Urgent Action Needed to Save Organic Standards

On Tuesday, December 10, the Senate advanced a version of the Farm Bill, in hopes of passing a bill before the end of the year. While the latest version contains some good news for small independent farmers, it also includes a plan that would weaken organic standards.

Tucked into the final version of the 2018 Farm Bill  is a seemingly innocuous provision that would undermine organic standards by severely limiting our ability to get synthetic and non-organic substances off of the “National List” of what’s allowed in organic food and farming.

TAKE ACTION: Call the Senate Agriculture Committee at (202) 224-2035, then click here to email and call your Senators and Member of Congress.

fresh produce in a basket

Ever wonder why we call it “organic” agriculture?

Lord Northbourne, who coined the term in his 1940 book, “Look to the Land,” compared “chemical farming versus organic farming” and described an “organic” farm as one where: “The soil and the microorganisms in it together with the plants growing on it form an organic whole.”

Sir Albert Howard, who adopted Northbourne’s term for the title of his 1947 book, “The Soil and Health, A Study of Organic Agriculture,” emphasized organic agriculture’s use of organic matter to create rich compost to feed soil microorganisms, improve soil fertility and produce nutrient-rich food.

The Rodale Institute, founded in 1947 by J.I. Rodale, has elevated the significance of “organic” being “carbon-based.” Rodale’s research shows that if we converted all global croplands and pastures to regenerative organic agriculture we could sequester more than 100% of current annual carbon dioxide emissions.”

USDA Organic regulations codify these values, defining organic production as:

A production system that is managed … to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.

Unfortunately, the National Organic Program has failed to enforce this definition and has instead encouraged the growth of three disturbing trends in the organic industry:

That’s why, every six months, we take consumers’ demands for real organic to the public meetings of the National Organic Standards Board. The NOSB is the standards-setting body for USDA Organic that decides which non-organic substances can be used in organic food and farming. Every five years, each of the non-organic substances allowed in organic is reviewed by the NOSB. The substance will “sunset” (be removed) unless the NOSB votes to keep it in organic.

The corporations that are making money from the use of synthetics in organic don’t want us to have a voice at the NOSB. They have been lobbying Congress to make make it harder for the NOSB to end the use of synthetics in organic:

  •  The poultry and egg industry has spent $1,395,000 so far this year lobbying Congress. Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member and Farm Bill author Debbie Stabenow has been receiving campaign contributions from Herbruck’s, an “organic” factory farm in Saranac, Michigan, that is raising six million birds that produce five million eggs daily.
  • The Coalition for Sustainable Organics, the hydroponic industry front group, has spent $180,000 lobbying Congress.
  • DSM North America, the company that sells DHA and ARA, synthetic nutrients heavily marketed through organic foods for infants and children, has spent $90,000 lobbying Congress so far this year, and has spent as much as $495,000 in past years.

How would the 2018 Farm Bill make it harder to get synthetic and non-organic substances out of organic?

Under the 2018 Farm Bill, which could be voted on as early as today, two-thirds of the 15-member NOSB would have to vote in favor of removing a synthetic material from organic in order to get the material out of organic.

On the surface that might sound reasonable. But here’s the deal. Historically, the NOSB would approve a synthetic chemical for use in organic solely on a temporary, five-year basis, until an organic alternative became available. After the five-year period was up, the synthetic ingredient would automatically drop off the list of allowed substances. The only way it could stay in organic, was if two-thirds of the NOSB members voted to keep it there.

The change being proposed in the Farm Bill—which allows a synthetic material to stay on the list indefinitely unless voted off—was actually already enacted through a policy change, during an NOSB meeting in 2013. That controversial decision, opposed at the time by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Sen Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), principal authors of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, triggered protests and a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The lawsuit was dismissed in May of 2018. However, the court provided the plaintiffs, which include Organic Consumers Association, a roadmap for a future legal challenge. Here’s what that looks like: We need to wait for the five-year approval period for a synthetic material to expire. If the material isn’t re-approved by a two-thirds vote, and isn’t dropped from the National List, we could mount a legal challenge to get the material removed.

That’s exactly what proponents of the proposed change to the Farm Bill don’t want to see happen. So they’re using the Farm Bill to legislate the change, in a move aimed at preventing the courts from overturning the 2013 NOSB policy change.

TAKE ACTION: Call the Senate Agriculture Committee at (202) 224-2035, then click here to email and call your Senators and Member of Congress.

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Inspiring Video of the Milkhouse Dairy Farm and Creamery from The Real Organic Project

In response to the lack of enforcement of some vital USDA Organic standards to protect soil health and animal welfare, organic farmers rallied together to fight to protect the integrity of the organic label. The lobbying efforts of Big Ag ultimately won, allowing the input-dependent confined animal operations and hydroponic industries to bend the rules for their own benefit. Family farmers meeting the letter and spirit of organic law are suffering while consumers are once again in need of transparency in the market place.

In the summer of 2018, we inspected and certified over 50 farms according to the Real Organic Project standards. Each of these family farms has demonstrated their commitment to growing food in living soils and raising their animals on pasture. Please watch and share their videos below!

Know Your Farmer Videos Featuring The Milkhouse Dairy Farm

Watch the Milkhouse Video

The Milkhouse Dairy Farm and Creamery in Maine milks a small herd of 30-35 rotationally grazed cows. Due to their desire to sell their milk and yogurt to local consumers and processors in their community, they’ve recently been notified that their contract with Horizon Organics will be terminated. Listen as farmers Caitlin Frame and Andy Smith tell their story and share a glimpse of life on their farm.

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Food Fork Lab’s 12 Days of Christmas

 

Celebrate the holidays with Fork Food Lab and our members! For the 12 Days of Christmas we are doing 12 different and unique events! Join us for one or all! All events are donating a percentage of profits to Full Plates Full Potential.

http://www.forkfoodlab.com/12-days-of-christmas/

12/1 Gingerbread House Workshop (Adult)
12/4 Wreath Workshop
12/6 Mastering Meal Prep – SOLD OUT
12/7 Relax and Snacks
12/9 How to Start a Business in 60 Minutes
12/10 Wrapping Paper Workshop
12/11 Tacos & Beer
12/13 Workshop: Macaron Decorating 6PM
12/14 Italian Cooking Class
12/17 Bake and Take – SOLD OUT
12/19 South American Happy Hour
12/20 Middle Eastern Pop Up Bakery

Full Plates Full Potential Campaign: https://www.fullplates.org/campaigns/fork/

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Please spread the word among the shellfish harvesting community

Greetings all – The Downeast Fisheries Partnership is hosting a shellfish industry listening session on December 12th, at the Seaworthy Event Center, 23 Main St., Milbridge, from 11:30am-3:00pm (lunch will be provided). 

Clamming is an important fishery in eastern Maine but landings are going down. Please attend and share your thoughts about what’s happening, a first step toward sustaining this fishery. Please help spread the word! Harvesters, shellfish committee members, wardens, buyers, and others who understand and care about clamming are welcome and encouraged to attend.

This listening session won’t solve all of the challenges facing clam management- it can’t change warming waters and won’t stop green crabs from eating clams. What it can do is get the right people together to talk about issues in the fishery. This session will be the beginning of a process where those of you who work the tides and depend on this important fishery, convene to better describe what is – and isn’t – working. The only way to make sure shellfish harvesting continues to support families and communities in eastern Maine is to come together, air out our concerns, and start working to make things better. 

The Downeast Fisheries Partnership (downeastfisheries.org) is strengthening river and coastal fisheries to sustain thriving communities in eastern Maine. 

For more information contact :

Mike Thalhauser, mthalhauser@coastalfisheries.org, 367-2708, or

Anne Hayden, ahayden@manomet.org, 725-9742.

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Maine Is Scaling Up its Local Grain Economy

https://civileats.com/2018/11/26/maine-is-scaling-up-its-local-grain-economy

Joel Alex didn’t have experience with grain malting or a business background when he launched Blue Ox Malthouse at 27. But he saw a need.

In 2012, Alex met a craft brewer who said he was unable to find local malt, the primary ingredient for beer making, in Maine. Instead, the brewer was buying malt from Canada, via a New York distributor.

That was Alex’s “Aha!” moment. “I said, ‘I want to fix this,’” he recalls. “Somebody had to do it.”

Within four months, the wiry, intense beer aficionado left his job and apartment and secured a $1,000 grant to develop a business plan. He spent the next 18 months learning about malting grain and running a business—often while living out of his car. By 2014, he had found a business partner and a location in an empty warehouse in Lisbon Falls, half an hour north of Portland. One year later, Blue Ox was in business, producing malt from barley, wheat, and other grains produced by Maine farmers.

Malt is produced by soaking, germinating and drying grains, and it imparts beer and other foods with distinct flavors, depending on the type of grain and technique used. Today, Blue Ox sells 10 styles of malt to 90 craft breweries, both within and outside of Maine, and has the capacity to process about 1 million pounds of raw grain each year. In business-speak, Blue Ox is a “gazelle,” young and very fast-growing. It’s also one of the two largest traditional floor-malting facilities in North America.

In floor malting, the grains are germinated and dried on a stone floor, rather than by mechanized germination chambers and dryers. Craft brewers often favor these traditional malts because the process imparts richer, more aromatic flavoring than industrial malting methods used by larger brewers and distillers.

Joel Alex, founder of Blue Ox.

Joel Alex, founder of Blue Ox. (A video showing Blue Ox at work with their malting floor is embedded at the end of this article.)

Alex is one of a dynamic cohort of innovators who are working to reshape Maine’s agricultural landscape—from farm to processing to market—by bringing back the production of high-quality, heritage, and landrace grains lost more than a century ago to the Midwest. Such efforts have been percolating in the state for decades, similar to others taking place in states like California, Pennsylvania, and New York. Now, these businesses are poised for growth as an inter-connected group of financiers, agricultural researchers, and business support groups works to help them revitalize Maine’s rural landscape through bread, pastries, noodles, and beer.

Revitalizing Rural Communities

The long, steady demise of Maine’s paper mills has left a gaping wound in the state’s rural economy, with thousands of job losses and poverty rates climbing from 13 to 14 percent in 2000 in the state’s northernmost counties, to as high as 19 percent in the latest census. Development groups like the Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI), the Maine Grain Alliance, Slow Money Maine, and Focus Maine believe that rebuilding a grain value chain can help pump some life back into rural communities.

“We’re looking at the market opportunity,” says Gray Harris, a senior program director at CEI. “With the explosion of craft brewing and artisanal baking, there is market demand for flours and malt and heritage and local grains.”

Maine also has the land base to supply the entire Northeast with high-quality-premium grains, according to Tristan Noyes, director of the Maine Grain Alliance. Some 50,000 acres are currently cultivated by potato growers, most of whom rotate their crop with grains, such as rye, wheat, and oats, to maintain soil health. Historically, however, these grains have been plowed under, used for animal feed, or sold to commodity markets, which fetch an average $150 per acre, according to Noyes.

In contrast, potatoes gross about $3,000 per acre, which is why many Maine farmers haven’t bothered to invest in producing grains for specialty markets like restaurants, bakeries or malthouses. Instead, they’ve viewed crop rotation as lost revenue.

“Our challenge is to incorporate these grains in a way that creates value for farmers and the specialty markets,” says Noyes, a sixth-generation potato farmer who also grows landrace flint corn on his organic vegetable farm in Caribou, Maine.

Noyes tells farmers, “Don’t look at it as lost revenue; look at it as a way to make profit.” In other words, don’t plow under grains; work with a grain processor and make a little money.

So far, around 30 farmers have begun growing for Maine’s grain entrepreneurs, and Harris says they’ve seen success. But there’s room for more.

Blue Ox Malthouse and other processors like it—Aurora Farms and Mill, Maine Grains, Maine Malt House—are tapping into just a sliver of Maine’s vast grain potential, and serving a fraction of the demand from the brewing, baking, and restaurant industries. That’s why CEI and others are raising capital, providing technical assistance, and networking with farmers to help scale these grain processors, and bring more online.

As these entrepreneurs look to grow, they’re all wrestling with how to maintain their local authenticity and help the communities in their own backyards.

Building Growth to Benefit Maine

“Volume isn’t the only way to grow,” says Maine Grains’ co-founder Amber Lambke. She opened the certified organic stone mill in 2012 in a five-story, Victorian jailhouse in Skowhegan, a northern Maine town where nearly one-quarter of residents live below the poverty line.

Amber Lambke, co-founder of Maine Grains.

Amber Lambke, co-founder of Maine Grains.

Lambke, now 44, has been a mover and shaker in the region for more than a decade. She began organizing a farmers’ market in the town to benefit the community, many of whom receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The idea for the baking-focused Kneading Conference arose around her kitchen table in 2006, she says, inspired by local oven mason Albe Barden. Motivated by the conference, Lambke visited millers throughout the Northeast, most of whom were tinkering in farmers’ barns, and attended a class in Kansas to learn how to mill grains.

Today, Maine Grains provides heritage and organic flours and grains to bakers, brewers, chefs, and restaurants as far away as Manhattan, and Lambke is in conversation with Vermont-based King Arthur Flour about a possible partnership. Maine Grains’ mill employs eight people; several small businesses, including a café and yarn shop, also rent space in the building.

Lambke says that slow, steady gains to build the mill’s capacity, while hiring local people, promoting organic farming, and producing food for the community is the kind of growth in which she’s interested.

A common quandary in the entrepreneurial world, she adds, is the financiers want to know your exit strategy, or your plan to sell. “But if that’s not your exit strategy, what is it? What if I want the business to continue benefiting Skowhegan? That might not happen if I were to sell to a larger enterprise that were not situated in Maine,” she says.

Growing with Like-Minded Buyers to Build Organic Farming

For Matt Williams, who runs the certified organic Aurora Farms and Mill with his daughter Sara, growth must come through buyers who share their values. Williams, 74, cites One Mighty Mill in Lynn, Massachusetts as an example. That business provides whole-grain tortillas and bagels, made with the Williamses’ transitional wheat, to Boston Public Schools, and offers a price discount for residents of Lynn, a low-income community.

Matt and Sara Williams, owners of Aurora Farms and Mills.

Matt and Sara Williams, owners of Aurora Farms and Mills.

A pioneer of Maine’s grain movement, Williams began growing and milling organic wheat and oats on his farm in Linneus, just a stone’s throw from the Canadian border, when he was approached by an artisanal baker, Jim Amaral, in 1997. Williams named his mill Aurora, to underscore his partnership with Amaral’s bakery, Borealis Breads.

It wasn’t until 2013, when Sara, then 31, returned home after a decade working in Washington, D.C., that the operation took off. Sara brought a business acumen to her father’s farming and science know-how, and together they expanded the farm from 70 to 350 acres, added buckwheat, rye, peas, and soy to their crop varieties, quadrupled their buyers, and invested in the infrastructure needed to grow the business—grain storage tanks, and additional milling and cleaning equipment.

The Williamses’ buyers include Blue Ox Malthouse and Allagash Brewing, which recently committed to sourcing 1 million pounds of Maine-grown grains annually by 2020. That’s a “very big deal for the state,” says Sara.

Sara dreams of expanding the farm to 1,000 organic acres and to potentially exporting buckwheat to Japan through her partnership with Takahiro Sato. Sato mills the Williamses’ buckwheat groats and handcrafts soba noodles in the kitchen of his Portland restaurant Yosaku. He’s keen to export the Williamses’ buckwheat to Japan, which he says is seeing variable yields with climate change.

Takahiro Sato with the soba noodles he handcrafts in the kitchen of his Portland restaurant, Yosaku, using buckwheat from Aurora.

Takahiro Sato with the soba noodles he handcrafts in the kitchen of his Portland restaurant, Yosaku, using buckwheat from Aurora.

Core to the Williamses’ growth plans is helping other Mainers learn to farm organically. “One of our key roles in this whole deal is empowering other people,” says Matt, a former county cooperative extension agent. “Our goal is to figure out the rotation so that we can help [other growers] scale up more easily.”

Bringing Hope to Neglected Communities

So far, Maine’s grain innovators have created a few dozen jobs. That’s not much, but each business has spurred ancillary economic activity and created powerful ripple effects throughout their communities—spreading organic farming, getting healthier grains in the diets of low-income populations, and bringing back hope to abandoned paper-mill towns.

When Blue Ox set up shop in 2014, the former mill’s dilapidated building was literally casting a shadow over Lisbon Falls, says Alex. It’s gone now, torn down, and businesses are coming back. Two new restaurants carry beers made from Blue Ox malt, and they promote Blue Ox on their menus as part of the local story.

“We were able to help change the narrative about the depressed mill town and get some buzz as we got up and running,” says Alex. “There’s this excitement and revitalization happening; we’ve been contributing to it and we’ll keep building with it.”

Top photo: Floor-malting wheat at Blue Ox Malthouse, courtesy of Diane Shohet. All other photos by Meg Wilcox. A video showing Blue Ox at work with their malting floor is embedded below.

Meg WilcoxMeg Wilcox is a freelance writer based in Boston focused on solutions-oriented stories about the ways people are fighting climate change, protecting the environment and making our agriculture systems more sustainable, including by addressing poverty. She formerly worked in communications at Ceres and Root Capital.

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“Do Good by Giving Up More: A Vision of Restorative Investing” – by Rodney Foxworth

Rodney Foxworth is Executive Director of BALLE, a network of local economy leaders from across the US and Canada. Link to story online.

We live in an urgent time: duopolies and monopolies greatly suffocate the growth of small, local businesses; tax policy overwhelmingly favors the wealthy; corporate subsidies remain a lynchpin in economic development efforts; and the racial wealth gap continues to grow exponentially. Systems changing ideas and beliefs are needed to confront today’s economic challenges.

Greenwood Cultural Center archives

Ahundred years ago, Greenwood, a 35-square-block section of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was home to one of the largest concentrations of African American-owned businesses and wealth in America. Booker T. Washington referred to Greenwood as “Negro Wall Street.” Black Wall Street, as it’s called today, had more than 300 African American-owned businesses serving roughly 11,000 residents.

It all came to a violent end in 1921, when a teenage African American boy was accused of assaulting a white female elevator operator. Followers of American history will know what came next: On May 31, 1921, white residents marched into Greenwood and burned it to the ground. Hundreds of black residents died and thousands more were left homeless. City and state officials were complicit in the violence: Instead of curtailing the riots, the National Guard was sent to detain African American residents into detention centers.

I first learned of Greenwood at the knee of my grandfather, a black man from the South who fought in the Korean War and received a Purple Heart for his troubles. Like millions of African Americans who served in the military during Jim Crow, my grandfather was denied the privileges owed to him from the G.I. Bill of Rights, which provided financial support in the form of cash stipends for schooling, low-interest mortgages, job skills training, low-interest loans, and unemployment benefits.

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” — William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

Most of us know nothing of Greenwood, or how G.I. benefits that helped to build the American white middle-class systematically excluded African American servicemen and their families, denying and suppressing wealth creation in black households for generations. Few of us know anything about redlining and blockbusting, and even fewer are aware that in 2018, financial institutions like Bank of America and Wells Fargo are being sued and fined for discriminatory lending practices in African American and Latinx communities. Indeed, the past isn’t past — it lives with us today.

“If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out that’s not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the blow made.” — Malcolm X

In 2016, a United Nations panel declared that the United States owed reparations to African Americans, as compensation for “the legacy of colonial history, enslavement, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism and racial inequality.” Thomas Craemer, an associate professor of public policy at University of Connecticut, concluded that U.S. slave labor in the 89 years between our country’s founding until the end of the Civil War would be worth approximately $5.9 trillion today.

Chattel slavery. Jim Crow. Redlining. Mass incarceration. Predatory lending. It’s a minor miracle that the racial wealth chasm between white and African American households isn’t significantly larger than it is today.


For over 40 years, the U.S. political economy has been shaped by ideas conceived by Milton Friedman’s “Chicago School” of free market orthodoxy. These ideas have defined much of American social, economic, and political life. In 2017, these ideas enabled bipartisan support (Tim Scott on the “Right,” Cory Booker on the “Left”) for the Investing in Opportunity Act (Opportunity Zones), developed by billionaire venture capitalist Sean Parker, who proudly pronounced:

“Instead of having government hand out pools of taxpayer dollars, you have savvy investors directing money into projects they think will succeed.”

In this narrative, government is bad and market investors are the heroes of American ingenuity. Forbes’ commentary on Opportunity Zones says it all:

“If everything goes right, a big slice of the estimated $6.1 trillion of paper profits currently resting on American balance sheets is about to go to work to revitalize America’s depressed communities. If all goes wrong, however, it will prove to be one of the biggest tax giveaways in American history, all in service of gentrifying neighborhoods and expelling local residents.”

Opportunity Zones are just the latest invention of neoliberal free market orthodoxy. However, the ideology has seeded countless prominent institutions and networks. And as Anand Giridharadas illustrates in “Winners Take All,” its influence is pervasive in left-leaning institutions as well.

Today, with wealth inequality exploding and economic anxiety and political tensions rising, unlikely voices clamor for new ideas and paradigmatic shifts. Hewlett Foundation is investing $10MM over the next two years to support research on new ideas and intellectual frameworks to address problems like wealth inequality, wage stagnation, economic dislocation due to globalization, and loss of jobs and economic security due to technology and automation. In its most recent call for Fellows, Open Society Foundationsinvites applicants to respond to the following provocation:

New and radical forms of ownership, governance, entrepreneurship, and financialization are needed to fight pervasive economic inequality.

Even billionaire financiers Ray Dalio and Paul Tudor Jones acknowledge that free market capitalism no longer works for most Americans. However, they are bereft of ideas on what can be done, turning to platitudes like improving schools, increasing access to higher education, public-private partnerships, microfinance, and creating stronger job training programs. In other words, more of the same. 10 years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, NY Timescolumnist and “Too Big To Fail” author Andrew Ross Sorkin admits that, “capitalism, the way we’re operating it today, is not working.”

Alan Greenspan’s 2008 testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform served as a succinct indictment of the ideology behind neoliberal free market orthodoxy. This exchange between Greenspan and then Committee Chairman Henry Waxman sums it up:

Greenspan: I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms…

Waxman: In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working.

Greenspan: Absolutely, precisely. You know, that’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.

Of course, one can credibly debate whether or not things had been “working exceptionally well” over the 40 years that preceded Lehman’s collapse, with income stagnation, radical wealth inequality, and costs for healthcare and higher education increasingly out of reach for ordinary Americans. Greenspan would note that the “whole intellectual edifice” behind his faith in Wall Street and free markets collapsed in the summer of 2007.

And yet, today in 2018, the free market status quo is tightening its grip. We can recite such frightening statistics as:

  • 82 percent of all wealth created in 2017 went to the richest 1%
  • The world’s billionaires saw their wealth increase by $762 billion
  • The poorest 50 percent saw no increase in wealth at all
  • Median wealth of African Americans could be zero by 2053

We live in an urgent time: duopolies and monopolies greatly suffocate the growth of small, local business; tax policy overwhelmingly favors the wealthy; corporate subsidies remain a lynchpin in local economic development efforts; and the racial wealth gap continues to grow exponentially.

And while governments, philanthropists, investors, and civic leaders seek answers to today’s economic challenges, they lack truly systems changing ideas and beliefs. Opportunity Zones, impact investing, “doing well by doing good” — these ideas spring from the same intellectual edifice as trickle-down economics. It’s a tough fact to swallow, yet the truth of it is no less potent.

What is needed is an entirely different intellectual edifice.


“People should think things out fresh and not just accept conventional terms and the conventional way of doing things.” — Buckminster Fuller

The mainstream ideas that drive our political economy concentrate authority, power, and wealth into the hands of the few, while actively marginalizing, exploiting, and extracting from the rest of us.

Where there was once slavery, indentured servitude, and sharecropping, there is now prison labor, wage theft, and the gig economy. In California, prisoners make up nearly 40 percent of firefighters — saving the state $100MM annually — and earn just $1.45 a day to fight deadly fires. Capital continues to find new ways to, in the words of Ta-Nehisi Coates, plunder. This is fundamental to how our economy works. But it need not be.

In our pursuit of new ideas and innovation, we’ve dismissed history and the collective capacity, genius, and tireless work of communities of color. As Jessica Gordon Nembhard and Edgar Villanueva make clear in Collective Courage and Decolonizing Wealth, African Americans and Native people have a long history of cooperative ownership and democratic economic participation, two intertwined beliefs that are antithetical to the economics of plunder, wealth hoarding, and “market power.”

In fact, the very answers sought-out by Giridharadas, Dalio, Jones, Hewlett, and Open Society can be found in marginalized communities of color that have historically built and operated economic alternatives to colonization, oppression, and exploitation.

Restorative investing is one such alternative. Pioneered by brilliant black women like Nwamaka Agbo and Alfa Demmellash, restorative investing acknowledges the urgent moral, economic, and ecological imperative to share and redirect power and promote collective well-being and social equity. It is an attempt to subvert the systemic injustices that plunder from rural, Native, and majority communities of color, and repair the harm unjustly inflicted upon economically exploited communities.

There is no shortage of leaders and communities who put restorative investing into practice. Inspired by Latin American indigenous movements, Thousand Currents’ Buen Vivir Fund demonstrates what is possible when investors democratize capital, enable community wealth and power building, and promote well-being above the preservation and accumulation of capital. Tiffany Brown and Kate Poole, principals at Chordata Capital, challenge, guide, and support their clients — largely, young inheritors of generational wealth — to invest with a laser focus on racial and economic justice.

In Boston, a network of frontline leaders — including BALLE leaders Aaron Tanaka and Deborah Frieze, alongside Nia Evans, Lucas Turner-Owens, and Mark Watson — work incessantly to build a community-controlled economy that redresses the city’s astronomical racial wealth divide through transformative efforts like Ujima Project and Boston Impact Initiative. And through the Runway Project, a powerful group of women of color — BALLE Fellow Jessica Norwood, Nina Robinson, Konda Mason, and Rani Langer-Croager — audaciously tackle the racial wealth gap and its adverse impact on African American entrepreneurs.

The major criticism levied against Giridharadas’ Winners Take All is that it lacks solutions. This criticism is intellectually dishonest at best — a complex system predicated on unequal power dynamics in which one party controls the purse strings and systemically sets the terms cannot be “solved.” In fact, what Giridharadas painstakingly sets out to prove is that financial elites are winning by the rules of a rigged game. What is required is a paradigmatic shift in the rules — moving from systemic power imbalance and wealth accumulation to distributing wealth and power equitably.

Foundations might prioritize investing in structures that resulted in perpetual community wealth building above their own institutional perpetuity.

Donor-advised funds (DAFs) — which surpassed $110 billion in total assets under management in 2017 — would serve as risk capital largely inaccessible to communities of color due to systemic racism and economic exploitation.

And instead of spending $90 billion every year in tax breaks and cash awards to companies like Amazon to move across states, U.S. municipal and state governments would invest in cooperative ownership, minority-businesses, community-empowered development, and other authentic alternatives for advancing community wealth and economic equity.

There are clear alternatives to the status quo. In order to build a just and equitable economy, we must reckon with our compounding moral debts and heal the wounds caused by generations of economic plunder and exploitation. And for those of us with power and wealth engendered by the status quo, it means giving some of it up — rather than doing well by doing good, it means doing good by giving up more; less privilege, less wealth, and less power.

Philanthropy and investment — indeed the act of giving itself — is in need of reframing. I’ll leave you with a simple question: What are you willing to give up in order to make lasting systemic change?

Rodney Foxworth is Executive Director of BALLE, a network of local economy leaders from across the US and Canada. This year, we’re calling for a #ShiftCapitalTuesday to refocus our efforts on communities that have been historically marginalized and economically exploited. To support this work, and the collective efforts of the BALLE network, consider a commitment of action by tagging #ShiftCapitalTuesday on Twitter or by making a contribution here.

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On The Road – Downeast Meeting Minutes 10/10/18

An equally excited group of Slow Money Maine planners and participants created our second “On the Road” event in Machias on Oct. 10th. A group of 40 people gathered from varied sectors of Washington County to meet each other, network, hear from for-profit and nonprofit presenters, and dialogue about the pertinent issues of wild blueberries and marketing/distribution needs for producers in the region. A tasty locally sourced lunch capped the enlivening gathering and everyone clearly seemed to confirm, and benefit from, our new outreach intentions. Special shout outs to our fabulous SMM team of Avery and Maggi, along with significant help from Cheryl Wixson, Regina Grabrovac, and discussion facilitators Marada Cook, Frank Pecoraro, Lisa Arhontes-Marshall, Tom & Theresa Gaffney, who helped make the day a great success!!!!

Maine Presenters:

Theresa Gaffney/Highland Blueberry Organics
Together, Tom and Theresa Gaffney have been stewards of Highland Blueberry Farm since 1988. They began transitioning their farm from conventional practices in 1999 and their wild Maine blueberry fruit and wild Maine blueberry leaves have been certified organic by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) since 2002. In that time, together with a community of family, friends, and wise advisers, Tom and Theresa have been learning how to minimize what man has done to “cultivate” the plant and fruit, while maximizing what God has perfectly created. This principle has guided the care of the fields, the nurturing of pollinators, harvesting and processing, and the care of staff and customers. As a part of Highland Blueberry Farm, Highland Organics® was privileged to introduce the first-ever Organic Whole Plant Wild Maine Blueberry Tea in 2006.

Theresa and Tom Gaffney/ Highland Blueberry Organics
Email: highlandblueberryfarm@gmail.com
Phone: (207) 567-3763
Highland Blueberry Organics

Highland Blueberry Organics Presentation 2018


Ian Yaffe/Mano en Mano
Mano en Mano was founded after a group of Latino farmworkers decided to exit the migrant stream and settle permanently in the Milbridge, Maine area. Through advocacy, educational programs, access to essential services, affordable housing, and community-building projects, we help farmworkers and immigrants plant their roots and thrive in Downeast Maine and beyond.

Ian Yaffe
Email: iy@manomaine.org
Phone: (207) 546-3006
www.manomaine.org

Mano en Mano 2018 presentation


Inez Lombardo/Machias MarketPlace

The Machias MarketPlace provides a link between small family farmers, and our community by offering a year-round market for locally grown fruit, veggies, dairy, meat, and more. For many years now, the Market has orchestrated this supply/demand dance. We have reached a moment in our evolution where it is time for the next high-energy generation to build on where we have been and to explore the next phase of Market potential.

Inez Lombardo
Email: machias.fmp@gmail.com
Phone:(207) 255-0605
machiasmarketplace.org


Nadine Preston/Mother Shuckers Lobster Shack
Email: Deani_re@yahoo.com
Phone: (207) 259-1254
FB:
Mother Shuckers

The Story of Mother Shuckers


Breakout sessions:
Two engaging simultaneous breakout sessions occured after our main presentations. Both were equally attended and lively, thoughtful, helpful conversation kept both meetings going until the lunch bell was rung!  Each group has asked to remain connected in order to continue the conversation.  This…. is Slow Money Maine at its best!

All things Blueberry
Marketing and Distribution from Downeast Maine

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Two Programs to Support Beginning Farmers

The Farmer’s Edge

A 10-week, on-line business course designed to give farmers the skills and tools needed to cultivate financially sustainable businesses. Whether they struggle to understand the basic economics of their business or just want to increase their farm’s profitability, this course is for them!

Group sessions begin in December 2018 and meet on-line for 2 hours each week. The first hour is devoted to a specific business topic, such as QuickBooks or Cash Flow Budgeting. The second hour is an open discussion for participants to ask specific questions about their businesses. This format combines the benefits of a business workshop and one-on-one technical assistance, with the added value of peer-learning.

At the end of the course participants will have:

  • A straightforward bookkeeping system designed to help them manage their business
  • A cash flow budget and the tools to make sure they stay on track
  • Systems for understanding all the costs in their business
  • A strategy to grow their business profitability in the coming years
  • Financial analysis to decide where to focus their time and money.

In other words, they will have a plan to increase profits!

I’m offering an “early bird” discount for folks who register by November 15th.  More details can be found on my website.

If you would like to offer scholarships for farmers who couldn’t otherwise afford this class, let me know.

The Farmer’s Office – Online

The Farmer’s Office – Online is a self-paced, online course; a video version of my book, The Farmer’s Office. For farmers who learn better by watching (rather than reading), this is the tool for them. It offers 13 video courses, from QuickBooks to Cash Flow Budgeting to Reaching Financial Statements.

In addition, farmers can get live support by attending the regular live webinarsas well as “office hours“.

At the end of the program, participants will have the skills and tools needed to confidently grow their business and improve profitability.

If you would like to offer your clients/farmers access, send me an email and we can discuss volume pricing.

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Maine Harvest Credit Project Raises $2.4 Million in Start-up Grant Capital

As of August, 31, 2018, the Maine Harvest Credit Project completed raising the necessary $2.4 Million in startup grant capital. The last commitment, from the Maine Credit Union League brought them right to the mark.  They are very appreciative of the League’s support and advice throughout the process.

Commitments came from a wide range of donors:  Maine Foundations, individual donors, a USDA Grant and support from the Maine Credit Union League.  All have seen the value of creating an institution for a better food system in Maine.

Maine Harvest Credit Project has also submitted their primary Federal Regulatory Application.  At almost 1,000 pages, it was a major effort.  Now they look forward to a few more regulatory hoops and hopefully opening their doors in 2019.

FMI: http://maineharvestcp.org

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Maine Grain Alliance Grant Opportunities

The Maine Grain Alliance seeks applications to award mini-grants of $250 – $1,000 to fund need-based technical assistance (TA) and equipment that will help grain-based business owners secure economic opportunities in Maine.

Grain-based business owners and entrepreneurs demonstrating financial need are welcome to apply. The Maine Grain Alliance is especially interested in assisting participants, presenters, panelists, work-study students, and scholarship recipients of the Kneading Conference which has been held annually since 2007.

The Maine Grain Alliance is a 501c3 non-profit organization. This technical assistance grant program is made possible by the generous support of Skowhegan Savings and Allagash Brewing Company.

Please email completed proposals to: tristan@mainegrainalliance.com

Application Deadline: December 1st, 5:00 pm

Awards Announcement: Late December

Your Application should not exceed 2 pages in length. Please include information on the following:

Brief Business Overview

Brief description of TA/Equipment need

Identified TA provider, scope of work and timeline

TA provider hourly rate

Total cost of TA or Equipment (if a grant from MGA will not cover the full cost of the TA, please indicate how the balance of the cost will be covered)

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