And we started externalizing them to the environment by using more harmful chemicals or by utilizing our soil resources and water resources in ways that aren't sustainable. We started externalizing that cost to people by not paying them fair wages and using migrant labor that doesn't have to get workman's comp or overtime. And we externalize those costs to our health. We started eating more processed foods. We started eating more salt, fat, sugar, and less healthy, fresh vegetables. And as a result, we're trying to compare an Apple to a pineapple, kind of. It is important that people can affordably access food. But I think the question is more about the root causes of why people can't afford to feed themselves healthily , not about food becoming cheaper. That becomes a question about wages that becomes a question about affordable housing. Like that becomes a bigger systemic question. So yes, Working Food wants to work really hard to make food as affordable and as accessible as possible. And I think we need to recognize that some of the problems around food and accessibility and calorie, dense foods being cheaper than nutrient dense foods has to do with a systemic, a global systems problem. And that we need to think about in bigger ways.

James Di Virgilio:

No, that's good. That's a big question I want, I want to probe it a little further. I I've had the chance to travel quite a bit in my life. And I've been to a lot of different countries where the food culture is very different than in the U.S. sometimes similar, if you're comparing a country that gets brought up a lot like France, food wise to the U.S. are they facing similar challenges to what we're facing? Or is that a much different food culture with local food and the lower socioeconomic classes having access to that food? I mean, what would be the prime difference between what you just mentioned is maybe you have a cost issue where Americans aren't willing to, or able to afford the better food, but what is happening maybe in some other food economies?

Anna Prizzia:

So I don't know enough about the French food economy in particular to sort of, I mean, I can pontificate on it, but I don't know enough about it to talk about it really specifically. But I would say that the difference in much of the world where food culture tends to be focused around less refined foods, less processed foods, more whole foods, things, whole grains, whole vegetables, whole proteins, there is a completely different relationship with food, right? You have to remember that our relationship with food not only is tied to like global trade situation and large corporations taking over a much of our food system, but it's also rooted in slavery. And so there's a lot of cultural impacts around the relationships that we have with food. It's really tied up in a lot of pretty complex issues. Not that that isn't the case in parts of Europe, but there, I think there was many more family farms. There was many more local butcher shops and bakeries and things of that. That was the norm. Like you walked and you got your food daily and you don't run to the grocery store and fill up a shopping cart and take it home and you have food for the whole week. You'd go every day on your way home from work and you stop at the local butcher and the local Baker . And so I think it's a cultural thing as much as it's an economic thing, but I would also say that there was less refined foods in those places. Like we sort of invented refined foods in a way, like we had the land grant universities and I work for IFAS full time. That's my full time job. And I run the Field and Fork program and we work really hard at that institution to make sure that food is affordable and healthy and accessible. But in those instances, in doing that, I think when we first started those processes, some of making food really cheap and really accessible meant that all of a sudden we had all these excess calories and we started exploring what to do with them. And it became for corporations, not for the institutions , more about profitability and more about making the most money they could out of those calories, instead of about what is that going to do to impact our culture? What is it going to do to impact our health? What is it going to do to impact our economy? So, I think we, as a culture have invented in a way this sort of fast food. And as it starts to infiltrate other cultures, that's becoming a real issue for them because they didn't have it. Like we have it. And in the places where it's coming, you see the same problems that we see, you see heart disease and diabetes being some of the top killers. You see cancers that have never been in those cultures before coming, you see disproportionate access to healthy food. I mean, you see all the same problems, but the majority of them were born right here in the United States.

James Di Virgilio:

Yeah. There definitely seems to be both correlation and causation when it comes to especially fast food restaurants going to overseas cultures. And then like you mentioned, you see this happen rather quickly. You mentioned that you worked for IFAS, so you had a day job, and then you mentioned this becoming a project and then becoming really a full time venture. So many entrepreneurship stories start just like that, whether it's a labor of love or it's an idea that you see, did you imagine yourself becoming an entrepreneur or was it something that you would say just sort of happened organically?

Anna Prizzia:

Um, I think it just sort of happened. I mean, I guess in an odd way, I've kind of always been an entrepreneur, even at UF. I'm sort of an entrepreneur in the middle of a bureaucracy. Like I started the office of sustainability in collaboration with the original director and then directed that office as a new project for UF. And then I started Field and Fork, which is a totally new program. It's about four years old at UF. And so I think creativity creation is in my blood. It's like a part of who I am and when I see a problem or a challenge, like I just want to solve it. And then I'm like a river running downstream . Like I just, when I hit a rock, I just go around and I just keep going until the problem is solved or till I've created something that I feel like at least as a tool and a resource for people to be able to solve their own problems or challenges, reach those opportunities that they want. So I guess in a way, yes, I've always thought of myself as an entrepreneur, but I never used that word. It was never a word that I assigned to myself until this community started embracing entrepreneurship in a really strong way. And we started seeing incubators and accelerators and I started to see what entrepreneurship was about and what creativity and innovation was about. And then I was like, Oh yeah, that's me. Like, I identify with that community. And that's really when I took on that moniker, if you will.

James Di Virgilio:

Yeah . That's a beautiful way. Relate to look at it, unpack that term because at the end of the day, entrepreneurship is problem solving and innovation and improvement only comes through creativity because by definition, creativity is something new, it's something different. And that's what has to be done to improve something in a market marketplace , something in the community, which of course Working Food is looking to solve. Now in your childhood, you came from the North Carolina, Virginia area. You moved to Florida later on. You had mentioned before the show that you really had thought or dreamed of being a writer. Tell me about the process of moving through your life and maybe moving from writer to where you are now to IFAS to what was that process like? Because again, so often what we think we may want to be is not exactly what we become, but there tends to be some core elements that maybe have your dream of being a writer that you probably do feel like are at play still in your life today.

Anna Prizzia:

Yeah. I think that I saw being a writer as an Avenue to creativity and an Avenue to be able to tell stories and to help people connect with ideas. And it wasn't until I got older and went to college and started to see the breadth of opportunities and the ways in which you can connect people to ideas and create influence, and build things. I guess I thought once upon a time that you would write your ideas on paper and then somebody else would take those ideas. And then if they thought they were good, then they would build them. But it took being, I guess, really starting to realize that I could manifest destiny, you know, that I could be the one to build those things. I think that idea that actually really happened in high school. I started to do a Marine biology program and they didn't have a program for freshmen. They only had a program for juniors and seniors and I really wanted to do it. And so I went to the director of the program and sat down and told him that I thought he should start a program for freshmen because then he would have a four year program and it would align better with the school year. I like made up this whole story about why he should have this. And he said, okay. And I was their first freshmen . And I was like, what? I can just talk myself into something like, I can just make my case the same way I could in writing, but then not just publish it and hope somebody reads it, but I could sit in someone's office and literally sit down with them and explain it to them. And they might listen. I was sold. I was like, okay, this is the rest of my life. So then I started getting more into biology and I've always been passionate about natural resources and the environment and social justice. I'm from a do good hippy family. So I learned very early on to care for my world and to care for people. But that's when I really realized that I cared about being a change maker .

James Di Virgilio:

And when the course of your daily life, you get an ability to be a change maker in all of these food related ventures, but also in individual's lives through the incubator component that you have. What is some advice or wisdom you tend to find yourself commonly passing on to people that are attempting to solve problems in the food industry?

Anna Prizzia:

I guess probably, in this is one of those things where you're better at giving advice and following advice, but is to start small and to really focus and to learn to say no, because it's easy to want to do everything. It's easy to want to be all things to all people. And that quickly gets bigger than you can handle. So that's one of the things that I think we say the other is, and this is kind of weird, cause it's sort of a contradiction, but as to dream big is to not just think about like, I want to sell this at the farmer's market, but like where do you really want to be? Like, do you see yourself on people's tables at home? Do you see yourself on grocery store shelves? Do your see your product on restaurant plates? Like where do you vision being? And so that we're building your business and you're building your business now to be successful as big as you want to get and not just having to keep rebuilding and rethinking, but planning for the longterm .

James Di Virgilio:

And so you've got this vision, I'm excited about an idea. I come to you, I have this big dream. How then do I get from little step? Like you mentioned, to big dream using feedback. That seems to be a big thing with entrepreneurs is you're going to get feedback. Whether the market tells you, we don't want your service, whether the vendors tell you this isn't good enough, how important is it to utilize feedback , uh, when creating a new service or a new product or a new kitchen or whatever the case may be, how important is it to listen to that and to fine tune that, to continue to grow, to get to your vision?

Anna Prizzia:

Yeah, that's huge. That's one of the biggest things that I think can cause entrepreneurs to fail, particularly in food, because food is a fickle business. Trends, change people's tastes change, and chefs really drive a lot of that creativity and innovation. And so paying attention to trends and feedback are probably the two most important things you can do to make sure you stay on your game. And when it comes to feedback, I think sometimes in this culture in particular, and I don't know why it is because I don't see it so much in other entrepreneurship cultures that I've seen, people don't want to spend money on marketing. It's like they think that everything that they do is going to bring them revenue and trying to help people understand that creative investment in giving away your product will, can yield in big ways and partnering and collaborating with groups that are doing events or with breweries that are having something or whatever it might be to get your product in front of people. And to get that valuable feedback, it's like free market research. It's not marketing. Like if they could think about it in a way that would allow them to better invest in themselves. I think that's a huge piece for sure.

James Di Virgilio:

Yeah. It's a great answer and a great piece of insight that at the end of the day, any entrepreneur, any problem you're trying to solve is best solved between the problem solver and the end user. And if you can get feedback directly from the end user, you're going to go places. Oftentimes, as you mentioned, we'll sit in a silo as an entrepreneur and think this is a good idea. This will work and we're not doing all we can to get it out in the hands of the people that will utilize it or use it because at the end of the day, if it's great to us, but not great to anyone else, we're not going to solve anyone's problems. And like you mentioned, I think a lot of that is putting yourself out there and letting people experience whatever it is you have created. And any entrepreneur will tell another one, do that as fast as you can, right. Get your prototype out there, get your thing into market, see what's going on. And that tends to be something I think we see we'll Anna . This has been a wonderful chat. I think there's plenty more we could talk about when it comes to food. I mean , we could talk for a long time, but we'll have to close this up for today. You are Anna Prizzia, the director of Working Food as well as a full time employee at IFAS. you have very , very busy life busy play . Thank you for taking time to join us. And for Radio Cade, I'm James Di Virgilio.

Anna Prizzia:

Thank you.

Outro:

Radio Cade would like to thank the following people for their help and support Liz Gist of the Cade Museum for coordinating and vendor interview . Bob McPeak of Heartwood Soundstage in downtown Gainesville, Florida for recording, editing and production of the podcasts and music theme , Tracy Collins for the composition and performance of the Radio Cade theme song featuring violinist , Jacob Lawson and special thanks to the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention located in Gainesville, Florida.