B Corp Champions Retreat

This fall, I had the pleasure of attending the annual B Corp Champions Retreat. I was an anomaly there: in a room full of 350+ business leaders I was the lone nonprofit leader, invited to speak about the work we’re championing in West Michigan to “Measure What Matters.”

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It was incredible to spend a week with like-minded entrepreneurs – creatives growing financially profitable enterprises that are making deep, meaningful impacts, on their communities.

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One of the days, we had the opportunity to tour a local B Corp. I chose Vermont Creamery and learned about their year effort to build a sustainable local food system in Vermont. Founded thirty years ago by two young entrepreneurs, Vermont Creamery now employs 40+ people and supports over twenty dairy farms. They’ve won a plethora of awards for their high quality artisan cheese, and as the demand for their product has grown it has outstripped their supply of raw material (goat milk). Instead of buying milk from overseas, the Creamery recently pulled together several creative financing partners, purchased a heritage farm, and started to build its own goat herd. They have plans to train new farmers and to supply them with carefully curated goat herds (and a guarantee to purchase their milk). They are creating new jobs and expanding opportunities for entrepreneurs in their own community. And, they’re helping to preserve the traditional agricultural landscape in Vermont. 

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This is just one example of the way a local business can leverage its success to create positive outcomes for its community. At the Champions Retreat, I was surrounded by 350+ such examples – a bakery willing to hire anyone who asks for a job (including ex-offenders), a paper company rethinking sustainable foresting, a pet toy manufacturer using its buying power to drive demand for recycled materials. You name it – someone was working on it. 

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Entrepreneurs are passionate people with the means to create impact. Right now, there are five certified B Corps in West Michigan (and many others who care about their social and environmental impact). I came back from the Champions Retreat inspired to help these leaders connect. What could happen if we, as a community, made a concerted effort to leverage the power of business to create good?

Fork Fest Dishes Up Fall Flavors

The 4th Annual Fork Fest extravaganza took place recently on Grand Rapids’ northeast side. It was orchestrated by Local First and hosted by Romence Gardens, highlighting over 40 local farms, vendors and restaurants.

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The event capped off Local First’s yearly effort to refocus West Michigan dollars back into the economy. Challenges like their 10×10 and Zero Waste INsight ask that Grand Rapidians invest $10 of their weekly budget to regional businesses and reduce waste by recycling and composting in the process. The theme was certainly represented with zero waste dishes and a plethora of local goodies.

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Fall flavors and produce lined the tables in both annexes of Romence Gardens. Twisted Rooster offered a new take on a comfort food classic with mac and cheese. CitySen Lounge kebobed pork, brussel sprouts and sweet potato, dripping with a cider sauce. Salted caramel and goat cheese beets from Terra were unexpected. The phrase “adult candy” was later heard to describe the pairing. Caramel apples and pecan clusters stole the show at Koeze Company. Coffee from Schuil and a healthy presence of Downtown Market incubator projects offered a variety of treats to sample.

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Farm tables were dispersed among the vendors. Dark leafy greens and root vegetables were showcased at Visser, Earthbound and Hope Farms. Although food production slows down it doesn’t cease and shopping at farmer’s markets, such as Fulton Street Farmers Market, will help sustain a balanced diet and regional farms during the fall and upcoming winter months.

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Faux Grass Qaurtet strung the night together with live music and poured drinks from Brewery Viviant, Fenn Valley and Vander Mill kept the mood light. There was a steady stream of visitors sampling some of the best flavors that West Michigan has to offer.

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Click here for original article.

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Photo courtesy of Tiberius Images.

Fork Fest: good food, good fun

Community members from all over West Michigan gathered at Romence Gardens and Greenhouses Thursday evening for Local First’s annual harvest celebration, Fork Fest.

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In its fourth year, Fork Fest has become an event anticipated by the community. Angela Johnson, Twisted Rooster’s Marketing Coordinator, put it simply: “It’s my favorite event of the year.”

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“I think that people are getting more excited about it up-front,” agreed Chris McDonald, the owner of Terra GR. “It’s gaining traction.”

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Over 40 local businesses were represented at the event, serving food, drinks and many other tasty treats throughout the greenhouses. In the past two years, the event has grown, expanding the vendor tables to two greenhouses instead of one.

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“They told me that it’s standing-room-only,” said Caroline, a Romence staff member, “but it’s hard to believe until you see it.”

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Why does the event attract so many people? Well, for one, the food.

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“It’s so cool to have all my favorite restaurants under one roof,” said Addison Smith, a first-time attendee.

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“It’s great to see people’s faces when they eat the cheesecake,” said Mark Datema, the owner of Grand Rapids Cheesecake Company.

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Another reason for Fork Fest’s popularity is the atmosphere.

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“It’s cool because there are so many people here from different walks of life,” observed Dustin Wilfert from Doorganics, “but they are all here for one mission.”

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Even though Cory Davis ran out of food for Daddy Pete’s BBQ – due to delicious popularity – he summed up the event with a smile, saying, “It’s been awesome!”

Fork Fest is Oct. 23!

With Fork Fest just hours away, we wanted to send a few tips for you to make the most of your time at the event.

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1) Come hungry. With samples from over 40 food vendors, there is an abundance of food to try! Trust us – you'll want to wear your eating pants.
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n2) Dress warm. The weather in the greenhouse is similar to the climate outside, so bundle up and wear comfy shoes for walking on a cement floor.

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3) Park at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church (directly across Romence Gardens), and Third Reformed Church (adjacent to Romence Gardens), or Romence Gardens (if you can snag a spot). Romence Gardens & Greenhouses is located at 265 Lakeside Drive NE, Grand Rapids 49503.
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n4) Buy tickets in advance to skip the line, but you can show up at the door for tickets as well, at the same price ($30). 
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n5) Grab a lanyard map when you walk in. This will show you all the important things you need to know (like where the bars, seating, and restrooms are), and also features a list of who's in each greenhouse. You can check off businesses as you go – and write down your favorites to try again later!
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n6) Be curious. You have an amazing opportunity to talk with the business owners and food purveyors behind your favorite farms, coffee shops, food products, and restaurants! Strike up a conversation – you won't regret it. 
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n7) Get social. Our hashtag for the event is #GRForkFest. You can also join the fun by snapping a picture with the disposable cameras we'll have lying around the greenhouses, which will be posted on Facebook next week.
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n8) Pick your poison. Drinks will be available for $5 at registration and each bar, with choices from Brewery Vivant (Farm Hand, Triomphe, and Pumpkin Tart), Vander Mill cider (Totally Roasted, Blue Gold, and Hard Apple), and Fenn Valley Vineyards (Capriccio and Riesling).
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n9) Feel good. Know that you're supporting our local economy and Local First's efforts to support and develop our local food system.
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n10) Have fun! Enjoy our wonderful musicians (Fauxgrass Quartet), the lovely greenhouse decor (courtesy of Romence Gardens), and delicious food from awesome local businesses (see full list of food vendors).

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Thank you to our presenting sponsors, Twisted Rooster & Crooked Goose, and the following sponsors, for your support!

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The Romence Family Legacy

Who says that chilly weather means you have to stop enjoying blossoming flowers, veggies and herbs?

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Not the Romence family.

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Romence Gardens and Greenhouses is open year-round, bringing baskets of flowers and produce to the Grand Rapids community no matter the season. The independent garden center proudly grows a wide array of annuals, perennials, hanging plants, vegetables, herbs, and indoor plants. During the holidays, arrangements of wreaths, poinsettias, and festive trees deck the greenhouse halls. Even a quick stroll around the center will reveal the vast varieties held under Romence’s roof. Not to mention to all the other fun stuff: Beautiful pottery, statuary, and garden décor is dotted throughout the center, along with an ice-cream counter and hand-made jewelry.

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Community members have trusted the Romence’s expertise on plants for three generations – ever since it was started by brothers Louis and Art in 1933. Lou and Art began by selling lettuce and tomatoes in the Great Depression era, providing gardening jobs to local workers. Fast forward a generation, and Louis’s son, Bill Romence, is the current owner. His children, Chris and Katey, oversee retail and management. Katey Romence puts the garden center family affair this way, “You can’t walk ten feet without seeing a Romence.”

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Business savvy has become a Romence family legacy, but flowers and produce remain at the heart of what they do. Hoping to make West Michigan truly flourish, the center actively invests in understanding the needs and desires of its local community as a way to benefit the business while simultaneously benefiting the community. One way they are doing this is through their prospective Winter Market. Romence has a vision for an indoor winter farmers market to compliment the already-successful spring/summer/fall markets offered throughout West Michigan. They hope that once the Winter Market takes off, it will enhance the market experience of the local community with produce, baked goods, and fresh-cut flowers despite the snow and ice.

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You can stop by Romence any time for beautiful flowers and plants. If you’ve taken the 10×10 Pledge (or if you are interested in taking it), use this week’s $10 to buy a Romence plant to grow your own veggies. You can even try the recipe for Cookie and Kate’s Chopped Kale Salad below.

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Fork Fest, Local First’s annual harvest celebration, will be another opportunity to find a banquet of local food at Romence. On October 23, the gardens and greenhouses will play host to this delicious event. Over 40 local food businesses will be there to share their incredible fall fare. Don’t miss it! Buy your tickets here.

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Cookie and Kate's Chopped Kale Salad

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Ingredients

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Salad

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1 bunch kale (preferably lacinato/Tuscan/dinosaur kale but regular curly kale works, too)

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fine-grain sea salt

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1 cup chopped snow peas (slice off tough ends first)

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1 large carrot, peeled and ribboned with a vegetable peeler

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1 small red bell pepper, deseeded and chopped

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1 heaping cup organic edamame (if using frozen edamame, defrost by tossing into a pot of boiling water for 3 to 4 minutes)

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1 avocado, pitted and sliced into small chunks

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1 large shallot, finely sliced

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handful cilantro, chopped

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handful Thai basil (or regular basil), chopped

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Tamari-Ginger Vinaigrette

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¼ cup olive oil

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2 tablespoons rice vinegar

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1 tablespoon finely grated ginger

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1 tablespoon low-sodium tamari (or other low-sodium soy sauce*)

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2 teaspoons lime juice

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3 garlic cloves, pressed or minced

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Instructions

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Use a chef's knife to remove the tough ribs from the kale, then discard them. Chop the kale leaves into small, bite-sized pieces and transfer them to a mixing bowl. Sprinkle the kale with a dash of sea salt and use your hands to massage the kale by scrunching up the leaves in your hands and releasing until the kale is a darker green and fragrant. Toss the remaining salad dressing ingredients with the kale.

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To make the vinaigrette, whisk together all the ingredients until emulsified. Toss the dressing with the salad and serve.

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Notes

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Yields 2 enormous salads or 4 medium.

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Storage suggestions: Leftovers will keep well in the fridge for a day or two.

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*Make it gluten free: Tamari is a gluten-free Japanese soy sauce with an amazing flavor that is readily available at stores. If you want your salad to be gluten-free, be sure to pick a gluten-free soy sauce.

Fork Fest spotlights ‘agricultural abundance’

Local First’s Fork Fest will support a sustainable community this week by introducing food lovers to many locally sourced restaurants and encouraging them to shift their dollars to those establishments.

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This will be the fourth year of Fork Fest and Local First is expecting its largest turnout yet, with more than 500 people projected to attend.

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Fork Fest will take place from 5-9 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 23, at Romence Gardens & Greenhouses, located at 265 Lakeside Drive NE.

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More than 40 of West Michigan's local food and beverage producers, growers and restaurateurs will be onsite, providing attendees with generous samples from their menus. All food samples are included in a $30 ticket, which can be purchased at the door. Additionally, Brewery Vivant beer, Fenn Valley wine, and Vander Mill cider will be available for purchase at the event.

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New this year, Local First will be hosting five individuals representing farms or nonprofit organizations integral to our sustainable food system in West Michigan. These informal pop-up presentations will provide a way for people to engage with and learn about what's happening right now in the food system. Presenters include representatives from the MSU Extension, GVSU's student farm, Hope Farms, Earthkeeper Farm and Urban Roots Farm.

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“We have a great agricultural abundance here in Michigan, and at Fork Fest we see that firsthand and celebrate it in a memorable way,” said Elissa Hillary, executive director of Local First. “Attendees will meet and try samples from food entrepreneurs that build our connection to place, and contribute to the uniqueness of our community.”

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The Fauxgrass Quartet will perform live folk music throughout the evening.

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Fork Fest is the final event of the Eat Local Challenge, which also included documentary screenings of “Fresh,” the 10×10 Pledge, and two first-time events on the lakeshore: Gather and the Lakeshore Street Party.

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For original article, click here.

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Photo curtesy of Tiberius Images.

Local First to celebrate abundance with over 40 vendors at Fork Fest

Tickets are still on sale for Local First's annual Fork Fest celebration at Romence Gardens to take place on Thursday, October 23 from 5-9 p.m.

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The fourth annual event will feature local food and drink from over 40 participating vendors. Brewery Vivant beer, Fenn Valley wine and Vander Mill cider will be available for purchase. Live music will be performed by Faux Grass Quartet.

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“We have a great agricultural abundance here in Michigan, and at Fork Fest we see that first hand and celebrate it in a memorable way,” said Elissa Hillary, Executive Director of Local First. “Attendees will meet and try samples from food entrepreneurs that build our connection to place and contribute to the uniqueness of our community.

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New to this year's event will be pop-up presentations from local culinary representatives such as the MSU Extension, GVSU's student farm, Hope Farms, Earthkeeper Farm and Urban Roots Farm.

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For a full list of vendors, visit the Local First website. 

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The event is open to the public and tickets are $30.

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For original article, click here.

Top 5 Things to Do Around Grand Rapids

From local sustainability to international exchanges with our sister cities, Grand Rapids has plenty to offer for your social calendar with these five events.

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You can find this information every Thursday and Sunday on MLive.com and in The Grand Rapids Press or get more daily on my Facebook page.

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Fork Fest

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Forty of West Michigan's restaurants, producers, and specialty food makers will bring their grub to the Romence Gardens greenhouse when Local First presents its annual Fork Fest on Thursday, Oct. 23, from 5 to 9 p.m.

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Fork Fest is held at Romence Gardens and Greenhouses, 265 Lakeside Drive NE, and connects patrons with local chefs, farmers, grocers, bakers, brewers and other businesses that support the West Michigan food system.

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Admission is $30 and includes unlimited food samples and live entertainment. Local beer, wine and cider will be available for purchase separately. For more information and tickets, visit localfirst.com.

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For original article, click here.

Building company earns B-Corp designation

Long focused on the triple bottom line, Bazzani Building Co. recently decided to see if it was really walking the walk as a sustainably minded and socially responsible business.

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The company submitted itself to the rigorous B Corp Certification process through the nonprofit B-Lab, which has certified more than 1,000 companies in 33 countries, based on social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.

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Bazzani couldn’t have been happier with the final point tally of 147 out of 200, which puts it ninth on the list of other similarly sized companies.

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Guy Bazzani, CEO and founder of Bazzani, was quick to point out the score is above Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s, both of which are well-known businesses in the triple bottom line community.

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The company earned the most points in the environmental category. It also did well in the community and employee categories.

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“We are very pleased that we scored so well on the metrics,” Bazzani said.

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The company’s triple bottom line approach began long ago. Bazzani said the firm joined the Social Venture Network when it was founded in 1987. The Social Venture Network offered a national “platform to connect, inspire and support influential entrepreneurs who wanted to use business to create a values-driven and sustainable world.”

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The Social Venture Network continues today and has gained a strong reputation and influence within the triple bottom line community.

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Bazzani was also a founding member of Local First and remains a member of the organization today.

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“Part of our value mission is we are a triple bottom line business that recognizes there is a strong interplay between the economic, social and environmental aspects of our world,” Bazzani said.

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He said his love of the outdoors and a concern with environmental issues were the backbone for his commitment.

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“I love to hike in the mountains and be involved in environmental issues, and I was in a business that was really quite destructive,” he said.

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When he entered the construction industry and saw the detrimental practices that were commonplace, Bazzani said he wanted to find a different way to get the job done.

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“At one point, the construction business really started with complete devastation and then rebuilt from a raw piece of land that has been wiped down to the dirt level,” he said. “For myself and for the planet, I had to change the way we did business.”

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Bazzani pointed to sourcing as one of the aspects his company has focused on in decreasing its environmental impact.

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“What’s best for the environment in terms of how you purchase materials, how you source your materials, how far away those materials are from your location, how to source the most effective way to build a business,” he explained.

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Today, Bazzani said he is driven by how the company will live on when he is no longer at the helm.

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“I’m working on a transition plan, although I don’t ever want to really retire,” he said. “This will allow a set of metrics to keep Bazzani on track with its triple bottom line practices.

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“As the company gets older and transitions beyond my involvement, it will always be a third-party designation for how well we are performing in the community and the environment. That is the legacy I’d like to set in motion.”

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B Corp designations are good for two years, and then a company must resubmit to the process to continue its certification.

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Bazzani is a proponent of the process.

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“They thoroughly go through your books and tax returns and what you donate — you have to really open up to get this designation,” he said. “That process is, I think, really healthy for all businesses.”

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Other Certified B Corps in West Michigan include Cascade Engineering and Brewery Vivant.

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For original article, click here.

Local First realizará por cuarto año el Fork Fest

Local First anuncia su festival Fork Fest (Festival de los cubiertos) a realizarse por 4 año consecutivo el próximo 23 de octubre de 5:00-9:00 p.m. en el Romence Gardens and Greenhouses. El evento presentará los mejores sabores del oeste de Michigan.
nCon la participación de más de 40 locales de comida, productores de bebida entre otros negocios de restaurantes del área. En el evento todos los ejemplos de comida estarán incluidos por la compra de un ticket de 30 dólares.
nBrewery Vivant beer, Fenn Valley wine, and Vander Mill cider estarán vendiéndose en el evento. Además habrá presentaciones artísticas a cargo de Fauxgrass Quartet.
nLa actividad estará abierta a toda la comunidad, y además los asistentes tendrán la oportunidad de conectar directamente con los empresarios de comida y aprender sobre las maneras conseguir dinero con en Fuentes locales.
n“Nosotros tenemos una gran abundancia cultural en Michigan, y el Fort Fest  nosotros vemos que la primera manera de celebrar en nuestro espacio”, dijo Elissa Hillary, directora ejecutiva de Local First.
nEste Nuevo año, Local First estará presentando cinco representaciones individuales de granjas o organizaciones sin fines de lucro integrales para el sistema sostenible de comida en el oeste de Michigan. Dentro de los representantes estarán: de la extensión de MSU, estudiantes de agricuoltura de GVSU’S, Hope Farms, Earthkeeper Farm, y  Urban Roots Farm.

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For original article, click here.

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Photo courtesy of Two Eagles Marcus / Women's LifeStyle Magazine.