Judy Wicks is one of my heroes. She is a single woman who built and runs a financially successful business, which at the same time is socially responsible and ecologically accountable. The White Dog Cafe not only serves regionally grown organic food but actively supports the network of farmers who grow that food. Staff share in profits and decision-making. The White Dog Cafe hosts community discussions around global issues of peace, renewable energy, rights of workers in countries around the world, habitat loss, and other topics of common concern and serves as a place where Philadelphia residents can gather to find solutions to local problems. Its vitality has become a catalyst for neighborhood pride.
Judy Wicks’s achievements with her restaurant have brought her national recognition in the growing network of social businesses. She is a respected leader and popular spokesperson for the movement. But it is not these accomplishments alone that won my admiration.
Several years ago Judy Wicks was challenged by two pivotal events. Ben and Jerry’s, the popular Vermont maker of quality ice cream and poster child for socially responsible business, was sold to Unilever International Corporation. At the same time Stonyfield Farm, producer of fine yogurt, sold out to Danone Group. The Moosletter had introduced us to Stonyfield cows with names like Betsy or Mary Beth and described the way Sam and Louise Kaymen (the original farmers) had invented new flavors. How could we reconcile ourselves to Stonyfield yogurt being owned by a multi-national corporation?
Judy Wicks might have justified these sales as examples of good businesses earning well-deserved financial rewards, as others had done. But she had more consistency of purpose than that. She hadn’t worked for twenty years in her Philadelphia neighborhood–cultivating relations with customers, businesses, and community–just to cash out. She wasn’t a spokesperson for socially responsible businesses in order to increase the profile and stock value of a relatively few enterprises so that they could cash out.
It is not just recycled packaging or open hiring practices or good benefits or green sourcing that make a sustainable business. All of these issues are, of course, important, but something was missing in the definition of the kind of business that truly builds community in a new way, and that missing element was the word “local.” It takes a deep commitment to a particular place and substantial effort to weave together all the threads of that place–people, land, and community–to create new economies that can counteract the devastating effects of the global economy.
Out of this understanding Judy Wicks launched a new initiative, “Business Alliance for Local Living Economies,” not without a struggle and criticism from old allies. But BALLE has proven itself and has quickly risen to become the business voice for “going local.” It is this integrity of vision, this courage not to take the easy road, and her community-grounded entrepreneurship that make her a hero in my eyes.
Please join me in welcoming Judy Wicks.