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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Louisiana Update #9: A post-flood visit with a market farmer

Spent Wednesday morning tagging along with Copper Alvarez on her BREADA Small Farm Fund site visit to Lucy Capdeboscq’s home and farm near Amite. Copper has been crisscrossing the state seeing farmers who are reporting losses from this month’s floods. It’s important to note that BREADA is not focused only on their market farmers needs, but doing their best to get funds to any market farmer across the state.  Although one of Lucy’s daughters had been one of Red Stick market vendors in the past, Lucy sells only at the Saturday Crescent City Farmers Markets down in New Orleans. As a result, she was surprised when Copper contacted her by phone, asked if she had damage and then offered an evaluation visit in case BREADA’s fund might be able to help.

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Of course, no decisions or promises are made during the visits about any support, but as Lucy commented, the contact and visit were very welcome. Crescent City Farmers Market is also reactivating their Crescent Fund and has already had Lucy fill out their short form to receive assistance. The Crescent Fund is hoping to raise enough money to handle the 8 or so CCFM market farmers who have indicated losses, by quickly offering up to $1,500 for their farm needs.

To get to Lucy’s place, one turns off the main road at the permanent sign indicating it is also the direction to the legendary Liuzza strawberry farm. Although their famous berries are still a few weeks from being planted, other products like cucumbers could be seen in some of their fields. When you know that Lucy is a Liuzza by birth , it is clear why she lives amid those fields, (just off Jack Liuzza Lane) on the land deeded her by her parents. She and her late husband Allen raised their children here and kept their land productive even when they took on other professional occupations.

Allen and Lucy joined the Crescent City Farmers Market shortly after it opened. The Caps (as their farm name is known) were a huge hit immediately due to  Lucy’s charming customer service and Allen’s practical sense for growing their traditional yet innovative items. Lucy’s arrangements of zinnias and lilies with her decorative okra, hibiscus buds and her legendary sunflowers have remained market favorites since those early days.  As Poppy Tooker wrote in the 2009 Crescent City Farmers Market cookbook: “Lucy and Al have built a reputation for forward thinking innovation. They were the first to try early harvested rapini and green garlic made so popular in California.”

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Lucy’s okra, used for her bouquets.

To me, the Caps are a quintessential market vendor type: growing traditional and newer South Louisiana products on a small piece of land behind their home within sight of other family members also still farming. As a matter of fact, on one of my visits to the farm years ago, Lucy told me how much she was looking forward to letting a shopper know that next Saturday that their favorite item had been planted that week and would soon be back at market. That deep awareness of specific customer likes seemed to me then (and still) to be the best illustration of the personal touch of direct marketing farming that I have come across in my site visits.

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Louisiana Update # 8: The natural cost

 

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The flood leaves a watermark stain on the tree’s leaves as U.S. Geological Survey surveyor Scott Hedgecock works to survey the water levels along the Tangipahoa River along Highway 190 just west of Robert, Louisiana. (Photo by Ted Jackson NOLA.com )

Climate change is not entirely accepted, even by those for whom it should be obvious possibly because it is not entirely understood.  People don’t feel its effects as they move in comfort from their air-conditioned personal vehicle to living amid a span of concrete around their glass-enclosed home away from coasts or forests, getting most of their information through a thumbnail headline or from friends who work and live in the very same setting. In other words, industrialized countries.

Another culprit may be the environmental work done in the 1970s and 1980s, which often used unfamiliar phrases that lacked relevancy such as global warming (or even the term used at the beginning of this post, climate change) and focused mostly on national policy changes or in shaming users of resources without compelling evidence of the effect of that reduction. Environmentalists were seen as “do-gooders” who meant well but lacked realistic goals (this was actual feedback from focus groups at an organization I worked at in the 1980s.)

The strong pushback showed the fallacy of engaging ordinary citizens using lofty or scientific terms and  led to many turning to food as an organizing tool. After all, what could be better as an impetus to understanding and sharing the repair of the natural world but food?

Yet in the roll call of environmentalists circa 2016, food system organizers are usually in the middle of the pack. Most can certainly outline the issues involved with food production that both imperil and reboot Mother Nature, but are rarely working directly on those issues in concert with environmental organizations. Farmers markets have done an admirable job on promoting entrepreneurial activity and improving access, but efforts to highlight the stewardship of the natural world by market farmers has fallen a little behind.

I hear our great writer Wendell Berry exhorting us to remember the farmers:

“Good farmers, who take seriously their duties as stewards of Creation and of their land’s inheritors, contribute to the welfare of society in more ways than society usually acknowledges, or even knows. These farmers produce valuable goods, of course; but they also conserve soil, they conserve water, they conserve wildlife, they conserve open space, they conserve scenery.”

The  “eyes to acres” ratio suggested by Berry and Wes Jackson needs to be included in regional planning theory and in the metrics that assess our work. Within the framework of disaster, the acknowledgment of the need for that ratio could mean”deputizing” farmers to supply immediate indicators of the level of destruction.

Disasters point out the fragility of a place and at the same time remind us of the strength of human ties and the resolve of communities. Following that line of thinking, deeper knowledge of local and regional systems would help knit everyone more closely together, allow for rescue and recovery to happen faster even as it is offering a narrative with more relevancy to those in far-off but similarly sized food systems.  If the watershed or the regional system for food production were one such way to describe the need among those participating in food initiatives, assistance could be met one farm, one family or even one small town at a time.

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Louisiana Update #7: Online support

One of the innovations I have seen in the decentralized recovery efforts (and we have moved from rescue to recovery, with rebuilding as the next step to come) is the idea of aligned organizations in New Orleans using Amazon and other online sites and their direct shipping to buy supplies for their sister organization in one of the flooded zones. Or, create or use accounts for those registered with them and send them items needed directly to the households the next day!

What we learned here in years past is that sending funds to a general account can delay support as it means that checks have to be deposited or  those knee-deep in flooded homes have to manage the funds away from recovery work, wherever internet connections and computers can be found.

This method allows friends outside of the flooded zone to upload the list of items and then those items to be purchased and sent directly to those in need.

Here are 3 of those; the first one in the Baton Rouge area and the second in the Acadiana area:

Together Baton Rouge

Blessings For New Iberia             Their Facebook site

The third may require a little added explanation: Many folks across the U.S. see Mardi Gras only as a time of debauchery, but in reality, it is a celebratory Lenten public event with deep community attachments. Most of the “krewes” that parade are actually social aid clubs that give back to the community throughout the year. The list of their good works is too long to list, but here is one of my favorite walking clubs that will use the direct donation process to help with recovery. They have a list of folks to send the items directly to via the online purchases made by the organization.

Dames de Perlage

I have encouraged some of the farmers in the Acadiana parishes to do this as well, as there are few if any food or farming organizations in the area to collect support on their behalf. As I receive those, I’ll post them in future updates.

For those farmers in the Baton Rouge areas, BREADA has had an active small farms fund for over a decade that will help many such farmers. I saw a sign at the New Orleans farmers market suggesting that Market Umbrella will also be setting up a farm recovery fund that will support their farmers on the North Shore hit hard by this event. More on that later as I get more information.

Truly the recovery has been managed most ably by on the ground organizations, tied together to others via word of mouth, social media or texting. The larger organizations are working as well, but seemingly unable to process real-time innovations or absorb local help very well. This is the new reality of disaster zones:  two separate efforts working at the same time, rarely transecting and with different expectations. Sounds a lot like the food system.

 

 

 

 

Louisiana Update #6: Food for everyone

Local-girl-made-good Fleurty Girl CEO Lauren LeBlanc’s FB update shows how the Louisiana culture of food and community comes together when needed. Everyone who was in the Gulf Coast from 2005-2008 remembers how a good meal after hours of tearing out drywall made it possible to come back the next day, and since eating red beans together outside in some tailgating/parade chair is a familiar practice here, normalizing.

Some of our busiest and most celebrated restaurant chefs have been the first to get food out in the worst areas after various disasters.  Just like in 2005, John Besh and his fellow chefs were set up feeding first responders in flooded areas within a few days. 

Free food/hot meals on Saturday, August 20th:

DENHAM SPRINGS:

-Chef Alon Shaya (!!!), of Shaya restaurant in New Orleans, will be cooking red beans and rice with the John Besh Foundation in the Ryan’s parking lot at 916 S. Range Ave in front of the Wal Mart at noon tomorrow.

-The Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation will be grilling burgers in the New Covenant Baptist Church parking lot at 215 Florida Ave (next to James’ Grill) starting serving at 11am.

-A group of NOLA friends will be grilling 1,000 burgers behind the Whitney Bank on Florida Ave in Denham Springs. They’ll also have 800 cookies from Moonshine Bake Shoppe.

-Christ’s Community Church will be setting up out front and serving 6000-8000 hot meals for lunch and dinner at 26574 Juban Road.

ALBANY
– Located at 30057 N. Cafeline Rd. Sat. August 20, starting at 11am, Red Beans, Smoked Sausage over Rice, bread & Cake

GONZALES
-Truckload of non-perishable food will be distributed at The Christian Assembly at 41258 Hwy 941 in Gonzales starting at 2pm.

-Hot meals for lunch and dinner served in the parking lot of Fellowship Church at 10757 Airline Hwy.

PRAIRIEVILLE
-Hot meals for lunch and dinner served in the parking lot of Fellowship Church at 14363 Hwy 73 in Prairieville.

ST. AMANT
-Hot meals at The Church in St. Amant at 13423 Hwy 431 in St. Amant, LA 70769.

ROBERT
-free food and misc supplies in the parking lot across from Robert Supermarket. Should get started at 11am.

Whether you’re cleaning your own home or helping someone with theirs, you’re gonna eat GOOD Saturday! ❤️❤️❤️

10,500 hot meals from @OpBBQRelief distributed at Denham Springs at Sams Club Sunday. Will be doing it again Monday.CqajnEtUsAAe27J.jpg