Accelerating Appalachia, a first-of-its-kind business accelerator in Asheville for nature-based businesses, is holding a “pitch party” tonight at the Mill Room. The event is going to be great. It will feature presentations by several of the participating entrepreneurs, which are listed below, as well as a keynote address by Judy Wicks, co-founder of Be A Localist Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. Ned Doyle and Michelle Smith of Our Southern Community will emcee the event, Nature’s Edge with Dale Stewart will be there, a B-boy dance crew will perform and there will be a raffle of goodies by the entrepreneurs, as well as books signed by Wendell Berry.
I caught up with Sara Day Evans, founding director of Accelerating Appalachia, earlier this week. She was kind enough to get Wicks on the phone (she was on a hike in the woods). Both shared some of their time to talk about the importance of building local economies and protecting the environment. What follows are edited excerpts of that conversation.
Q: Judy, what is the essence of the message you will bring to Asheville?
Wicks: I will talk about the importance of our local entrepreneurs in transitioning to a life-supporting, rather than life-destroying economy, and connecting natural life and community life. To me, there are many aspects of this: building local supply chains, buy local campaigns, etc. But I think the real transformation begins in the awakening of the heart of the entrepreneur, consumer and investor. For consumers especially, we need need to be more conscious of the power of economics in creating our world. I also tell my story and my relationship with nature and how I was moved, and I talk about business not being about money but about relationships.
Q: How were you moved to action?
Wicks: I saw the effects of climate change on the place I love and that’s what woke me up. I saw how drought dried up the creek and how the ferns were wilted. I could feel the stress of the woods in my heart. My business became first in Pennsylvania to buy all renewable energy.
Evans: There’s energy happening around the country regarding this, and it’s fairly organic, and when these movements connect to one another, you don’t feel quite so alone. That’s part of what we try to do. That’s how change happens, and it’s not easy.
Wicks: I want to emphasize the energy: the act of doing something with generosity and caring is a contagious this. Energy is built around it. I know when I had a transitional time in my own career, I shared my propiertary information with competitors. We’re trying to build community around shared values.
Accelerating Appalachia launched in 2013 with 10 companies were chosen for the inaugural incubator. After finishing the crash course in business—which uses seasoned entrepreneurs as mentors and facilitates connections with a robust network of top advisers, networks and investment funds—these companies created more than 35 regional jobs (with 52 retained) and added more than 100 new acres to the sustainable farming sector, with a dozen new farmers entering supply chains.
Here’s a few of the 2015 Accelerating Appalachia class of nature-based businesses:
Farmer-Baker-Sausage Maker is a company that seeks to energize the local economy by returning to foods crafted by hand. Their restaurant, Harvest Moon Grille, nourishes its patrons and the local economy by sourcing its ingredients from small-scale farms within 100 miles.
Green River Picklers strives to produce the highest quality pickled vegetables using the simplest and most sustainable means. Locally sourced, consciously produced, and hand-packed in small batches, Green River Picklers aims to pay tribute to Southern heritage by continuing family traditions and preserving local food, while continuously fostering growth in our community.
GrowJourney is a seeds-of-the-month club specializing in certified organic heirloom seeds, making organic gardening simple for members across the United States and Canada.
River Island Apothecary is a product line of all-botanical perfume and skin care designed and produced in thoughtful batches by Katie Vie.
Smiling Hara Tempeh is the only company offering soy-free tempeh on the market today. Over-consumption of processed soy in the vegan/vegetarian populations is causing health issues, and consumers are looking to companies like Smiling Hara to offer nutrient dense, high quality plant-based protein.
Images courtesy of Green River Picklers