Green People

Katrina was meeting with a possible new vendor for ‎the Back40 Mercantile at the Dallas show before we opened and after hearing Kat recite our store’s sustainability mission the woman says, in a fairly loud drawled out voice:

“OH SO YOU’RE ONE OF THOSE GREEN PEOPLE”
(when Kat retold it, “green” had two syllables)

Any grower, manufacturer, or retailer who commits to a sustainability mission faces myriad obstacles, and if you don’t have scale or staying power (aka capital), you are more likely to fail than you are to sell your business to Whole Foods and buy a biomass-powered mega yacht……

It has been our experience (6 months into this odyssey as green merchants) that the most difficult obstacle is public opinion and public perception.

If you talk about “it” too much, they will wait for you in the bushes and jump out when you least expect it and proclaim: “Sinner! I see you eating that Slim Jim! You know the hogs they use to make that meat stick are raised on GMO corn!! SHAME!”
-there’s meat in Slim Jims?-

I know for me I don’t want to be preached AT re my lifestyle choices. I didn’t litter today, but am I a bad person because I also didn’t recycle that soda can?

I can’t help it!! Have you seen how many garbage can choices there are these days? With all the different sized openings?

Being “Green” is hard , y’all.

I was at the Portland Oregon airport not long ago and they now have 7 garbage can colors, and a pen‎ with a 1,000 pound sow called Recycle. I almost missed my flight trying to separate my trash from my waste, and my re-compost from my recycled. ‎(what’s re-compost?)

I try to buy fresh, local, sustainable, organic food whenever possible, but, gosh darnit who doesn’t occasionally like a Snickers bar or maybe a 5 pound bag of Fritos?!

So, with that backdrop, please understand that I, and my 3 partners at the Back40 Mercantile, are not sustainability preachers…..far from it.

I’m the guy the preacher drags into church and demands I repent for my addiction to Dentyne gum and Milk Duds. I gave up those shrink-wrapped airport muffins 3 years and 5 months ago. (one day at a time).

Katrina maintains a secret (former secret, I suppose) “junk drawer” in our room at the Back40 Farm filled with emergency provisions: Goldfish, Good-n-Plenty, and Cheeze-its (don’t worry Kat, you know Lesley is too busy to read my blog).

Kat and I are aspiring practitioners of the sustainability movement….I read a lot of sustainability stuff, sometimes aloud if Kat is having a tough time falling asleep….I attend the occasional conference, and drive the occasional Greenpeace skiff out in front of a whaling ship, but I’m no Phil Dunphy hero saving the planet. Oh sure, I agree with Al Gore and I never use pesticides or herbicides or any of the other cides when growing my fruits and veggies, but I have been known to order my food into a faceless speaker from time to time.
Bill and Lesley? Other end of the spectrum.

The people who painted her house last week won the job not because they promised to use low VOC paint on HER house! They had to promise to only use low VOC paint from now on, forever.

Her lawn is always 2 shades less green than her neighbors’. Ironically, as it turns out, if you live a “green life”, you will be green with envy of your dark green ‎neighbor’s lawn…..someone help me here I’m tired! Blogging is harder than it looks.

Back to our regularly scheduled broadcast:

Lesley and Bill are not sustainability preachers, per se, but they ARE sitting in the front pew of Sustainability Church…..and they are surrounded by people they have convinced to live the sustainable life.‎ So, I would call them leaders, and I am not too proud to call myself a follower.

All kidding aside, for a few sentences: Everything I have learned about sustainability, Lesley and Bill have directly or indirectly taught me.

Bill is on the board of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. It can best be described as Mecca for the sustainability movement. (and it’s crawling with Foodies so only wear clothes that were new a long time ago).
‎And Lesley keeps us all honest and informed, and insists we be “intentional” in the way we treat the planet. I admire them both.

We want our store to be a fun place to visit. We want our customers to be able to buy ‎products that were made by people we know, in plants we have visited….we want our customers to be able to use the 4 other senses we don’t use while shopping on-line.

If we only had purely defined organic and sustainable products however, our store itself wouldn’t be sustainable….reality is, American clothing companies use the far East, Turkey, Portugal, the U.K to make their products. As soon as America makes a cashmere sweater that can compete with Alan Paine in terms of quality? It’s on our shelves. ‎In the meantime, you’ll have to suffer in the nicest sweater I’ve ever worn, while we continue to search for a Made in America cashmere sweater.

Everything can’t be “organic”….that’s ridiculous.

Reality is, organic clothing is not very exciting….it’s sort of like the rice cakes of the garment industry. Imagine wearing a sweater that you can grill and serve with fava beans and a nice Chianti…..

Let’s keep one foot in reality as we all try and live cleaner healthier lives.

We all want to be better stewards of the planet….‎we know that about our customers because so many of them were friends before they were customers.

‎And it is our business plan to provide you the opportunity to buy a great product that also provides an opportunity for a conscientious manufacturer to sell a great product. Say that 4 times and it will make sense; I promise.

It is my opinion that the reason our store has been so well received is because we have assembled a collection of very well made, very stylish and classy products that also happen to be made by small business owners who adhere to sustainable manufacturing processes, sold to you by passionate and professional people who take pride in their jobs.

‎The sustainable “movement” is filled with opportunity. It’s bursting at the seams.

But, if you make organic crackers and they taste like cardboard, they won’t sell well, and you have just succeeded in making a NON sustainable product (because your cracker business will be out of business). We want our store to be an organic cracker that tastes great…‎…so great that you come back for more.‎…so much more, that our store becomes sustainable. And we want you to buy our products and shop in our store not because we’re those “green people”, but because we’re just like you: We want awesome unique products made by awesome unique people….pure and simple.26

ode to Daddy’s little birthday girl

My daughter turned 13 today.
830am, C section, Santa Monica Hospital, Arnold Schwarzenegger Maternity ward.

I remember it like it was 68 years ago.

One day my little girl got tall
She used to be so small
And her birthday wish today?

Can I go to the mall?

I remember when she looked up at me from knee height, one HOT sunny day in Los Angeles….

Disney for parents in August is cruel and unusual punishment…..”uppy uppy”‎ she would say, as she quickly would position herself in front of my moving legs…..daring me to trip over her, as I struggled to carry the pink boa I won for her, tattered lamby tucked into my shorts and frozen slushy that was acting as a coolant…her arms stretched up in that -I’m ready to be lifted up’ position….she preferred to be carried…..who can blame her….if we left the house? I was carrying her. If we went upstairs? She was on my back. If we played in the toy room, she was on my lap, or on my back……

The only problem was as she was getting bigger my back was getting weaker‎, my knees wobblier.

So, there we were, at Disney….she was now probably 5yrs old…and technically past the legally mandated must-carry age and weight…..there HAS TO be a law that says “you must be less than 50 pounds to be carried by a parent”…..with a bunch of small print….

If over 85 degrees, and you know how to walk, or be pushed in a stroller, you mustn’t burden parent with sad face requests to be carried‎…. If father is already carrying sibling, two ice creams, or stuffed animals, you are not permitted to even ask for a lift….I often carried both of my children.

Much easier if one is in the backback….if they’re both in your arms the weight distribution is dangerous…..I remember one time at the L.A zoo I was carrying them both; when they were 15 and 40. (pounds), and a stroller hit my heels and hurled me forward…..gravity was not my friend that day ladies and gentlemen….thank God the Polar bear habitat had a row of shrubs in front of it…

‎Ok, where was I? Oh, right, at Disney, sweat pooling in short pockets, flip flops melting into the asphalt.

(I can’t remember the park’s motto; should be Hell on Earth. Sorry Walt, somebody had to say it)

So there she was, my sweet little cherub, hands up in the air, neck bent backwards, looking up, red sweaty face, 5 years old….”uppy Daddy uppy”.”But Marianna, it’s so hot! Disney is so big. I can’t carry you anymore”…..”uppy uppy”. “I’m sorry Mari, I can’t lift you up”….long pause…”but Daddy, it’s tradition”.

You know what happened next.

-she was picked up, and not put down until I fainted with back spasms and a 104 core temperature.
I woke up sitting on the grass under a tree, ice packs on my neck….Mari was on my lap.

Those were the days, my friend, I hoped they’d never end…..

I tried to give her a piggy-back ride up the stairs the other night , and was amazed at what had happened over the last few years. Her toes were scraping on the floor‎, her arms completely around my whole body….I felt like I was in some sort of dream, training as a fireman as I pushed my legs to go up each step…..I could hear the tendons as they strained, surgically repaired back creaking louder than the old wooden stairs….as we hit the halfway mark I dared to do my fake fall backwards trick…..I decided not to since by then I was on my elbows, crawling up the steps like a drunk ninja…..

It was a sad day for me……I can no longer carry my little girl….she stretches from one end of the bed to the other….
And to add insult to injuries? She doesn’t want to be carried….and today? On her 13th birthday? She wants to hang out with her friends. “Sorry Dad”, she whispered as she gave me the news.

She’s a teenager now…..

all I can hope is I raised her well, during all those uppy uppy moments…..in the hot sun….and readied her for the cold world.

I’ll be here, waiting to lift her up, if she ever gets knocked down…if she ever needs a lift…..waiting, until I ‎need a lift myself….

Uppy Uppy Marianna. It’s tradition.