The Reskilling of America: Will the Rise of Sourdough be the Downfall of Corporate Giants?
Hunkered down and bored out of our minds, Americans have avoided insanity by learning something. . . old. A mix of youtube tutorials and calls to grandparents have demystified the ancient ways of self-sufficiency and spurred an artisanal revolution across the country. Sourdough starters, gardens, wooden crafts, and crocheted scarves adorn Instagram and Etsy pages of those eager to show off their newest projects, but is this a fleeting trend, or will quarantine hobbies spur a small business revolution?
Evidence of this emerging economy may be most prevalent in the shortening of our food supply chains. Overwhelmed CSAs, gardening stores struggling to keep up with demand, and even a run on canning supplies all point to a home kitchen revolution in our approach to feeding ourselves. Some brave souls have even taken this side hustle and turned it into a small business. By taking advantage of little known “cottage food laws” that allow certain homemade foods to be sold directly to consumers, these intrepid entrepreneurs avoid jumping over hurdles that impede innovation and protect incumbents.
While feel good stories of pandemic pizzerias and boutique bakeries may easily be cast aside as a flash in the pan as we steadily return to “normal”, supporting these micro-businesses may actually be the key to felling corporate titans and achieving the long sought American Dream of economic self-determination.
Now, I understand if that last statement may come off as a bit grandiose, but hear me out. Currently, only a small handful of abusive corporations control the processing of the meat, dairy, and grains that are sent off to value added facilities that package final goods in dozens of different ways to produce the mirage of choice at the supermarket. However, a trend toward local, organic, climate-friendly, and unique ingredients has accompanied the growth of these microbusinesses.
These standards make it difficult for JBS and Yum Foods Inc. to gobble up market share as they’ve done with their vertically integrated models in other sectors. The seemingly small decision to opt for the mouthwatering homemade cupcake you happened upon while scrolling through Instagram rather than the chocolate bar at the checkout aisle is just the first step in recalibrating the power dynamics of our economy. When consumers choose to instead buy a loaf of focaccia made from ancient grains or a pizza sprinkled with pastured pork sausage from a local hog farmer they are taking money out of the pockets of Big Ag and putting it into the next season’s planting and purchasing decisions of independent producers.
Suddenly, our decisions snowball into greater changes that empower individuals to take a chance on opening a brick & mortar location and establishing long-term purchasing agreements from local farms. When this happens, we create a local food system and new jobs and according to the Federal Reserve’s “Harvesting Opportunity” report, local and regional food systems are the best way to reinvigorate struggling economies while also providing resiliency against market and supply fluctuations.
From the stability and growth of a new food system, opportunities for the opening of other small businesses present themselves. The new pastry shop is going to need unique dining tables and the ice cream shop will need a custom paint job if it wants to stand out from the Baskin Robbins down the street. We will give permission to those afraid of risking financial security to open their own businesses and break away from the corporate world that lords over our decision making starting in high school and return control to the individual when futures are planned.
The contribution to our communities by these small businesses goes beyond keeping our dollars at home, it also helps shape the culture. When the owner of a business is a neighbor, not a hedge fund, accountability for the business becomes personal. Not only will they feel the need to produce something great for you to buy, the way they treat their employees and customers becomes personal as well because they’re no longer following company procedures, they are the decision makers and they answer to their community.
A paradign shift that favors micro and small businesses will eat away at the structural support for corporations afforded to them by politicians eager to fill the bank accounts of those who donate to their campaigns. When Main Street takes back command of local economies it becomes awfully hard to justify subsidies and tax breaks forcompanies that can’t threaten economic repercussions. The pandemic has wreaked chaos on our livelihoods, but with the razing of our institutions, opportunities for innovation rise. It is up to us to support these micro and small businesses to rebuild our economy from the ground up. After all, if it’s just as convenient to order something from down the street as it is from Amazon, why send Jeff Bezos your money?
(I understand the consumer decision course of change fails to recognize the economic conditions of those who are unable to spend more on these goods and this will be addressed in a separate article.)