WAYNE COUNTY, PA — Growing one’s business doesn’t need to mean outgrowing one’s community, according to author, entrepreneur and “early pioneer of the farm-to-table and …
WAYNE COUNTY, PA — Growing one’s business doesn’t need to mean outgrowing one’s community, according to author, entrepreneur and “early pioneer of the farm-to-table and local economy movements” Judy Wicks.
Wicks, who wrote “Good Morning, Beautiful Business,” joined the local Solar Energy Education and Development Systems (SEEDS) organization for its virtual meeting last September, where she discussed running her business, the well-known The White Dog Café in Philadelphia, and the three primary lessons she learned along the way: 1) reimagine growth; 2) protect what you love; and 3) move from “me” to “we”.
With her business in Philadelphia doing well, Wicks has had opportunities over the years to expand and open other White Dog Cafés in other cities like New York and Washington D.C., but Wicks said that prospect never suited her.
“I realized that I wouldn’t have the authenticity of the relationships that I loved so much,” she said. “So instead of starting a White Dog in someone else’s community, I decided to start a Black Cat [fair trade craft store] in my own.”
Business growth, Wicks said, can happen in more ways than materially. She offered some alternatives:
Wicks compared local economies to local ecosystems. And while chain stores were like “invasive species,” indigenous stores, like things nature, “grow deeper in place.”
“Nature grows deeper in place to become more diverse, more creative, more resilient and more adaptive to the needs of the ecosystem, and this is how we can grow our businesses,” she said.
Wicks learned this lesson while staying at her vacation home in the Poconos. In the early 2000s, Wicks saw the effects that a severe drought was having on the environment there.
“As I walked through the forest, there was just an eerie silence,” she said. “Not even the birds were singing; just the
crackling of the sticks and leaves, the creek was all dried up, just dust on the rocks.”
Wicks said that seeing the effects of the drought made her realize the dangers and imminence of climate change. She physically hugged a large oak tree in the forest and promised to go back to Philadelphia and invest in renewable change. She said that her business became the first in Pennsylvania to buy 100 percent of its electricity through renewable sources.
“I knew about climate change,” Wicks said. “But yet I hadn’t been moved to action until I was moved by my love for this place in the world, in the woods.”
This philosophy of Wicks’ developed as she learned about the plight of farm animals which are treated like “equipment” in the factory farming system. She was horrified to learn about the conditions that factory-farmed chickens, pigs and meat and dairy cows existed in, and that the food she had been serving in her café was the product of this inhumane system. She transitioned the menu to ensure that all the animal products offered came from small, family-run, cruelty-free farms.
“This is going to be our market niche, our competitive advantage,” Wicks thought before coming to a realization. “I had a transformational moment, where I realized that if I really cared about the pigs and the cows and all the farm animals, if I really cared about all the small farmers that were being driven out of business by the factory farms if I cared about the environment… the workers… and the consumers… then rather than keeping my supply list to myself, I would share it with my competitors.”
Wicks argues that there is “no such thing as one sustainable business, we can only be part of a sustainable system.” She said that it wasn’t enough to make sustainable advances in her own business but to help her competitors become more sustainable as well.
Wicks’ presentation can be viewed on the SEEDS Facebook page @seedsofnepa.