I am investigating a few crowdfunding possibilities for the upcoming redevelopment project. No decisions have been made yet. Today I send a draft copy of the redevelopment proposal, a summary of initial investment and a stock subscription agreement to a crowdfunding expert for review and comment. This is the first time an ‘outsider’ has reviewed any of our plans.
Next week we expect to see the architect’s initial drawings.
One significant issue is the fair treatment of Money Island ‘insiders’ who have already expressed interest but are not yet committed to participation in the future. Anyone else in the community with an interest in discussing the project is invited to contact me now before any commitments are made.
Yesterday I attended the annual alumni homecoming event for my alma mater Delaware Valley University in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. I am biased of course but I think DelVal is the ultimate stronghold of agricultural entrepreneurship in this part of the country. Many of the region’s farm and food company managers are fellow alumni.
I sat with a classmate from the agricultural school with the same age and major. He and his wife listened to my story of seafood expansion at Money Island. Then I asked them what they did. They are both retired from a local pharmaceutical firm. Here I am just starting out in a new business venture at age 57. Classmates are retired. The contrast hit me hard. Our paths over the past 35 years since we parted at commencement in 1982 led to vastly different positions in life.
We discussed the challenges of Nantuxent Seafood: dealing with government, rising water levels, Sandy recovery, and capital needs. They listened to my comments and offered words of encouragement “We know you’ll be successful”. Then they asked “How can we do to support you?” All I could suggest was that I am active on social media and that I am working on several crowdfunding ideas. We discussed why I thought crowdfunding was important to a venture like this. Community support for the future of sustainable aquaculture is as important as the funding itself. This conversation added to my inclination that I am ready to take the next steps in developing a support base through crowdfunding.
During the day I received valuable bits of advice from the former college president, the former dean of the agriculture school, and a successful business person who was a wrestling teammate. I take it all quite seriously. By the end of the day I left with a short ‘to do’ list to help bring Nantuxent Seafood to the next level. This coming week I expect to complete my HACCP federal seafood safety training certification, talk with existing environmental partners and open discussions with new potential financial partners.
The Money Island NJ stabilization and redevelopment plan evolves a little each day. The work will likely take place in three stages:
Stage 1 is stabilization. The goal is to get the land cleared of prior debts and provide basic cash to ‘keep the lights on’ and be ready to move forward. The total needed is $20,000. This will be funded by insiders in conjunction with a crowdfunding project. The purpose of using crowdfunding Is to raise awareness and build a customer base in advance of new product offering.
Stage 2 is aquaculture development. The goal is to revitalize the local economy cash flow to ensure sustainability. The cost is approximately $120,000 to repurpose the submerged land. This will be funded through Nantuxent Corporation that will use both traditional and equity crowdfunding methods. Aquaculture and dock-to-table seafood processing businesses are ready to expand as soon as permits are issued.
Stage 3 is multi-use redevelopment with new eco-tourism based housing, transient docking, retail and restaurant. This will cost millions and require an outside investor working in conjunction with the developer. We hope to reach an agreement on an educational/research building here as an anchor facility.
Today The Wall Street Journal ran an article talking about the effects of consolidation on the U.S. agricultural industry. Today 75% of all farmland is controlled by the 12% largest farming corporations. The results are clear. Many of us were impacted by Michael Moore’s “Food Inc.”. Small farms can avoid those negative results but the ability of a small farm to reach minimum critical income (the article mentions $50,000 per year) to survive has become more and more difficult.
The same trend affects the seafood industry. Almost everyone recognizes that the monopolization of the harvesting and distribution system is not healthy for the overall economy. Yet it is very difficult for a small operator to reach a minimum level of profitability. In addition, existing firms do all they can to prevent competition from small competitors.
I’ve cited this issue before. Older larger firms do not welcome new startups like those we host. There are plenty of examples of this business tactic in history from fishing and seafood businesses around the country. our harvesters have been told that we’ll never be able to buy some licenses and that existing firms will take deliberate steps to prevent us from expanding, easing growing grounds, etc. One large operator even sent a message through two watermen that he intended to spend money to keep us out of the business. It’s a ridiculous strategy but one that is common in the industry nonetheless.
The untapped market demand for agriculture and fishery products exceeds any additional production we can collectively add. It will certainly take effort to expand these markets and that is where we need o focus our attention and resources.
Farm-to-table and dock-to-table businesses will be successful if consumers vote their support with their dollars. Investors come aboard with necessary funding when they see the direction of consumer preferences. It’s really that simple. If consumers care where their food comes from, want a personal connection with the producers, demand accountability for safety and environmental responsibility, then small producers have a bright future. It comes down to an effort to spread the word and sell the story of sustainable local food from small producers.
Small farms and fisheries still have a long way to go to reach the average consumer’s attention. The United States Department of Agriculture is already heavily involved in helping to spread the message that diversity in food production is healthy for America’s future. We’ll continue to do our best to continue to spread the message.
Today we launched the Philadelphia area’s first (as far as we know) attempt at a community supported dock-to-table seafood venture. The intent is to test the water on this concept that has worked well in other regional markets. If this initial small project is successful in gaining 150 supporters then I’m sure we will see a lot more diverse community supported seafood projects to follow. We have early stage plans to expand it to hand tonged oysters and small-scale fishing. The ability to provide business security for the harvester and processor as well as the ability to deliver a quality product to local consumers at a good price make this a winning formula for the future of a sustainable and secure food system.
It’s taken more than a year to plan this project, recruit the harvesters and processors, assemble the necessary equipment, obtain the required FDA seafood safety certification. We are still working with the local health department to identify and address the appropriate issues.
Kickstarter seems to be the perfect platform for this although I recognize that I need serious help in the multimedia area! The project, just like the crab in this photo, is starting quite small.