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04-01-2013

Vermont Local Food Pioneer to Speak at Clarkson University on Building a Socially Responsible Business

“Being sustainable means being socially responsible and making a profit,” says a Vermont businessman who over the past three decades helped pioneer local sustainable agriculture in Vermont.

Mark Curran, co-owner of Black River Produce in North Springfield, Vt.Mark Curran, co-owner of Black River Produce in North Springfield, Vt., will speak at Clarkson University about “Building an Environmentally Responsible Business” on Friday, April 12, from 3 to 4 p.m. in the Student Center’s Multi-Purpose Rooms. This event is free and open to the public.

By helping to develop markets for Vermont farmers and by building a business that is increasingly fueled by alternative energy, Curran and his co-owner, Steve Birge, have created a model of a sustainable, profitable business.

“The cheapest watt is the watt you don’t use,” said Curran in a recent issue of RenewableEnergyWorld.com . “We redid our lighting to make it more efficient. Our refrigeration system is computer-controlled. We power our fleet of trucks with vegetable oil from our restaurants converted to bio-diesel. And now, we’re investing in ourselves and our environment with solar power. Our goal is to get as much local food on the plate as possible. Over 22 percent of our sales were locally raised products from more than 120 Vermont farms. Being socially responsible fits our philosophy.”

Begun in 1978 as a small natural food store in the ski town of Ludlow, Vt., Black River Produce today employs 160 people and does over $55 million in business each year. In 2005, Black River Produce was named Vermont Business of the Year and went on to be named runner-up for the National Business of the Year Award that same year.

In the late 1970s, Curran and Birge learned that if they drove their van to produce markets in Boston every week, they could bring back enough fresh produce to not only sell in their store, but sell to local restaurants, as well. As this plan developed, they discovered that the greatest opportunity for growth was in the wholesale produce business.

But back then, selling the produce of local and regional farms was difficult. Restaurants didn't want it. But the business persisted and increasingly it helped farmers get their produce to those and other markets. Today, locally grown produce is highly sought after. Black River Produce played a key role in that development.

Mark Curran is on the board of directors of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility and a member of the Vermont Agricultural Development Board.

Curran's appearance is co-sponsored by Clarkson University's Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Reh Center for Entrepreneurship, Shipley Center for Innovation, and Institute for a Sustainable Environment.

Clarkson University launches leaders into the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as a CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. Located just outside the Adirondack Park in Potsdam, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university for undergraduates with select graduate programs in signature areas of academic excellence directed toward the world’s pressing issues. Through 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, sciences and health sciences, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and engineering innovation with enterprise.

[A photograph for media use is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/mcurran.jpg.]

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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