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.
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Local currency helps communities decide “Who tells your story”

This story is from one of my mentor think tanks,  the Schumacher Center for a New Economics on their community’s robust currency system:

On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced a plan to redesign the $5, $10, and $20 to be more inclusive. Too bad we have to wait until 2020 to start spending money that reflects the diversity of our country… or do we? Residents of the Berkshire region of Western Massachusetts can already walk around with a diverse history of their region in their pockets – the local currency BerkShares celebrate some of the most important figures associated with the area.

One fan of BerkShares was inspired by the opening song from Hamilton to write his own introduction, in verse, for the woman that we celebrate on the 10! Thanks to Scott Grimm-Lyon for sharing his version of the story of Robyn Van En:

The ten BerkShare female farmer with just a prayer,
saw land controlled by the millionaire,
considered the general welfare,
knew food should not be grown elsewhere,
went into the town square,
preached against local laissez-faire,
and started the world’s first farm share.

Source: Local currency helps communities decide “Who tells your story”

The Cooperative Economy | Orion Magazine

I’m returning to the idea of worker ownership and cooperatives on this blog again after reading the excellent interview in the most recent Orion Magazine shared with me by Stacy Miller, freelance researcher and project advisor at Farmers Market Coalition. I believe that the future of community food systems depends on us rescuing traditional work and community structures and creating some new ones too. We cannot expect the small businesses we work with to thrive when being asked to return to the industrial production or delivery systems of the mid 20th century that bankrupted them and helped to isolate all of us before.
Cleveland Ohio was my original home and so I follow the exciting news from there on issues like Evergreen Cooperatives, as well as the many, many other worker-owner hubs across the state (like Athens). I also appreciate that the author points out the battle for local ownership of energy grids in Colorado which has been happening in Ohio for decades, along with the expansion of aggregation for buyers to band together to purchase electricity at the community level. Those kinds of policies are allowing consumers more knowledge of real energy costs and to be actively engaged on issues of expanding renewables. All of these issues in the article show the need for citizen engagement to go beyond the voting booth and cooperatives of all kinds accelerate that action.
So as we discuss the needs for food work in our communities, let’s research and include ideas like cooperatives and worker-ownership right up front.

The Cooperative Economy | Orion Magazine.