Friday, March 26, 2010

Where's the Food Co-op?

My husband and I moved to Chapel Hill from the Northeast for two reasons. One, to get away from the expenses of living in Skillman, NJ and the other, to establish residency so that my husband could pay in-state grad school tuition.

Chapel Hill was vastly different from where we’d been living and we were a little culture shocked. The pace was slower and the people were friendlier. I was called Ma’am for the first time ever! Chapel Hill, as a university town, has three calm and quiet summer months. Then, almost overnight, the city grows exponentially.

What my husband and I really enjoyed about Chapel Hill, however, and what we really missed when we moved to Harrisonburg 3 years ago, was Chapel Hill’s food co-op. Going there was a regular occurrence for us. We by no means did all our weekly shopping at the coop, but it was great for getting locally grown foods and organic foods that we couldn’t find at the regular supermarket. Food at the coop was always fresh, made that day or, if you were getting a sandwich, even while you waited. Cheeses, fruits, vegetables, milk eggs all from the farm went to our table. We still miss them.

When we moved here it was in the summer and we quickly discovered the Harrisonburg farmers’ market. Oh yes, we were happy. We knew that Virginia was famous for its farms and we figured that we would soon find a store or co-op just like what we had in Chapel Hill.

We were shocked then, and are still saddened now, that no food co-op store exists in Harrisonburg. I mean there’s the farmers market—which is great and there are CSA’s, also great, but no store? No place to go the other 5 days a week that the Farmer’s market is not going on or the other 9 months of the year that you are not a part of a CSA? No store that has fresh from the farm fruits, vegetables, cheeses and eggs? No store where you can go and get something for dinner that you know was picked that morning? No co-op?

Then after maybe a year here we discovered that Harrisonburg was planning on a food co-op store. There weren’t enough members yet to open it, but plans were seriously under way. We joined immediately. Two years later, we’re still waiting for that co-op store to open.
Buying fresh, buying local is healthy for the local economy, healthy for you. Buying fresh, buying local is easy. Buying fresh, buying local is not expensive. In Harrisonburg, I know the Buy Fresh/By local movement can be as vigorous as it was in Chapel Hill. We have it all here —the farms, the co-op starting up, the CSA’s. We just need now to put it all together. We need to spread the word and get that co-op open so we can have fresh food year round!

                                          --Lara Sokoloff lives in Harrisonburg

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Dream of the Dream Act

I love teaching students to write. To be more exact, I’m passionate about helping students from all backgrounds develop writing skills so they can experience the power of words and learn the joy of finding their voice.

While I hope my students learn from me, they teach me as well. Through their writing I have discovered what they love: family, food, friends, music, looking at stars from a rooftop. And what they dream about: going to college, teaching children, buying a first car, owning their own home—to name a few.

I have also learned what some of my students, those who are in this country without valid immigration status, fear—being taken from their family, from the community they have called home since childhood. Some students write of desperate situations in their country of origin and of equally desperate efforts to reunite their family in the states after a parent came here to find work and send support back home.

These students without valid immigration status, like their native born and documented immigrant peers, work hard in school, all the while adjusting to a new language and culture. They participate in sports and clubs and volunteer in our community. Teachers recognize their potential and talk to them about college. They begin to dream of opportunities they never thought possible—opportunities their parents never had, but sacrificed to give them. Then the reality of their situation—a student without documents—beings to settle in. The spark flickers. The dream begins to die.

I know what can happen when young people lose hope. That is one of the many reasons I support the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, better known as the DREAM Act. As an educator whose goal for thirty years has simply been to love both my students and the subjects I taught, I am an unlikely and uncomfortable activist. However, this pending federal legislation, which has attracted bi-partisan support, offers my students a chance to hope again.

As the DREAM Act is currently drafted, students must meet each of the following requirements to qualify:

• They must have entered the U. S. before the age of 16,
• They must have earned a U. S. high school diploma or GED,
• They must have lived in the U. S. for at least 5 years before the date the legislation is enacted, and
• They must display good moral character.

Students who meet these requirements would be issued temporary residency for a period of six years in which they must either earn a two-year degree or serve for two years in the U.S. Military in order to earn permanent residency.

I support the DREAM Act, and I am sharing information with my neighbors to encourage them to support this legislation. I personally know young people in our community who would benefit from the DREAM Act. They are my students. I know their character. I know their dreams. Their families are my neighbors. They are my friends. Without the passage of the DREAM Act, we will lose the contribution these students can make to our wonderful community of Harrisonburg, Virginia, a community, which has already invested so much in them and the place these students call home. My students have helped me understand that there are times I must leave the comfort of my classroom and work for justice to meet compassion.

                -- Sandy Mercer lives in Harrisonburg

Friday, March 12, 2010

An argument that the humanities are not a luxury . . .

My father couldn’t sing. A cruel fate, because he loved songs. He grew up when the walls of the city shook with the new rhythms of rock ‘n’ roll. Still, what his ear and brain could capture with fidelity, his voice simply couldn’t reproduce.

That’s OK. He has plenty of other talents, avid gardener, armchair Civil War historian. No area of study really seemed to elude him. Renaissance man? More like Renaissance Fair man—living at a boundary with the past and present few curiosities could maintain.

As my father began to battle brain lymphoma at age 67, it was hard to watch this everyday brilliance of his falter. The neurons couldn’t carry messages they once did. Short-term memory was non-existent. Sometimes, even simple categories stumped him. A man who for most of his life could have given the regiments and troop movements of Gettysburg, couldn’t name three presidents.

I work at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. A constant challenge of the public humanities is showing how studies in history, literature, music, and philosophy improve our understanding of the present.
My father’s son, this kind of work seems almost hereditary. But in the light of his newer and harsher neurological realities, were the humanities really a necessity or a luxury?

Well, in the humanities, I had heard for patients with short-term memory problems, music could be a way back into their misplaced narratives, to the deeper or wider channels of the brain.

On Christmas Eve, I was around his hospital bed watching White Christmas, the Bing Crosby classic, repeated all day.
“When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings.”
There, amid the glow of his TV-lit room, brain addled by cancer, my father began to sing along with Der Bingel. In tune we knew would have been too much to ask, but he sang in time.

I told him I’d never heard him sing it before. It was quite popular, he said, a radio hit in its day.

I began to reflect on the work I do with the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, where anthropology, folklife, music, and history are like strains of a song that need each other to sound right. Song itself is a way to reflect on, enhance, and expand the time we have.

My father couldn’t sing, but he has a song. It bespeaks connections to history, literature, religion, ethics, the arts, and philosophy. In short, the humanities.

Would my father want to see the news that humanities funding is on the state chopping block, once again? No. But if I go to work every day on behalf of these seeming abstractions, it’s because I know that they are the things that shape who we really are, even when so much else is stripped away. They make our private and communal lives richer. They are what we’ll consider when we grapple with what it has meant to be alive.

“Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul” Plato said; I was grateful to find secret places my dad and I have yet to talk about. Don’t believe it’s a luxury. We all need the passage into each others’ lives that a song, a story, a study—the humanities—can provide.
---Poet Kevin McFadden is Chief Operating Officer for the Virginia Foundation for Humanities in Charlottesville

Thursday, March 4, 2010

History's Lessons by Matthew Poteat

Our current political and economic situation compels us to look at history’s example for useful lessons. Some people look to the Sons of Liberty in the 1770s; others, to the reforms of Franklin Roosevelt during the 1930s. Personally, I like to look back to ancient Rome—to the collapse of the republic in 44 BC—as a marker of things to come.

Like Americans, the Romans rid themselves of a monarchy and created a republican government. In 509 BC, the Roman people threw off the yoke of tyrannical King Tarquin and created a balanced constitution with power vested in the people. The Roman Senate and two executive consuls governed Rome with the cooperation of popular assemblies. These citizen assemblies appointed magistrates and administered justice. Individual qualities of civic virtue, honor, duty, and dignitas or prestige were celebrated. Our own Federal Constitution and the idealized qualities of our founders are modeled on the Roman example.

Then, from 264 to 146 BC, Rome battled its arch-rival Carthage for national supremacy during the Punic Wars. Rome defeated the fierce Carthaginians and found itself with new territories and peoples to govern. Wealth poured into Rome. New money and “new men” or novus homo soon corrupted the republic’s earthy virtues of simplicity and civic duty. The middle class declined economically and politically. Unemployment rose. Corruption was rampant. Elections were openly bought and sold. Politicians were beholden to wealthy interest groups. The Senate was unable to solve the most trivial of problems. Good government ground to a halt. They even had a terrorist problem with Mediterranean pirates.

Two factions rose up to address these issues: the Populares and the Opitmates. The Optimates were the traditional conservatives who wanted to limit the power of the assemblies and extend the power of the Senate. The democratic Populares wanted more power vested in the assemblies. The Populares addressed the problems of the poor and wanted to extend benefits to the peoples of the newly acquired territories. The conservative Optimates sought to restore the old ways of their forefathers. The more progressive Populares looked to the novus homo to take Rome into a new age of economic prosperity and order.

The inability of these two factions to find a political solution to Rome’s problems eventually led to a destructive civil war and the institution of a dictatorship in 27 BC under Octavian Augustus. Augustus scrapped the republic in favor of rule by an all-powerful imperator or emperor who governed at the head of an emasculated Senate and popular assembly.

Yes, history does indeed give us plenty to think about, and the lessons we take from it can have profound implications in our own day. The Roman example teaches us that extreme partisanship and extreme social inequalities are detrimental to a republic. Indeed, consequences await a people who govern by rigid principles and not principled compromise. It’s unlikely that Americans will plunge themselves into another civil war as the Romans did, but should we continue to ignore the lessons of history and fail to adequately address the problems we face today, who knows what the future might bring.

        --Author Matthew Poteat teaches European and American history in the Virginia Community 
            College System


About Me

I write for lots of different venues, so this blog provides links to those places. Plus, occasionally, stuff that appears no where else . . .