Solnit on mutual aid economies

Almost anyone would say our society is capitalistic, based on competition and selfishness. But huge areas of our lives are already based on gift economies, barter, mutual aid, and giving without hope of return. Think of the relations between friends, between family members, the activities of volunteers or those who have chosen their vocation on principle rather than for profit.

Think of the acts of those who do more and do it more passionately than they are paid to do, of the armies of the unpaid at work counterbalancing and cleaning up after the invisible hand of the market and even loosening its grip on our collective throat. Such acts represent the relations of the great majority of us some of the time and a minority of us all the time. They are, as the two feminist economists who published together as J. K. Gibson-Graham noted, the nine-tenths of the economic iceberg that is below the waterline. Capitalism is only kept going by this army of anti-capitalists, who constantly exert their powers to clean up after it and at least partially compensate for its destructiveness.

Hope lies in the future, but my work on disaster and society convinced me that much that is remarkable is with us already, undescribed.

Rebecca Solnit

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Farmer Fleenor for Congress

Article from Bayou Brief, written by   on October 14, 2018

Loranger, Louisiana is an unincorporated town in Tangipahoa Parish, about fifteen minutes north of Hammond and an hour east of Baton Rouge. Its most notable “sightseeing” attraction, according to Facebook, is the Methodist Church, which had been listed on the National Register of Historic Places until its building was torn down and replaced three years ago. The Southern Baptists own a small summer camp there, Living Waters, on the banks of the Tangipahoa River.

There’s a local donut shop and a Dollar General, which both earn a mention on the town’s Wikipedia.

This place is tiny.

It’s also the hometown of Jessee Carlton Fleenor, the 34-year-old Democrat challenging Ralph Abraham, a two-term Republican congressman from Alto, another tiny town on the other end of Louisiana’s vast Fifth District.

Since qualifying, Fleenor has put thousands of miles on his old Dodge pickup truck, visiting all 24 of its parishes and the small towns that dominate its landscape.

Fleenor is a vegetable farmer. He grows lettuce, bell peppers, corn, broccoli, and cucumbers, among other things. It’s seasonal work, 12 weeks in the spring and 12 weeks in the fall. For the past few years, he’s operated what he calls a “farm to door” program, delivering bags of 8-10 items, including a small selection of fruit and flowers, every week to customers across the region. In the fall, he includes organic eggs and fresh bread as well.

He’s not in it to make a fortune. Most years, he says, he earns between $20,000 to $30,000; the average household income in the district is slightly more than $37,000 a year

https://www.facebook.com/VoteJessee/

https://www.bayoubrief.com/2018/10/14/hes-a-millennial-a-democrat-and-a-farmer-and-he-is-running-for-congress-in-one-of-the-nations-poorest-districts/

Cleveland Clinic market

Pics from my visit today to the North Union Farmers Market held at the main campus of Cleveland Clinic. The market staff person told me it is wrapping up its 11th year; how time flies from my first visit the year it opened.

This market is a classic example of the “campus” type so named in the typology of markets that I have written about previously, and once we start to see some data from Metrics and state level data collection efforts, can begin to flesh out these types.

Some time ago, I wrote up a case study on those markets that had used FMSSG funding for focus group research to better understand the perceptions of at-risk and low-income shoppers; while researching that, I saw that this market had used their FMSSG funding to do a Frittata Project with Clinic lap band/bariatric surgery patients to adapt that simple  recipe using different market veggies. I thought it was a great educational activity approach for a hospital campus market to incentivize behavior change. Very situational and intentional which is what I like about the North Union family of markets; each has its own focus and personality. 

Jeff Chiplis, Tremont Placemaker

During my extended visit to NE Ohio this summer, I have visited many markets, some farms and also met some excellent people thinking about their place constantly. Here is one of them.

Parking my truck on Jefferson after turning off Professor, I was lost in thought for a minute about the changes I was seeing in my old neighborhood of Tremont. Not that closed up storefronts or broken sidewalks should remain, but the saturation of shiny and new crowding this tiny corner of Cleveland was troubling. (For those who are unfamiliar with Cleveland or this part of it, Tremont is right next to what was the industrial Flats, and as such, had gone through some tough times in the latter part of the 20th century. Since the late 1990s however, its proximity to downtown and the city’s eagerness to think of the future as largely post-industrial in terms of infrastructure has meant this area has been transformed almost completely into an apartment and entertainment district.)

As I looked up from my musings, I noticed a healthy fig tree peeking over a beautiful, clearly handmade stone wall. I crossed the street to see it more closely and said aloud, ‘oh look at these figs! How lovely!”

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A voice amid the greenery said, “please help yourself.” I looked over and saw a smiling face working on wall repairs just a few feet away. I carefully selected a few ripe figs and walked over to meet my benefactor.

Jeff Chiplis has lived on this corner with his wife Cynthia since 1980, and has seen a parade of people, ideas and development, across the spectrum of good to bad to ridiculous and back again.  As an internationally known artist working with recycled neon signs, he believes in adaptation. So when he mirrors the best and protests the worst of developers’ and municipal whims in his work and yard, it should be noted by the powers that be.

For example, the utter lack of interest in reusing what was already here and the crowding of overly tall and architecturally bland buildings onto each redeveloped lot is clearly a source of frustration with Jeff.  That wall that the fig tree reclines on is an example of how he honors the past while offering his neighbors beautifully framed access to the green space he owns. His dad and he originally built it, using discarded bricks and stones. Regular repair work is necessary because vandals push over the top stones or pull the flat stones to bash against the sidewalk. As we chatted, he finished his small repair job, carefully scraping the rest of the mortar from his bucket, then offering me a tour which I gratefully accepted.

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The figs and grapes line the sidewalk next to the small house “painted Superman blue” he offers (assuming I understand the Cleveland connection; I do) allowing anyone to feast as they go by.  While there, I notice one 20-something ignores the bounty as she passes by twice with her large dog and smart phone at eye level.

Walking up the driveway between the Superman house and the larger brick one, he stops in his ground level studio to drop off the brickwork tools and to offer me a flyer from one of his latest installations around the city. The studio is floor to ceiling full of odds and ends, but somehow one can see that it is set up well for his use and offers comfort for anyone invited to stand among the signs, tools and materials.

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As we walk the garden, I see that is organized the same way. The garden beds are bordered with found and made art, and plants are allowed to define their space as they see fit during growing season.  Still, well-tended space is prominent between the areas of plantings and large trees on this corner lot.

The Harry Lauder’s walking stick tree was marvelous but unfortunately, was ailing while I was there:IMG_1287.JPG

although allowing him to adorn other borders with its cast-offs:

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Greens were doing well alongside flowering plants.

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Raspberries and currants overshot rusty fences and repurposed rebar:

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This berry was replanted from his parent’s garden.

The burr oak was not only resplendent in the middle of the yard, but allowed him to place this frame that another artist had no more use for once the art piece had been completed. So Jeff found another use for it and slipped it over the much smaller oak clearly just in time:

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The horseradish was added for no particular culinary reason but turned out to be a good neighbor to the other plants, anchoring this corner:

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I could have easily stayed longer. I almost did, but felt I needed to let him finish what is likely a long list of tasks in the studio and garden and home and neighborhood.

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Just in time, that fig tree reminded me that resident’s homes like the Chiplis’ place are as necessary and as important as markets and community gardens in serving their communities.

Know your “friends”

Fascinating story about a “friends of” organization for a library that decided to close its store because of an issue over control of its decision-making. Since many markets have these type of supporting organization relationships, it’s very important that they understand how these work, especially in understanding the different types of a supporting org, according to the IRS:

Type I 

A Type I supporting organization must be operated, supervised or controlled by its supported organization(s), typically by giving the supported organization(s) the power to regularly appoint or elect a majority of the directors or trustees of the supporting organization. The relationship between the supported organization(s) and the supporting organization is sometimes described as similar to a parent-subsidiary relationship.

Type II

A Type II supporting organization must be supervised or controlled in connection with its supported organization(s), typically by having a majority of the directors or trustees of the supported organization(s) serve as a majority of the trustees or directors of the supporting organization. The relationship between the supported organization(s) and the supporting organization is sometimes described as similar to a brother-sister relationship.

Type III

A Type III supporting organization must be operated in connection with one or more publicly supported organizations. All supporting organizations must be responsive to the needs and demands of, and must constitute an integral part of or maintain significant involvement in, their supported organizations. Type I and Type II supporting organizations are deemed to accomplish these responsiveness and integral part requirements by virtue of their control relationships. However, a Type III supporting organization is not subject to the same level of control by its supported organization(s). Therefore, in addition to a notification requirement, Type III supporting organizations must pass separate responsiveness and integral part tests.

The friends of entity in this story wasn’t one of those types, but instead was set up as its own 501 (c) (3) which was part of the issue.

From the story:

Friends board member Beth Schneider said the nonprofit will still raise funds for the Santa Maria Public Library. They are running a book sale from September 20–22 and donate books online through Amazon. Schneider asserts that the relationship between the library and the Friends remains: “We’re still the Friends of the Santa Maria Public Library.”

Mary Housel, library director, said that the library and the city will need to sign some form of contract in the future, although what that would entail, and why it is necessary if they are not utilizing city property to function, was not disclosed. Schneider said that they weren’t likely to take on any contract—“not as long as the city has taken the stance that it has.”

Slow Food People

I wrote a post on FMC’s website about my duties while attending Slow Food Nations in July, so I thought for my own blog, I’d write something about a few of the people who I hung out with, or heard speak, in the hope that it might offer some different context.

As for the event itself, it was definitely more focused than the first year, with fewer locations and maybe even fewer listed events which was pleasant logistically, but in doing so, the event lost its pairing with the Union Station Farmers Market, which was too bad. Related to that, I’d like to see SFNations figure out a way (and they would like to as well, I am sure) to include more market leaders and small family farmers into the agenda, although the time of year is not the best for those folks to leave home. And I hope for the day when funders and partners offer support to market managers and interested farmers to attend more events like this one. It ain’t all about market day skills after all.

Those that were there were able to come were able to commune with those doing similar work around the world and to see and taste some regional products from across the U.S. in the SF Marketplace. I try to get through the Marketplace a few times during SFN because the businesses that SFUSA brings together are always impressive and great at explaining their approach and products. I’d like to have market vendors be able to see how well they educate and sell.

Now on to the peops:
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Michael Hurwitz, Greenmarket Director. As Michael tells people whenever we both show up somewhere, he and I met when he is was just two months into his job, 11 years ago. That time was at Kellogg’s Food and Society meeting and we both spent much of the down time discussing (debating) the functions and potential of markets. Even then, he had a solid grasp of the potential for greater impact and the possible pitfalls of operating what are the most well-known markets in the most competitive retail area in the U.S. That conversation has continued since. Through talking with him, I am reminded what a flagship organization can do, especially if the director trusts in his excellent staff and his vendors. What may not be evident is that the success of Greenmarket’s sites don’t happen automatically – like every other market organization, it requires constant calibration and some luck and Michael is so very honest about those facts when asked to share his lessons learned.

-Most importantly, he asks great questions of everyone, constantly learning more about the field he is in.

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Michael and Richard meeting up at SFN

Richard McCarthy, Slow Food USA Executive Director. It’s probably no surprise that I include Richard, as he is my former boss as well as my friend. Going through building and rebuilding farmers markets, disaster recovery, staff hires and fires, funding gaps and much more as his Deputy Director for almost a decade gave me as solid of a start in my national work as I could have wished for. Even so, I added him to this list on the strength of his enthusiasm for front line organizers and his skill in exploring how the people who are around him at an event can be connected. He throws a helluva event because he is obsessed with maximizing the results for the attendees by packing in as many informative and appealing touches as possible. It was the same back when he was the market director.
-Most importantly, I think Richard weaves a story around food and farming that is practical and aspirational to even those yet unfamiliar with what we do. Here is a podcast that I happened across that I think is a great example of that.

Sofia Unanue from La Marana. During the Disaster Strikes panel, Sofia offered a powerful, real-time reality check on recovery, beginning with her sobering and yet uplifting video:

I imagined I felt her stress level and exhaustion even as she stood there calmly and pleasantly in Denver in front of a group of people who care deeply but cannot truly know what she and her community are going through over what is being lost with every passing day in the absence of a well-organized and empathetic public and philanthropic aid process. Not even those of us who have been through our own version truly know her reality, but what I do know is that recovery depends on people exactly like her being there and coming to these events to share that reality. And that her video made Richard McCarthy and I standing in the back of this room both weep and as we did, we knew we were remembering New Orleans 2005.
-Most importantly, don’t forget Puerto Rico.

Brian Coppom, Boulder County Farmers Market CEO. I first met Brian at last year’s Slow Food Nations event as I was tasked to help SFUSA with events that were scheduled at BCFM’s Union Station Farmers Market. As helpful as he was, the best thing he did was to give me access to his lead staffer, Elyse Wood who can make decisions lightning fast about the market space and what will work and in doing so, smoothed the events out so that featured speakers like author Deborah Madison and legendary MS farmer Ben Burkett were primed to lead lively and informative talks. If I would say that to Elyse, she’d likely shrug and smile, because in her list of things to do, it had been a simple task. I know because that’s how I would have reacted while doing very similar work in New Orleans for a guy very much like Brian (see above). But it isn’t so easy and the knowledge accrued by market organizers managing multiple sites, staff, programming, a network of colleagues and so on is impressive and yet, I don’t think  funders and partners have done as much to support them with professional development opportunities and other rewards. And I know that market directors like Michael and Brian feel the same way.
Brian has quickly become a good pal and a strong voice in my list of go-to people when I search for input. He is a board member of FMC so even though he is constantly working on food and farming in Colorado, his goals are at a national level in intention and in impact.

-Most importantly, he is hilarious and comfortable at a mic talking markets and in wearing hats:
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Poppy Tooker, Writer, host of public radio show Louisiana Eats. Like Richard, my relationship to Poppy is long and so full of amazing and sweet stories. Suffice it to say, Poppy has taught me how to share the stories of food producers with the larger world. During this SFN, I walked out to the festival area and heard my old pal’s mic’d voice doing a cooking demonstration and since her educational, wickedly funny, and precise demos are the stuff of legend in New Orleans, I immediately made a beeline in that direction. I got there just as she was wrapping up but did snag the last bean calas that she was offering. I shared it with the California couple next to me, explaining what this was and its importance to New Orleanians because that is exactly what she’d expect me to do.
Her panel introduction for the disaster panel was extraordinary. I say that as someone who stood in the back of the room and watched every chair’s occupant lean forward and the quiet descend on the room as she spoke with humor and pathos about the trivial and tragic memories Gulf Coasters carry from 2005.

-Most importantly, really, truly because of Poppy (and Slow Food) we rebuilt our market in two months in 2005 and saved a lot of farms and family businesses. And learned that we have others to call in across the globe in these times.

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Poppy and Miss Linda (the Yaka Mein queen of New Orleans) talking at SFN about love and loss. New Orleanians can always veer from the chatty to the profound in a blink of an eye. This story Poppy was telling (as Miss Linda and I sat rapt) involved a vengeful, murderous jaguar and poor alpacas at our local zoo and then segued into a lovely story about husbands and high school sweethearts. A typical wide-ranging Poppy story with a message.

Raj Patel. Well I do not share a long and rich history with Raj, but I appreciated his thoughts during this SFN so much I wanted to include him. Of course, his writing has always been illuminating as he takes on the dominant thinking around “value” which, of course, actually devalues everything worth saving. He’s included in this list for the moment he took a general question about local and elevated it to the question of justice:

“Almost all of the food that is grown and eaten in the United States today, that is bought and paid for, involves the hands of people of color…What’s important about local is you also need a robust sense of history…

-Most importantly:
You don’t fix the past with a certain type of tokenism; you fix it with a reckoning. And that reckoning is something the food movement has yet to have.”

And with that, I’ll close the curtain on SFN 2018.