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Letter from Don: The Value of Learning

January 27, 2015

This letter was originally published in the Winter 2015 RSF Quarterly.

Don Shaffer - DefaultDear Friends,

If we are serious about transforming the way the world works with money, then we have an obligation to look at the role education plays in it. I know this because I get to witness my children every day engaging with people, playing, and slowly becoming who they will be.

I invite you to think through your own experiences of education. What remains of value? What was painful? What was most important? How did you discover what actually motivates you? And what of your education has informed how you stand in relationships, in your work, and in community? This inquiry leads to the core of the educational process—transferring wisdom across generations. And that wisdom is about how we know and learn rather than what we know.

As this issue of our Quarterly demonstrates, the relationship between individual and community, and the capacity to navigate our own development, and that between ourselves and others, is the basis for a healthy future—and probably the hardest of all “subjects” to teach. This is so mostly because in order to teach it, we first have to live it. Our hope is that money simply supports and follows these paths of relationship, and frees up initiative to educate, innovate, and cultivate community.

Trusting that you had a joyful and renewing holiday season, and we join with you in invoking the best in the New Year for everyone.

Yours,

Don Shaffer,
President & CEO

Strength in Collaboration – A Resource Guide

January 23, 2015

After the stock market crash of 2008 the world was met with a new reality when thinking about economics. One group of Waldorf Schools in the Mid-states region took up the conversation about what this new economic reality would mean for local communities and the non-profit organizations that serve them.

How could communities, non-profits, and small businesses work together to build resilient local economies?

Through these conversations, and the inspiration provided by the Economics of Peace Conference held in 2009, the group decided to develop a guide designed to support conversations and provide resources for building regenerative communities.

The guide titled, “Building Regenerative Communities: Strength in Collaboration” is now available on RSF’s publications page. Below is a note from the authors:

regenerative communities guide imageOur intention in creating the guide is to facilitate conversations which promote deeper understanding, trust and community within and between organizations. We feel that such interaction may lead people to discover ways to collaborate that foster associative endeavors, perhaps discovering ways to share resources to support each other’s work.

The Guide provides a starting point for calling a circle and highlights a variety of tools from which to choose for setting up conversations. It contains several case studies which provide the content to initiate conversation. There are additional web, print and video resources to inspire and urge participants into deep discussion around themes of regenerative communities, associative economics and cultural renewal.

It is given freely and may be shared broadly. It may be posted on websites to encourage its availability.

~ Mary Christenson and Marianne Fieber, June 2014

Social Enterprise Stars Campaign Needs You

January 20, 2015

This update was originally published in the Winter 2015 RSF Quarterly.

Nearly 2,000 people have checked out our 25 social enterprise stars campaign page since September, when we launched our effort to add a wave of new borrowers to our loan portfolio in the coming year. That’s a great start, but we know there’s plenty of room for an even bigger reach if everyone in the RSF community keeps an eye out for social enterprises that could have a greater impact with our help.

Do you know—or have you heard of—established businesses or non-profit organizations in the U.S. or Canada that are doing groundbreaking work in food and agriculture, education and the arts, or ecological stewardship? Please send them our way:

  • Let the lending team know about them by emailing lending@rsfsocialfinance.org
  • Direct prospective borrowers to our campaign page: http://rsfsocialfinance.org/social-enterprise-stars/
  • Share news of our borrower search through social media, using the hashtag #SocentStars.

Not sure who’s a good fit? Here are a few great examples of current borrowers in the arts and education field:

Playworks is the leading national non-profit leveraging the power of play before, during, and after school to transform children’s physical and emotional health. Its programs improve school climate, reduce bullying, and increase student engagement through play and physical activity. Playworks provides public schools with trained, full-time coaches who use recess and play to support learning. Playworks also provides consultative, training services for educators and youth workers

Liberty Source meets an under-recognized need by employing military spouses in U.S.-based business process outsourcing work. Military spouses in the U.S. have a higher rate of post–high school education than the general population but, because of frequent moves and limited job opportunities near military bases, they are four times as likely to be unemployed or underemployed.

LA STAGE Alliance is a voice for the arts sector in the public policy sphere and creates audience engagement resources, operational support, and other programming designed to “raise the floor” for the entire arts community and allow artists to reach increasingly ambitious artistic goals.

Thank you for helping to build the next economy!

To receive a loan from RSF, an enterprise should have the following qualifications—but we’re not asking you to screen referrals. If you think they might meet our criteria, we’d like to hear about them.

  • A social mission in one of RSF’s three focus areas: Food & Agriculture, Education & the Arts, and Ecological Stewardship
  • Incorporation in the U.S. or Canada
  • Strong collateral (which may include pledge or guarantee communities)
  • Funding needs ranging from $200,000 to $5 million ($100,000+ for arts organizations)
  • 3 or more years of operating history
  • Operational profit, or a clear path to profitability in 12 months
  • Annual revenue of $1 million or more ($500,000 for arts organizations)

 

Interviews From the Archives: Siegfried Finser

January 15, 2015

We have created a mini series of excerpts from our archive of interviews in the RSF Quarterly. Lots of wisdom was shared by these individuals who hold deep ties to the roots of the organization as early trustees and staff members. We chose to focus on aspects around money, spirit, and associative economics as these themes are core to RSF’s history – and very relevant to our work today.

The interviews were conducted by John Bloom, now RSF Vice President, Organizational Culture. They were part of his exploration of the guiding thoughts that helped to form what was then called Rudolf Steiner Foundation and now RSF Social Finance.

Siegfried Finser, 1998

John: The term associative economics keeps surfacing. What does it mean?

finser_seigfriedSiegfried: I see three different trends all based on what’s happening in the development of the human soul. One of them is this yearning in the soul for being affiliated with others, for being part of something—community. A great part of that yearning harks back to the time when we were actually part of a clan or family, when we were not so alone standing so completely, self-sufficient, independently in the world. In that ancient time, when we felt part of a whole community, we were all devoted to service, but it was unconscious service. That is the one force in society today.

The second stream has to do with trying to ameliorate humanity’s suffering and starvation, poverty, and pain in our lifetime. We struggle, somehow, to make this earthly life into a better place, a paradise. We long for it to be better, to be as perfect as we can possibly make it.

The third stream is the one that I am and RSF is connected with. I would use the word esoteric to name it. There are young forces deep in the human soul from which our future world will be built. They are just being born and contain incredibly strong potential. Our work is the awakening of those inner forces to the building of a world that is actually derived from human consciousness and creativity. When we work with money, we try to awaken the ethical individual in each of us. The movement and flow of money will be the first earth-bound material to be transformed by human forces to reflect spiritual purposes.

John: This quality of abstraction and money is a hard thing for this culture to understand. Partly, money is usually marketed as something real, something you own. You have commented that money should have a living quality. I wonder if you could elaborate.

Siegfried: The way that we view our wealth, our personal wealth, is to bring it all to a standstill and count it. A balance sheet is nothing else but finances caught at a particular moment. But “balance sheet” itself is an interesting phrase. It implies that it constantly changes, constantly self-adjusts. However, one freezes it for the moment only to be able to grasp it with one’s intellect. Our present way of dealing with money in establishing our wealth is to bring it to a total standstill. In actuality, the greater one’s so-called wealth appears to be, the more it’s moving all over the world.

Siegfried has been a Trustee at RSF since revitalizing the organization in 1984.

Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Veterans to Farmers

January 13, 2015

by Ellie Lanphier

imagine 1 “We are in a time of extraordinary opportunity. After a decade of seismic shocks to our country, from global terrorism to deep recessions and major national disasters, each of the three legs of sustainability-the environment, the economy, and the social equity of our communities-is in crisis. Yet throughout this time a movement has grown which brings great hope for a more healthy, sustainable and prosperous future. It is the movement to produce, access, secure and consume good and healthy food. People are re-awakening to the fact that food is not only the basis for our health but it is also at the basis of traditions, customs and culture that bind us together as family and community.”                – Jim Cochran and Larry Yee, Food Commons 2.0

image 2Veterans to Farmers is moving their Denver, Colorado community towards a local food future with a mission to provide American veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts with pride, education and fulfillment through a permanent source of sustainable income, community and contribution: The family farm. Started in 2011, VTF provides veterans the training necessary to establish new careers in greenhouse farming, while engaging the residential community in creating a healthier, local food system. US Marine Corps Veteran Buck Adams, founder of Veterans to Farmers (VTF), became a leader in organic greenhouse operations when he started Circle Fresh Farms in 2009. Three years later, Adams had grown the business into the largest of its kind in Colorado. In 2011, he made it a company initiative to train and hire fellow Veterans. As interest in the Veterans training program exceeded capacity, Adams realized he would need a much larger space. Veterans to Farmers is currently fundraising for the continuing construction of the Training Center Greenhouse. Learn more about the project in this fundraising video.

The organic produce grown at the Training Center Greenhouse will be sold directly to the community within a three-mile radius, currently considered a food desert. VTF will accept SNAP benefits and sell a percentage of the food on a sliding scale to ensure access, regardless of income. The $1,500 Seed Fund grant RSF made to VTF in early 2014 supports outreach to the surrounding community, advertising SNAP benefit use to purchase VTF’s homegrown food and educating consumers on the environmental and nutritional benefits of buying local.

The produce in the greenhouses is grown using aeroponic, vertical growing towers, which use 90% less water and land than traditional agriculture, while growing 10 times the yield. Each 10,000 sq. ft. greenhouse will grow roughly 150,000 pounds of produce each year that will be accessible year-round.

image 3From Adams’ initial training program, Veteran graduate Evan Premer now owns his own greenhouse and sells the food directly to residents and to restaurant owners, and Veteran graduate Dan Robinson is the manager of the Sushi Den greenhouse.

VTF helps Veterans assimilate effectively, productively and permanently into private citizenry by training them in Controlled Environment Agriculture. The VTF training program is free of charge, a stipend is provided for each Veteran during the 12 week training.

To stay up to date on the great work VTF is doing, subscribe to their newsletter here.

 

Ellie Lanphier is Program Associate, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance

The First Immersion: BALLE-RSF Community Foundation Circle

January 9, 2015

by Catherine Covington

Consider the following: What questions keep you up at night? What do you dream is possible in the world? What part do you want to play, and what special gifts do you bring?

These questions were just a few of the prompts for the 8-minute personal storytelling presentations given by each participant in the BALLE-RSF Community Foundation Circle (CFC), an 18-month leadership intensive which launched in early December with its first in-person gathering in Petaluma, CA. The invitational CFC is a natural extension of RSF’s commitment to building the field of social finance and BALLE’s mandate to connect leaders, spread solutions and attract investment for local economies. The CFC grew out of RSF’s initial gathering of community foundation leaders hosted in Phoenix in January 2014. The big take-away from that gathering was a desire to pursue impact investing, even though many of the community foundation leaders lack the knowledge and support to do so. The CFC was created to address this need and is currently comprised of 11 leaders from 9 different community foundations (full list available here) across North America. With over $2 billion in collective assets, the members of the group are working to align their investments with their missions to serve their communities. Leading the group are facilitators Christine Ageton, BALLE’s Chief Program Officer, and Sandy Wiggins, Senior Advisor to RSF Social Finance.

2014-12-10 03.01.29 (2)

Participants of the BALLE-RSF Community Foundation Circle (CFC)

As a community of practice, these pioneering CFC leaders are focused on advancing place-based, mission-aligned investing by their foundations. The immersive program will support the participants to: strengthen their personal effectiveness in overcoming barriers to place-based impact investment; share with and support one another as they learn to bring their personal stories and passion to the forefront; learn from domain experts; and, intentionally create new knowledge and practices. In addition, members of the CFC are devoted to advancing the field and to making their resources and knowledge available to others doing related work.

The content of the CFC gatherings (4 total over the course of 18 months) is designed around four key challenges that community foundation leaders have named as obstacles to shifting their assets toward local investment: culture, strategy, capacity and investment opportunities. This first gathering was dedicated to participant introductions, framing the need for local investment, solidifying the CFC vision and purpose statement, and discussions around cultural challenges faced at the board, staff and community levels.

There is no doubt that culture, defined by RSF’s CEO Don Shaffer as, “connectivity between stakeholders that drives you toward your mission,” is hard to shift, particularly in organizations with decades of history. Marjorie Kelly, author of Democracy Collaborative’s recent report focused on community foundations as hubs of community wealth building, framed the need for change. “When we ask ourselves, where do we find ourselves right now – what time is it? – we begin by recognizing that the multiple and growing problems we face are systemic. It’s not the people who are the problem, it is the system. We need to build a new economy, create pilot projects for the future. And this means blending theory and practice. We need our theories, but we always need to test them in practice.”

Peter Berliner, Managing Director of Mission Investors Exchange, challenged the participants to ask their organizations these questions related to culture: What is your identity? How do you define success? What is the role of your organization in the community? After further discussion, one participant shared a moving revelation, “Mission got lost in the string of promises we made along the way to our donors. We’ve put ourselves in this situation. . . We’ve tied ourselves to a mirror image of a mutual fund.”

A full three days were spent learning about each other’s personal stories and organizational profiles, discussing challenges, sharing case studies and helping each other set goals related to tackling cultural barriers to change. It was a powerful and rich experience as captured in these closing reflections:

“I’m privileged to be a part of this team which is focused on care, assistance and accountability. Never doubt that a small group of citizens can change the world.”

“You can’t do this work without feeling the passion. I appreciate the safe space and the framework for sharing that will serve not just our communities but the world. I feel like we are on the brink of something very big.”

“Let’s demystify, illuminate this work and its potential, weave together our networks and make place-based investing the norm for community foundations everywhere. We have to find a new business attractor and I believe this work is it.”

The next gathering of the CFC will take place in Asheville, NC in mid-April 2015 with a focus on strategy. I have the privilege of representing RSF along with Sandy Wiggins and am very excited about the road ahead. Stay tuned to our blog for more updates!

Catherine Covington is Manager of Client Development at RSF Social Finance.

RSF Winter Quarterly: Can Learning Transform Society?

January 7, 2015

The transformative quality of learning is top of mind in the latest issue of the RSF Quarterly. Joan Caldarera, Director of the Rudolf Steiner College, San Francisco, offers a reconsideration of the purpose and framework for the future of education. Learn how RSF borrower Foundation For the Challenged empowers the developmentally disabled to lead a full life by providing them with dignity, stability, and independence. RSF Senior Director of Lending, Ted Levinson, gives an update on our campaign to find the next 25 social enterprise stars, and highlights current RSF borrowers doing groundbreaking work in the field of arts and education.

To download an electronic copy of the Quarterly, click here.

Cover from RSF_Education_FINAL

Clients in Conversation: A Three-Decade Relationship

January 6, 2015

As part of our 30th anniversary celebration in 2014, we interviewed with two clients who have had a long-term relationship with RSF. George Riley and Annalee Dickson Riley invested in our Social Enterprise Lending Program in the early years. George has worked for more than two decades as Development Director for both smaller and larger nonprofit organizations, and previously served as the Treasurer of Camphill Village Kimberton Hills. Camphill is an international movement of intentional communities designed to meet the needs of children, youth, and adults with developmental disabilities. Annalee is a trained Waldorf teacher. Mark Herrera, RSF’s Senior Manager of Client Development, spoke to them about their experience working with RSF for nearly three decades.

Mark: You invested with RSF in 1987. Can you recall how you made the decision to join us as an investor?

IMG_0053

Annalee and George

George: Well, I’d been involved with Camphill, not only on the board of Camphill Kimberton Hills, but also on the board of the Camphill Foundation. I believe that we had some conversations with what was then [known as] the Rudolf Steiner Foundation. So, I was quite familiar with RSF and what it was trying to do. It was the natural thing to do, to invest it there.

Mark: What was the source of the funds?

George: My wife and I had come into Camphill with a modest amount of funds, which we had put into a savings account and never really used. When I left Camphill, I had to take the money out and invest it either in another bank or somewhere else. And at that point, the logical thing to do was to invest in RSF, and not just transfer it to another bank.

Mark: Do you have an overall approach to how you use your savings and investing?

Annalee: I had some personal funds at that point also, and had decided to put them in RSF, to let them be used by a Waldorf school that was expanding. I had been a class teacher at the Housatonic Valley Waldorf School in Connecticut. After I left that school, we then used some of the money at RSF to loan to the Housatonic Valley School.

Mark: Do you have overarching goals for your investment account with us?

George: In the early years of RSF, almost all of the lending was done for Waldorf Schools. And we were quite happy to support that. In terms of our overall goals, one of the things that was a turning point for me was that I was involved with the Board of The Christian Community in North America. I was on the asset management committee. At that time we were looking at trying to align our investments more with our values. I became convinced that what we were trying to do with our money in The Christian Community was to minimize the amount of harm we were doing. That didn’t make sense to me when it seemed that there was an alternative – where we could do active good. And so, I began to work with that Board to try to get more of our funds out of equities, out of the stock market, and into RSF.

In the course of the conversation with RSF about alternative investments, I learned it was possible to take one’s IRA and, through a third-party organization, invest that in RSF. I had always assumed that that had to be just simply stashed in the stock market, like it or not. It certainly made a big difference to me because I was able to take what to me was a significant amount of money out of the stock market and put it into RSF. And I was very happy about that.

Mark: Can you both reflect on the changes that you’ve helped make possible at RSF over the last 27 years?

Annalee: Well, I certainly have been impressed with your work where women are trying to get businesses started. I’m just very impressed with that initiative. To me, it falls under that sustainable community where individuals within a small area are able to produce goods that can serve the community as well as the society at large.

George: I always followed with tremendous interest in what was happening in terms of new borrowers in agriculture; seeing what can be done to foster alternative approaches, both in agriculture and in food processing and retailing. And I think the whole area of investing in for-profits is also being very judiciously done, with an eye toward really looking at the social benefit of each enterprise.

Mark: Has your perspective about finance or investing changed over the course of your working with us?

Annalee: I’ve just seen RSF as being so innovative in looking for ways in which they could help small companies grow. Whenever I hear someone who’s trying to get something off the ground, I just think of you immediately.

George: I think as time goes on my original conviction that the current economic system is just simply not sustainable has become increasingly more evident. I’m just really pleased that we can put our money in a direction that’s actually doing something good in society, that’s actually transforming and is also creating an alternative economy. I’m really delighted that RSF is a very important part in that.

Annalee: I’m just so happy that we’re part of RSF and the work that you’re doing.

George: I feel blessed – I think we both do – that we can find an outlet for our values that expresses them in such a wonderful way.

George Riley is a professional fundraiser currently working for the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute in Boston.  He lived in Camphill communities in Ireland and the USA for 17 years, and has been active in speech and drama, biodynamic agriculture, the Christian Community and as father to three children and five foster children.

Annalee Dickson-Riley is a trained Waldorf teacher with remedial training in The Extra Lesson.  She built a remedial program at the Kimberton Waldorf School which she carried for 7 years before taking the Curative Education seminar at Beaver Run Camphill Community and the Social Renewal course in England.  She and George joined a life-sharing initiative in the Berkshires, and she took a class through 8 years at the Housatonic Valley Waldorf School in CT.  She is currently teaching in a public school.  George and Annalee live near Great Barrington, Mass.

A Celebration of Giving – Part III

December 30, 2014

Click here for Part II of this series

KelleyBuhles_Books_Large (2)by Kelley Buhles

As RSF Social Finance celebrates its 30th anniversary, we feel deep gratitude for all the supportive relationships that have nurtured, inspired, and challenged RSF to bring associative economic principles into daily practice and expand and deepen how it goes about transforming the way the world works with money.

Over the past few months we have be posting a series of stories about some key catalytic gifts and givers who saw potential within RSF, seeded future possibilities, and in turn, have become part of our destiny.

Transforming the World

As a financial organization, we have a bold purpose statement: to transform the way the world works with money. How does a financial organization fulfill such a purpose? While we offer financial transactions to our clients that provide them with direct and personal relationships in order to transform their own relationship to money, we knew early on that in order to change the world we would need to provide learning activities beyond financial transactions. In support of these kinds of learning opportunities, and in support of our borrowers, RSF housed an Advisory Support Fund.

As part of the next stage of growth and shortly after RSF moved to San Francisco in 1998, we experimented with small events called “Money Matters” that focused on exploring individual’s relationship with money and the role money plays in the social sphere. However, in 2004 we received a number of gifts from key donors that provided us with the resources needed to do field building in a more innovative and sustainable way.

RSF created an informal network called the Transforming Money Collaborative (TMC). This group consisted of other organizations, like The Fetzer Institute and the Marion Institute, as well as individuals such as advisor Charles Terry who worked closely with our staff. The group was an exploration in collaboration, focused on how to transform the way the world works with money towards a more positive and inclusive economy. The goal of the TMC was to bring the transforming money conversation across class, race, age, and gender differences to open new pathways of transparency, trust, and communications in our financial transactions.

Many initiatives developed as a result of this collaboration including the Money, Race, and Class Conversations and the Economics of Peace Conference.

One catalytic fund that emerged from the TMC in 2004 was the Fund for Complementary Currency. The primary driver for this work was a sense that the financial market would crash and that we would need local economic tools to keep the economy alive. A small group of donors created a donor circle that ended up providing over $800,000 to organizations working to support the development of new and sustainable approaches to economic exchange that would complement the existing financial system. The Fund for Complementary Currency was one of the largest contributors to the growth of complementary currency work in the US.

This fund supported research and development for BerkShares, TimeBanks, Hour Exchange Portland, and Vermont Sustainable Exchange, as well as other innovative research projects.

Another key outcome of the TMC were the Sequoia Principles for Transforming Money which emerged from a series of gatherings of an economically, ethnically, and culturally diverse group of individuals from more than fifty organizations. They came together with a commitment to understand money and to develop a new agreement about principles, values, and guidelines for its use.

This group developed a set of core principles to be used as a tool for transforming the way the world works with money. They imagined a sustainable future that depends upon bringing a broader consciousness and wisdom to our financial practices, money systems, and economic structures. They aim to shift existing financial structures toward a more equitable global system that values local economies, and inspires deeper connections in communities as a basis for a sustainable world.

RSF_30th_purpleToday, RSF’s field building activity is crucial to how we transform the way the world works with money. To make this work more visible, we have assembled a Field Building Collaborative (FBC), a group of individual experts dedicated to research and education around new models of investing, lending, and giving that support regional and local economies. For example, as part of the FBC, we are working in collaboration with with BALLE to convene leaders in the Community Foundation field who are determined to align their individual foundations’ investments with their deep commitment to place.

Through sponsorships, partnerships, and events, RSF supports individuals and organizations in the field of social finance to reflect, collaborate, and grow together in the spirit of co-creation towards building the next economy. It has been wonderful to have donors participate with us in these activities and to share in the learnings that have been experienced.

The Donors

RSF is grateful to all of the donors who supported the Transforming Money Network, and all of the other initiatives listed above.

However, we would like to give special thanks to the catalytic donors whose gifts made the Transforming Money Network possible at the beginning: The AnJel Fund, Carol Newell, along with an anonymous donor. It was the support of these key donors that allowed RSF to begin to prioritize field building as a key part of our work in the world.

Kelley Buhles is Director of Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance

Clients in Conversation: Building Community Through Shared Gifting – Part II

December 26, 2014

This article was originally published in the Fall 2014 RSF Quarterly.

Interview with Ellie Lanphier, Program Associate, Philanthropic Services

Shared Gifting is a collaborative funding model that gives ownership, distribution, and allocation authority for gift money to grantees. Here, Ethan Schaffer of Viva Farms and Rita Ordóñez of Community Action of Skagit County discuss their experience as participants of the Shared Gifting circle held by RSF in Skagit County, Washington and how their organizations are building a sustainable, local food system.

Click here for Part I

Ellie: As two groups working together, and having met with your peers, what does a perfectly coordinated, sustainable food system in Skagit look like for each of you? And, what would be involved in creating that system?

Ethan: I don’t necessarily think of sustainability as an end point. If there’s anything we learn from natural systems, it’s that they’re always in flux and changing, and that’s part of what we’re doing.

It’s also creating those connections, the connections between different people and different organizations that really create resilience. I think it starts from the community, really. It starts from process, like even the shared gifting process, where we’re coming together and figuring out, what are the high priority needs in our community, and how can we address them? And those will change over time. So, having those processes of connecting with each other in place is how you get yourself prepared to address the different food systems issues.

And then I think really trying to make a space at the table for all of the different interests involved, and understanding the interdependence between them. For example, we’re an agricultural community with just a lot of big farm businesses, family-owned businesses and corporate farm businesses as well, but we also have a huge farm worker population as well. We’re in the second year of a labor strike and a boycott that’s been going on with one of the big berry producers up here.

I think if we were able to find a way to get everybody at the table and talking about what the different needs are, we’d see that interdependence. The big farms really need a stable, good, reliable, well-skilled workforce. The workers really need businesses to be profitable, and they need the business model and the overall business environment to work for the businesses, so that they can make money. And we need a public policy infrastructure that makes that possible as well.

I think right now, immigration is the biggest thing that’s causing problems in labor. Without a sane immigration system, both the big farms and the workers are having trouble. Somehow, bringing all of those entities to understand their interests, I think would be crucial for the sustainable food systems.

Rita: From our perspective, the distribution factor is huge—making sure that all folks have access at different places within the county or the community. How do we get food to the people, and how do we create a more coordinated system for doing that? Part of my vision of a more ideal, robust, sustainable agriculture system would involve more of the food that we grow within the county staying in the county.

The other piece that I think that we’re trying to figure out is how to bring to the table the voice of the low-income consumer, and gleaning from them what they feel that they need, and what they would like to see. Having that voice represented when we’re having these conversations could radically change the way things look.

The youth voice is also increasingly important. We’re seeing that the youth voice is very powerful, with solutions and ideas that, again, those of us that have been sitting around the table are not bringing. These are new and exciting ideas.

I’m excited by the prospect of continuing this work and trying things out, and seeing how we can make things better little by little. Viva is a strong partner for us in doing that, and I look forward to continuing these conversations and this work, to move the dial for our low-income community members.

I’m thankful that RSF was there to move us forward, from talking about it to actually doing something—doing something small, and trying it out.

Ethan: Rita, just getting to work more with Community Action and all of your work is going to be really valuable for me—understanding more in meetings and with clients, and the people within the low-income communities in Skagit. Realizing really how pervasive issues of hunger, malnutrition, or different health issues like diabetes are, and we’ve seen it in even our farm worker family community. That’s been very eye-opening to me, and it just makes me realize how the connections between our different missions are so important.

Because being in such a rich agricultural valley, nobody should go hungry or be malnourished. It seems like that’s a problem that can be solved.

Rita: Yes. And, I think it’s just the marrying between providing the access, along with providing the conversation, the education, and the sharing of ideas. Because I think that’s where small changes that make big impacts on people’s health, happen. Making those opportunities available for that kind of exchange to go on is super powerful.

Ethan: Yeah, it’s so much more than just handing out food.

Rita: It’s great that we have the RSF process. It helped us move this into action. I’m just hopeful that we can figure out ways to continue to have action, without a dedicated funding source to prompt it or to move it forward. I hope that we can continue to have these conversations with the folks that were around the table and others. Because for me, that’s what I think makes the most difference. That some opportunity for change or improvement happens.

Ethan: Absolutely.

Ellie: Thank you both for your participation and insights.

Rita Ordóñez lives in the Skagit Valley with her husband, landscape painter, Ron Farrell, and their two children, Roland and Olivia.  She has been a local food activist since 2004, working on healthy food access for low income families at food banks, farmers markets, and schools across the State of Washington.  Rita is currently the Community Food Access Manager for Community Action of Skagit County.  She has a BA in Geography from Western Washington University and a MA in Geography from the University of Washington.

Ethan Schaffer is the co-founder of Viva Farms, a 33-acre bilingual farm incubator program in the Skagit Valley. The program helps beginning and Latino farmers transition to farm ownership. Viva Farms won the Green Washington Award, placed first at the Seattle Social Innovation Fast Pitch, and has received coverage in national press, including in the New York Times and Christian Science Monitor. Ethan holds an MBA from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute.

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