Meeting more than one bottom line

Business | Indianapolis venture provides healthy food, jobs, and economic development in a troubled area
by Russ Pulliam
Posted on Monday, April 17, 2017, at 3:05 pm

Can a business ever hit more than one bottom line? Farm 360 in Indianapolis hopes to do so. The new business wants to make a profit, give nearby residents in a tough neighborhood a second chance at jobs, and offer organic fresh food products in the Indy marketplace.

The job opportunity has worked well for Greg Rusk. He joined the new venture less than two years ago, after serving time behind bars for driving under the influence.

His story shows how the criminal justice system, rescue missions, businesses, and churches can work together to change lives by God’s grace and contribute to social transformation or reformation, one life at a time.

With no family to go home to after his release from prison, Rusk thought his record would make it difficult to land a job or find a place to live. But the Good News Mission on the East Side of Indianapolis offered him work and a place to live.

“I had never been on the streets,” Rusk recalled. “I’ve never known how to sleep in a parking lot for a week.”

He found more than physical shelter and work at the mission. Rusk learned some bad news about himself, that he was sinful. He also heard the good news that Jesus Christ had paid the penalty for his sin.

“I had thought there were good people and bad people,” Rusk said. “You could watch the news on television and see who the bad people were, but I learned that we are all sinners.”

His perception of a rescue mission also shifted.

“With a men’s shelter you may think of drug addicts, alcoholics—bad people,” Rusk said. “But a lot of the men there are just men who have lost their footing. Things get tough sometimes.”

He showed responsibility in his work habits, working his way up to run the mission’s thrift store. Friends at Englewood Christian Church across the street told Rusk about Farm 360 opening up nearby, with job opportunities for people in the mission’s neighborhood.

The new venture provides leafy greens and herbs for restaurants and supermarkets. With 11 employees, the operation may expand to 30 workers by the end of the year, hoping that a majority will come from the neighborhood.

Farm 360 general manager Chris Arnold hopes the business breaks even in 2017. The for-profit operation is mostly owned by the Englewood Community Development Corporation, which the Englewood church launched several years ago.

Using an old warehouse at Rural and Newton streets, Farm 360 has the feel of a greenhouse. Products grow under lights and constant watering.

“The keys are lighting and air movement and nutrients in the water,” Rusk explained. “We’ve got constant water, 24/7, and we get 13 to 14 yields a year, compared to an outdoor field getting maybe one or two yields a year.”

“This is a marriage of philanthropy and capitalism, a blended value proposition." —Jay Hein, president of the Sagamore Institute

Jay Hein is president of the Sagamore Institute, an Indianapolis-based think thank that matches investors with socially conscious ventures. He sees Farm 360 hitting several bottom lines. One is healthy food, locally grown. Another is jobs for those who may be hard to employ. A third is neighborhood economic development in a troubled area.

“Farm 360 combines big-hearted compassion with the results-oriented rigor of capitalism,” Hein noted. “This is a marriage of philanthropy and capitalism, a blended value proposition.”

Another bottom line is harder to measure but equally valuable. Farm 360, Good News Mission, and Englewood Christian Church are offering a good healthy diet of salt and light in a tough neighborhood.

Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of the WORLD News Group board of directors.

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