The following first appeared in a December 2012 issue of The Floyd Press.
“We haven’t seen a crowd like this since Vice President Joe Biden was in town,” said Woody Crenshaw, as he greeted an overflow crowd at SustainFloyd’s Dine for a Cause “Souper Supper.”
The December 9th fundraising event, held at the Floyd Country Store, featured a meal of signature soups made with locally sourced foods by local restaurants, along with local breads, wines, apple cider, coffee and dessert. Also featured was a report to the community by SustanFloyd director Mike Burton and a keynote talk by guest speaker Anthony Flaccavento, an Abington farmer and small business owner who recently ran a grassroots campaign for Congress with a focus on community sustainability.
Crenshaw, SustainFloyd board president and owner of the Country Store, expressed his gratitude to the community for rallying together for the event. He thanked Supervisor Lauren Yoder, who was in attendance, for supporting SustainFloyd, a three-year-old non-profit dedicated to strengthening the local economy, protecting natural and cultural resources and promoting education and energy independence.
Burton, who was a farmer before taking the position of SustainFloyd director, began his report to the community by showing a slide of his smiling son. “This is what it’s all about,” he said, referring to the next generation.
He talked about being inspired by environmental author Bill McKibben’s words on small town resiliency when McKibben spoke at the Country Store in 2009, inspired enough that he put aside his love of farming and applied for the SustainFloyd director position.
A lot has happened in the three years since Burton made that decision, including SustainFloyd’s Artisan Trail Tour, the Farm to School Program, a seedling growing project, the Friday night Artisan Market and the Saturday Farmers Market at the Community Pavilion. Burton reported that the Farmers Market made close to 70,000 dollars of income this year. “That’s pretty amazing and we’re very proud of that.”
Other SustainFloyd projects cited were educational initiatives, such as a childhood obesity prevention program; the purchase of refrigerated truck, which can be rented at reasonable rates by farmers; and a two for one dollar value match on EBT (food stamps) spent at the Market.
The SustainFloyd film series has been popular and has spurred community dialogue, Burton reported, announcing that the series will pick up again in January with a documentary film titled Cafeteria Man.
Another SustainFloyd project in the works involves partnering with board members Rick Brown of Solshine Energy Alternatives and Billy Weitzenfeld of the Association of Energy Conservation Professionals to build a mobile solar energy generator. The generator would help “make solar energy real to people” and could be taken to schools, used in emergency situations or to help power Floyd festivals, Burton said. “We’re going to be the first zero energy Farmers Market on the east coast,” he announced to a round of applause from the audience.
About the local economy, Burton posed the question, ‘how do we get from being one of the lowest income earning counties in the region to building real rural wealth?’ “When I say rural wealth, I want to be clear that it’s not just dollar signs,” he said, citing natural and human resources, as well as Floyd’s flourishing art and music community, as examples.
Stating that agriculture is still the driving economic force in Floyd, Burton spoke about the decrease in the number of family farms and farming income, along with the availability of land that could be farmed in the county. He described existing and future SustainFloyd projects for creating sustainable agriculture-based livelihoods and building on local strengths. These include a working model farm, an educational curriculum on farming, and a food processing facility for making value-added products and Floyd brand farm products. “The Amish do it all the time,” Burton said, adding that a proposed cheese making facility would create about 29 jobs at about $30,000 a year, with benefits.
SustainFloyd’s long term goals extend beyond the county with plans to work with other counties to create a major agriculture producing region. Currently, the organization is in the midst of developing a comprehensive business plan for a combined agricultural processing facility in Floyd. Once it is completed funding will be sought through private funders, low interest loans and government grants, Burton said.
He acknowledged all the people it takes to make SutainFloyd happen. He thanked the board members for their dedication, and encouraged the community’s financial support and involvement, saying “2013 will be the year of fundraising.”
Anthony Flaccavento, who was introduced by SustainFloyd board member and past Community Foundation director Andy Morikawa, picked up on that theme at the start of his talk, saying that the financial support of the community is the lifeblood of a non-profit. “The money is stacked against local efforts,” said Flaccavento. He refereed to a recent New York Times series that reported that $80 billion a year in federal money goes to recruiting mostly large, cash rich corporations to come to our communities. Another $60 billion in local and state incentives is spent.
Flaccavento spoke about the emergence of the local economy movement, which grew out of the local food movement about 20 years ago when the question was raised, ‘why is my local farmer raising cabbages that end up in supermarkets in Toledo and I can only get stuff from Southern California or Central Florida?’
He addressed the economic and ecologic context of these times, saying, “nearly four decades of this notion of trickle down economics just hasn’t brought broadly shared economic wealth and prosperity. The good news is that people are beginning to realize it and are saying maybe it’s time to try something new.”
The concentration of wealth and political power creates economic inequality, which is a moral question for some, but it also costs a lot, Flaccavento said. He noted how economic inequality results in an increase of problems, such as illness and crime, which we eventually have to pay for as a society.
Citing the increased environmental impact of human activity in modern times, and a new World Bank report that predicted a possible rise in temperature of seven degrees by the middle part of the century, Flaccavento spoke of the changes ahead. He emphasized the importance of sustainable economic development strategies, such as those promoted by SutatinFloyd. “Everything we can do in community to live within our means has now become a necessity. We’ve got to figure out how to do it,” he said.
SustainFloyd’s youngest board member, Haden Polseno-Hensley, was also one of the evening’s speakers. He spoke for his generation, saying that many of his peers have had to leave the county to make a living, or commute to jobs, burning gasoline and spending money outside the community when they would rather be here.
“I’m not a gardener or a farmer. I’m a coffee roaster, but I am interested in growing jobs, growing wages and the standards of living here,” said the owner of Red Rooster Coffee Roaster. He compared investing locally with stock investment, saying that investing in the future of our community, and saving resources by spending locally, is far more important than investing in the success of another big corporation.
Polseno-Hensley, who was born and raised in Floyd, summed up the evening with an appeal for support. “Everything that has been done up to this point, every grant written and administered, every program enacted, every event planned, everything we’ve done has been accomplished with one incredible staff member, an impassioned and dedicated board of directors; all on the backs of a limited number of large donors, whose generous gifts are, quite frankly, still not enough. We need your assistance.”
He urged attendees to expand their vision of what is possible. “Imagine Floyd being a beacon for all the southeastern United States, a model for how to create jobs and wealth in rural America without losing what is precious,” he encouraged. “It’s not a fantasy. It’s real.” Colleen Redman
Post Note: Visit sustainfloyd.org for more information