Monday, May 19, 2008

Setting CHC apart from the crowd

How do we stand out among similar organizations to become the "go-to" resource for Puget Sound area food and farming news and programs? How do we set ourselves apart from the crowd? How do we increase our value to the community and, in particular, to our members?

I guess the first point to address is whether or not there is a competition between all of the various "green" organizations. In a very general sense, no, there is not. Each organization purports to work toward a similar goal: a better world.

In a specific sense, yes, there is. Each organization has specific methods and tactics to create their vision of a better world and sometimes the strategies or vision of one group push or pull against another. I'll credit Andrew Stout, the owner of Full Circle Farm, with the phrase "coopertition", which is when organizations in the same industry work both competitively AND cooperatively. For example, say there are two farms, each offers a CSA program. One farm specializes in greens, the other in root crops. If they sell/trade their products to each other to add more variety to their CSA programs are they competing or cooperating? Is coopertition a good thing? According to the fundamentals of capitalism, the competitive aspects of the marketplace will foster/force greater innovation, creativity and effectiveness.

But, as a non-profit, we're not developing products for the marketplace, quite the opposite, part of our mission is to create useful programs that aren't available in the marketplace and work with people and groups not served by the general market. We provide programs that aren't commercially viable without external funding.

So, how are we stacking up against our "coopertition"? Well, it seems like we're doing pretty well. We are updating our methods of communication and information dissemination and making strides to improve the quality of information provided. See the new PSF newsletter for an example of both strategies in action.

I think that last point is especially important to our effort to step up and stand out: quality. I believe that, in a word, quality will answer all of the questions posed at the top of the post. With green organizations sprouting up every week or so, our continuing mission will be to have the highest quality information and programs for our community and members. Quantity is valuable in certain contexts, but, in the long run, quality is what people want and seek.


Article roll-call:

FarmLink gets mention in Seattle PI article about young farmers' difficulty finding reasonably priced land in King County

Farm bill helps some Washington farmers, but fails to change most galling policies

Friday, May 16, 2008

Summer days ahead....

Looks like we're in for a mini heatwave this weekend! Temps are already climbing above 70 and the forecast predicts highs in the 90s by Saturday. Which is ample reason to get out of the sun and into the temperature-controlled and fully air conditioned Tacoma Dome for the fourth annual Pierce County Livable Communities Fair. Kidding! If you're in the neighborhood, please stop on by and visit our booth...we'd love to see you there. If you're not in the neighborhood, then get outside and enjoy the sunshine.

I hope that the sun stays around, as we're heading out to the Tualco valley for a Tilth Producers Farm Walk at Willie Green's Organic Farm this coming Monday, May 19th. It should be a grand time, especially if we get some sunshine.

Writing of Willie Green's, we just recently interviewed the farmer and owner, Jeff Miller, which is published in the new and improved Puget Sound Fresh "What's Fresh NOW?" newsletter. If you're interested in signing up to receive the newsletter, which comes out every two weeks throughout the growing season, please send me an email (

Random big thought for the day:
Many food products are grown or harvested in one place, then shipped to another to be processed cheaply, then shipped back to the original place to be sold, but that system's economic calculus is based on cheap labor and cheap energy and doesn't factor in the waste and pollution caused by the transportation. Success is measured by profits, with little regard for health (human and planet), social justice or the future. The current model doesn't work in the emerging conditions of the world. How will we change it for the better?

Good thing it's sunny. Go out and ponder this large idea and let me know what you find!


Article roll-call:

Measuring pollution on grocery bills

Food, friends are vitally important aspects when wine tasting

"Lollygagging" sturgeon collect in a giant ball to lounge, spend quality time together


Rising food prices=more gardens

Monday, May 12, 2008

Systems Thinking, part 2

Okay, so I had a whole weekend to work through my thoughts on the KCFFI visioning process and ....surprise! My thoughts haven't changed too much. I'm still a bit overwhelmed by the whole process and because we spent most of the time throwing ideas into the air instead of nailing them down, there are not many concrete tasks to report.

A tool that I picked up at the workshop that I think will extend into my professional and personal life is decision-making frameworks. I am excited to see how the various frameworks interact and look forward to critically analyzing the organization and development processes to figure out which methods work best for the initiative and, in a "side" project, my life. As a person who wants to make decisions based on my values, a strong, thoughtful framework is critical to my sanity and consistency.

Other stuff:

We got a glimpse of the latest version of the website today. Ryan stopped by to give us a brief overview of the Drupal program...we didn't get much of a chance to fool around with the program, but it was great to see the improvements in the layout/design and to learn a bit about how we'll manage content on the site.

We had a strategic planning meeting for Food Lust to make sure that we're all on the same page and working toward success for the final few weeks. It looks like we're headed in the right direction, but we're still short on wine for the bottle brawl and desserts for the dessert dash. If you're interested in donating either, please let us know.

Have a great Monday.


Article Roll-call

Mark's pick: Increasing food prices help shift our focus to a more sustainable agricultural economy

Urban sprawl is killing Puget Sound

Friday, May 9, 2008

Systems Thinking, or the day I learned about the importance of establishing core values

Hey gang, a great week...lots to report.

My Wednesday and Thursday were dedicated to attending a "visioning and planning meeting focused on organizational and systems thinking" for the King County Food and Fitness Initiative at the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center. Not just a mouthful, but a brainful as well. Going into the first meeting on Wednesday, I was prepared: I had blank paper; my favorite pen; some slick, professional clothes on; and an open mind. I definitely needed that last item.

First, let me write that I was incredibly impressed with the quality of people that attended the workshop. There were Leadership Council members, various industry representatives and, most importantly, many community members from Delridge and White Center. Also, the attendees were racially, ethnically and every-which-way diverse. In fact, out of 35 or so people, I was one of two white males. I think that's impressive. For me, that was fairly unusual. I pride myself on being accepting of all people, but most of the time, I'm probably with people that look like me. Most of us are like that. So, when I took a look around the room Wednesday morning, I got a little excited and thought "this is good. This is the diversity that we've been trying to capture. I think we'll get some interesting work done." Then I thought "oh, great. We're going to get nothing done, as everyone will either A) tip-toe around important issues for the sake of "political correctness" or B) no one will agree on anything and we'll spend all day arguing and forming into factions to plan against each other and promote singular views." Pessimistic, I know, but I've seen so-called "collaboratives" function in both ways (A and B) and neither way is effective or enjoyable.

Well, my initial thought was more accurate. The people that chose to show up did so because they believed in the vision of a better future for Delridge, White Center and King County and wanted to work collaboratively toward that vision. Very exciting.

**Note: I am having difficulty writing this. So much happened at the workshop, much of it in broad brush strokes of grand ideas...I'm not belittling it, quite the opposite, it's just hard to capture all of it, especially so soon after taking part. Bear with me.

Okay, in an effort to keep y'all interested and to make this a manageable post, I'm gonna sign off for the moment and try to process all of my thoughts, then continue with this topic on the next post.


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Stokesberry Sustainable Farm Walk/Meat Meeting

On Monday, Mary and I traveled South for a WA state meat processing working group in Olympia...a meat meeting. Steakholders. Ha. After the meeting, we hopped over to Jerry Stokesberry's Sustainable Chicken Farm outside of Olympia for a Tilth Producers Farm Walk.

The meat meeting was a follow-up to a preliminary meeting held at the Small Farms Team Retreat in early April. The goal of THIS meeting was to determine whether or not there was sufficient support from the attending organizations to move the group from under the Small Farms Team into its own working group. Looks like we have another group formed! For now, the primary functions of the group are: to support the Puget Sound Meat Producers Co-operative (PSMPC) and their effort to build a USDA Inspected mobile slaughter unit; to wade through the language of the various regulations and connect with the regulatory agencies to compile a useful document that will help everyone (producers, buyers, processors, etc.) understand more about local meat production and processing; and to establish a collaborative network that will act as a sounding board and informational clearing house for future meat processing projects.

It was a fun meeting for me, because every time I think that I have my head wrapped around one of the many issues that we're trying to tackle, I'm presented with another angle/new information/different regulations/alternative approaches. I guess I'm learning that, while it's all part of the larger "food system", each issue has its own flavor and nuances. For instance, I did some research about the USDA and how to get a processing facility certified. It seemed fairly straightforward. Little did I realize the politics behind the curtain of simplicity. Turns out, you CAN call the number listed on the website to try and get someone to come out to inspect your operation, but you'll most likely end up verbally sparring with a series of machines. To actually get someone with enough inspection clout to encourage moving the process forward, you need to work the politics...start flipping through the rolodex to see who you know, who might know someone who is in the know. Sorry. I guess I feel a little flummoxed.

Many of CHC goals are simple and make sense to those with ample common sense, but often, the simple goal is shrouded in complicated regulations, contracts and sub-contracts, local vs. state vs. federal agency policies, and too many acronyms to count. Yes, many of those layers are installed for our own good ( ex. health dept. standards), but some of them seem gratuitous. Am I railing against government? Maybe a little, but my point is that these projects take a lot of behind-the-scenes moving and shaking and anytime the local food movement can claim success it means that a lot of people put in a lot of time to make it happen. One example is the recently passed Local Farms, Healthy Kids bill. That effort was built on guts and conviction. It took a lot of people from a lot of different groups working together to get that thing off the ground and into State Law. Hopefully, the PSMPC will be the next shining example of victory.

Okay, that's all for now. More to come on Thursday.


Article roll-call:

Mark's Choice: Reviewing our culture of consumerism, offering a case-study of an alternative way

McGovern-Dole Program

Olympia Food Waste Recycling

How "green" is biodiesel? Who produces it? From what? How much? What's the future for biodiesel as a viable energy source?

Follow-up to last week's piece about the growing scarcity of neighborhood grocery stores...this article comes from the other coast.

Weaning American farmers off high-priced food prices

Friday, May 2, 2008

Weekend activities

Hello faithful readers! It looks like we're getting into a good blogging groove over here at the Good Sheppard Center. We'll try to post frequent updates to keep you informed.

This weekend promises lots of fun, educational, and CHC endorsed events for folks of all ages. On Saturday and Sunday, Seattle Tilth hosts its annual Edible Plant Sale. This is a wonderful chance to buy interesting and unusual varieties of edible plants for your garden and to show your support for a wonderful local organization. I suggest going early, as it's a hugely popular activity and they will run out of the more popular varieties (ex. Sungold Cherry Tomatoes).

On Sunday, Sustainable West Seattle is hosting their first Sustainable Festival at 4314 SW Alaska St. (one block West of the Alaskan Junction). Mary will be speaking on a panel and putting on a booth. It should be a rip-roaring good time, with some interesting and different activities, like: an "Un"drivers license booth, a bike maintenance booth, and Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin.

Also on Sunday is the Southern-style Community Oyster Roast benefiting the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance.

Looks like a great weekend all around.


Thursday, May 1, 2008


Lamb sleeping on ewe. Credit: Bruce Dunlop, Lopez Island Farm


Seattle lowers fees for Farmers Market permits

Inconvenient grocery stores?