Thursday, October 30, 2008

Carolina Tour: Some Final Thoughts from SEEC (Allyn)

For my part, the drive to the Charlotte airport is melancholy.  It is a rare thing to have guests come in from out of town; it's rarer still to have organizers stay with me and share their struggles, their laughter, and their words of encouragement. So the demons in me want for the Charlotte airport to disappear; for the terminal to be an endless distance away, or at least confusing enough to create more time to talk, to laugh; or for the weather to be so formidable that it prohibits safe travel--for days and days.

Of course, that's sick. I recognize that the importance of the exchanges we share lies in the fact that the departure is in many ways the point at which the muscle tears--only to rebuild itself to where it's stronger than before. We are continuing to build something here that is small but significant, and everybody who rolls through helps. Students, educators, and community members who gathered in the name of P'Nok's visit are buzzing with excitement about her time here and what we all learned. P'Nok, I hope, has taken away a better understanding of a region that not too long ago experienced similar impacts of industrialization and the threats to agrarian communities. More importantly, I hope she has begun to learn what she wants to get out of this tour.

And so now I sit here in the school where I teach, tired from the week but strengthened by the spirit P'Nok and Amanda brought to our work here. The fight rolls on.

My thanks go out to the Food Justice Tour 2008 crew for supporting SEEC's efforts to develop its regional network and in helping empower its student constituents to create positive change. Once again, I have felt the true meaning of ENGAGE; but for the first time, I have begun to understand the power of a Tour. 

My love goes out to all within (and even without) ENGAGE. I hope to see you in Glendale soon.

Cheers and solidarity,

Carolina Tour: Wofford College

The last two days of P'Nok's time in the Carolinas focused on Spartanburg, and particularly Wofford College, where the student "green" coalition--the Wofford College Go Green Initiative (or WOCOGG)--has been conducting its own version of the nation-wide Real Food Challenge campaign. To promote awareness and action on developing Real Food purchasing policies, WOCOGG leaders organized several events on Wofford's campus aimed at encouraging the administration and Aramark Food systems to begin formal talks about Real Food.

Monday, October 27th

Monday was a big day on Wofford College's campus. P'Nok began the day by presenting to the classes of Prof. Cynthia Fowler, who helped write a grant for P'Nok's tour of the US. (We're still waiting to hear about the grant!)

P'Nok then met with Dr. Phil Racine, a professor of Southern history, who helped P'Nok (and Amanda!) get a clearer understanding of the parallels between the Isaan and the American South, particularly along the lines of agriculture and industrialization. We continued that lesson when we visited former textile communities in the early evening, where Spartanburg's lowest wage earners live in high concentrations (and without much organization).

Monday evening's presentation in Leonard Auditorium welcomed over 50 students, faculty and community members to hear P'Nok talk about developing fair food systems. P'Nok was introduced formally by the college president, Dr. Benjamin B. Dunlap, who spent time as a Fulbright Scholar in Chiang Mai and Bangkok. More importantly, Dr. Dunlap is an advocate for Fair Trade and was excited to have P'Nok be a part of educating the Wofford community about fair food systems. Questions from the audience ranged from the price of Fair Trade products to the implications of the development of Fair Trade purchasing policies on campuses.

Glendale citizens turned out to support their guest.

The student organizers of P'Nok's time on Wofford's campus were (from left) WOCOGG sophomores Amy Chalmers and Sarah Hager.

After the speaking event, we retired to Glendale and discussed organizing and "sampled" local beers.

Tuesday, October 28th

Tuesday morning's time was split between the Spartanburg Day School and Wofford College's final forum. Allyn Steele's group of high school seniors, who are currently studying Food issues, had a 45 minute "mocktail party" and exchange with P'Nok about community and Food.

P'Nok's final activity in Spartanburg was at Wofford's roundtable discussion on developing a Fair Trade food purchasing policy for the campus. Over ten were In attendanc, including WOCOGG leaders, administrators, a representative from Aramark, and, of course, P'Nok and her translator, Amanda. The discussion closed with several inconclusive but promising bits--that Aramark would be willing to establish a "local food" and/or "fair trade" section of the dining hall, and that Aramark wanted to explore the possibility of hiring a student to become the Local/Regional/Fair Trade food intern. WOCOGG leaders and P'Nok thought this was a good start, although all realized that a policy is the end goal.

Future action on local/regional/fair trade food on Wofford's campus will be on November 10th, when Aramark and WOCOGG will host a forum to educate the campus community on the food purchasing system currently in place. The event will also be an opportunity to continue pushing for more formal talks regarding a fairer food purchasing program.

Additionally, P'Nok's time on campus landed some local press! Some of the facts are a little off, but the basic idea is there.

Carolina Tour: Chatham County, Part Three

Harland's Creek Farm

Our last stop in Chatham County was at Harland's Creek Farm, a CSA operated by Judy Lessler ( near Pittsboro, NC. Judy has a wealth of experience in leading the organization of several area CSA networks, which are closely connected to the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (, the Carolinas' leading advocacy/organizing group for alternative agriculture. Judy, who is on CFSA's Board, raises chickens, organic produce and organic fresh-cut flowers on a 5 acre farm.

In meeting Judy, P'Nok had the opportunity to learn more about CSA's from a highly-disciplined farmer and well-respected businesswoman in the area. One highlight of the exchange was Judy's practice of providing "value-added" recipes and shopping lists when delivering to customers. Judy also gave P'Nok an example of a cookbook that Judy's CSA's provides to its urban customers (who have lost the art of eating seasonally). 

In the end, we learned that Obama '08 is on Judy's mind.

Chatham County was a good (albeit long) day. We returned to Spartanburg in the late evening and began preparing for P'Nok's day at Wofford College classes and her first big speaking event.

Carolina Tour: Chatham County, Part Two

Piedmont Biofuels (

After a quick lunch, we made it out to Moncure to spend some time with folks from Piedmont BioFuels, a cooperative that is leading the way in the region's "energy revolution." Much of the tour was complicated by the language of Biofuels (all kinds of chemical reactions and words for equipment), and the on-site biofuels guru, Eric, spoke super fast, but Amanda did an amazing job translating (and it helped that SFS communities have already begun producing biodiesel on a small scale).

Toward the end of our tour of the coop facility, P'Nok began to ask some significant questions about the affordability of biofuels technology, which for mature operations like Piedmont Biofuels is a negligible point. Eric was quick to acknowledge the prohibitive costs of reactors, chemicals, and tanks, and he offered to spend some extra time with P'Nok to show her an AppleSeed reactor developed by Maria "Girl Mark" Alovert ( P'Nok learned that old water heaters, 55 gallon drums, some tubes and fixtures, and some chemicals could work together to create an affordable, easy-to-build and easy-to-manage biodiesel operation.

Carolina Tour: Chatham County, Part One

October 26th, Sunday--Pittsboro (Chatham County) NC

After raiding Allyn's parents' home in Cleveland, NC, we got up early on Sunday morning to make our way to Chatham County, NC (near the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area), which is at the center of the Carolinas' alternative agriculture movement. Our stops in Chatham County included the Chatham Marketplace, a grocery cooperative located in Pittsboro (Chatham's county seat); Piedmont Biofuels Cooperative in nearby Moncure; and Harland's Creek Farm, a nearby farm that is at the forefront of the CSA network in Chatham County. All three destinations are part of the fast-growing Chatham County local food system.

Chatham Marketplace (

P'Nok's visit to the Chatham Market gave her the opportunity to learn more about the investment/business models and marketing strategies involved in developing (one example of) a food cooperative. We met with the General Manager, Mary, who gave us a tour of the Marketplace and highlighted the means by which the coop works with local farmers and consumers. One highlight of the experience was discovering that the Marketplace sells AlterEco Coral Red Jasmine Rice from Surin (see photo above). 

Monday, October 27, 2008

First Few Days in the Carolinas

Thursday, October 23rd
P'Nok flew into Atlanta and arrived in South Carolina after a long flight, it was a struggle for her to stay awake, but I (Allyn) kept her up by stopping a few times to catch some fresh air. We took a look at one of the area's major reservoirs, Lake Hartwell, which helped P'Nok get a sense of the area's prolonged drought. 

Before heading to Glendale to drop off P'Nok's bags, we stopped by Inman, SC, to pick up some food for the coming days from Farmer Fran Davis' Windmill Hill Farm (the farm where ENGAGEr Stephanie Teatro worked this past summer while working with SEAC). Fran's farm was an ideal place to save some money and introduce  P'Nok to a small-scale producer in the States. 

Later that night, we chowed down at PK's, a local Soul Food joint that serves up fried fish and bad rice. Afterwards, P'Nok snoozed some at a community viewing of "King Corn," a documentary on industrial corn production in America. Before heading to bed, P'Nok received a massage from Bill Taylor, who is my landlord and a community member of Glendale. 

Friday, October 24th 
P'Nok spent the morning catching up on some sleep before waking up to torrential rain. Lindy Bunch, Wofford student and Spartanburg Intercollegiate Green Alliance leader, spent the late morning and early afternoon with P'Nok on a tour of Wofford College. They also scored some nice rain boots and a rain jacket. 

Later that evening, Amanda Alman arrived in Charlotte and made it back to Glendale just in time for a community exchange with Glendale residents, Wofford students, and the chaplain of Wofford College. The group formally welcomed P'Nok to the Carolinas over dinner, and P'Nok participated in the first exchange between Wooford students and staff and Glendale residents. The conversation's topics ranged from P'Nok's work in Thailand to the emerging understanding between Wofford representatives and Glendale residents regarding the development of a community garden. 

Sadly, I don;t have photos for her first town days in the States. 

Saturday October 25th 
Saturday took us out of Spartanburg and into North Carolina. Take a look at the photos below to catch a few glimpses of P'Nok and some representatives from Glendale and Clifton (anther mill community) at Earthaven Ecovillage's First Annual Harvest Festival, where P'Nok gave her first formal presentation to approximately 15 Earthaven villagers. As luck would have it, one of the audience members, Leon Birstein,  was eager to show his nearby farm. As an off-the-gird, solar powered, organic farm, Leon's experiences as a self-sufficient farmer in an eco-communtiy brought up some interesting questions about how to create similar "havens" out of conventional communities.  

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The First Few Days in the Carolinas

P'Nok and Leon discuss a local variety of corn 

P'Nok petting a silky chicken from Japan at Leon Birstein's Farm

Walking back from Leon's farm

Earthaven's passive solar house

Jinks, P'Nok, Amanda, and Lindy at the entrance of Earthaven 

Ceiling of Earthaven's Council Hall

Exchange between P'Nok and Earthaven villagers 

P'Nok and Earthaven community member discussing local and fair trade agriculture 

Sunday, October 19, 2008

P Nok!

P Nok is getting excited to start the ENGAGE Food Justice Tour 2008!

Our schedule is starting to come together beautifully, check it out at:
the ENGAGE wiki