Today, along with some lovely volunteers (shout to Rosemary Courtright, Dennis Kimbrough & Venessa Pustek, you saucy ladies!) and I represented the Kitsap Community Food Co-op at the Kitsap Human Rights Conference. I’d never attended this conference and haven’t had a lot of opportunities to staff our booth, so it was a great chance to hang out with our amazing member-owners, rub elbows with some folks around the county who hadn’t yet heard of the co-op and network, network, network!
Setting up our little table I marveled that we hadn’t considered this audience before now. Here were people from all over the county, from all walks of life and age groups, representing myriad organizations, all there for an overarching common goal- to increase awareness of the basic human rights of human beings in our home community, and how to make sure that we’re taking care of each other.
I attended a session on microfinance which is particularly interesting to me as I’ve just returned from at trip to Uganda in October, where I taught a workshop to Ugandan midwives at a birth center in a small village. It was apparent to me how important family connections are, and how in developing communities, women are the center hub that holds so many pieces of it together. Nurturing a family’s ability to take care of itself from the ground up is critically important, and speakers Suresh Krishna of Grameen Financial Services and Craig Chelius, co-founder (with our own Ed Cable) of The Community for Open Source Microfinance, spoke in clear terms how directly microfinance affects families, which in turn, affects communities, improving them.
The other session I attended was on Food Democracy with Jonathan Garfunkel, Rob Purser and Ed Mikel from The EduCulture Project. Sitting at two tables of attendees, we discussed what the term ‘food justice’ meant to us. In the context of social justice, food justice encompassed access to information, access to options, safe, affordable food, and so much more. There was a lot of frustration at the table at the state of our food system and how inequitable it is for those who most need it. What to do about it? Fortunately, everyone at the table was in high support of the concept of a food cooperative- where each store is a reflection of the values of the community that creates it. Those co-ops, like fingerprints, are never two the same. The greater food web is made up of these smaller systems which allows diversity and something that human beings have loved since we first thought of it- trade!
As President of the co-op, I walk away wondering how we as a cooperative can do more to bring access to local food to the communities who most need it- our lower income neighbors and family members, those without access to easy transportation to shop for quality food, those who live in food deserts. It’s always been a priority of mine to make sure our co-op reflects our community- one which has a large population of people who live near and below the poverty line. How do we give everyone equal access to good food, and still balance paying our producers fairly for the hard, incredible work they do? I don’t have clear answers to this, and I know that as we evolve,we will develop innovative ways to approach these issues in sustainable ways.
Currently the board is exploring ways that we can start getting food out to the community. Our member-owners are asking for it, the producers want to be more involved and feel that this is the best way for them to do it. We hear the call! We are looking at several options of how we can, in 2013, bring food to the people. When I close my eyes, I see children reaching for bunches of carrots, college students taking home bags of salad greens, picked that day and still dewy from having been recently washed. I see money changing hands with joy and pride, where it feels equitable, and rewarding to do so. I see a loop that doesn’t necessarily look like a circle, but more like a heart- because it is the center of all we do.
I’m excited to continue talking with our community members about how we can bring food to the community, and also create the means to provide access to information, and access to that food, for the families who might not otherwise be able to choose it. I personally feel that having access to safe food is a human right- and I feel lucky to be a part of a business that feels the same way.