Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Randolph student develops business plan for local food hub

Tu Nguyen ’15 is developing a plan to help grow business for a local nonprofit that grows organic food.

Two days a week, Nguyen bikes about five miles from the Randolph campus to Lynchburg Grows, an urban farm that provides education programs and grows produce to sell in the region. He became acquainted with Lynchburg Grows last semester while taking “Economics of Food and Sustainability,” a class which studies the economic and social factors related to food production and distribution. Impressed by the operation, Nguyen sought an opportunity to work with the organization. “I sent an e-mail to Lynchburg Grows and asked if they had some internships I could do,” he said.

It turned out that there was an opportunity. The nonprofit needs a business plan for establishing a local food hub that would help local farmers sell produce to large customers such as hospitals and schools. “It would be a cross between a farmer’s market and a wholesale distributor,” explained Nate Foust-Meyer, the Lynchburg Grows farm manager and Nguyen’s supervisor. “It’s a model for bringing local farmers together.”

Having Nguyen handle the economic analysis and write the business plan will allow the project to move forward faster while allowing Foust-Meyer and other staff to focus on the farm operations. “It plays to his strengths and what he’s happy doing,” Foust-Meyer said.

Most of Nguyen’s time is spent crunching numbers, such as the cost of growing produce and the wholesale prices that the target market would be willing to pay. But he occasionally takes a break from the business plan to pull weeds and plant seeds in the Lynchburg Grows greenhouses.

Nguyen also is working in another internship, doing marketing work for a local financial planning office which he discovered through Randolph’s Experiential Learning Center. The two internships together are teaching him lessons that he would like to apply someday in a career as a financial advisor. “I am learning how a real business works,” said Nguyen, who is majoring in economics, mathematics, and physics. “This will be a really good experience for me.”