Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Rubicon in the News - SmartMoney

Read about Rubicon and Rick Aubry in this month's issue of Smart Money - Small Business . . .

Starting Up: Nonprofits Launch Social Sidelines

by Diana Ransom

WANT TO KNOW how to start up a nonprofit with deep pockets? Here's a hint: Make sure it's also a multimillion-dollar business.

Consider Rubicon Programs, a Richmond, Calif., nonprofit that provides jobs, housing, and life skills to poverty-stricken, formerly incarcerated and disabled individuals. The organization, which was founded in 1973, has started two businesses and helped more than 40,000 individuals find jobs and live independently.

However, even after Rubicon started its first enterprise, Rubicon Landscape Services, 25 years ago, the idea of using earned income to support the organization didn't exactly register . . . read more

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

RNSI Adventures - San Patrignano

The following entries are from a trip our Director, Jonathan Harrison, took on behalf of Rubicon Bakery to San Patrignano, a social enterprise bar none outside of Rimini, in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. San Patrignano is so large; it is really a small town as well as an tremendously successful residential drug recovery program and community. The over 1000 people in recovery work are not charged for room, board and intensive therapies including free health care, but rather work in community-owned businesses including about a thousand of acres of vineyards, a world-class winery, high end Italian furniture, cheesemaking, and all of the operating principles of a sustainably managed farm system. The average “stay” at San Patrignano is 4 years, with a minimum of 3.5 years in residence. Their success is over 80% who do not relapse after leaving the program, (tracked at 1, 2, 3, and 5 years intervals). This is compared to shorter programs of 30-90 days where success rates hover in the 10-15% percentage rates.

Jonathan was joined on this journey by Jaime Cunningham, training manager of the Rubicon Bakery. The two of them were invited to participate in a trade pavilion at the San Patrignano Food and Wine festival called “Squisito” (Exquisite). Squisito was created five years ago as an event dedicated to the culture of good taste, good food, and to those who never tire of trying new flavor combinations and sampling long forgotten culinary traditions. Michelin starred chefs, experts, journalists and gourmets meet each year to redefine contemporary cuisine, creating an itinerary of taste that goes beyond our nation's borders. This 4 day event brought the best of Italian artisan meats, cheeses, breads, and wines and a little bit of everything (over 200 vendors in all) complete with all the culture and charm that is Italy and the Italian people. It was a very difficult assignment, but Jaime and Jonathan were willing to sacrifice their precious time for this great cause.

RNSI Adventures - San Patrignano Day One

I am looking out my window in Rimini at my hotel balcony and can see and smell the Adriatic a block away. I am here finally, it is nearly 24 hours in real time since I left the offices of Rubicon. There is a Pizzeria tipico near here with good margherita pizza so I hear; I will follow my nose. Tomorrow we set up our booth for the Festival, where we will be sampling bakery confections including gourmet marshmallows and Rubicon’s new product—Cocoaberries, a lower calorie dark chocolate covered berry meringue.

We were invited to participate in the Good Food Pavilion, where organizations from around the globe gather to display the results of social enterprises including those produced at places like Fifteen (Jaime Oliver’s social enterprise which trains at-risk youth in culinary arts in an on-the-job restaurant) and organizations looking for alternatives to drug crops in Afghanistan (from poppy to Saffron and teas), Columbia (from coca to cacao), Thailand (from marijuana to macadamia nuts) and even Roots of Peace, a US nonprofit dedicated to eradicating landmines worldwide and rehabilitating the land to make it productive once more. Rubicon was in good company.

RNSI Adventures - San Patrignano Day Two

It is quite an experience in so many ways here at San Patrignano, which is a virtual gastronomic overload. In many ways this is one of the most impressive social enterprise in the world, as far as I can tell. Where else can you spend between 3.5-5 years in recovery from drugs? The Italians are smart; they combine the best in all the worldly arts - cheese, wine, and smoked meats - and help 1000 people in their community build skills and craftsmanship that can take them places in the outside world. It is really a small city complete with hospital, kitchens that feed hundreds, horses, kennels with breeding facilities , artisan pigs (which become high end prosciutto and other hams) and a dairy. Perhaps it was just that they were on their best behavior with so much company visiting, but San Patrignano runs like a well oiled machine. The people are what make the place. Although they are struggling, they are compassionate, tender, and always ready for a joke.

Our booth in the Good Food Pavilion was right inside the front door, and we had thousands (some say 40,000 total over 4 days) and it was great to test market the marshmallows and Cocoaberries.
The reactions were wonderful, although the Italians don’t eat marshmallow (an American phenomenon) and it was hilarious to watch them try one. Of course, the children all loved them and said that they saw them on “Charlie Brown”. The parents were skeptical, even when touching them, most were shocked that they were soft (morbido in Italian). I don’t think they will be a big hit in the Italian market, but who knows, it just might be strange enough. The Cocoaberries were a hit, but not when we told people that they were low calorie (“light” as they say in Italian). Most people said diet foods are for Americans and were a bit superior sounding if you ask me. Many, many people wanted to buy the products – mostly the marshmallows, but definitely a strong demand given that most were on vacation and ready to spend.

RNSI Adventures - San Patrignano Day Three

Wandering around the festival a bit it is clear. Even compared to the sizable movements afoot in Northern California to bring artisanship and slow food back to America, I was struck immediately about how authentic and grounded everything was. Okay, it was my first time in Italy and all, I know I am stating the obvious! But artisanal everything!? Beer, cheeses, meats capo and prosciutto, Pizzeria and Barbecue. I am getting tips on how to roast a pig from a family member who has been curing meats for hundreds of years. Of course not just any pig, but a local heritage breed, a free range breed: mora Romagnala.

San Patrignano has social enterprises within its community. For example, the Neapolitan pizzeria (open to the public) that recently won 5th place in the world competition, is extremely authentic and uses world class ingredients that are "confirmed" by Naples.

RNSI Adventures - San Patrignano Day Four

I attended the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (based in Vienna) seminar today to learn about the trials and tribulations of turning drug crops in developing countries into "alternative agriculture" crops to drug crops. Ironically to Americans mainly, San Patrignano operates a vineyard and a winery and other social enterprises (for at risk youth) operate breweries. The relationship to wine and beer is a culinary and cultural one that does not force an “abstinence only” ideology for well-being. On a lighter note, San Patrignano has just introduced cheese wrapped and and aged in a tobacco leaf that when swallowed leaves a delicious burn in the throat that tingles like you just smoked a cigarette - really strange but delicious.

I will just leave you with a few of the more mouthwatering delicious culinary offerings that our hosts forced us to try:

- Bombanella sandwich (From Puglia)- pork sausage wrapped in bacon and then shish kabobed and put into a sandwich cone
- Tripe Sandwich – this was the Tuscan version from Florence, never thought I liked tripe until I ate this!
- Fried tiny fish - don’t know the names, tasted like the sea
- Asti Champagne and a Canoli - a peak eating experience
- Gelato – one with Pistachios from Lebanon, one with saffron and mint from Afghanistan and one with mangos from Columbia.
- “Caramela” - handmade pasta by Fifteen that looks like shape of caramel, stuffed with cheeses
- Olives stuffed with beef and pork, breaded and deep fried
- Copa di Parma, and the Culatello di Zibello courtesy of the ancient local breed of pig, mora Romagnola

RNSI Adventures - San Patrignano Day Five

Back to the airport . . . Driving back to Bologna it was a regular UN. I got background information from my two new Afghani friends from Hirat (this is the relatively “safe” place in the Western part of Afghanistan which borders Turkmenistan and Iran) on the ever worsening conditions in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s hold on the region of the country that they are trying to convert from poppy but can’t safely enter to even speak to farmers. Also on the bus were a Colombian woman, a Chinese woman from Myanmar, a few folks from Thailand and the Italian driver. I am looking forward to being forced to go again next year.