New England Organic Farming Association (#NOFAsummerconference) is for more than farmers. This year's conference was focused on Decolonizing and Regrowing our Food Systems: The Work of Our Time. I spent this weekend in-person and online learning more about gardening but also about organizing Worker Coops, Solidarity Economy and picked up some great advice on websites and social media.
It is a one-stop conference to get engaged and learn. And bonus—Michele Parrish of the Western Massachusetts Fibershed (#westernmassfibershed) had a session on the great work regional Fibersheds are doing!
Real Customer Connection and Business Marketing
I started out the conference attending a marketing session. Not your typical session filled with ways to target your 'leads.' It presented a relationship-based customer model. The model centered around customers satisfaction leading to growth rather than the endless marketing to get customers to purchase.
The presenter exchanged the Growth in the Hubspot image below with Customers, signifying the true connection that comes from listening to customers and working to fulfilI their needs. It also illustrates how this journey is one built on mutual respect. I felt refreshed listening to someone talk about sharing what matters to them and listening to what matters to their customers.
It is a total paradigm shift that needs to happen and not soon enough! We all need real connection, and even in social media and emails, this can happen if we just focus on it.
Creating Worker Co-ops (and more)
The next session was on creating worker co-ops. It was a basic crash course, but I needed it! It delineated the different types of Co-ops: consumer, producer, worker, housing, and mixed membership co-ops. It also defined what is needed for a business to be a co-op.
At the center is control of the business by workers owners. Structures may vary, from boards running the organization to a total democratic model, and in between. Finally, the discussion touched on how the US government views co-ops as business entities, such as LLCs and co-op corporations, and briefly outlined some benefits of such organizational structure.
It was refreshing to listen to the group discuss why co-ops are such a great model but also the pitfalls of co-ops that can taken over by governing boards. I remember listening at last year's Radically Rural to a discussion on electric co-ops around the nation where electric consumers didn't understand that they were member owners, had a vote, and were responsible for electing the board.
It is a warning that not all co-ops are equal and that democratic principles are work. Co-ops aren't a panacea but a good model that needs full participation to be fully democratic.
Another session introduced me to concepts I had heard in disparate places, unified under an economic definition.
"[S]olidarity economy is a global movement to build a just and sustainable economy where we prioritize people and the planet over endless profit and growth. Growing out of social movements in Latin America and the Global South, the solidarity economy provides real alternatives to capitalism, where communities govern themselves through participatory democracy, cooperative and public ownership, and a culture of solidarity and respect for the earth." New Economic Coalition
During the session we broke out in groups and read about organizations working together to promote democratic concepts and constructs. We read several stories, each unique in how businesses cooperated for mutual benefit.
It was surprising to me to read about the Green Bay Packers organization and ownership model. I had heard that its ownership model was different and that is what helped it survive while smaller cities lost sports teams. But I didn't realize it was owned by fans. And that rather than pay dividends, the stock was reinvested in the team OR given to the community through donations. I am sure it isn't a perfect model, but it seems more equitable than the way other sports teams' businesses are held. Certainly an interesting example to reflect on.
Gardening and Companion Planting
There was more the following day on companion planting. It was a session you would expect at a farmer conference about handling pests by choosing what to plant together and how flowers can help vegetable gardens. And finally, how planting different crops by each other, such as tomatoes and basil, improve soil health and/or drives away pests (flies and hornworms in this case), keeping your garden healthy. There was lots more but the presenter shared her two favorite books to get a start on this type of gardening:
Plant Partners: Science-Based Companion Planting Strategies for the Vegetable Garden by Jessica Walliser, find out more
Great Garden Companions by Sally Jean Cunningham, find out more
Bonus! I learned that catnip plants can be used around gardens to ward away bugs. In fact, mosquitos are said to hate it! Maybe that is why my deck is so bug free this year! Catnip has replanted itself in many of my containers. I keep it around for my kitty and the neighborhood cat loves to stop by and munch. Warning - make sure to plant it in containers - it will reseed and spread, so keep an eye out for it and keep enough to drive bugs away without letting it get too wild.
So what does all of this have to do with sustainable or local clothing?
Lots. The fibers we wear come from plants or animals that are grown on farms. Farming practices related to land, animals, and workers practices, affect not only the land itself but the food and fibers that come from it.
Many models and groups discussing sustainable clothing center around using less and honoring the Earth, its creatures, and the workers who help create sustainable clothes. The conversation is also about building an economy that isn't based on a continual increase in sales that isn't sustainable.
Instead, it's a full shift that's being presented—moving away from consumerism and working toward a more openly democratic vision of the world. I welcome the opportunity to be part of that.