Much of what Will Raap has done in his professional life directly results from his reading of Fritz Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful in 1974 and subsequent meetings with the author. Raap synthesized these experiences into five strategies that have guided his working life:
- “Envision objectively where we are headed and determine overall whether this direction is taking us on a collision course.”
- “Take action, energized by personal passion and potential impact on real problems.”
- “Develop initiatives in specific market niches that can increase ‘permanence,’ including in agriculture and horticulture.”
- “Build your team and collaborate, which includes offering meaningful work and new forms of employee ownership.”
- “Leverage the coming revolution in ecological economics.”
In his 2006 Schumacher Center lecture Raap outlines how he implemented these strategies in his business enterprises and associated non-profit endeavors.
He first “started Gardener’s Supply Company to help people grow more of their own food using organic and environmentally safe tools and methods adapted from commercial agriculture,” and grew it into a successful retail and mail order business in Burlington, Vermont. In 1990 Gardener’s Supply created a non-profit to undertake the land restoration and agricultural renaissance of the Intervale, an abandoned pig farm and unregulated dump site in Burlington. “Today the Intervale Center manages 354 acres in a patchwork of organic gardens and farms, nurseries, a community composting facility, community gardens, recreation trails, and wildlife corridors.”
Raap takes seriously his advice to “work on what [you] get excited about.” His lecture outlines the kind of success that comes from operating on a triple bottom line of profit, people, and planet. While creating and managing a thriving business, he worked to rebuild the natural capital in an ignored and degraded section of his community. In the process he developed an integrated system that is taking in solid waste, turning it into a marketable high quality compost, and in return providing farmers the capacity to grow healthy food for the Burlington area. Through the hands-on programs of the Intervale local people are learning the necessary skills for meaningful and productive work.
He applied the same approach to his work in Costa Rica. In collaboration with a friend he started a permaculture agroforestry training center called El Centro Verde, intended as an Intervale-Center-like catalyst for local sustainability particular to the conditions of its region.
Raap’s 2006 lecture “E. F. Schumacher: He taught Us To Build Bridges and Plant Trees,” edited by Hildegarde Hannum, is now available in pamphlet form from the Schumacher Center. Cost is five dollars each. Pay with BerkShares, cash, check, or credit card.
The complete text of most all of the lecture pamphlets may also be read online at no cost thanks to the support of Schumacher Center members. Enjoy the fine reading!