Ethics in Business

Written on April 29, 2013

Adirondack Samaritan Counseling Center honored Rock Hill with an award for Ethics In Business this past weekend. I simply wish to state that I’m fairly jaded about the self-congratulatory nature of most awards and an award for ethical behavior is an especially touchy one for me. I believe we should all TRY to behave ethically while “embracing the hypocrisy” of living in what is perhaps the most compromised and conscienceless consumer culture the world has ever seen. Nonetheless, I am honored by the committee’s selection in recognizing our efforts and thought that I would share with you the description of Rock Hill from the evening’s program and also my remarks.

Program …

Matt Funiciello has been the Owner of Rock Hill Bakehouse and Rock Hill Cafe since 1994 but he and his crew have been baking the wonderful naturally-leavened hearth breads they are famous for just shy of 25 years. Noted food critic, Jeffrey Steingarten, called Rock Hill Bakehouse “the paragon of purism” and NY Times food maven, Mimi Sheraton, wrote that their Rye is the best on the East coast, bar none.

Rock Hill has been included in bread books by the likes of James Beard, Bernard Clayton and Julia Child.

Locally, Matt is perhaps best known for his political activism. He is a member of the Green Party and served as a National Committee member from 2005-2010. He has brought such notables as Ralph Nader, James Howard Kunstler and Malachy McCourt to Glens Falls. Matt has been a persistent advocate for peace, a living wage and single-payer health care. Rock Hill employees make several dollars more per hour than is the area standard and Matt pays himself a similar hourly wage seeing himself as an “empowered worker” rather than as a “businessman”. He is a longstanding member of the Glens Falls Martin Luther King Day organizing committee.

Matt serves on the board of Art In The Public Eye (he is the Outdoor Cinema Chair and Rock Hill is a primary corporate sponsor). He works with the Lake George Arts Project on their many fundraisers each year culminating with the Lake George Jazz Festival each fall. Rock Hill donates baked goods to the Capital District Food Bank and many food pantries and soup kitchens including Community Action’s Glens Falls location. Rock Hill averages one fund raising dinner each week to benefit non-profits or groups aiming to raise money for those in need.

At Rock Hill Cafe in downtown Glens Falls, Matt has made local food his mission. It is often the first place new local food producers go to sell their wares. Battenkill Valley Dairy, Nettle Meadows, Oscar’s Smokehouse, Cabot Creamery, Saratoga Water, Divinitea and more than a few area farmers are regular suppliers. All the coffee used at the cafe is Fair-Trade and Organic. Matt’s largest contribution to local and regional farming, though, is his commitment to regional wheat. A little less than half the wheat flour used to produce Rock Hill breads is grown and milled in New York State. It is far more expensive to buy locally-grown wheat but Rock Hill’s commitment to regional production has been an important component in rebuilding NYS’s wheat-growing infrastructure.

Matt lives in Queensbury with his son, John, a varsity hockey player and a senior at Queensbury High School.

My Remarks …

“First of all, I wish to thank Adirondack Samaritan Counseling Center and all who are in attendance tonight. It is truly our community and my fellow workers and my family receiving this award tonight and not me, per se. I am just a human being and my business is just one of many and it is highly unlikely that Rock Hill Bakehouse would even be in the running for such an award without all of the fine people who bake bread with me, serve tables, make food, clean, organize, manage and deliver what it is we are all so proud to produce or without those of you who support us in those endeavors. On behalf of all of my family at “The Rock”, I thank you for finding us worthy of inclusion. It is very humbling.

I guess I find it most humbling because displaying ethical behavior in contemporary North American society is often viewed as weakness. Given all of the terrible corporate behavior we see around us every day it is often very difficult to discern what “ethical behavior” is, exactly, never mind attempt to set the bar there. In fact, I believe that we are often encouraged to celebrate greed and power and to compete unfairly with each other and I do not find these traits synonymous at all with ethical behavior. I think they are the complete opposite of what community is about. The opposite of co-operation. The opposite of compassion. Seeing these behaviors exhibited all around us it is awfully easy to forget that we could so easily recraft our own little corner of the world into a place where love and friendship and truth are the values we celebrate and support. I am not a follower of any one religion but I’ve always been inspired by the story of Jesus Christ and let us remember that he was never to be found celebrating avarice in the halls of power but was, instead, always giving himself freely to the poor. It is important that we remember this, I think. Having or making money does not mean that you are, in any way, a success.

I do pride myself on trying to behave in an ethical manner and it does feel good to receive recognition of it but I also appreciate all of the others in my circle whose efforts may not always be recognized. By most accounts, I am a fairly intense person and we all know that I tend to vocalize my battles to everyone who will listen … and probably to some who won’t, as well. I guess what I mean to say is that I think many who are more, for lack of a better word, “graceful” in their struggles don’t always receive the recognition they deserve. So, I wish this to also be their award.

To my point, however … we are all regularly asked as community members, as workers and as citizens to make choices within a cultural and economic and political framework that can often make the lesser evil choice seem the only rational decision rather than doing what we know is “right”. That can be truly frustrating for those of us who want purity and justice and perfection. Our love of the entrepreneurial spirit and that very struggle to be perfect is one of the things that makes us uniquely “American”, I think, and business ownership is all about that self-sufficiency and individualism and hard work and vision that we so value as a country.

I could list achievements, experiences, lessons, things I’m grateful for … instead, I would simply like to make an action request of you that is my main struggle and one in which many of you are already engaged. Local food is more expensive, seasonal, inconsistent, ill-marketed and inconvenient. Every vendor, every farmer, every crafter, every tradesperson with a different production and delivery schedule, a different set of handling principles, a different pricing philosophy. Why should a restaurant or a bakery use and support local food then? It’s much more expensive. You can’t always get what you want. Availability and quality can be inconsistent. What is there to gain? Why not just place an order with that good-looking young sales rep from Sysco and have all your frozen agri-business food dropped off at one convenient time each week and be on your merry way?

Because it is not ethical to do so. That’s why. You are supporting the abuse of many when you support the monopolies that control our food production and you are also supporting food raised in extremely unhealthy circumstances … feed lots, mono-crop farming, manure pools, GMO’s, terminator seeds, pesticides, corn syrup, the abuse of migrants, child labor … the list goes on and on.

As consumers, we really need to stop supporting cheap unsustainable unsafe and unhealthy foods and start celebrating those who produce and use local foods and products. Rock Hill uses a higher percentage of local food every year. Most impressively, when I first started baking in Greenwich in 1988, I would estimate that there were about 4,000 pounds of wheat being grown and milled organically in all of upstate New York. This year, Rock Hill will be using just over 250,000 pounds of NYS wheat and another 50,000 pounds of NYS grain, much of which is organically raised. Things DO change. Our behavior and our commitment to local food as a bakery and yours as customers has actually worked! It is the ethical thing we have all done and I truly believe that we are all better off as community for having done so.

Thank you for helping to make our farmers’ markets truly hard to walk through while the McPlayground I rode by on my bicycle today was completely devoid of children. That makes my heart sing. Thank you all so much for your support!