HVADC People: Rose Wilson
Jun 30, 2023
Taking a person-first approach to building strong farms and food businesses
Business advisor Rose Wilson has been working with HVADC clients through the Incubator Without Walls Program, for five years, helping them to build stronger farms and food businesses through solid planning practices. With decades of experience helping small and large farms actualize their goals, Wilson has developed a person-first approach to providing Business Technical Assistance (BTA).
“You need to do what you want to do, not what you think you have to do,” said Wilson, adding that for farmers a business plan is also a life plan. “We work on making unique plans based on skills and assets. Farmers need to ask themselves, ‘does my business plan get me where I want to be in life?’”
Based in Norwich Vermont, Wilson originated from a small lake town in Quebec Canada. She came to America to attend Dartmouth College, pursing her love of competitive cross country skiing. Though her initial degree was in Earth Science, after graduation, her work with Geographic Data Technology (GDT), an early innovator of electronic map making, soon led her to where she is today. GDT quickly saw Wilson’s aptitude for planning and development. She strategized new programing and sales directives.
“The neat thing was they let me learn everything through trial by fire,” she recalled. “They had one product but I helped them figure out how to talk about that product with different markets.”
With Wilson’s help GDT expanded their market to make maps for everyone from the U.S. Census Bureau to Poppa John’s pizza delivery.
When Harpoon Brewing bought Catamount Brewery, not far from her home, she went to work for them, helping run logistics for their expansion. It was a great fit for the avid home brewer.
All the while Wilson was an active gardener living in an area surrounded by farms. She began to think about ways she could bring the business expertise she excelled at on a corporate level to farmers who needed the help to survive in a rapidly changing climate.
“Rose has a uniquely gifted mind for business planning,” said HVADC Deputy Director Mary Ann Johnson. “She is able to blend an expertise in macroeconomics with a really down-to-earth approach. Rose is comprehensive in her approach and she builds confidence in our small business owners.”
In 2004, Wilson began consulting for the Vermont Farm Viability Program, which was created, much like HVADC, to provide BTA to farms and food businesses. She also worked as the Town of Windsor’s “Main Street Manager,” which is a role that serves as a kind of strategic planner of commerce.
As her consulting business grew she began working with other aid agencies in the Northeast, eventually hooking up with HVADC in 2018. She has consulted with a number of Hudson Valley farms and businesses through the Incubator Without Walls Program.
“Whenever I have a farm contact me directly I say, let’s see who we have in your area,” she said. “In the Hudson Valley I hook them up with HVADC.”
Along with her proven experience and skill, Wilson says she is driven to help small farms navigate the difficulties that plague the industry.
“I think the biggest issue facing farmers is that the food system is really broken,” Wilson said. “Because of generations of government subsidies for farmers, consumers have a disconnect between what they’re willing to pay for food and what it costs to produce. Those subsidies have gone away and farmers are paying the price. If there was better awareness we would have a better food system.”
These days Wilson sees many farms trying to navigate the changing market by leaning into the creation of value-added products, such as alcohol, and agritourism. She cautions business owners not to stretch themselves too thin or move too fast.
“The underlying farm business has to be stable itself before you add anything on top of it,” She said. “The value-add has to be the cherry on top not the base layer to the cake.”
To learn more about HVADC’s Incubator Without Walls program, visit https://www.hvadc.org/incubator-without-walls.