NOLA Vietnamese Farmers on the Beeb

I’ve written about the Vietnamese community in New Orleans in this blog as well as in my New Orleans blog and so am always glad when I see a news story on it, especially one on an international site.

Some background about our Vietnamese neighbors: the community was settled by the Catholic archdiocese and was made up of (originally) two North Vietnamese fishing villages. The land they settled was largely unused and is in the east along the waterways, where fishers have long made their living. The community kept to itself almost entirely until Katrina when their activist priest Father Vien challenged the city of New Orleans to rebuild as quickly as they wanted.

The Vietnamese fishers were active in the fight to get restitution after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and even more so after the 2010 BP oil spill. It is important to note that for fishers, one of the biggest barriers they have for making a living is the massive amount of seafood imported into the US; the standards that local fishers follow, especially those family fishers that largely operate in the “inside waters,” are not expected of those corporations that operate in China and elsewhere. The inside waters fishing seasons are opened and closed based on the size and quality of the catch and so limit overfishing. It is also important to note that many of the fleets operating in the Gulf in the federally-controlled waters are not primarily family or one-boat fishers but instead large companies scooping up your Red Lobster all-you-can-eat buffet items.

The Viet farming community in the East had been less visible pre-2005 with most of the elders growing food only for themselves and for their small Saturday morning farmers market, held from 6 am to 8:30 am or so on Alcee Fortier Blvd. After 2005, the community began to organize efforts and had grand plans to build a community/cooperative farm along the levee, but had some bad counsel and finally, government agencies as well as some cultural barriers (communication style with funders, generational politics etc)  stalled those efforts.

The Veggi Coop is a wonderful initiative and deserves lots of attention; to be clear, cooperative farming initiatives had been in the works there for some years and farming cooperatives like Mississippi Association of Cooperatives have led the way since the 1970s. So, for the focus of the BBC story to be on socialist or communist fears as the barrier seems like a red herring compared to the real concerns farmers and fishers have about organizing with their competitors, no matter from where they hail.

I don’t want to denigrate this story as I appreciate the attention, but the issues for small-scale farmers whether urban, suburban or rural, is profit, not just sales and long term infrastructure support, not just access to markets. What is exciting to see publicized is the cooperative itself; the addition of another cooperative is extremely welcome and in my mind, creating more of them is necessary in order to grow more regional food systems.

What coops like this have done admirably well is to reduce the costs of marketing; my hope is that these fine folks can gain support to next tackle infrastructure and policy issues and to connect their efforts to the rural farmers and fishers across the Lake Pontchartrain watershed. The Veggi Cooperative is one of the few outright success stories in urban agriculture since Katrina (along with Grow Dat Youth Farm) and both should be celebrated for making it in a very turbulent and uncertain time.

*Here is one of the Go Fish/Go Market/Go Farm films of the 30 or so that I made for Market Umbrella with Kellogg funding. This one was about the Vietnamese community:

See all of the films made in that series here.

How America’s Largest Worker Owned Co-Op Lifts People Out of Poverty

New York City is going—in a big way—for worker-owned cooperatives. Inspired by the model of CHCA and prodded by a new network of co-op members and enthusiasts, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council allocated $1.2 million to support worker cooperatives in 2015’s budget. According to the Democracy at Work Institute, New York’s investment in co-ops is the largest by any U.S. city government to date.

Cooperatives are businesses owned and controlled by their members on the basis of one member, one vote. Given enough time, worker-owned cooperatives tend to increase wages and improve working conditions, and advocates say a local co-op generally stays where it’s founded and acts as a leadership-building force.

How America's Largest Worker Owned Co-Op Lifts People Out of Poverty | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community.

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.

Four young farmers start Stone Soup Farm Co-op, on front of worker-owned farm trend |

As a supporter of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, I hope that the expansion of worker cooperatives is as wide as the marketing cooperatives were in an earlier time among farmers. I would like to see market organizations spend some of their time searching for funding to add new farmers and especially encourage new cooperatives. Cooperatives might be especially useful within certain types of markets, like food security markets.

“Each person manages a specific part of the farm. Barnett is in charge of the harvest and what gets included in the CSA shares, as well as some aspects of crop production such as irrigation. DiLorenzo does the bookkeeping, office work, and creates daily and weekly plans to make sure production is on track. Harro oversees the greenhouse production and seeding, and Man takes care of the chickens, maintains the equipment and oversees the apprentices.The four worker-owners, who all live in Hadley, receive equal monthly stipends as pay and if there are any profits at the end of the year, they will get dividends. They declined to say how much their stipends are.”

Four young farmers start Stone Soup Farm Co-op, on front of worker-owned farm trend |

Getting milk to market requires a village- an Afghanistan village

“It’s a small thing, in light of Afghanistan’s many ailments. But what makes this dairy shop truly remarkable is that it is part of an operation that comprises all elements of Afghan society—communists, commanders, shopkeepers, everyday citizens, and yes, even the Taliban. That’s an incredibly rare thing in this war-torn country. But when it comes to fresh milk and butter, Afghans have found something worth not fighting over.”
Afghan milk story