08/24/2011 10:11 am ET | Updated Oct 24, 2011

Our Economic Problem: Where Will Growth Come From?

While I was on vacation recently, trying to forget all my problems, I couldn't help but notice the stock market plummeting. Oh, I tried not to pay attention. But being in business, it was hard not to. My very social littlest daughter made dear friends with two girls on the beach (she wasn't worried about the stock market one bit!). And it turned out their dad worked on Wall Street -- so at the end of the day, I couldn't help but ask him what he thought of what was happening.

"The problem is," he said thoughtfully and worriedly, "no one knows where the growth is going to come from." After all, stock markets and economies always thrive on growth, and the traditional means of growth are slowing around the world -- even in China. So, how can we continue to "grow" in a world where we have consumed more than we need, and destroyed our precious resources in the process?

For a moment, my stomach churned and I had a fleeting feeling that we are all doomed. But then I looked around. He and I, two random strangers who met because we were staying at the same hotel, were standing together at an event that was buzzing with excitement, sold out -- a major clue to our future of growth right before our eyes.

What was the event? Well, that's another random story.

I had pulled into the hotel that afternoon after a bit of sightseeing (OK, I confess, shopping!) to see a sign that said: "Farm fresh vendors park here." Happy-looking people wearing cool-looking clothes were mingling around. I stopped at the front desk to ask what was up, and they said it was a sold-out event, but as hotel guests we could attend. "Some Rhode Island local farm thing," the manager said. Well, of course, being me, MOI, Maria of Maria's Farm Country Kitchen, why would I even think of missing it?

It was a Farm Fresh Rhode Island Local Food Fest, and the festival happened to be honoring one of my dear friends, a fellow board member of the Rodale Institute, Michel Nischan, chef at the Dressing Room in Westport, Connecticut, and author of Sustainably Delicious. (I shocked the bejeezus out of him when I appeared at the reception!) Also being honored were the great, epic, amazing heroine of organic food for all, Nell Newman, of Newman's Own Organic, and their mutual friend and associate Gus Schumacher. All three of them are involved in Michel's nonprofit Wholesome Wave. I mean, what are the chances??!! We celebrated. We ate amazing food. I tried to keep track of my little one (and later found pages and pages of photos of her making faces in the awesome free photo booth). And we watched the sun set over the harbor as the sailboats passed by.

Nell Newman, Gus Schumacher and Michel Nischan

I'm getting to the growth part, truly I am.

As I was walking back to our cabin on the beach (and Lucia was flying down the path on her scooter), I thought about where the growth was going to come from, and it hit me. There is one thing that's still been growing, even during the darkest days of the recession: the organics industry. But not just the organics industry -- also the local food industry; the sustainable, renewable energy industry; and the services around health and healing industry. Sure, we are still small. But the organics industry, at $30 billion a year, is now bigger than the publishing industry. And part of playing the market successfully is picking something small that will grow big over time. (Trust me, I bought stock back when people thought it was a joke... who's laughing now?!)

Wouldn't it be amazing if the growth of our future came from industries that are actually making the world a BETTER place rather than sucking out the value, spitting out the waste, and leaving a trail of damage and destruction in their wake? Maybe this is our global tipping point -- the point at which the world realizes that you can't create healthy economies without having businesses and services that respect people and the planet. Wouldn't that be amazing and wonderful if it turns out to be true? Perhaps, if we believe it, we can make it true. After all, we've already accomplished much, much more than the early naysayers said we would.

I'm betting my money on the future growth of businesses that are organic, renewable, sustainable, and good for everyone. Organic growth is the only growth that actually improves things over time, rather than destroying things in the process.

Maybe nothing is random after all.

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