For More Information:
Mark Olson, President/Farmer
Renaissance Farm, Inc.
608-588-2230, Fax: 608-588-3285
Spring Green, WI–December 12, 2011
Not your typical buttoned down business type, Mark Olson, founder, farmer, and president of Renaissance Farm, Inc., of Spring Green, WI, was pleased when he received an invitation from Governor Scott and First Lady Tonette Walker to attend a holiday reception acknowledging his commitment to creating jobs and stimulating Wisconsin’s economy.
Over 26 years ago Olson started out as a vendor at the Dane County Farmers’ Market. He introduced basil pesto to Madison, educating those who knew nothing about the product. He still goes to the market each Saturday, while expanding his business over the years to include nationwide distribution of Renaissance Farm brand infused extra virgin olive oils, ZALTA® herb-infused sea salts, vinaigrettes, cinnamon rolls, and frozen dinner entrees.
Tiny compared with Del Monte, Kraft, or Green Giant, the company is considered a “mid-tier” food processor, employing less than ten workers. Increasing the number of people employed by Renaissance Farm is not Olson’s solution to rural job creation.
“Renaissance Farm values start with providing the market so folks who want to farm can actually do so,” Olson explains.
For example, the latest test project sources acorn squash from area farmers. Renaissance Farm processes the squash into baked, frozen halves for use by restaurants and institutional buyers, i.e. hospitals, corporate cafeterias, and schools.
One of the farmers supplying squash, Dick Peck of Peck’s Farm Market in Spring Green, says that at the end of the season, “You either have bins (of produce) left over or you run short.” In this case, Peck had extra squash but no ready buyers. He notes that if Olson wouldn’t have used the squash, it probably would have been food for the pigs. Both men feel the risk to test market the packaged squash is worth it.
“All indications are it’s a marketable product,” says Olson. “Though there are no guarantees,” he warns. “I haven’t sold it yet. Dick hasn’t gotten a check. We’ll have this out in three or four weeks so we’ll know. This is really a feasibility study.”
Olson believes this attitude of taking a risk and creating scalable projects is what builds rural wealth, creating jobs and security.
“By supporting local foods you are supporting job creation, wealth creation in rural communities,” says Olson. “Every $100,000 spent on local foods creates 2.2 jobs. It’s a lot of jobs for not a lot of money.”
Peck says, “Hopefully this will go big and we can sell a greater portion of the crop. The farmer’s main challenge is not growing the product, but finding enough markets.” Typically 30 percent of any given Wisconsin specialty crop is plowed under, not because it’s of substandard quality, but because no market for it can be found.
With the governor’s reception hosted by Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection (DATCP) Secretary Ben Brancel, you can be sure that Olson will be extolling the virtues of grass roots rural wealth creation by mid-tier processors partnering with local farmers. And he’ll probably pitch the Secretary on a few dozen cases of frozen squash for use by State of Wisconsin institutional kitchens.