Sixth Annual Slow Living Summit: How to Succeed in Business by Slowing Down

Katie Opalinska

The Slow Living Summit is a project of Strolling of the Heifers, a funky Vermont nonprofit with the mission of celebrating farmers and local food. Its Slow Living Summit expands that goal to building sustainable, resilient communities and food systems. The Summit encourages people to build mindfulness into everything they do. But how can the Slow Living concept be layered over the pressure of establishing a successful food or agriculture business within a fast-paced culture?

The 2016 Summit taking place April 28–30 will provide forums for unique explorations of key topics in food and agriculture entrepreneurship, such as business planning, funding sources, refining and pitching ideas, ownership structures, social impact, collaboration, and food and agriculture business case studies. Additionally, participants will be invited to reflect upon success gained from failure, self-care as a key part of the business model, and community building as the cornerstone of doing good business.

Specifically, individuals are invited to:

  • Embrace Failure as a Teacher in Business. In our fast culture, everyone is competing for the top spot to be seen as the most successful. As a result, we forget the key lessons learned from fumbles or failure. Slow Business allows space for blunders and using those blunders as an opportunity.
  • Connect Slowing Living and Being Present with Good Business. It is very common for entrepreneurs to forget about themselves in the middle of their business planning. While thinking about planning a sustainable food or agriculture business, we want to encourage entrepreneurs to make the connection between giving back to themselves, their neighbors, and their community as a key part of their business model. If the business owner is not doing well, how can their business do well?
  • Re-think Doing Business as Community and Relationship Building. We are not just talking about partnership, but good business and doing well requires a community. This is the very essence of Slow Living, because there is no business without community. 

The Summit will feature a roster of well-known speakers and presenters who will be weaving together these concepts. The lineup includes: Will Raap, founder of Gardeners Supply; Cairn Cross of FreshTracks Capital; Bob Wellington, VP of Agri-mark Dairy Cooperative; Barbi and Paul Schulick, founders of New Chapter; Tanya Fields, founder of the BLK Projek; and Fred “Chico” Lager, former CEO of Ben & Jerry’s. 

Key Summit sessions will include:

  • “Nourishing slow while growing fast: The new chapter founders’ story”—the keynote plenary presentation by Barbi and Paul Schulick, founders of New Chapter.
  • “Get a scoop of the action”—how Ben and Jerry defied conventional wisdom, and how the lessons learned are applicable to entrepreneurs fundraising today, presented by Fred “Chico” Lager, the ice cream company’s former CEO. 
  • “From small to big by choice: How to navigate growth”—presented by Cairn Cross of FreshTracks Capital and Alan Newman of Alchemy & Science.
  • “The road well-traveled but sparsely funded”—a discussion by Tanya Field of the BLK ProjeK about the problems faced by minority professionals who delve into the world of urban agriculture and food enterprises.
  • “Slow Medicine for the Entrepreneur: How do creative, passionate, and committed people need to take care of themselves in order to reach their goals?”—presented by Dr. Michael Finkelstein, the “Slow Medicine Doctor.”
  • “Fix, pivot, close, or sell: Re-thinking the food and agriculture business model”—presented by Bob Wellington of Agri-mark, and Gabriel Cole, founder of Fare Resources.
  • “Cooperatives: Beyond profit and nonprofit”—presented by Don Kreis of the Vermont Law School, Erbin Crowell of the Neighboring Food Coops Association, and Matthew Cropp of the Vermont Employee Ownership Center.
  • “Impossible is a dare: How your food business can become a force for social transformation and planetary healing”—led by Shel Horowitz, author of the book Guerilla Marketing Goes Green.
  • “Summing up and moving forward”—the closing plenary presented by Matt Dunne, VP for Community Affairs, Google, and Clark Wolf, President & Founder of the Clark Wolf Company.

The full Summit schedule, biographies of speakers and artists, and registration information can be found on the Summit website

Based in Brattleboro, Vermont, Strolling of the Heifers has been best known for its annual celebration of farmers and local food. The Strolling of the Heifers Parade and Expo attracts tens of thousands of people on the first weekend of June.

But that weekend event, says Orly Munzing, the Stroll’s founder and executive director, simply helps to raise funds for “the Stroll’s real work”—the organization’s year-round programs, including not only the Slow Living Summit but also the Farm-to-Plate Apprenticeship Program (which trains underemployed people for culinary jobs and places them into permanent employment) and the Locavore Index (which ranks the 50 states in terms of their commitment to healthy local food).

Concurrent with this year’s Summit, Strolling of the Heifers is launching Windham Grows, a food and agriculture “business hatchery.” Led by a pair of seasoned “entrepreneurs-in-residence,” Windham Grows will seek out, evaluate, and nurture the best farm and food startup and scale-up stage businesses in the region by providing them with custom-tailored packages of mentorship, consulting, services, resources, and access to financing.

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