Reflections on adVenturesAcademy Jalama by Anne O’Connor, Director of Public Affairs for Organic Valley

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I knew as I rolled into the Jalama Valley that this was going to be no ordinary experience. I knew the planning was meticulous, the people involved stellar, and the point was about everything that matters.

In late April along the Central California Coast, bright yellow wild mustard covered the mountainside, the moody sky changed from bright and sunny to dark and threatening as the cloud cover from the sea took over in midafternoon. At the ranch, horses ran wild—in pairs or in packs—through the hills.

The setting was just one of the extraordinary aspects of the latest adVenturesAcademy weekends. This weekend was designed to take people—including investors and potential investees—right to their core: How do you hold up while learning to surf on a cold day in choppy waters—and what about those sharks? How do you pitch in to help work on the ranch—hauling wood, chopping enormous roots out of the earth, hacking back an overgrown fence line? What do you bring to create a meal together? How do you listen—what do you hear? How far can you stretch and how do you hold your balance? How do you show up? How are you with someone looking at you— and really seeing you?

adVenturesAcademy weekends are designed to help answer all of these questions and more. The idea is that if you put people together in challenging situations, their true capacities and fundamental ways of being in the world become clear. When you adventure with people, it’s hard to hide your beauty or your pain.

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This weekend is a better way for investors and potential investees to find a good match. It certainly beats sitting across the table and interviewing. Here, both investors and investees begin to see who they may be considering working with.

And the weekend was designed to get us all considering the best way to run our businesses, to plan for the future, to keep your mission at the center of your decisions, and to find help along the way. This group is committed to triple-bottom-line forecasting, so the talk wasn’t based on simply the best way to make the most money fastest, but to considering the whole of the business and how we can better the people and the planet along the way.

This kind of commitment can waver in the face of myriad business challenges. But weekends like this help bolster our resolve to use business as a force for good.

Our weekend brought together a group of thoughtful, engaged, open, generous, and talented people. Our carefully-selected cadre went willingly into both the well-planned activities and the free time. We laughed and played and worked and ate (Oh, the food!) and listened to one another’s stories about how our business worked—and when it didn’t—and what we learned. We saw one another emerge from names and bios on a page to fully-formed people with skills and experiences and ways of being with others. We learned that you could run a business with a completely regenerative supply chain. Or help remove toxic cooking stoves from kitchens around the world. Or rethink the whole way that women are catered to as customers.

We huddled around the fire as the sun dropped and listened as a Chumash Native elder implored us to treat the earth with its due respect. We talked on the trail about what makes relationships—and so businesses—work.

Magic doesn’t always happen, no matter how brilliant the planning. But when it does, everyone knows: it’s the stuff of life. It’s connection and wonder and possibility and creation and how we get it done and how we do it differently and what makes it all worth every bit of the sweat and heart-strain to get there.

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I was honored to be a part of this group as a member of Organic Valley’s Mission Team. As the Director of Public Affairs at Organic Valley, part of my work is helping people understand why our cooperative, owned by our farmers across 36 states and four countries, is different than most billion-dollar organizations. For us—our 2,000 farmers and 900 employees—changing food means keeping our mission and meaning right out in front. It means taking the time to pause and consider each decision to ensure we’re staying true to our values. I was invited to share the story of hanging on to meaning, to purpose, as a company grows and becomes more complex. It’s not easy. But we’re not in it for easy—we’re in it to make the world work better.

It’s exactly that inspiration behind adVenturesAcademy and its participants: they know that business at its best is designed to serve the whole—the whole of humanity, the earth, and whatever cool thing we can do in service. As this particular adventure eventually fades, we’ll look to see what we might accomplish together in our united plot to change the world. Whatever comes next, I know that I’ll carry a bit of adVenturesAcademy and each of my new conspirators with me. And both the world and I are better for it.

Anne O’Connor
Director of Public Affairs
Organic Valley

 

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Organic Valley is America’s largest cooperative of organic farmers and one of the nation’s leading organic brands. Organized in 1988, it represents more than 2,000 farmers in 36 U.S. states, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom and achieved $1.1 billion in 2016 sales. Focused on its founding mission of saving family farms through organic farming, Organic Valley produces a wide range of organic dairy, soy, egg and produce products. With its regional model, milk is produced, bottled and distributed right in the region where it is farmed to ensure fewer miles from farm to table and to support our local economies.

For further information, please visit www.organicvalley.coop

 

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Tom McDougall, 4P Foods: “adVenturesAcademy was a fantastically unique experience.  Unlike so many networking and pitch events, there was no hot air, no pomp and circumstance, and no need for anything other than good people coming together to work on some of the greatest challenges we all face.  Programs like this will be the reason that businesses like ours succeed…Being a mission driven entrepreneur can, at times, be a lonely identity.  The adVenturesAcademy helped me to see that not only are we not crazy in wanting to use business as a tool for social justice, but we’re not alone either.  What a tremendous group of inspiring people.”

 

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Jen Gurecki, Coalition Snow: “There’s not a lot you can hide behind as you emerge from a tent at 6 am and wipe the snot away from your nose. We were immediately thrust into a realness that allowed us to experience one another at a much deeper level. Our interactions, genuine. Our conversations, gritty. Those typical power dynamics that you find between entrepreneurs and investors, erased. Watching the carefully curated, yet completely unscripted, weekend unfold was beautiful and incredibly meaningful. From jumping into freezing shark infested waters, to warming up around the campfire, to sharing certain thoughts and feelings that we might have preferred to keep to ourselves, our three days together were peppered with crystallizing moments that will I will take with me and apply to this roller-coaster ride we call entrepreneurship. adVentures Academy spoke to my values as an entrepreneur, as a woman, and as a deconstructor of the status quo. What an incredible experience to take part in and truly amazing people to now call friends.”

 

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Reis Paluso, MANDA: “I thoroughly enjoyed the few days at adVentures Academy. First, I love Jalama so being on that ranch itself was so special, WOW!! Being a new entrepreneur, I feel like my mind was blown with information and learning around fundraising, running a business and so much more. You guys provided an awesome opportunity to learn in a fun environment, which I love because I feel like I actually retain so much more in those situations. Everyone was so positive and it was hard not to get pulled right into the vortex of stoke and out of the comfort zone. Each activity was beautifully woven into some sort of learning parallel to being an entrepreneur and the group was so dynamic…I love jumping in and helping people out. Pushing people into waves for the first time was so fun for me. To share the stoke of surfing, my life’s passion, I felt like I was more pumped than they were on their first waves. And as a former personal chef and current owner of a social media agency, the chili cookoff was right up my alley. I actually would have been very disappointed if my team had not come thru victorious…But in all seriousness, from start to finish, the experience was top notch.”

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