2014 resolution: Let’s work seriously on erasing the divide

As we move into another year of organizing around regional food and public health in the US, we are facing opposition that has become stronger and more agile at pointing out our weaknesses and adding barriers to those that we already have to erase. That opposition can be found in our towns, at the state legislature, in Congress and even among our fellow citizens who haven’t seen the benefits of healthy local food for themselves yet.

That opposition uses arguments of affordability without measuring that fairly against seasonality or production costs, adds up the energy to get food to local markets while ignoring the huge benefits of farming small plots sustainably, shrugs its shoulders at stories of small victories, pointing past them to large stores taking up space next to off ramps and asks isn’t bigger better for everyone?
Why the opposition to local producers offering their goods to their neighbors, their schools and stores? What would happen to the society as a whole if our projects were allowed to exist and to flourish alongside of the larger industrial system?
I would suggest that very little would change, at least at first. Later on-if we continue to grow our work-it may be another matter and this fear of later is at the core of the opposition. That fear has to do with the day that democratic systems become the norm and necessary information is in the hands of eaters, farmers and organizers. And so we need to address and keep on addressing the divide that keeps that from happening.

The truth that we all know is that there is already two systems-one for the top percent and another for the rest. Writer George Packer gave his framework for this very argument in an eloquent essay written in 2011 called “The Broken Contract.” Packer argues that the divide in America began to take hold in 1978 with the passage of new laws that allowed organized money to influence elected officials in ways not seen before.
Packer points out that the access to Congress meant that labor and owners were not sitting down and working together any longer. That large corporations stopped caring about being good citizens and of supporting the social institutions and turned their entire attention to buying access in Congress and growing their profits and systems beyond any normal levels.

“The surface of life has greatly improved, at least for educated, reasonably comfortable people—say, the top 20 percent, socioeconomically. Yet the deeper structures, the institutions that underpin a healthy democratic society, have fallen into a state of decadence. We have all the information in the universe at our fingertips, while our most basic problems go unsolved year after year: climate change, income inequality, wage stagnation, national debt, immigration, falling educational achievement, deteriorating infrastructure, declining news standards. All around, we see dazzling technological change, but no progress…
…We can upgrade our iPhones, but we can’t fix our roads and bridges. We invented broadband, but we can’t extend it to 35 percent of the public. We can get 300 television channels on the iPad, but in the past decade 20 newspapers closed down all their foreign bureaus. We have touch-screen voting machines, but last year just 40 percent of registered voters turned out, and our political system is more polarized, more choked with its own bile, than at any time since the Civil War.
…when did this start to happen? Any time frame has an element of arbitrariness, and also contains the beginning of a theory. Mine goes back to that shabby, forgettable year of 1978. It is surprising to say that in or around 1978, American life changed—and changed dramatically. It was, like this moment, a time of widespread pessimism—high inflation, high unemployment, high gas prices. And the country reacted to its sense of decline by moving away from the social arrangement that had been in place since the 1930s and 1940s.
What was that arrangement? It is sometimes called “the mixed economy”; the term I prefer is “middle-class democracy.” It was an unwritten social contract among labor, business, and government— between the elites and the masses. It guaranteed that the benefits of the economic growth following World War II were distributed more widely, and with more shared prosperity, than at any time in human history…

…The persistence of this trend toward greater inequality over the past 30 years suggests a kind of feedback loop that cannot be broken by the usual political means. The more wealth accumulates in a few hands at the top, the more influence and favor the well-connected rich acquire, which makes it easier for them and their political allies to cast off restraint without paying a social price. That, in turn, frees them up to amass more money, until cause and effect become impossible to distinguish. Nothing seems to slow this process down—not wars, not technology, not a recession, not a historic election.

The economic divide and the lack of information about it hurts our movement since many still see us as either too small or too elitist and so delays our work getting to more people that need it. I urge everyone to find a copy of this entire essay and share it and discuss it widely.

Meat atlas maps

meat 3meat 4meat 2meat 7

Link to atlas

Nashville Farmers’ Market Gets New Director: Tasha Kennard, Veteran of Second Harvest | Bites | Nashville Scene

Nashville Farmers' Market Gets New Director: Tasha Kennard, Veteran of Second Harvest | Bites | Nashville Scene.

Study calls for expanding the state’s local produce economy – The Post and Courier

Another excellent report by Ken Meter of Crossroads Resource Center:

Study calls for expanding the state's local produce economy – The Post and Courier.

Report link

West Virginia Training Program for Markets

Another fascinating statewide training program for markets is being developed, this time in West Virginia. Much excellent work seems to be going on there.

unnamedWVTraining FMs

Program information

The Botany of Desire review by Ronstadt

This is one of my favorite books-and is a great one to share with those yet unfamiliar with the issues of GMOs and why less variety in the stores is bad-but I always feel like my description of it to others is wanting. Today, I read Linda Ronstadt’s USAToday review of her favorite books to give for gifts and finally, I have a good 30 second description to share for this book:
The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan: Four essays about plants’ ability to domesticate humans based on our desires for sweetness, beauty, intoxication and control of the food supply. Thought-provoking and at times hilarious, this book is so enjoyable that when I finished it, I turned back to the first page and read it straight through a second time.

Turning up the voice of America – Comment – Voices – The Independent

I have been thinking we need a weekly radio call in radio show for farmers and shoppers and organizers to discuss food and farming just as we often do at farmers markets locally.
Maybe it should be on AM radio?

“… AM, which is simpler and cheaper, is of special value to minority broadcasters. No less important, it really comes into its own during an emergency. Ice storms, tornadoes and hurricanes can knock out power and mobile networks, but not battery-operated radios. AM signals travel further too, enabling a greater number of people to keep in touch. Most importantly of all, the AM industry has one supporter that really matters – the FCC, the federal agency that regulates radio, television and cable.

Last month, the FCC published various proposals to revitalise AM radio. They include looser limits on transmitter power at night and an end to regulations that made it difficult to install new equipment. AM stations will also be allowed to use spare slots on the FM spectrum to boost reception in urban areas. If they work, every devotee of driving around America will raise his voice in thanks.

Turning up the voice of America – Comment – Voices – The Independent.

Watershed organizing

I believe this is a necessary layer of food sovereignty organizing.

“As Lavey writes in a post on the Community Builders website, the map raises all sorts of questions about the way we have developed our population centers:

If states were organized around watershed and the idea that water should be used efficiently, then that conservation ethic could also have taken root in the way places were built. Recognizing that it is both fiscally unwise and squandering of agricultural/open space, towns may have grown up with a more compact, mixed use form because of their performance relative to those two benchmarks.”

At Alcatraz Island’s Thanksgiving Day, the native spirit lives on

By Eliza Strickland, East Bay Express

Do you know where you’ll be at 6:59 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning, as the sun rises over the eastern hills and paints the bay pink? Sure, you could be in bed, visions of turkey and stuffing dancing through your head. But if you crave spiritual nourishment to start the day, join like-minded folks for the Sunrise Gathering on Alcatraz Island, organized by the International Indian Treaty Council. It’s both a rallying point for Indians of the Bay Area and beyond, and a moment when others can express their solidarity with native people. “It’s a gathering to offer thanks, in our way, for the survival of our indigenous nations on this hemisphere in the face of genocide,” says Andrea Carmen, the treaty council’s executive director. The morning’s events include dances by both California Pomo Indians and Aztecs, and a prayer to the rising sun as the first rays hit the island.

Brave souls have been congregating at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco for the early morning boat trip for over thirty years now. In its earlier years, the event was called Unthanksgiving Day and had a more confrontational tenor. It was an explicit rebuttal, Carmen says, to the grade-school construction-paper picture of Pilgrims and Indians sitting down together and happily swapping maize recipes. “That’s not what happened, and we know it,” she says. Over time, the organizers have adopted a more positive tone. “The message of Unthanksgiving doesn’t convey the true feeling of indigenous people,” Carmen says, “which is to give thanks every day for our survival, and the survival of the natural world, and the courage of our ancestors who fought and struggled and resisted to keep our culture alive for us.

New Market Umbrella Director hired

Since Richard McCarthy left in January to take over as Slow Food USA director, the board has been diligently searching for a new executive director for the New Orleans-based farmers market organization. They have found a new director who has long worked in the public health sector in the city on food access, pedestrian and bicycling issues, among many other healthy living projects.
It’s always interesting when a market moves from its founder to the next generation; the market community will certainly be working for a smooth transition and I am sure the new leadership will be very attuned to that fact.
Let the new day begin!


Are YOU The Next BALLE Fellow?

Even if you missed the webinar, there are still many ways to learn more about this excellent organization and this opportunity.

FREE Webinar!  
BALLE Local Economy Fellowship Info Session
Tuesday, November 12, 2013 | 10am PDT/1pm EST

BALLE FellowshipThe search for the 2014-2015 BALLE Local Economy Fellows has officially begun!  Join Christine Ageton and Leanne Krueger-Braneky, BALLE Directors of Fellowship and Alumni, to learn about the only Fellowship program dedicated solely to advancing the local economy movement and how YOU can become the next BALLE Local Economy Fellow.  Deadline for applications is December 15, 2013.  Read More

Where other programs focus on individual social entrepreneurs trying to scale single enterprises, the BALLE Fellowship focuses on local economy connectors – people who each represent, convene, and influence communities of hundreds of community entrepreneurs. This is an incredible opportunity for top innovators to connect with their peers, strengthen their capacity for transformative personal and community change, and help reshape local economies across North America. 

To get the most of out this webinar, please review information on the Fellowship, watch this brief video, and download your application prior to the session.  

Topics covered include:

  • Why the BALLE Local Economy Fellowship is so unique;
  • Common criteria for applicants and the application process;
  • Stories of community impact from our Alumni and existing Fellows;
  • Time for Q&A


Vitality in the hive

Colorful Texan Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower said it best:
“For me, however, the true measure of a town’s vitality comes down to whether it has three non-corporate essentials: a vibrant farmer’s market, a good local pub (or a coffeehouse), and an independent community-based bookstore.”

When I heard that more than a few years back, I thought how true that was and back then, how rare. These days, it seems more likely to find this combination in my travels. Of course, my travels are most often to those places with emerging community food systems, especially farmers markets. But still, it is the combination of these local places that is really important in his assessment and that combination may actually point to indicators of success for those farmers markets.

For example last week, I was sitting in Durham, North Carolina at an excellent coffeehouse, having walked passed a small locally owned/locally sourcing restaurant a few doors down that my airbnb.com host spoke of proudly. While there, my Carrboro pals Sarah and Ben took me to many meals with artisanal specials also locally sourced and then for the same for after dinner cocktails. They debated a number of choices for both quality and level of seasonality in the food and drink and although Durham is still emerging as successful walkable downtown/ neighborhood destinations, there were clearly options. And if you asked people in any of these places if there is a regular farmers market, my experience tells me that most would be able to tell me where and when the Durham Farmers Market happens.

What begets what? Does the market reach a point in its history where its stability and its steady curation of local joie de vivre and talents gives other entrepreneurs the courage to chance riskier ideas and to plant their fair own trade or worker owned or other flag firmly in their ground?
Or is it the market itself that is the main beneficiary of an increase of artisans and localvores in more places around its town and to give its vendors and shoppers the additional comfort and approval to keep on with their work?

I wish more markets were ready to measure their own success and that once ready, would add this indicator: counting the ancillary businesses and fellow artisans whose values align with their local farmers market and asking them to detail how they and their shoppers depend on each other and support each other. To me that success measure data might be best illustrated with those folks as honeybees pollinating their ecosystem, building its diversity and resilience.

Designing Urban Agriculture: A Complete Guide to the Planning, Design, Construction, Maintenance and Management of Edible Landscapes — City Farmer News

This book, coupled with Tanya Denckla Cobb’s excellent book on urban agriculture organizing,Reclaiming Our Food: How the Grassroots Food Movement is Changing What We Eat seem like a good pair to have in any local non-profit’s library.

Designing Urban Agriculture: A Complete Guide to the Planning, Design, Construction, Maintenance and Management of Edible Landscapes — City Farmer News.

Problems with company that services SNAP EBT cards blamed for failures

“Several southeast Louisiana residents reported to WDSU that their SNAP EBT cards were not working Saturday…However, the department says there was a problem related to the company that maintains SNAP EBT card service for the state of Louisiana. They identified that company as Xerox.”
Also in MS:
(and of course, in more than a dozen more states)

What should be striking to markets is the reality that it takes a government shutdown for media to notice the problems with one of the three companies controlling 100% of the states SNAP sales.