by Jim Boyle
While the first bottles of the new FINNEGANS blonde ale came off the assembly line on Valentine’s Day at Summit Brewery in St. Paul, Jacquie Berglund commented on how there’s a lot of love in her beer.
FINNEGANS, a non-profit she founded more than 11 years ago, turns beer into food. The money made buys produce for the needy that makes its way onto food shelves across Minnesota.
With a new brew in hand, Berglund’s plan is to scale her operation to blanket the Dakotas and Wisconsin next with her farm-to-market effort.
Some of her brethren of more than 1,200 volunteers will be at the Elk River YMCA’s second annual wine and beer tasting this coming Thursday at the Friendly Buffalo in Big Lake.
“It’s great timing for us,” Berglund said, noting the blonde ale is the first new beer she has launched since founding the company.
Stems and Steins: A Chocolate Affair will showcase dozens of beers and wines as money is raised for the Elk River YMCAs Y Partners campaign.
The funds raised will turn into scholarships for kids and discounts for families, among other things, to benefit the Elk River community.
It’s the kind of event Berglund, 46, wholeheartedly supports.
The Mahtomedi native started FINNEGANS with the hope of proving she could successfully develop a business model more focused on giving back than pocketing a profit.
She’s passionate about the notion of sustainability — and achieving it without government grants or money of any kind.
“I wanted to be able to give back to the community and help build healthy communities at the same time,” she said. “The days of relying on government are over. Governments are broke and nonprofits are fighting for a shrinking piece of pie.
“Businesses need to act differently, and that’s what I set out to do. If a one-woman beer company can do it, boy, everybody could do a little.”
Her business model has relied on volunteers and business partners with a desire to do good right alongside her.
She says she knows it takes more than a desire to do good, too. It takes a sound business plan.
She hopes the new blonde ale is the first of several new beers. The goal is to have a whole flight of beers someday (like Guinness), each with a similar flavor profile but with its own distinction.
The blonde ale has been created to be a summer beer with a clean, crisp finish, light and more carbonated.
“It’s an easy-drinking summer beer,” she told the Star News this week, still pumped from watching the new product come off the assembly line. That it was Valentine’s Day was no small coincidence.
“I thought it would be a really good omen,” she said.
Berglund was the only paid FINNEGANS employee until 2009. Now there are five employees and revenues topped $1 million this past year.
More than a quarter of a million dollars has been given to charity. FINNEGANS generous model of giving is now focused on feeding the hungry.
The beer is sold to bars and liquor stores throughout Minnesota, with 100 percent of the profits going to food shelves located in the sellers’ towns or neighborhoods. The money helps buy fresh produce — the healthful, more expensive stuff most food shelves might not normally carry. What’s more, the produce comes from local farmers.
Here in Elk River, FINNEGANS works with Dahlheimer Distributing, which will be one of the several distributors at the YMCA fundraiser.
The others include: Bernick’s, Buffalo Rock Winery, Johnson Brothers and C & L Distributing.
FINNEGANS’ business model was tweaked in the last few years. Before, profits went to multiple Minnesota charities. But Berglund discovered that she wasn’t having the kind of impact she wanted, and her message wasn’t clear enough.
It is now. The mission is simple — turn beer into food.
FINNEGANS works with New Hope-based Emergency Food Shelf Network, (EFSN) which has facilities in 26 counties across Minnesota.
CAER is one of the food shelves to receive produce. In 2011, FINNEGANS raised and donated more than 3,560 pounds of produce in the Elk River, Monticello and Maple Grove area.
Three years ago EFSN began the locally farmed produce program called Harvest for the Hungry. With help from FINNEGANS, the program has expanded the number of participating farms from one to seven. The next step is to expand the Harvest for the Hungry Program to the Dakotas and Wisconsin.
This one-time one woman show won’t do it alone, however.
“It takes a village,” she said.