Walking the Green Path

Daniel at Butter

Sometime during the fall of 2004, I looked at myself honestly, and thought, I can’t keep teaching forever.  I had been teaching for 19 years, and I was slowly losing my ability to be patient with kids.  (And that extra bit of patience was what made me special as a teacher.) I was losing the energy it took to run and play alongside them.  I was noticeably less happy.  I didn’t want to be a burned-out teacher just going through the motions.  So, I decided to look for another career…before it got too late…

I had enjoyed coffee shops – they were a place of healing and hospitality for me.  My family had many connections to coffee shops.  At four years old, my daughter’s first dream job was to open a coffee shop/bookstore in Grand Marais.  My brother had been a roaster, my sisters – baristas, with one moving on to management in a local chain.

So I took a class.  It confirmed my desires.  I did a bit of research, some dreaming, and lots of visiting. I found mentors.  I wrote up plans and rewrote plans. I worked out budgets.  I got a vision of what I’d want – a place where I could enjoy my days – and live out some of my passions – baking, cooking, writing, teaching, gardening, community building.  And I wanted it all in my own backyard – no more commutes across the Twin Cities!

Places like Angry Trout Cafe in Grand Marais and Trotter’s Bakery and Cafe in St. Paul, Kaladi’s in Sioux Falls, our local co-op (the Wedge) and many others provided inspiration. I was well known (and loved) for pasta feasts, ice cream festivals, and scones.  During the fall of 2005 my hunt led to “butter,” a small shop, less than a mile from my home, opened just two year’s prior, following a long line of cafes. The time seemed right.  I jumped.

As I prepared to open the small, neighborhood cafe that would be filling my life for the years to come, I knew it needed to be a place I could be proud of.  I knew enough of the challenges of the food system, waste, and workplace ethics to know I didn’t want to run a restaurant that added to the degradation of people and nature.

I grew up with a love and understanding of environmental stewardship.  I built this love of nature into my teaching career and into the ways I organized my personal life.  It only made sense to begin with principles that would create something of the highest value for the staff and the customers and the many people who would supply my cafe.

While there were a few notable restaurants doing this type of work in 2005, it also felt like pioneering on the edge of the wilderness.  I felt uncertain of what I was trying and whether or not it would work.  I didn’t know how to find support for the new things I was attempting.

I began to reach out and in doing so, learned I was not alone.  Support appeared in many places, including a neighborhood organization that wanted to help its community grow in the same ways I was putting into effect in my small storefront.

Their request to have me begin a monthly column to share my experiences came as a needed outlet for me.  It allowed me the opportunity to share accomplishments and challenges.  It forced me to think about the journey and what I had learned.  It provided an avenue to reach others who shared my passion for changing the food system.  It connected me to a community and helped me form a new larger community of support.

We chose to lean the stories toward a focus on environmental stewardship – of being “green” in whatever forms that might take.  Over the years, I’ve used the column to highlight environmental practices we use, but my column has also wandered along a path that includes leadership, business practices, community building and my own personal journey.

Enjoy the stories, make your own connections, and grow with me as we walk the Green Path together.  I appreciate being part of a movement toward sustainable business practices.  I am in it for the long run.  I am a fixer-upper.  I am a dreamer.  I am learning.

Walking the Green Path is a series of stories by Daniel Swenson-Klatt, the owner of Butter Bakery Café, about what it’s like to run a small business focused on sustainability and building community.

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