Business Case Description
Briefly describe your business including who will do what and how.
For example: (Name of principal developers) started (name of business) in (year). In (location) we saw an opportunity to (what your business does) by (Here's how we do it).
StrawVille- Utilizing Salvaged Materials for High Efficiency Greenhouses
Principal Developers- Brad Masi, Chris Fox, Chris Kious, Nick Swetye, Hank Haberman, Josh Kopen
What are your objectives, opportunities and challenges?
There has been an increase in interest and support for “deconstruction” of buildings in greater Cleveland. There is an over-supply of vacated houses and businesses. Rather than just demolishing them, buildings can be deconstructed and materials re-purposed for other productive uses. While about 100 homes are scheduled for deconstruction this year, there remains a challenge of finding end-markets for deconstructed materials. We want to build a business case around expanding end-markets of deconstructed materials for use in building urban farm infrastructure (greenhouses, cold storage, road stands, etc.). We see this as generating three levels of value: a) jobs and economic opportunities for deconstruction, b) jobs and enterprises around re-construction, and c) expanded output and season extension for urban farms.
What specific customers and customer needs are you focused on?
We are at the stage of proto-typing presently. To date, we have constructed one 8’x12’ strawbale greenhouse at the Vel’s Purple Oasis urban farm in University Circle. We will be constructing our second proto-type, a 14’x24’ greenhouse in the Glenville neighborhood in July and August of 2010. We are using these proto-types to better understand the building process, labor inputs, and durability and performance of strawbale greenhouse designs.
The materials for the greenhouses remain affordable and relatively easy to obtain presently. The two major expenses lie in a) polycarbonate panels and b) labor. Strawbale construction is a more labor intensive building process than putting up a standard hoop frame greenhouse with a flexible plastic film. The polycarbonate panels are also very expensive, although they have a much higher performance in terms of insulation, light diffusion, and long-term durability.
We want to evaluate the following aspects of the strawbale construction process to determine its potential viability as a solution to both improving urban farm revenue generation and end-markets for deconstructed materials: a) how well do the structures perform compared to flexible plastic film structures, b) how can we tap into neighborhood “social capital” to make greenhouses similar to Amish barn-raisings through volunteer labor, and c) what financing mechanisms might enable deconstructed building materials to be purchased for construction, helping to create viable end-markets while supplying materials to low-wealth neighborhoods interested in supporting urban farming?
What will you deliver to customers and what is critical to your ability to deliver?
We will deliver a design for a highly-functional greenhouse that can produce 10-12 months out of the year with minimal engery inputs for heating. Fox Construction has successfully constructed five structures with agricultural uses in addition to over 20 residential or commercial strawbale construction projects, including the Great Lakes Brewery, and a guest home in Cleveland Heights. The critical factors are a) addressing labor and materials cost issues and b) training and expanding the number of people that could potentially form enterprises linking deconstruction efforts with farm infrastructure development.
What will your customers, collaborating businesses, and employees expect from you? How will you ensure that you reliably meet their expectations?
At this point, we are accountable to our two funders: Neighborhood Progress Inc (invested in the first proto-type at $1,500) and the Give-Back Gant (a giving circle on the East Side of Cleveland that has invested in the second proto-type). The New Agrarian Center provides fiscal agency support and handles all project accounting. We have produced an archive of digital film and video to document the process.
What other businesses would you be able to connect with in value or supply chains or networks?
I think that we have laid some good ground-work for a business ecosystem that combines flows of deconstructed building materials in cities, waste products from rural agricultural areas, building and construction specialists in cities, and urban farmers. There is no reason that deconstructed building materials and waste straw couldn’t also be utilized to improve the productivity of rural farms as well. Either way, this model holds great potential as a regional economic model that combines resource flows from both cities and rural areas to expand our capacity for local food production.
How will you and your collaborators work together to retain wealth locally? What still needs to be done in this regard?
Mostly, there is a need to provide support for training. Also, there is a need to provide support for the development of proto-type systems. A loan fund would need to be established and made available to urban farmers to support their investments in the long-term infrastructure needed to raise productive capacity.
What information, communication plans and information technologies do you need to run your business? What is in place now and what do you still need?
We would tap into already established networks, including localfoodsystems.org, local food Cleveland, neofoodweb.org, Countryside Conservancy, New Agrarian Center, Entrepreneurs for Sustainability. The NAC has already laid ground work for digital documentation, including web-based film and publications.
How will you adapt to change and what resources do you have access to that can help you?
current status of this knowledge among those engaged in the business?
The skills, information, and expertise needed include:
a) competency in deconstruction techniques
b) warehousing and inventorying deconstructed materials
c) construction/carpentry experience working with deconstructed building materials, strawbales, and other natural building techniques
d) management knowledge for urban/rural farmers to operate and maintain facilities
There will be a larger opportunity to utilize salvaged materials now, given the unprecedented level of foreclosures. Presumably, this reservoir of building materials will dwindle over-time, although there will always be a place for businesses that can re-purpose materials in urban centers.
What is the administrative structure for your business? If you consider you and your collaborating businesses as a single entity, how would you operate together?
The incubation stage can be supported by a non-profit organization such as the New Agrarian Center in collaboration with Green Triangle, a permaculture organization based in Cleveland. Long-term expansion and replication would best be served by a cooperative enterprise or as a social enterprise under the direction of the NAC and/or Green Triangle.
Proposed Supply Chain Category
- Specialty Crops
- Physical Capital