SCA 1979, Yosemite National Park
Investor | Manakin-Sabot, VA
Chip is managing member of Fazenda Investments, LLC, a private equity and real estate investment firm. In the past, he’s consolidated fragmented industries ranging from outdoor advertising to bowling centers, but lately Chip has shifted his focus to sustainable, organic foods. A member of the SCA board of directors with a keen interest in alumni relations, Chip earned his BA from Middlebury College and his MBA from the Darden School of Business.
What exactly are you bringing to our tables?
In the past few years, I have become involved with three food businesses, all of which have a green angle to them. The first is a gluten-free cookie company that was founded to serve the surging population of people who suffer from food allergies. No one has yet been able to explain what it is about our modern lifestyle that has caused some folk’s immune systems to go haywire but many businesses have sprung up to serve this growing market. I also cofounded two other businesses that produce traditional Old World products here in the New World. The first is an Italian dry-cured meat company. All of our products are anti-biotic and growth-promotant free but we also offer a certified organic line. The second business produces mozzarella di bufala in Colombia. Few people are aware that real mozzarella is made from the milk of water buffalos. We are in the midst of a nationwide rollout at Whole Foods. Our buffalos are free-range, grass-fed and we expect to become one of the first certified organic mozzarella di bufala manufacturers in the world in early 2015. Next up will be yoghurt.
What’s behind the consumer circumspection?
There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that over consumption of prepared foods is partially responsible for many health problems. The marketplace has changed so rapidly it is jaw dropping. Both the meat and dairy businesses I mentioned are financially successful and yet neither could have found a market even ten years ago. In the early 1900’s, one could find all sorts of fabulous food and drink across America that was prepared by recently arrived immigrants. By the 1950’s, it was all Miller beer, Maxwell House and Wonder Bread. For a “foodie,” those were the dark ages. For lack of a better watershed moment, I always look to the famous Judgement in Paris in 1976 when a California Cabernet won a blind tasting against the top wines of the world. Before that event, “imported” meant higher quality but after the Paris victory “local” became the most important and today, farmer’s markets are everywhere. Coffee, cheese, beer, bread, etc. have all followed suit and been rediscovered by the American consumer
Can these individual actions be scaled to address global issues such as climate change?
I believe the challenges that we face in terms of climate change and environmental degradation are the most demanding that mankind has ever confronted. To solve these problems, we need all hands on deck working together and especially the bright minds in the private sector. I have no patience for the mindset that vilifies certain industries such as the petroleum industry. Come on, the reason they pump all of that oil is because you and I buy it! We consume fuel so that we can fly across the country and work on our computers in a climate controlled environment. Do we waste crazy amounts of energy? Yes. Do we need to consume less energy? Yes. We need to grow up and accept responsibility for our actions and only then do we stand a chance of reversing the damage that we are causing to the natural environment.
Money talks. Do you believe people can speak louder?
Money is a proxy, so vote with your wallet. You can protest outside a corporate headquarters and they will try to smooth things over but if their customers walk and sales drop, the CEO is toast. None of the three food companies that I am involved with could have made a go of it ten years ago but the American consumer’s views have changed in some profound ways over the past decade and our customers literally put their money where their mouth is. Consumers demand to know where their food comes from these days. An increasing segment of our population will pay the premium required to purchase organic products even though one can generally not taste the difference.
As an SCA alumnus, what does breaking the 75,000 member mark mean to you?
Seventy-five thousand is a nice round number but I would be happier with 175,000. My summer with SCA had a tremendous impact on the way I see the world and my place in it so to think that 75,000 other people had a similar experience is immensely heartening.