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.

Citizens should lead

A link to my reviews of 3 new books that may inspire some to get thee to city hall or at least remind us of the possibilities of better design of urban places.

On a related note, I think every food system organizer (really, every organizer) needs to know Jane Jacobs.  One new book that I am still working my way through may help those of you not interested in reading about her life story or diving into her classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Vital Little Plans is a collection of many of her shorter pieces and her talks, including some of what she wrote on her way to publishing Death and Life. One of the editors (Storring) works at Projects For Public Spaces (PPS),  a consulting firm well known for its market technical assistance, Placemaking tools, and workshops. (Exciting news: They should be announcing their 2018 Public Market Conference location very soon too.)

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Readers will find classics here, including Jacobs’s breakout article “Downtown Is for People,” as well as lesser-known gems like her speech at the inaugural Earth Day and a host of other rare or previously unavailable essays, articles, speeches, interviews, and lectures. Some pieces shed light on the development of her most famous insights, while others explore topics rarely dissected in her major works, from globalization to feminism to universal health care.

Buy it near you at an independent bookstore.

The Circular Economy | The UnSchool

Closing the loop on production, consumption, design, and the economy

The circular economy is a smarter and more effective way of producing high-need things with high-value in the economy and with much less waste, pollution, exploitation, and other negative impacts.

By taking this class you will get a 360 degree perspective of what the circular economy is, how it applies to different levels of decision making, and theories and practices that have gone into making it work today — biomimicry, cradle-to-cradle & sustainable design strategies, and product service system models.

Source: Enroll in Course for $45

Home Place Pastures to Become USDA Processing Plant in Mississippi 

If you read the From 0 to 35 in Mississippi post here last fall, you know that the good food revolution in my neighboring state has been lacking a few important items to help build their capacity such as USDA processing facilities. The news of one opening in MS is very, very welcome as without it, producers are severely limited to what, where and how much they can sell. Let’s hope this is the beginning of a new level of infrastructure for direct marketing family farms across the Magnolia State.

Here is a good site for producers of niche meat processing to have handy.

Source: Home Place Pastures to Become First Slaughter, Processing Plant in Mississippi | HottyToddy.com

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”

From 0 to 35 in MS

I have worked with markets and farmers in Mississippi for a dozen years and have found more barriers to getting regional food accepted than in most other areas of the US, yet also have met some of the most optimistic and capable people  working on it there.
What’s interesting is that in going from a deeply (still) entrenched commodity/plantation culture of farming directly to a new economy of small family farming for markets and restaurants can mean that some of the middle steps can be skipped, which is beneficial to innovative growers.

In other words, the situations is similar to what has happened in many non-industrialized or colonized countries in regards to technology; having skipped the landline era, the new users adapt much more quickly to the technology of mobility*.
I can see this leapfrogging in play for sustainable farming in the Gulf States with new farmers pushing the envelope with pesticide-free and heirloom varieties at markets and in CSAs, rather than  being influenced by the less inspiring midcentury distribution system that hardened growers’ experience into growing the hardiest and tasteless products to ship.
The area around Oxford MS is one that is ready for takeoff. The small farmer markets offer organic products at a higher rate than the New Orleans farmers markets for example, and the average age of the vendors seems markedly less than the US average, to my unscientific eye. The chef quoted in the article below is a pal of mine and had been the Board President of the New Orleans-based Market Umbrella before Katrina, and now is a leader in the regional food movement in Oxford. He offers his knowledge to the markets and farmers around the area as well supporting the leading agricultural advocates, Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network (MSAN), which was founded with Wallace Center support a few years back. Corbin and MSAN are good example of the quiet revolution happening up there.

Additionally, the folks in Hernando MS (north of Oxford, closer to Memphis TN) are leading the state in innovative healthy living strategies and thinking deeply about how to expand regional farming to support those strategies. Their weekly market is large enough to attract serious attention from regional funders and even policy makers, and I have hopes that they might soon attempt to create a year round market.

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Waterloo, Louisiana: An Open Letter to New Orleans – Antigravity Magazine

The published letter linked below was written by one of our region’s most innovative direct marketing bakers, and (obviously) one with a great deal of sensitivity and wisdom. Graison has struggled with getting the ends to meet in his tiny business (even while he is unquestionably the region’s preeminent bread baker), much less in it pulling him to the place he dreams his business should be.
He and I have talked a few times about the lack of support for small producers in our region and I can assure you that he is ready to talk with or work with anyone willing to further the needs of he and his peers, but to little avail.
I recommend that people read his essay and also read between the lines of what would drive a full-time baker to spend his time writing and publishing this. If you want my response now, it is because he knows what is at stake is his entire future and the future of the healthy food revolution that may never reach maturity unless we deal with the issues that small businesses face everyday: the lack of infrastructure support, duplicative regulations, half-hearted allegiance to local ingredient sourcing among shoppers, refusal by many (most?) to address vital environmental concerns in food work, commodity-type products taking most of the shelf space-if and when local is even invited, the lack of skilled workers available, necessary policy changes not handled by organizers of food initiatives and so on.
So ask yourself-are you doing everything you can as often as you can for your anchor vendors?
Waterloo, Louisiana: An Open Letter to New Orleans – Antigravity Magazine.