The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Why Pott Farms is an L3C

"Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy rotten system."
Dorothy Day

 

Everything we do at Pott Farms is guided by a clearly articulated set of values and principles around healing people, the planet and ourselves. This is true whether we are digging in the dirt, choosing packaging, or developing our job training program. There is a consistency, an integrity that is baked in.

This commitment is in Pott Farms’ DNA. The company is structured as a mission-driven for-profit known as an L3C (Low Profit Limited Liability Company). Michigan is one of a dozen states that enables this hybrid of a nonprofit and an LLC, allowing for-profit enterprise as long as it is in service to the public good. Pott Farms is a for-profit that prioritizes the people and planet bottom lines equally with the financial, something that is legally not permissible in regular for-profit businesses (strange as that sounds) where responsibility is first and foremost to make money.

We tend to think of private nonprofit corporations as the vehicle for serving those in need or working for social change. It has been the traditional role of charitable organizations since they emerged in the late 1800’s, and more recently- as the federal safety net has disintegrated steadily since 1980 - nonprofits have proliferated in a desperate attempt to help meet people’s basic needs of food, housing, jobs and more.

But many of us who have spent decades working tirelessly for change in the nonprofit arena have come to believe that, as the title of the 2007 anthology edited by Incite! says, The Revolution Will Not Be Funded. In fact, the case can be made that the rise of the Non Profit Industrial Complex (NPIC) has served to keep change at bay. Otherwise, wouldn’t we have come farther in more than 100 years?

As the founder and long-term director of a supportive housing nonprofit in Washtenaw County, I discovered over time that although we could achieve success in improving the lives of individuals, ultimately the larger and more systemic changes we envisioned would elude us no matter how hard we worked. Ending homelessness, for example, is totally achievable in a community of our size and resources. But after 25 years of fighting for social and economic justice in nonprofits, I came to realize that we were part of a vast bureaucratic complex destined, if not designed, to support the status quo.

When charitable organizations developed formally in the early 1900’s, an essential driver was their ability to provide tax shelters for the wealthy Rockefeller and Carnegie (or Bezos and Musk) types. Now, more than a hundred years later and in the face of grotesque income and wealth inequality, philanthropy still provides cover for individuals and corporations who remain involved in exploitive and colonial practices. It seems logical that a system developed for and controlled by those in power will inevitably resist real change. Consciously or not, the NPIC plays a role in managing dissent and keeping resistance in check by doling out just enough to stave off a true rebellion by those with nothing to lose.

Nonprofit organizations face chronic financial instability. Current funding streams - foundations, individual donors and government grants - are complex, bureaucratic and highly competitive, creating a cut-throat environment where nonprofits are forever “begging” and fighting each other for scarce resources on terms dictated by funders with bloated salaries. This keeps agencies from working together towards a common good and inhibits cooperation and collective action. Funders set the agenda, and discourage advocacy. They certainly don’t fund it.

The nonprofit sector attracts talented people who genuinely want to work for change, but the low wages, long hours, and precarious funding make it almost impossible to keep them. Even the most forward-thinking leaders have trouble just maintaining the status quo, i.e. making payroll. This mindset of scarcity is insidious, forcing us to focus on agency survival, as opposed to shared visions of change. Under pressure, nonprofits settle for crumbs instead of pushing for what is really needed.

 

As an L3C, Pott Farms envisions a new way of working for social, economic and environmental justice by opting out of a system that inherently reinforces the same capitalist, racist and patriarchal institutions we are trying to change, and by offering a model for doing good that doesn’t include being overworked, underpaid, living with uncertainty and foregoing our own needs. Pott Farms’ business model is based on the values of mutual respect and the interdependence of all living things, and this is reflected in the organizational structure and culture.

The L3C model also provides an important opportunity for you as a consumer to support justice work through your daily routine. Those of us eager for change look for every way to make it happen, and using our buying power to contribute to change efforts makes good sense as we try to incorporate the basic values of fairness and equity into all our decision-making. Small acts and small purchases all add up.

For me, Pott Farms’ decision to become an L3C means going direct. Taking charge of our mission and making it happen on our own terms. It’s about solidarity, not charity. No boards, no fundraisers, no bureaucrats. At Pott Farms, we grow and sell healing herbs using regenerative farming practices. Our ultimate goal is to invest our profits in training and supporting people in jobs that will sustain their families and build leadership. There’s a lot to it, but it is essentially a simple plan. And it's a business model that we can be proud of.