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Live from BALLE: Rural Economic Development Strategies

5/22/2009 3:46:00 PM

Tags: food system, BALLE, organic seeds, Tom Stearns, Business Alliance of Local Living Economies, local businesses, economic strategies, local economies, local food, organic food

No, I’m not on the remote Island of Bali, Indonesia, (although pronounced the same way) — I’m at the seventh annual Business Alliance of Local Living Economies (BALLE) in Denver, Colorado. The three-day conference is dedicated to inspiring small, local businesses to achieve their entrepreneur goals, which simultaneously builds sustainable and eco-friendly practices in the attendees’ communities.

Last night I heard software and networking developer June Holley and Tom Stearns, board president of the Center for an Agricultural Economy and founder of High Mowing Organic Seeds, speak about rural economic development strategies. Both speakers were fantastic, and delivered presentations that change your perspective on rural towns, economic strategies and the green movement.

Stearns has been an organic seed grower since he was 19 and transformed his passion for growing organic seeds and produce into a successful business, High Mowing Organic Seeds. In 2004 he joined the Center for an Agricultural Economy, based in Hardwick, Vermont (which has the most organic farms per capita in the world). Stearns and community members transformed this abandoned, desolate mining town into a thriving community of 3,000 residents.   

Stearns discussed the food system, its current broken state and how we can go about repairing it. He shared some interesting food for thought: Strawberries don’t grow year round in many communities, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the produce section of a grocery store. The food system is broken; just look at the spread of e. coli outbreaks and how far our food travels. To top this, Stearns said that 70 percent of people in the country will die from food related illnesses, such as diabetes and obesity. That's a lot to swallow.

As depressing as this appears, Stearns offers an easy solutions to repair the system: eat smarter, eat local and eat organic. He empowered the audience with the belief that we can create a healthy food system by knowing what a broken food system looks like. For the first time in history, we are consciously creating a food system that incorporates local businesses and communities.    

I’m off to my next session about educating the next generation of entrepreneurs. Stay tuned for the summary of living economy entrepreneurs and more session recaps to come. In the mean time, have you heard of BALLE? Are you a local living entrepreneur? How have you developed your local community and economy? Do you have a question for one of these community entrepreneurs? Email me (snelson[at] and I’ll let you know their response!

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