MBA Student Rich Schwartz Recaps the FoodWorx Conference

Author: Rich Schwartz
Posted: March 2, 2016

For the second year in a row I attended the annual FoodWorx event. Billed as a “Future of Food Conference”, the event covers many issues that are personally important to me, such as food justice, health and nutrition, and sustainable agriculture. This is the fourth year for the event, and the first time it was hosted on the Portland State campus.

I had first learned of FoodWorx through SBA Professor Tom Gillpatrick. Tom was aware of my food-related interests, and last year offered to provide me a ticket in exchange for setting up and staffing an exhibit for the SBA Center for Retail Leadership program that he oversees. This year I wanted to be more directly involved in the event, so I offered my services as a volunteer. Responsibilities varied, ranging from working the registration table to selling raffle tickets and helping with logistics in the main hall.

Despite my volunteer duties I was able to catch most of the speakers. They were quite a diverse group, addressing an eclectic mix of food topics. The first session I attended was a panel on the Future of Food and Retail, moderated by my former professor Kevin Coupe. The panelists addressed questions on food retail trends, including the rise of “local” and the logistical challenges in moving products from rural producers to urban consumers.

Another session I found particularly engaging was called “Food and Beauty: Why Ugly Produce Is Imperfectly Delicious.” Claire Cummings created for herself the position of Waste Specialist at Bon Appetite catering company, and she’s on a personal crusade to drive down the amount of food waste in the company’s value chain. She created a program called Imperfectly Delicious Produce, which to date has diverted many tons of produce from compost piles to customer plates.

But the real reason to attend a conference like FoodWorx is for the networking opportunities. I have been a longtime supporter of the James Beard Public Market, a civic project which envisions a world class public market (think Pike Place in Seattle) in downtown Portland. Last spring, fellow student Kat Thirakomen and I presented them with a strategic marketing plan as part of our marketing class requirements. This winter, I am helping to write a marketing plan for their upcoming capital campaign. So I was glad for the chance to spend time with the market staff at FoodWorx, talking about the food scene in Oregon and the role that the James Beard Market will play in the future.

While staffing the registration table I recognized Franklin Jones, the founder of B Line Urban Delivery. I knew that Franklin is very active in the Portland B Corp (sustainable business certification) movement, and I wanted to talk with him about a project I was helping to pilot here at Portland State. Through our Net Impact chapter, fellow student Emma Ingebretsen and I have organized student consulting teams that are working with companies going through the B Corp certification process. While the program has been quite successful so far, we believe that support from local B Corp companies and executives is necessary for the program to continue to grow. At the post-conference reception, I had my chance to make my pitch to Franklin. He was very enthusiastic about the concept, and said he would bring it up at their next advisory committee meeting.

I left FoodWorx on something of a high. I had contributed to putting on a successful event, heard inspiring stories of innovative works, deepened relationships with people in my network, and furthered a project I am passionate about. Not a bad way to spend a winter Saturday.

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Schwartz is a second-year student in the Portland State MBA program, graduating in June, 2016. He aspires to take a leadership role in the “Good Food” movement, whether through helping to start a new company, or working for an existing company or organization whose mission and values are aligned with his own. He is a Graduate Business Programs Ambassador, and you can connect with him through the “Ask an Ambassador” portal.