Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Jeff Zornes; Farmer

I was given a bit of counseling not long ago from someone I respect immensely.  He said, (like in grasshopper): "There are three things that are certain--everything in your life is impermanent, everything in your life is imperfect and everything in your life is impersonal".  "Go now and think about it until next time we meet".  He said.

And I have been reciting this all week; meditating on the meaning turned mantra, a perfect fit to go along with some of the interesting places that I have journeyed this week.  I have been out and about, on a path to become educated on small business incubators, regional and municipal economic development agencies, non-profits, for profits, start-ups, wind downs, a whole hodgepodge of influence from some really cool people.  All in the spirit of discussing business development, and particularly referring to our various local economies. Something has summoned me to this recently. It is too early to suggest what the outcome might be.

I have spoken with farmers and grocers, entrepreneurs at local accelerators, real estate brokers, church pastors, bankers, beer makers, coffee roasters, musicians, lawyers.  It has been a busy week and it is merely Wednesday.  There is much to understand.  I will keep you posted on my journey.

The reason for this post is to highlight one of the people that I encountered on my recent journey.

Meet Jeff Zornes; Farmer.

At first glance you wouldn't think Jeff was a farmer, and if you were to ask him 10 years ago if this would be his vocation, he likely would have laughed, having been on the executive real estate development scene for many years.  However, Jeff Zornes is indeed a farmer and a businessman on the verge of creating something great in the name of cause marketing.  His local farm is located at Ranken Tech, in the heart of North St. Louis, in the parking lot, inside of a steel shipping container.

There will be lots more to discuss with Jeff and his goal to help ignite a funding mechanism for one of my favorite local non-profit organizations, Urban Future.  Take a look at this technology.  Jeff's first harvest is tomorrow, basil, and some of the best I have ever seen and tasted.  Right here, local and cultivated with purpose in North St. Louis!!!

Jeff utilizes discarded freight containers for the farm.

Utilizing space at our local technical training school, Ranken Technical College

Jeff monitors the staging of plants until harvest time.

A view down the center of the container.

So how is that for innovation?  I could have written about any of my visits this week; all so inspiring. But Jeff's story is unique, and interesting, like all the stories of our innovative heroes out there. 

When I asked Jeff how it has been going, he mentioned that he had not quite perfected the process, this being his first harvest, and he still needs to pack and prepare for distribution by local distributor, Old Tyme Produce

He also mentioned that the single unit container was not at all what he has planned for the bigger picture.   Rather, once things get dialed in better, and some of the challenges are overcome that he has had to deal with on the technology, he plans on expanding his capability.   

When I asked him if he minds being a farmer rather than a real estate executive from his past, he simply smiled and said he has work to do. 

This speaks to the kind of spirit we find with innovators like Jeff, doers like Jeff. I felt the urge to tell him what my council told me a few short days ago.  Jeff's start up condition isn't at all permanent, his technology not perfect and I am pretty sure he wouldn't take it personally if one of his old real estate cronies questioned his reasoning.  

Jeff gets it, as all of us should, ifyouknowhatimtalkinbout...

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