Opinion: Slow and Deliberate

I wrote this in 2008 about our work in New Orleans. The colleague from New Orleans was our dear departed Marilyn Yank.

You, me and Farmer McGee
Here I am at my second food conference in 2 weeks. Luckily for me, both were in areas I had not spent any time in: Chandler AZ, and Santa Fe NM. The first had over 550 food activists (the picture is of the living mural added to each day by an artist listening in on the discussions), and the second convening was for about 75 food people within the 4 Corners region.

Clearly, much effort is expended to have local foods represented at these things and to be held in locations that represent transformative work that others can learn from and can also support. For example, the first, in Chandler, is home to the Pima tribe, which has the sad measure of over 90 percent of their people diagnosed with diabetes. As they work desperately to turn that around, they finally have money via their recently-won 100-year legal battle to reclaim their water rights. The location of the conference was their new resort where they are recreating the Gila River basin in order to renew their agricultural traditions, even while they build partnerships and pilots to tell their story. This was a thoughtful conference that attempted to address underlying issues that successful local food systems need to address; racism, education gaps, long term poverty, and the other isms that have held our society back from being truly successful.

The second was put together with the wonderful folks from Farm to Table in New Mexico who have always inspired me with their work on food access, food culture and food sovereignty. I was asked to participate in 2 workshops around market issues and had the pleasure of listening to my fellow presenters who worked in the 4 corners region. Excellent, talented practitioners. All that and the natural world of Santa Fe. wow.

I came away with a renewed sense of purpose for integrating social justice issues into the food work, and also with a sense of gratitude for the fellow pilgrims on this road. Gratitude for people who have given most of their total energy and time and brain to the salvation of their food system, which will benefit all of us.

One of these folks appeared on the last day of the second event; a fellow New Orleanian who was in town for a related thing. She had been on silent retreat for many weeks and this was her first re-entry into the larger world via food system organizing. She was shaky after the first afternoon of meetings; physically so, and also seemed a bit taken aback at the swirl of ideas, people and decision.
Her physical reaction was not a surprise to me, as as she tends to be slow and deliberate and solidly intentional in her choices, small and large. To be honest, that has been a tension between us as peers, as I have almost no patience at all and am about action, action, action-absolutely to a fault. But I’m learning.
As we talked on the wooden stairs of the old hotel lobby that sits at the end of the Santa Fe trail, I suddenly saw her as if I was standing behind her on a hillside path, looking over her shoulder at the beautiful but deep canyon she was unwillingly climbing in to, while I could see my path farther along, quickly skirting the canyon to get to the other side. Funny, how visions come.

That vision came partly from the concern I heard in the words she voiced; concern about the missing pieces of the food organizing and also her wariness as to the scale and bureaucracy that was becoming evident in this field.
I understood it.
I understood it and have wondered too if we could withstand the big, fancy words at the dazzling conferences while we attend to the BIGGER work of literally saving the food system daily, weekly here, finding ways to save farmers and fishers and get good food to all. Still using the visionary language and fast ideas that come via these conferences that do seem necessary to build a system that is truly alternative while finding time and ways to comfort and cheer each other on in some authentic fashion.
Can we do both?
Can we hold back the urge to ramp up this work too fast to get to the “winning”, and instead build a regional movement that would be among the first of its kind in our large country? Hold back the glee at being invited to the table and instead insist on staying at the smaller table with more people represented directly- and insisting those decision makers join us there?
Are we brave enough to be truly at “scale” in our ideas and implementations and to have the type of thoughtful yet innovative movement that actually does shift the world. Shift it slightly globally- which is a massive shift locally and regionally, as it should be.
Can we afford to be slow and deliberate?
What are our principles?
Do we know where to stop; what is too big?
Can we truly learn from each other, or are we all just recreating ideas over and over again within a largely protected white activist world vision?
Does our work always translate to indigenous and immigrant communities or are we just coopting ideas and language to spread outwardly?

is this a frontier of new ideas or a unearthing of old ideas?




“Limits” of local

Excerpted from my public market blog:

I’ll leave it to our dean of place, Wendell Berry (with) a passage from his recent essay, “The Thoughts of Limits in a Prodigal Age” where he talks about capacity, scale, and form in agrarianism.
He says: “It is a formidable paradox that in order to achieve the sort of limitless we have begun to call ‘sustainability’… strict limits must be observed. Enduring structures of household and family life, or the life of a community or the life of a country, cannot be formed except within limits. We must not outdistance local knowledge and affection, or the capacities of local persons to pay attention to the details only by which we can do good to one another. Within limits, we can think of rightness of scale. When the scale is right, we can imagine completeness of form.”

That triptych of capacity, scale and form so perfectly describes both the problem and the solution. It also encapsulates why the dominant paradigm cannot “see” us or work in tandem with us. It also beautifully describes the localness of organizing. Those limits are exactly how our founders staked a necessary place in their community and now how we can manage the outcomes of projects or mission with respect to our place.

History: Whole Food Company

I will be posting a series of notes for each major entry for the timeline. If you have info to share, please let me know.

1975: Opening of Whole Food Company at Adams @ Cohn

From Robert Thompson, longtime activist:
We belonged to the Robert Street Coop 1972. Liz and I worked cash register each week. The residents of the house included our friend Steve Samuels and Rick Moss (Tulane students). A buyer went to French Market and bought seasonal stuff. Food was arranged like a store. Buyers circulated around and bought what they wanted. Afterwards a guy from the Marengo St commune would come and buy up all the remaining food. This coop functioned during school year. Summertime the student members left, and those of us who lived here would combine efforts at coop on Cohn Street. The serious player there was an acquaintance named Armand Jonte. He was later a chef at Gautreaux’s I think. Seems like there were a couple of roommates with him on Cohn, I’ll try to figure who. But Armond was in my mind the soul of the Cohn St Coop. There was always talk of a storefront and I think by the second summer they made the move from Cohn Street to the Coop store building by the cemetery. –

October 1974:  Whole Food Company (WFC) opened its doors in New Orleans in Its mission was to be a grocery store featuring good, wholesome food. Sales doubled each year for the first four years. By 1978, the store (only 1100 square feet) was doing more than $1 million per year. (From WFM corporate history)

1981: Opening of Whole Food Company, Esplanade Avenue.
In 1981, WFC opened a larger store on Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans. WFC became the largest outside customer of Texas Health Distributors, the wholesale division of Whole Foods Market. (From WFM corporate history)

From Linda Van Aman, founder of Eve’s Market who (along with Claudia Dumestre took over the original WFC location before moving to Freret):

I worked at Whole Foods Company from 1981-1987, mostly at the Esplanade store, first as a grocery stocker, then as department manager, then in upper management.  Somewhere in there, WFC opened a deli & grocery outlet in the Riverwalk mall, which was unsuccessful and closed fairly quickly (not sure about the timeline on that). In early 1987,Whole Foods Market was positioning itself to expand into Louisiana (their first foray outside of TX), and Peter Roy was going to sell them the Esplanade store and close the one on Cohn St.

1988: Purchase of Whole Food Company by Whole Foods Market.
(From WFM corporate history) In May of 1988, the Esplanade store became the sixth Whole Foods Market.

(From Charleston Magazine, SEPTEMBER 2006) Peter Roy, who grew up with four sisters in a fifth-generation New Orleans family. In 1975, Roy began working at his sister’s new natural food store, Whole Food Company becoming its president in 1978. In 1988, Roy merged it with Whole Foods Market and moved to the West Coast to become president of the new California region for Whole Foods Market. In 1993, was promoted to president of the Company. “Basically, I bought my sister out and woke up 25 years later.”


2002: Whole Foods Market opens Arabella Station location.