Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A First Day and An Inspiring Event

So I am not sure if I had any real concrete expectations for how today was supposed to go, but it certainly trumped anything I could have imagined. As the title of the post reads, I will summarize my first day in bullet points with a brief reflection, then on to the inspiring event of the evening.

- Yochi sits me down and after having met a wonderfully friendly and relaxed staff, tells me he will be leaving in two weeks (it was not his intention to keep this from me). He will be going to law school in Oregon. Good for him... wait what??
- Sammi, who also heads all the interns, and 1/2 of the time serves on the board for executive strategy-stuff, will be taking over his position and working with me for the rest of the summer. Sammi is a very nice woman, with whom I had lunch today along with Yochi. 
- Aside from the conventional orientation of how the company works (its organizational structure is fascinating, 6 out of its 12 members on the board are staff members!), what I will be doing (planning Fair Trade programming for the Green Festival in October, researching and writing on fair trade producer profiles, data entry from Fair Trade Tour contacts), I began to see how important my work is going to be
- Green America distribution database for its fair trade publications and events reaches out to more people than any other non-profit agency in the country.
- For this summer, I am bearing the brunt of the work in planning, writing about, and organizing this division of Green America. 

= WOW. I am not surprised that most non-profits are cutting back (Yochi had expressed disappointment that another staff member was not hired, but the fact that Green America had to cut 20% of its annual budget this year serves as a valid explanation), but to give the responsiblity to a 20-year old college kid? I really do not get surprised very often but this definitely caught me offguard. I am excited to know that among the other interns (about six other, none of whom have arrived yet) I pretty much have the coolest job. I am proud to know that non-profits with the prestige and reputation, such as Green America, can still empower youth to take on challenges even with the possibilty of failure. It will be a very fun summer.

- Evening Event - 

      So William, my brother's fiancĂ©e's roommate, invited me to this Local Food Sustainable System book presentation thing, hosted by DC Central Kitchen, at Busboys and Poets, a cool hip place where they have poets come and great coffee and a bookshop that helps the community (basically the coolest place ever). Anyways, the people up there represent the book that has been written about this local food movement - socially, economically, and environmentally responsible. We have all heard the local food ideal, the dream of 'knowing your farmers' and being able to purchase locally bought food from your farmers' market or grocery store. 
     What I saw tonight, hearing the collective story of a food chef, a non-profit social entrepreneur, a food distributor, and a country agricultural agent, was REAL. It really did get to me. Knowing that DC Central Kitchen, which already has the logistical resource and infrastructure to feed millions each year with reclaimed food, has partnered and coordinated with restaurants, big food distributors and packagers, grocery stores, health agencies to create this beautiful bridge between local growers and the DC populus - it makes me smile inside. Now there is an understatement. 
       Michael Curtin, from DC Central Kitchen, said that "We can create great change and engender empowering forces using only the resources in our community". This dream, however hard and impractical it may seem, makes perfect sense, and it works. 
       We'll call it a 'Cost-Effective Cooperative Distributorship' using non-profits, coalitions, farmers' markets, and businesses to create a beautiful relationship. It almost seems unreal, but what really intrigues me is a complete lack of policy. Where are the tax breaks for these restaurants or the local farmers, where is the funding to really get this across the city (some neighborhoods in DC still can be referred to as 'food deserts')? I thought quite at length about this, and concluded that in DC, these people did not have time to wait for policy or local government.
         So let us travel 2,800 miles south (a little West) to wonderfully gentrified and segregated Birmingham. Not only can the local government not take care of its water system, but the food system is nowhere near what is happening here in DC. But the potential is there. The interest is certainly there. And perhaps the financial and organizational backing may be there as well (from the non-profit sector, of course). We just have to find it, build it, and push it. Push it in to the minds of chefs and restauranteurs to go and talk to their growers and meet their farmers (now there's a novel idea). Create a supply chain of middle-man distributors, connecting 'food deserts' to reduced cost locally grown produce that does not sell. And MAYBE the local government will chip in, but I certainly do not plan on waiting for them. 
          As Michael Curtin and Robert Egger (founder of DC Central Kitchen) clearly put it, after I expressed my frustration with this dysfunction here in Birmingham, 'We aren't inventing something new, we aren't creating something from nothing, we are just taking the system we have now, applying a much more sensical and ethical community-based, environmentally friendly, healthier, and more economical approach, and learning a new way to fish'. So who is with me?

- P.S. - Garden planted by the end of the week! I promise!

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