Saturday, January 29, 2011

My welcome speech to today's Annual Meeting of the Oklahoma Food Coop

Below is the text I wrote for my welcome speech this morning at the Annual Meeting of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative.  Well, I suppose I departed from the text a few times but pretty much everything is there that I said, although I also rearranged it a bit as I presented it.  I mention reading some Wendell Berry poetry to prepare the speech, and one poem I read, which I didn't use, is this little ditty. . . and while as far as I know he has never even heard of me, he might as well have been writing about me, as those who know me well may attest ;)))).

A Warning to my Readers, by Wendell Berry
Do not think me gentle
because I speak in praise
of gentleness, or elegant
because I honor the grace
that keeps this world. I am
a man crude as any,
gross of speech, intolerant,
stubborn, angry, full
of fits and furies. That I
may have spoken well
at times, is not natural.
A wonder is what it is. 

WELCOME to this 7th Annual Meeting of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative.

So how's the food?  Some of this is the speech I had intended to give last year, which plans were somewhat derailed by a little problem caused by decades of eating a conventional diet out of grocery stores. I stayed up late last night reading Wendell Berry poetry, to find just the right words to begin my welcome speech. And I found them.

The Apple Tree
by Wendell Berry

In the essential prose
of things, the apple tree
stands up, emphatic
among the accidents
of the afternoon, solvent,
not to be denied.
The grass has been cut
down, carefully
to leave the orange
poppies still in bloom;
the tree stands up
in the odor of the grass
drying. The forked
trunk and branches are
also a kind of necessary
prose—shingled with leaves,
pigment and song
imposed on the blunt
lineaments of fact, a foliage
of small birds among them.
The tree lifts itself up
in the garden, the
clutter of its green
leaves halving the light,
stating the unalterable
congruity and form
of its casual growth;
the crimson finches appear
and disappear, singing
among the design.

I could certainly stand up here and talk for hours about the many adventures of the amazing portable Oklahoma Food Cooperative, the apple tree in the growing garden of local food security here upon our beloved land. I think this poem describes us, in some detail. We are certainly nothing if not emphatic among the accidents of the afternoon, and the morning too for that matter. Who could have predicted that this day would come, when I would stand here and welcome you to our seventh annual meeting, and tell you that between December 2003 and December 2010, we facilitated the marketing of $3,122,357.01 in locally produced food and non-food products?

The apple tree is a very diverse eco-system in and of itself, and so are we. There are branches and leaves and flowers and fruits and of course birds flitting among the leaves and occasionally taking a little bite out of one of our apples, and how can we begrudge them that? I just cut off those spots and make apple butter. And we have producers and customers and volunteers and management and officers and committees and route drivers and site managers and administrative assistants and many others who could be mentioned.

And like the apple tree, we are solvent. We did about $840,000 in product sales this year, and that was an increase of 21% over 2009. In 2009, our sales increased about 7% over 2008. And as we all know, the economy has not been kind the past couple of years. Like the apple tree, we are growing, more people are buying more local foods. So we must be doing something right.

Growing of course is not always a linear process, but if we do as well in 2011 as we did in 2010, we will edge right up to the one million dollars in sales in one year mark.

From the beginning, we have had to constantly run to keep up at least even with circumstance. No one had ever done anything quite like this, so we didn't have much in the way of models to copy. But we managed to survive our mistakes thus far, and make it to another annual meeting, and have good news in our financial statements, about which more will be said later in the meeting.

And our good news is good news all around. It's good for the land, good for farmers in rural areas, good for everyone everywhere who eats. And I know we all need some good news, because there is an abundance of bad news out there. But I'm not here to tell scary stories today, this is a day of celebration, a gathering where we come together and put our heads together and try to figure out how best to send ourselves into the coming year, to take what we have received and hand it on, learning from our mistakes, going forward, doing better.

In permaculture, we talk about invisible structures. These are human cultural artificats – governments, systems, processes, economies, from the smallest to those that are worldwide in their scope. Invisible structures are often like icebergs, there is a little bit that you can see up top, but there is a lot that you don't see. The coop is an invisible structure, and while we see some of what we do, there is no way that we can see, much less verbally describe, all that is going on around here.

This structure is founded on personal responsibility. Anyone can go along to get along, that's a no brainer. That's in part why the world and usn's within it are in the situation we are in. But throughout history, those who have made a difference for the cause of goodness, beauty, truth, and wisdom have been people willing to take personal responsibility for goodness, beauty, truth, and wisdom and to incorporate those invisible structures into their own lives, thus giving a visible sign for all to see. So if you want more wisdom and beauty and goodness in the world, your job first and foremost is to live wisdom, beauty, and goodness in your own life. And pardon me if folks think this is hubris, but with all of our faults and bumbling, the Oklahoma Food Cooperative is a structure of beauty, wisdom, and goodness, and your active participation in it helps heal the world.

This better world that we can see so vividly, is a time and place of hope and promise. Even hosts of genetically modified evil descend to destroy, out of sight and thus out of mind, hope creeps slowly and carefully along a way that leads to a better world. The promise of tomorrow is not a genetically modified nightmare of soylent green. The hope we carry is not the death of our species in an orgy of trans fats, corn syrup solids, pink slime, and mechanically separated chicken parts. We can see the true hope and promise of tomorrow because right now we are busy creating that tomorrow of sustainability and justice, beauty and wisdom, truth and authenticity. I know it seems like that the reign of the genetically modified orc is rampant, but what is actually going on is the tumultuous birth of promise and hope. That doesn't mean that this is an easy time, ask any woman who has given birth about that, or a farmer who has had to pull a calf. It does mean that the tumult and the suffering – as well as our work for goodness, beauty, truth, and wisdom – has meaning and is not purposeless. This purpose that we read into these events is, of course, itself another invisible structure that we brought into being, but that does not make it any the less real. Self-fulfilling prophecies are the best kind of prophecies, because they always come true. We just have to be careful about which prophecies we choose to self-fulfill. We should be able to see clearly and without ambiguity where we want to go. As our vision develops, our journey towards it will become more clear, more sure, and more direct. And all along the way, as my grandmother Opal Cassidy, born on a farm outside of Davidson, Oklahoma in the year 1904 used to say, we will “get the right eats”.

The Man Born to Farming by Wendell Berry
The Grower of Trees, the gardener, the man born to farming,
whose hands reach into the ground and sprout
to him the soil is a divine drug. He enters into death
yearly, and comes back rejoicing. He has seen the light lie down
in the dung heap, and rise again in the corn.
His thought passes along the row ends like a mole.
What miraculous seed has he swallowed
That the unending sentence of his love flows out of his mouth
Like a vine clinging in the sunlight, and like water
Descending in the dark?

I welcome all y'all to this seventh annual meeting of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative, and the best advice that I can give you as we start this business meeting is, Y'all bon appetit, you hear?