A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to join more than seven thousand youth activists from around the country in Pittsburgh for an inspiring and empowering three days, filled with peer-led workshops, panels, breakouts, and keynotes, culminating in a protest march through the streets and an occupation of a local official’s office that had approved fracking in county parks.
[Activists marching across the Roberto Clemente Bridge in Pittsburgh. Photo Credit: Julian Ehrlich]
We came together to learn more about the different problems caused by the fossil fuel economy in communities all around our country, hearing stories from those being directly impacted first hand. We came together to share the work that we, the people in those communities and their allies, are doing to fight back. We came together to envision what an equitable, just, and thriving future could look like and plan how we are going to make it happen. We came together to organize, strategize, commiserate, and celebrate. We came together for Power Shift 2013.
-October 10, 2013-
I’m starting off the road trip to meet up with Yahya in the land of some of the greenest trees I've ever seen and I’m always excited to get to visit a cooperative I have had the honor to know & love for going on a year now: Down To Earth Food Coop (DTE).
But seriously, they're the most lovable. It's not hard.
Yahya and I go on an adventure with Paul and Lauren to the Goodwill where Paul is getting supplies for constructing a water filter gift, Lauren finds an awesome collection of jars for keeping all the things in, and we find a sturdy table cloth for banner making purposes. On this visit, I also catch a cold, an auspicious beginning for any journey, but Yahya makes some magic garlic ginger lemon honey cayenne tea and I fight it by napping on the futon. The no-bake cookies Libby offers for breakfast-DTE’s catering Newark Bike Project’s opening in their new location-also help. Member dinner features wild foraged foods: chicken of the woods mushrooms, Chinese chestnut, nettles: if I were to choose a place to get sick and try to get well, this would definitely be it. There is some good kitchen table conversation with Elana, Libby and Lauren about some great questions around how to direct the energies of the group, to divide labor equitably, to continue to empower people, size & structure, food politics, & baking times. These are all great problems to have and DTE has opened up space to negotiate and debate these in a way that wasn't offered by corporate foodservice at U Del.
As you may recall from my writings on Auburn, this big school thing is new to me. Yet, while there is learning curve for me in understanding the campus contexts of the schools like Auburn, UNC, and Towson (North of Baltimore); the people I am meeting fill me only with familiar inspiration and excitement!
This is the story of my journey to the Forest Moon of Endor.
I was introduced via email to Tori through Jon Berger of Real Food Challenge. She is interested in starting a cafe/restaurant on her campus, stemming from her involvement with the on campus urban farm. Once again, through our phone calls and skype chats, I thought that things would be hard and that Chartwells would be a monolith in our way. Once again, visiting campus exposed some beautiful loopholes.
CoFED staffers - Lauryl Berger-Chun, Yahya Alazrak, Ruby Levine, Anna Isaacs, and Farzana Serang - can't wait for the NASCO Institute this year! CoFED's work is at the heart of food justice and cooperatives, and so we are especially excited about this year's theme, "A Fire in Our Bellies".
Why can't it just hurry up and be November 1st already!?
After an all too brief sojourn at home in Greensboro I packed up my things and wandered into what would surely a good and new adventure. I drove past familiar road side vistas, not terribly breathtaking on this stretch between the Triad and the Triangle, but familiar still were the Cook Out signs and truck stops. It would be some time before I came back driving the opposite direction.
I spent my evening on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill where FLO Foods (Fair Local Organic) is dreaming of a grocery store where students can have access to healthy local and affordable food. Walking across the quad my belly carried mixed contents of proper nerves and excitement. I had never met these folks before, I didn't know what they expected of me and if I could deliver, but I also knew that this job is one I have wanted since I first learned what a student coop was, this work is love. And like any labor love, the nerves and excitement are what make those first steps special.
In the last two months, I've had the opportunity to take three wonderful trips with CoFED as a regional organizer.
Routes for all 3 trips. Over 2,000+ miles!
The first of these trips, spread over ten days at the beginning of August, was for the Regional Organizer Fellowship bootcamp. Myself, CoFED admin staff (our new Executive Director, Farzana Serang, our Organizing Coordinator, Anna Isaacs, and our Operations and Communications Manager, Megan Svoboda), our four other Regional Organizers (Whitney in the Northwest, Lauryl in the Northeast, Ruby in the Midwest, and Yahya in the Mid-Atlantic), Rebecca, our Community College Program Developer, and our friends, peers, and mentors gathered together for teaching and sharing with each other. We spent most of the ten days in Berkeley and Oakland, except for three days spent on an intentional community in Sebastopol.
Weaving through the back roads of Alabama, I am reminded of a problem plaguing our country: where there were once local business there are now national chains, and perhaps more importantly they are businesses that extract wealth.
Winding around the curves we find the entrance to the Federation of Southern Cooperatives Research and Training Facility and Forestry Center (if you live in the south you can get a membership for only $25). Down the dirt road, and through the woods we arrive at a happy compound of 1 story dorm buildings and a community center.
There is so much to bring me joy in this space, the conference's core constituents are Southern, Low-Income, Folks of Color. These we're definitely the people there, people with histories of creative resistance and who know that what works one place doesn't work everywhere. I was grateful and humbled to consider myself a Southern Person of Color in that space, even if my history was not theirs.
I had an amazing weekend learning about local sustainable food and cooperatives! So, you know, the best kind of weekend. Here's a rundown of what happened:
If you're not familiar with Growing Power, take a minute and browse their website. Food justice, intensive growing methods, bio-mimicry, working in a food desert... Growing Power's got it all. I was extremely fortunate that the day I happened to be in Milwaukee was, by complete coincidence, the one day in October that Will Allen, the founder and visionary of Growing Power, gives the tour personally.
Did you know that the 2013 NASCO Institute is themed "A Fire in Our Bellies: Food Justice and Cooperatives"?
Did you know that the NASCO Institute is a decades old gathering of coop-involved students from around the country, and that this year it's November 1-3 in Ann Arbor, Michigan?
Did you know that, this year, CoFED is a co-sponsor of this amazing event, and that three of our Regional Organizers will be leading a track of workshops?
Did you know that priority registration and scholarship applications end on Thursday 10/10? You can save $50 if you register now, plus you may be able to access a scholarship.
So I (Yahya) started the first little bit of what will be a month of roadtrippin' with Lauryl.
I left Greensboro on Thursday, driving deeper and deeper into the heart of the south. The stillness of the landscape, almost as a witness to the histories (sic) here, of pain and subjugation, resistance, survival, and a quiet anticipation of hope. There were many deep breaths, and many hours of windshield mind sorts of meditation.