Cowbells are Ringing at Esca Bona

October 21, 2016 by dev_team


A marquis event we can take further

By Lara Dickinson, Co-Founder OSC2
I set out for Austin, TX on Monday to participate in Esca Bona again, the second annual event. New Hope asked me to speak on the Climate Collaborative – the newest OSC2 collaborative.

Esca Bona is a small show- 278 people and capped.  It is more of an industry rally designed to capture the early spirit of Expo West when it was small, fun and cohesive because natural foods was a new and renegade industry.    Most of the attendees are newer comers to the industry wanting to network, grow, and have impact.  Admittedly, I am starting to have that “old timer” syndrome where everyone seemed young – did I really start working in this industry in 1997?

It was a fun environment with lots of music in the background and cowbell calls to gather (apropos in urban cowboy country).  People are open, rather than rushing.  Lots of spontaneous conversations happen. With nearly 2 days together, you have a chance have deeper conversations.

There were some really impressive food leaders.  Palo Hawken, Co-Founder of REBBL beautifully told the story of how REBBL went from being about ending human trafficking to a product that espouses this mission while appealing based on its product benefits.

Belle Garde Bakery talked about their tremendous care in baking and making gluten cool again. The head baker is a hip young dude who knows about soil and sourcing, unlike any baker I have every met.  He and his grains partner, Fred Kirschenmann, an acclaimed organic farmer, hosted a magical bread testing ceremony and talk on soil and organics.

Belle Garde Bread Tasting was a celebration to the craft of baking

Both years, I was struck by the youthful energy of the entrepreneurs and their commitment to their sustainable underpinnings.  I had hoped last year that a lot of them, plus some of the larger companies and impact investors who come around to kick the tires, would step outside business as usual and go beyond talking.  Would we actually explore working together toward something bigger?  Maybe thinking about how to source better packaging, a more just supply chain, or even just helping out the young entrepreneur a bit more.  I remember OSCmember, Frederick Schilling talking on a panel last year and repeating several times the “importance of collaboration” to getting the big and hard stuff done like getting GMO’s out of the supply chain, improving packaging, or “choose your cause.”  But frankly, I saw a lot of folks head nod and listen only later to slip into their own sales pitch.

This year I had higher hopes as New Hope had done a great job of content planning – lots of great talks and nearly all with sustainable underpinnings.

But I also wondered if these were really the people in the room to get it done?  My subjective and statistically unverified observation of the key attendee segments are:  impact investors, a few big foods companies like General Mills aiming to build relationships (commendably) with smaller companies as a part of their strategy to invest in high promise brands, agencies, law firms, a few nonprofits supporting schools and crowd-funding, and a random assortment of small companies demonstrating their wares in the showcase room – everything from yummy cricket flour truffle balls to Himalayan sea salt to a very cool company called Escogo, selling bio-based lighter fluids and charcoal from used restaurant cooking oils.

The slightly bigger mission-driven brands were mostly there to speak  – Heavenly Organics, Kite HIll, Zevia, Applegate – to name a few.

The question I still have is – did we get anything done?

A lot of that is determined post show.  The value of decompressed time away from the day-to-day realities of business can certainly help founders and investors think more broadly. The Creative blitz from Future Brands was cleverly crafted to engage over 250 people to work deeply together and drive to quite a concrete result – over 20 videos proposing a radical solution to a food system issue.

One of at least 30 Future Partners Blitz Teams

I welcome comments from others who attended Esca Bona.  The experience reinforced my affinity for this industry- great people, nice people, hard working people, mission -inspired people.

The bright spot talk for me was Amit Hooda’s from Heavenly Organics, Demeter’s presentation on Biodynamic, and (selfish plug here) my talk in partnership with Nancy Hirschberg on the Climate Collaborative – a project of OSC2 and SFTA. These were the three talks where I walked away and said – let’s get something done.

With Amit – why wouldn’t we all see if we can use ingredients he knows how to source well in conflict zones.  What a story on addressing conflict and changing communities, by sourcing ingredients that they can grow.   Bonus if the honey is pure and never been anywhere near a field of Round UP and bigger bonus if it actually is cost comparable to bigger suppliers! I am calling Amit.

I love what Demeter is doing and their openness to advancing agriculture for all, not just Biodynamic.  We are going to explore how they can help us advance the Regenerative Ag movement – a commitment area for the Climate Collaborative.

And I was thrilled to present together with Nancy Hirshberg.  My hope is that if people do one thing coming out of Esca Bona – it is to make a commitment to register for the Climate Collaborative – and start to work as an industry to address the biggest issue of our time – because we all know deep down that if we don’t, that the cricket truffle that just got listed in favorite retailer X won’t have much of a market …or maybe it will.

The whole experience gave me confirmation that OSC2 is vital.  It was founded on the premise that we all talk a lot about building more regenerative businesses and food systems, but let’s take action.  New Hope is vital and exceptional at bringing people together and inspiring important conversations.  But in fairness to all of us, we have real business priorities that are more urgent in the near term. Groups like OSCcan serve as glue to bring all the good thinking and good intentions forward and then blaze a path toward action.

And Esca Bona is a growing force in this industry.  Not only is it fun, It is a chance to contemplate… and connect with deeper thoughts and purpose than we often can in our daily lives.   And of course, it is about networking.

In my lunch, our conversation turned several times to what we would take away from Esca Bona and accomplish.  We saw AMAZING work from individual companies but not a lot of synergizing.

That seems like a great theme to explore more deeply next year at this Marquis event. What three things will we do together at Esca Bona and beyond to improve the food system?  Then we very clearly and consistently make it easy for folks to participate in at least one of these three things ongoing.
The Climate Collaborative, a project of OSC2 and SFTA is a great way to take action for this year and 2017.