April 7, 2013 in City

Worm composting plan takes Spokane economy summit spotlight

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Winners

Judges chose the following three pitches for funding:

1st place: Brian Estes to expand a worm farm at Vinegar Flats community garden.

2nd place: Taylor Weech to create a member-owned alternative media outlet.

3rd place: Connor Simpson to create a website for buying, selling, bartering or donating second-hand clothing.

A worm farm could be the next big business plan to boost Spokane’s economy.

But so could a community farm on more than 400 acres and an online closet of secondhand clothes. A dozen entrepreneurs competitively pitched their plans to build a profitable, and socially and environmentally responsible, business at Saturday’s Spokane New Economy Summit.

It’s hard to compete with idea hubs like Seattle and Silicon Valley, summit organizer Reed Jessen admitted, so instead of creating new ideas he believes Spokane needs better representation of existing ideas. Smart people already live here by choice, he said.

“We want to leverage what we have now instead of trucking it in from somewhere else,” Jessen said.

A proposed business should be financially stable without depending on grant money and donations, he said.

The business should also promote growth without sacrificing people, said organizer Kate Catlin, a senior at Gonzaga University.

“We’re advocating for-profit businesses because that’s a sustainable model,” Catlin said.

Brian Estes can find a use for food waste from local universities and businesses. Instead of letting waste go to waste, thousands of little worms at his Vinegar Flats community farm can feast upon the organic riches and convert the decaying fruits and vegetables into compost for home and community gardens. He’s looking to expand his small vermiculture production into a large venture, using WorkSource to provide part-time workers. The judges picked Estes’ presentation for the $1,000 first-place prize.

Another idea modifies the traditional farming model and adds a focus on community by teaching students and neighbors how to work the land. Former Spokane County Commissioner Bonnie Mager pitched a plan to convert more than 460 acres of Spokane County land into a heritage farm instead of sectioning it off into several plots for big homes.

“I think the whole world is looking at food security and a proximity to a large urban area,” Mager said. “I think it’s critical as more people want to buy local and know where their food is coming from.”

She also hopes her project would help at-risk youths find a passion and skills in farming.

The summit was organized by graduate students at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, a business school focused on sustainability.

Catlin, an undergraduate economics student, helped by bringing more students to the summit, which started Friday night and continued with workshops Saturday in addition to the pitch contest. Instead of learning a conservative economics curriculum, Catlin hopes her peers are open-minded about alternative businesses.

Ultimately, she said, the summit revolves around building a new perspective for economics: It’s more than money.

“It’s about healthy people in your community – it’s about how happy they are, and it’s about profit that works for everyone,” Catlin said.

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