I came to this project in a bit of a roundabout way.
I went to school at the UW. I was always interested in entrepreneurship and decided a business degree was the best way to get there. But a pivotal moment changed my path: 9-11.
That morning, I went to my classes completely unaware of what had happened since this was before social media. The first professor of the day, who taught a class on systems thinking, took us to Bascom Hill and invited us to reflect. I followed that with a class on global marketing. That professor said, “There’s nothing we can do so let’s continue.”
That was momentous for me and really got me wondering where I wanted to head with my life and career. At the same time I was taking a service learning course at UW and was paired up with a local non-profit, Sustain Dane, which was pretty much volunteer-run at that point.
After I graduated, I headed west to California, where I worked with a non-profit that was very business-like in its approach. I was impressed by their ability to successfully bring a business mentality to that world. After six months, I decided to come back to the Midwest and brought that approach with me. I reached out to the people at Sustain Dane: They were hiring their first paid director and they hired me.
It was a great opportunity to dive right in. The board and volunteers offered me lots of support and prioritized doing good work. During my nine-year tenure, I grew Sustain Dane from one employee to five and created many of the programs that are still around today.
I followed that with a contract with the City of Madison, working on their solar program. I worked on the MadiSun program, which allowed people to take advantage of bulk residential purchasing and also tried to streamline the permitting process.
Throughout my entire professional career, I’ve been very interested in sustainable business development. I thought Madison could support a sustainability center that would house businesses and nonprofits who shared this common goal. I reached out to Baum Revision, who had done this on a bigger scale in Chicago at the Green Exchange.
We got funding for a feasibility study and we initially thought we’d be doing this somewhere on E. Wash. I brought community leaders down to Chicago to see Baum’s projects and the City invited Baum Revision back to look at Garver. This building had languished for 20 years and the neighborhood convinced the City to give it one more chance before demolishing it. We believed Madison was a city that could support sustainable, local food companies and he, I, Alder Rummel and Amy Scanlon (who was Madison’s preservation planner at the time) went to the Johnson Public House and went through the classic ideation on the napkin process.
We leveraged our connections, found like-minded tenants and here we are. This has been one of the most complicated projects of this nature in modern times in Madison, given the combination of having an historic building that was in unstable condition, meeting the needs of the community and the needs of the tenants. We partnered with the City and community to make this as collaborative as possible. We could have saved the building without creating a place the public could access and that would have been underwhelming.
An interesting thing to consider when you think about this being a sustainable building. We know that the greenest building you can build is the one you don’t tear down. Think of the embedded energy that went into every element of Garver: making the bricks, putting up the building, making the steel. That all required an incredible amount of energy, which has now been preserved.
We have some amazing tenants and I’m excited for people to discover Garver and learn its story. Here’s a fun fact to think about when you visit. The original sugar beet factory had five stories; the Garver feed mill now has two. What happened to all those bricks (which would have been very expensive to haul away)? They put them in the building, poured a new slab concrete on top and raised the elevation of the building. If you look closely, you’ll see some in-filled arched doorways on the first floor and you’ll see that they’re very short—today’s floor is six feet higher because of the bricks!
On the side, I’m the co-founder of RainReserve. This product is manufactured by Enginuity, LLC which is a company operated by a good friend in Missouri. Our products are featured at the compost/rain barrel events held by the City of Madison. We’re proud to operate this company on the Triple Bottom Line model: People, Planet, Profit.
My most memorable caffeine has to be the coffee where I met my wife. My aunt, who was a school vice principal, asked if I was dating anyone because she knew someone she thought I should meet. I said “no” and she passed my name along to one of her colleagues. That colleague, was, of course, my wife. We had coffee at Mother Fools and the rest is history.
My current caffeine of choice is a kombucha from NessAlla, which is one of our tenants and has a production facility at Garver. They have the very best kombucha and have perfected the craft. The breadth of their flavor profiles means there’s something for everyone. And, of course, I also enjoy coffee from Ledger Roasting, which is also at Garver. Their coffee is also in Calliope ice cream.
My favorite place for caffeine is the Garver Feed Mill of course (for the reasons listed above).
The people I’d love to share a cup of caffeine with are Megan Rapinoe and Mr. Garver.
Megan is the winger on the amazing U.S. Women’s Soccer team. She is very outspoken and confident, and I appreciate her ability to speak her mind but do so in an intelligent and informed way. I have a 10-year-0ld, soccer-playing daughter and I’d love to get advice from Megan on what she was like at that age.
I’d also love to meet Mr. Garver, the former owner of the Garver Feed Mill. It would be great to understand his vision for business and to show him what we’re doing. I think we’d share some common goals about supporting the sustainable development of a resilient food system, even if we’ve gone about it in different ways.
World problem that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine: water conservation. Through my work in sustainability and being co-founder of RainReserve, I’ve become passionate about water conservation. In the Midwest it’s easy to feel water is plentiful, but there is a global water crisis affecting billions of people.
Many of the conflicts in the world relate to water. People can’t support basic human needs like growing food and sanitary health. That leads to everything from migration to war and it’s at the core of many global challenges.