Pirate ships, untie.

Some of you may have heard the news earlier this year that Slow Food USA’s  Executive Director Richard McCarthy was stepping down from his command after six years. Of course anyone who reads this blog knows he was the founding visionary and 18-year E.D. at Market Umbrella* which is the NGO that manages the Crescent City Farmers Markets in New Orleans, and where I was lucky enough to work as Deputy Director and then as Marketshare Director for a decade.  I had departed its solidity and dynamic programs in 2011, feeling as if I needed to use the skills and resources I had gained to build the field of markets across the US and to focus on Farmers Market Coalition’s development, an entity that Richard had raised the initial private funding for and had served as the first board president when it became its own 501 (c) organization. He very graciously allowed me to take most of the materials we had developed at MU to grow my consulting business (Helping Public Markets Grow) and to use it later on as the basis of my current work as part-time staff at Farmers Market Coalition.

Since his move to NYC in 2012, we have kept in regular contact. I had even attended both of the Slow Food Nations events in Denver that happened under his leadership, partly to see if there could be an alignment between the work I did with FMC and with SF, but also to experience some of the synthesis he was famous for orchestrating between NGO leaders and chefs, private foundations and practioners, savvy media types and farmers, and a slew of others who share the theory of change that put farmers and markets in the democratic center of food systems. He always introduced me with the description that I know he had carefully crafted for me: “Darlene is a market guru and my colleague from the New Orleans days of running markets…” Like much of his wordsmithing, it was carefully open-ended and charmingly odd.

Whenever we met up, it was very much as if we were back in the cramped offices of Market Umbrella, discussing both the minute details of the work to put on a market, and the systemic trends and changes we noted and those we hoped to see. I often told him that I wished he would STOP running non-profits, and start to write, speak, and work at a different level on behalf of the entire system of organizers in the food and civic systems.

Now he is happily unmoored from his tether, roaming the world looking for places to put his efforts in the coming years.  My goal is getting him visiting the port of farmers markets regularly, and so I am doing my best to get him to work on a farmers market anthology with me, with part of the proceeds benefiting FMC and other worthy orgs. Maybe that will happen, but in the meantime, he is beginning to use the blog format to share his thoughts and to raise his flag.

The blog is called think like pirates, and I can offer a tiny glimmer as to why it is called that, although Richard has developed this idea in new ways since its unveiling. But here is the beginning:

Some years back, I watched a Charlie Rose episode with  Tori Amos and found this resonant:

Charlie: Now, this tour with Alanis Morrissette, tell me about her. Do you like her? Do you admire her? Is she good?
Tori: She’s a lovely person, good heart. She’s good at what she does.
Charlie: That’s it?
Tori: That’s good!
Charlie: I mean… well, was there conflict, was there tension? Or was it just a lovefest?
Tori: No tension because… I think honestly, she approached me and she did it in a way that was like, “Hey, lets be creative and put two shows together, two separate shows and um… I had to bring my own production. I didn’t want to do anything where I couldn’t bring my own production because that’s not how I work. I have a pirate ship, I have a captain…
Charlie: Yes.
Tori: I’m the ship. (giggle)
Charlie: Yes.
Tori: I have loads of chefs.
Charlie: Yes.
Tori: And all sorts of people floating around. Thieves, fantastic. A few harlots.
Charlie: Yes.
Tori: All on my ship.
Charlie: Yes.
Tori: And we all had to come and be respected that, you know, no compromise on any level. and, she has her captain, she is her ship, and of course that’s how it had to be approached. And, because of that mutual respect it worked out really well.

I went to the MU office the next day and told Richard about this interview. He immediately connected to it to our work, and came up with his pirate ship anthology for markets. (It is my memory that he had long been obsessed with pirates and maybe that’s why I told him. I believe he already flew a pirate ship flag on the front of his house.)

He began to say in presentations that we have to work as pirate ships, with our own flag, shanties and crew, but mooring together when needed. One day we even came up with a button that said, “Sail Alone, Anchor Together”; I still have one and wear it to market events where it is universally understood.

So I am pleased to introduce my readers to my pal’s new blog. His writing is practical, literate and metaphorical, and will encourage you to ponder it later on that day or week. Maybe over grog on your yardarm…

 

  • Market Umbrella was previously organized as ECOnomics Institute, and was a project of the Twomey Center for Peace Through Justice at Loyola University from 1994-2008.

Regional food sez Real Pickles

Sustainability is the balance of the positive and negative environmental, social and economic demands in any sector and across sectors. In the food work we do, regional systems have a better chance to address them together and yet we spend little time defining those demands. In that framework, local food systems by themselves can grow overly ‘muscular” and crowd out others nearby or focus on demand more than supply (or vice versa) or spend too much energy fighting to build systems for every process that could be shared instead.
In that important work, this blogger wrote a very good piece about the regional and sustainable approach to food that is worthwhile to share:

Those of us in rural areas – rich in agricultural resources – thus have an inescapable responsibility. As we do the necessary work of helping to overhaul the food system, we must consider what part we can play in feeding the populations of places like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. While it is surely tempting (and so much simpler) to focus inwardly and exclusively on how to feed merely ourselves, that is not, in the end, the way to build a better food system. It is essential to be actively promoting and supporting our local farm economies – and, at the same, we need to thinking more broadly.

Resiliency
There’s another strong reason why we need to think regionally as well as locally, one that undermines the notion that it would even be possible for any one town or small state to securely depend on its own agricultural resources. It has to do with things like weather and pests – those unavoidable factors that make farming inevitably risky and unpredictable. Factors which also threaten to make farming even more unpredictable as a result of climate change.

Regional food

Slavery By Another Name

A very important book, film and blog on the “neoslavery” that existed from Civil War through World War II, including the sharecropper system that continues to influence the way that corporations think of labor as a commodity. This history (including that of the Black Belt in the South) must be known by more Americans and the history of subjugation in every era must be remembered.It matters to all of us as food organizers since shared good health, social justice and dignity are what we are really working towards.

Slavery By Another Name

Landraces and their places

Great interview with Glen Rice, CEO of Anson Mills and president of the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation on the role of landraces, especially grains.
This interview is found on Common-place, a wonderful and wondrous site on Early American life, especially food. The site is sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society in association with the University of Oklahoma and would be enjoyable to many audiences.

Landraces are pre-industrial domesticated plants and animals that are maintained by agricultural methods, rather than scientific methods.
Common-place