Every September, around 50,000 people pour into the city of Boston, but it’s not to see a sports game or a parade. It’s for the largest local food festival around and the first one like it in the U.S. Packed with local participants and sponsors, it generates massive local revenue and, of course, gives attendees a New England foodie experience they will never forget.
The Annual Boston Local Food Festival has been taking place for more than a decade, created by the Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts (SBN). It’s an organization with approximately 150 business members and another 600 affiliates that work with SBN through Local First Networks, community-based organizations that promote independent, locally owned businesses.
SBN has long been a major player in the local food scene, hosting Eat Local Month in August, an idea sparked by efforts in nearby New Hampshire. SBN also puts on the extremely popular Local Food Trade Show of New England and a Hyperlocal Brew Fest & Local Craft and Spirits Fest. The idea behind it all is that knowing where your food comes from makes good health and economic sense.
While SBN plays big when it comes to growing the local food economy, their membership extends way beyond that to include booksellers, moving companies, retail outfits, and more. Formed in 1988, SBN was the first network of its kind in the U.S. with the aim of cultivating local, green, and fair economies.
“We were the first organization of businesses who were founded with the principles of a sustainable and equitable world.”
-Laury Hammel, Founder and Executive Director, SBN
The man behind it, founder, executive director, and highly respected entrepreneur Laury Hammel, has been leading the sustainable business movement ever since, and he and his team were recently honored as part of Eastern Bank’s 2022 Community Advocacy Awards. Eastern’s president, Quincy Miller, shared gratitude for SBN’s work to advance equity in the small business ecosystem and awarded the organization $5,000.
SBN also loves to share the love for local leadership with their own Sustainable Business of the Year Award, an event that both honors and is sponsored by progressive local businesses. Hammel said the event is critical because, in many cases, the local businesses they recognize are well-known in their own communities but not beyond.
To spread the word about these companies, SBN also invests in an impressive Shop Indie Local campaign, in partnership with the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA), each holiday season to encourage people to purchase locally.
In addition to their emphasis on local, SBN has made diversity and inclusion their number one priority. They are currently partnering with Cambridge Local First and the Cambridge-Somerville Black Business Network to increase racial equity so that black-owned businesses can thrive.
They’ve brought together 40 black-owned businesses, many belonging to women, and are facilitating networking and educational events, encouraging locals to become patrons, and working to raise funding for black entrepreneurs in the startup phase.
SBN integrates the goal of racial equity into every aspect of their work, embracing this approach within the organization itself. By design, the majority of people on SBN’s board are individuals of color and it is composed of 50 percent women.
“We want to make sure that we model around diversity, inclusion, and equity in the way we do our work in SBN.”
-Laury Hammel, Founder and Executive Director, SBN
SBN’s commitment to championing a diverse business ecosystem is paying off. In 2022, SBN members and close friends of Hammel, Glynn and Sheldon Lloyd were awarded 17 million dollars to provide healthy meals for children in Boston via their business, City Fresh Foods.
It’s the largest contract ever given to a black-owned business outside of construction in the city. As a locally owned, diverse company, hiring people of all backgrounds and providing a great service, City Fresh Foods offers up a wonderful example of a sustainable economy.
Hammel and his team are aiming for more wins like this with SBN’s Solarize MA program, which will dramatically increase the amount of solar energy in the state. They’re particularly focusing on historically disadvantaged communities for solar benefits, as well as workforce development through green jobs.
Though there are countless ways SBN can continue to grow its base and a more sustainable economy, funding is a constant question mark. Hammel noted that it’s challenging to get support as a small non-profit and there’s also a disconnect when people think about raising money for small businesses. The urgency is often difficult to illustrate.
“Our challenges are primarily around funding because we’ve got plenty of needs and plenty of good staff to do it.”
–Laury Hammel, Founder and Executive Director, SBN
But during the pandemic, it certainly became clear. SBN teamed up with AMIBA and the Sustainable Business Alliance for a campaign called Save Our Economy Now. By successfully advocating for an extension of the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program, Save Our Economy Now made an enormous difference and saved many small businesses.
While challenges still lie ahead, the SBN team seems more galvanized than ever, determined to decrease the racial gap and continue creating an economy that’s locally and community-based, environmentally sound, and equitable for all.
Our “Hello! We Are AMIBA” series gathers stories, best practices, strengths, challenges, and equity initiatives from AMIBA Members and Partners. As an alliance, we are AMIBA! Learn more about the American Independent Business Alliance.