The Family Business: From Main Street to Wall Street

family business owners

Photo (CC) by Dana, on Flickr

Chances are you do business with with one, and probably many more, family businesses.

Family businesses surround us. Family businesses form an integral part of our economy. We find them in all shapes and sizes, from WalMart and Ford to your main street stores and even some operating out of the garage or off the dining room table.

Family businesses represent a unique intersection of the business system with the family system. Family businesses have additional opportunities and resources because of the family system of which they are a part. Intermingling of time and resources has been found to be used in the business just as such resources, at times, find their way over to the family system from the business.

Yet with such potential benefits, family businesses are also navigating family dynamics and relationships that a traditional business owner never encounters.

Understanding the family business with its merger of the both the family and business systems, along with a two-way relationship with the community, has been the the mission of the Family Business Research team and its National Family Business Survey. The team is now collecting data providing 20 years of information from its national panel of businesses.

From the development of the Sustainable Family Business Theory in 1999, the team has focused on understanding the factors of success along with how communities and family businesses work together. Resource exchange, disaster preparedness and response, and family tensions have all been examined.

How such family businesses give back to the community has been highlighted earlier. Recently a highlights newsletter has been distributed and a complete bibliography for the group can be found here.

Family businesses are key economic contributors. They not only feed the family that runs them but expands and enhances the local economy. Get to know your family business owners. See how your community and these businesses can work more closely together. 

Building Community Through the Little Free Garden

Little Free Garden

Little Free Garden

Thanks to Meghan Myrdal, co-founder of Ugly Food of the North, for sharing this story.

Her story focuses on an effort to bring food and an awareness of food to communities. In it she discusses how the project can bring meaningful connections.

I have the privilege of knowing her and watching her work towards a well-connected food system that, in turn, drives strong, healthy communities.

I hope this idea inspires you to try something new or to try this program in your own area. There are so many different ways it could be done and it could involve some many different groups.

Thanks Megan for sharing.

Grow. Take. Share. – The Little Free Garden Project 

By: Megan Myrdal

This summer you will find small, raised-bed gardens springing up in front yards across Fargo, ND-Moorhead, MN. But there’s something special about the little boxes with the green placard. The food grown within eight-square feet can be taken by anyone. In fact, it’s encouraged!

Ugly Food of the North recently launched the Little Free Garden, a project intended to foster communities committed to growing, sharing and cultivating food in small, raised-bed gardens, designed to fit in residential spaces.  The project launched with an inaugural build event at Concordia College on April 23.

The project was inspired by the Little Free Library project, but instead of sharing books the owners share food. The small, cedar wood, raised-bed gardens (4 x 2 ft, 12” deep) are placed in a household’s front yard, are planted and tended by the homeowners, and all the food grown is to be harvested by anyone who wants it or needs it.

Ugly Food of the North formed in August of last year with the goal of creating a more sustainable, personal food system through education, networking and community organizing. Since the group formation, they’ve held monthly events to bring the community together to learn about and discuss important food issues including food waste, urban agriculture, local food access, and food security.

The creation of the Little Free Garden project was inspired by the idea that the little box symbolizes a simple response to many of the important food issues the group has been working to address — the disconnect between food and agriculture, people lacking access to healthful, locally grown food, a lost sense of value for food and therefore waste and/or overconsumption, and people craving an opportunity to connect with one another around healthful food and positive social experiences.

The project envisions that the little gardens will not only be a free transaction of food, but an littlefreegarden2exchange of personal, meaningful connection – a reason to talk to a neighbor or stranger; a chance to connect with one another in a shared growing experience.

The project launched over 50 gardens in the Fargo-Moorhead area this spring and has been documenting the community growing experience on their social media channel. They hope to follow the first gardens, learn how the process is received, and to launch the project more broadly next year.

You can read more about the Little Free Garden project here including ways to donate and support.

Family Businesses Give Back to Communities


Photo (CC) by Katie, on Flickr

Information provided by Diane Masuo, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii at Manoa

I have the opportunity to work with colleagues from land grant colleges and universities across the country. Part of what I am involved with is the study of family businesses. Diane, one of our team members, recently examined how family businesses support the communities where they are located.

Family businesses are more prevalent than most people think. Family businesses come in all shapes and sizes from the main streets stores in our town to the major ones such as WalMart, Cargill, Ford and Mars.

Family businesses, in total, represent one-third of the S & P 500 index, and comprising nearly 10 million firms in total.

Family businesses are the retail, small manufacturers, and service businesses we see and use every day. Our economy would quickly come to a halt if we didn’t have family businesses in our world.

Yet to think that they only provide goods and services underestimates their importance in our communities. Diane explored what “socially responsible practices and economic support” they also provide. She noted:
– Male business owners were more likely than female business owners to:
—- Provide financial and technical assistance in community development and planning
—- Made monetary donations to schools.
– Non-service sector businesses were more likely to be personally involved through holding elected offices and leading civic groups.

Business owners were found to give back to their communities. It didn’t matter if they were home-based businesses or not home-based business. Length of time living in the community seems to play a part in the willingness to give back.

Length of time in business directly influenced what type of resources were given. In the earlier years it was more likely to be monetary donations with leadership positions and technical assistance added to the giving as the business matured.

Diane’s recently released report can be found at:

So as you think about your community’s family businesses, remember the unseen resources of time and money they provide along with jobs, taxes, and needed goods and services we depend on.

Local Foods Offers Taste, Freshness and Stronger Communities

Farmers' Market

Photo by USDA

Each year, people across the country anxiously await spring and summer and the local foods that become available. While there is the possibility for some form of local food practically year around, it’s this time of year when baskets are overflowing.

Local food has seen tremendous growth in recent years. In 2014, local foods sales were estimated to have topped $11.7 billion according to the USDA. In 2008, sales were less than half at an estimated at $5 billion.

People access their local foods in many different ways. Direct-farm sales is one. Others may enjoy it at restaurants where it is a current culinary trend. Schools have been including it more often in their offerings. More grocery stores have local food sections where you can shop. And still others are members of a CSA or community supported agriculture endeavor where you purchase a share that brings you a basket of local items on a regular basis, often weekly.

One of the largest supply sites are farmers markets. Today there are over 8200 farmers markets across the country. They range in size from those having just two or three producers meeting weekly to those that operate on a daily basis in multiple buildings or cover several blocks.

Local foods are a great way to connect with your local producer. Local foods is identified as supporting over 163,000 farm families. This is the connection where local foods not only provides for our needs but it builds families and the communities where those families live, go to school, and shop.

While local foods offers a direct connection to enjoying local foods, it also does things such as building community as people to town. Local markets become a gathering place where you may also find entertainment, food vendors and a festive atmosphere. It is not uncommon to hear grocery store owners comment that people come to their store after visiting the local market to purchase other items needed to complete a planned meal.

Local foods represent a win in so many ways. But probably the most important win is what your taste buds say when you are eating them. So get out and experience local foods. Your taste buds, your local producers, and your community all appreciate your support.