In 1981, Al Dente rolled out their first sheets of pasta dough and the high quality dried product hit the market at a select few specialty grocery stores—Ann Arbor’s Zingerman’s Deli and Chicago’s Treasure Island. Since then, the company has grown significantly and their delectable pasta is now available all over the country as well as in Canada. It’s no surprise that Al Dente has been such a success as their pastas are unique, easy to cook, and absolutely delicious. They use high quality ingredients and traditional methods many others skip for convenience, making their pasta so special!
A week ago, I had the privilege of making the acquaintance of Monique Deschaine, one of the founders of Al Dente, and one of the warmest people I have ever met. I found myself at the small batch manufactory while picking up the latest order of pasta for FarmRaiser. Al Dente was one of FarmRaiser’s inaugural partners in southeast Michigan and has been a part of almost every fundraising campaign that has taken place in the area. They package their “shorter than normal” pasta pieces for us and sell them at a significantly reduced price so that the organization running the campaign is able to make a higher profit. It’s one of the many ways that Al Dente gives back to their community. Monique congenially chatted with me as she finished counting and packing our boxes of pasta. Her joyful presence made the seemingly mundane task really pleasant (this sentiment is shared for most of our vendors – we love visiting them in their element)! Of course she couldn’t help but send us away with some of her pasta to try.
Tonight, after discovering that my mom had bought a beautiful filet of salmon, I decided to try one of the many recipes that Monique has posted on Al Dente’s website. It was absolutely delicious and simple to make. Monique has posted a lot of quick recipes that have just a few ingredients, making it possible to have a complete homemade meal in about 20 minutes. The recipe I followed called for salmon, mushrooms, and Boursin cheese. Because we had some in the refrigerator, I included kale and onions as well for some extra veggie goodness.
I used the Bona Chia Spinach Fettuccine, which is made with chia seeds and therefore packed with fiber, omega 3s, and protein. Thispasta variety complemented this recipe really well. The spinach flavor came through, but was by no means overpowering. When you make Al Dente pasta, be sure to follow the cooking instructions carefully, as it’s easy to overcook!
Look for Al Dente in our fundraisers, and be sure to visit Al Dente to see everything they have to offer, peruse the recipes, and find a store near you that sells their products.Permalink →
Joe Dobrow, former head of marketing for Whole Foods Market, Fresh Fields and Sprouts, recently released his book about the history of the natural foods industry called Natural Prophets. It details how the industry grew from a fringe movement to a $100 billion piece of the food puzzle and features extensive interviews with some of the largest organic companies around. In coming to Seattle on his book launch tour, he wanted to do something a little different and help the audience look a little closer at the great things happening in their community.
The resulting event brought together key players in the industry locally to share some really heartfelt stories about how they got their start. Then, six new and emerging companies (including us!) working in the region pitched their ideas to the panel and audience who rated us on key business factors.
Panel of Judges
Joe Whinney, Theo Chocolate
Arjan Stephens, Nature’s Path Organic
Edmond Sanctis, Sahale Snacks
Strategy Slam Winners!
After inspiring introductions from the folks above, six unique and impressive businesses pitched their ideas. From a snail farm to a group teaching refugees commercial cooking skills to a mason bee business — what a treat to be included in a group of innovative folks each with their own unique idea!
Each pitch was followed by a questions and comments from the panelists. Every one of the panelists had great things to say about FarmRaiser and the audience was excited for FarmRaiser to grow in the Seattle community. We couldn’t have been happier for this great reception of our business from some of the biggest movers and shakers in the natural and organic food business of the northwest and the country!
At the end of the night, FarmRaiser was proud to be named the winner of the Strategy Slam event — coming out in front in ratings from both the panelists and the audience!
A big thank you goes out to the community of Seattle for welcoming us and instilling an awesome sense of excitement for what is to come for FarmRaiser in Seattle and beyond.Permalink →
Reinventing School Fundraisers with Local, Healthy Food!
FarmRaiser founder, Mark Abbott, had finally had enough of his kids hawking unhealthy products to their family, friends, and neighbors when he decided to found new school fundraising company, FarmRaiser. This reinvention of the time-honored tradition of product-based school fundraising eliminates the unhealthy, sugar-laden products chock full of preservatives. Instead, schools participating in a FarmRaiser enlist their students to sell healthy products from local farmers and food artisans to their family and friends. In the process, students learn about the importance of feeding their body right and the local economy of every community where FarmRaiser works is supported in the process!
FarmRaiser creates their product lists by partnering with farmers and artisans making products like kale chips, dried fruit, peanut butter, coffee, preserves, salsas, and more in every community where they work.
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 2014|
When Mark Abbott’s nine-year-old son went around their neighborhood and sold about $400 worth of junk food to help raise funds for his elementary school, the young boy had an interesting observation–his family didn’t include such bad food choices in their daily meals, so why was he out selling something he wouldn’t eat to his neighbors?
Instantly, Abbott knew his son was right, and he set out to actively help schools break that longtime habit and form a new way to raise funds that didn’t include things like candy, popcorn, pizzas, magazines and wrapping paper.
“Mark knew he could develop a better way for schools to raise money, and FarmRaiser was officially created in 2013,” says Christina Carson, the organization’s campaign director. “We spent 2013 coordinating test campaigns to make sure that the system we had set up would work, and are now moving forward with an attempt to bring FarmRaiser to anyone interested in participating throughout the state of Michigan.”
Those test campaigns have found FarmRaiser working with a variety of different school districts throughout Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. From Ann Arbor to Flint to Muskegon and up to Traverse City, FarmRaiser has run pilot programs. Locally, the organization has worked with Glen Lake Elementary, Benzie Central High School, Leelanau Montessori, Traverse City West Middle School and Central Lake Elementary School.
On the other side of that coin, FarmRaiser has also worked with farms and local businesses throughout the state and in each community they’ve worked with.
With Michigan being a cold-weather state for a good portion of the year, one has to wonder what a program like FarmRaiser can offer in the late fall and winter months. The answer: They can offer plenty.
“In the Traverse City area, we’ve had a lot of late fall/winter sales so the farm side of things is just getting started,” says Carson. “We sold some really amazing root veggies from Isadore Farm last fall, honey from Champion Hill, Higher Grounds coffee, Brownwood Farms products, Food for Thought and Esch Road jams, salsas, and hot sauces, chocolate from Grocer’s Daughter, and beeswax candles from BeeDazzled.”
The fund-raising programs are really unlike those typically deployed by school districts. One of the programs is the option of a “community basket.” That allows supporters to donate any amount they choose to the community basket, where their funds will be used to purchase some of the offered products for a local food pantry.
“We believe that people of all income levels deserve to have access to fresh, healthy food items,” says Carson. “The funds for the community basket are divided similarly to the rest of the products, with the remainder after FarmRaiser’s fee being split evenly between the school and the purchasing of products.”
Another program allows schools to use an online marketplace, where the school can manage some, or all, of the fund-raising campaign online. Each campaign has their own unique website where special information–like the purpose of the fundraiser and how the money will be spent–can be included. Each student or participant can have their own profile to share with family and friends and allows sales to be made without the need to go door-to-door.
In 2014, as the organization works to coordinate late-spring and early-fall sales with schools, Carson says they’ll be reaching out to farms near participating schools.
In fact, she says they’re actively looking for local businesses and farms that are interested in participating in the program.
“Any company interested in supporting their local schools and gaining exposure for their products is welcome to get in touch and let us know what they have available,” she says.
At its core, the purpose of FarmRaiser is to help people create community around healthy, real food products that come from the communities where they live, work and play.
When a school expresses interest in participating in a FarmRaiser fund-raising project, the company finds and sources products from as close as possible to the school, with a goal of having products come from within a 30-mile radius. FarmRaiser then provides the school with the materials they need, as well as an education kick-off for the students to learn about local healthy eating and provide materials for connecting the fundraiser to their curriculum.
So how do FarmRaiser’s projects hold up against the greeting card sales and the mass-produced chocolates being peddled?
“We understand that putting on a fundraiser is hard work for a school and strive to make our fundraisers worth their while,” says Carson. “FarmRaiser prices products in every sale to ensure that schools make at least 45 percent of the total sales. Every fundraising company is different in how they break down profits, but our percentages are as high, if not higher, than most of the other options that I have seen.”
So will a FarmRaiser program be coming to a school near you? Quite possibly. This year, the company hopes to have at least 100 fundraisers to help lay the groundwork for further expansion in the years to come. Most of the sales will take place in Michigan, but there will be a few regions outside of the state testing pilot programs as well.
“Eventually, we plan to be an option in most, if not all, states,” says Carson.
Sam Eggleston is the managing editor of NW Michigan Second Wave. He was born and raised in Michigan, where he spent plenty of time both working in fundraisers and working on farms. He likes the idea of blending the two. He can be reached via email.Permalink →