Thursday, August 31, 2006

Basic Blogging for Women Workshop

In early July, I posted about a Basic Blogging for Women Workshop I'd be teaching this fall, but after talking to some prospective students, I decided that it was important to find a space where everyone could be on a computer, so I changed the date and the venue so that we can be in a computer lab.

If you:

* Have something you want to say and share with other people
* Want to join an online community of like-minded people
* Are looking for a new communication tool for your nonprofit or business
* Enjoy learning in a supportive, low-key environment

This workshop is for you!

Basic Blogging for Women Workshop
Taught by Britt Bravo

Sunday, October 22, 2006
1-4 PM
Center for Digital Storytelling

1803 MLK Jr. Way in Berkeley

$95 early registration fee if received by October 9th.
$125 if received after October 9th.
Enrollment is limited to 9.

You will learn about the different types and uses of blogs, why it is as important to read blogs as it is to write for one, how to add photos to your blog posts, and how to increase your blog traffic.
Each student will create a Blogger blog during class.

Britt Bravo writes for three blogs: her personal blog, Have Fun • Do Good, NetSquared, and for BlogHer, where she is a Nonprofit and NGO Contributing Editor. She also produces her own Big Vision Podcast. In order to create the positive change she wants to see, Britt helps individuals and organizations realize their "big vision" for a better world with her business, Big Vision Career and Project Consulting. Britt has worked with nonprofits and socially responsible businesses for over 15 years and has helped hundreds of people to realize their big visions.

Email Britt at britt AT brittbravo DOT com to register.



I totally understand that things happen that cause you to not be able to come to the workshop, but because I am a one-woman business, when you register for a class you are agreeing to this policy:

To request a refund, send a MAILED notification of your withdrawal from the class. I cannot accept or acknowledge notifications sent by email or phone.

1. If your withdrawal notification is postmarked 10 or more days prior to the workshop date, you will receive a refund minus a service fee of $25.00.

2. If your withdrawal notification is postmarked less than 10 days to the workshop date, no refund will be given unless the class is full and I have someone on a waiting list to take your place. This policy applies regardless of the reason for your withdrawal, even if the reasons are beyond your control.

3. If the workshop is cancelled because I did not get a minimum enrollment number, you will receive a full refund.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Volunteering Can Be Good for Your Job

A study for the nonprofit Womens Way found that women who volunteered improved their leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills. According to the Womens Way press release,

"The correlation of women’s professional growth and development with their philanthropic involvement makes a strong business case to employees and employers about the importance of investing in community involvement as a professional development tool."

I've been doing volunteer work for a long time, and although I'm not entirely sure that it has improved my leadership, communication and problem-solving skills, it always improves my mood, very often teaches me something and occasionally has led to a new job.

Here are some BlogHers who are giving back through volunteering, or using their blog to advertise do * good opportunities:

Rocks in My Dryer puts the word out for Operation Special Edition, a program that provides volunteer doulas for pregnant women whose husbands or partners are deployed when they give birth.

writes about volunteering at the Algiers Regional Branch Library in New Orleans where she sorted through books that thousands of people sent to the New Orleans Public Library System after Hurricane Katrina.

Sarah Lynn Seaton participated in a Women Build with Habitat for Humanity last May in Knoxville. I thought it was a cool idea to have a team of women building a house together. You can find a Women Build project near you here.

Shop Girl tells her readers about a Women of Wardrobe fashion show fundraiser happening in Houston today. Women of Wardrobe is a volunteer branch of Dress for Success, an international nonprofit that provides suits and other work clothes to low-income women.

KungFoodie is volunteering with Girls Inc and helping out with their fall fundraiser Women of Taste. She is asking Bay Area food bloggers to link to the Girls Inc. web site with one of the Women of Taste banner images, and to let their readers know that volunteers are still needed.

And One Good Bumblebee is designing products to to sell for Nest, a nonprofit that supports women artists and artisans in the developing world by providing micro-credit loans to be used for the purchase of the supplies necessary to start or run their art or craft-based businesses.

Image via VolunteerMatch

Hat tip to Joanne Fritz for info. about the study.

Monday, August 28, 2006

It's Not Possible to Know What's Possible

This is a 14 second video made with my digital camera of trees in the Redwood Regional Park in Oakland. I made it to test vlogging for the first time, and I chose this quote from Hope's Edge by Frances Moore Lappe and Anna Lappe to go with it:

[H]ope does not come from convincing ourselves the good news is winning out over the bad. Nor does it come from assessing what's possible and going for that. Since it's not possible to know what's possible . . .we find new energy in this very truth. In the awareness of possibility itself--always unknowable--we are free to focus on the world we want.

This video was originally shared on by Bigvision with a Creative Commons Attribution license.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Six Steps to Everyday Activism

Global Warming. Election Fraud. Genetically-Modified Food. Cancer. AIDS. Poverty. War.

Sometimes it’s hard to get up in the morning and be fearless, to have courage, to care. That’s why I started interviewing women (and men) for the Big Vision Podcast, and my Solutionary Women series on BlogHer who get up in the morning and have a big vision for a better world as their alarm clock.

After talking with women like Mary Brune, who co-founded MOMS (Making Our Milk Safe), Alli Chagi-Starr, who co-founded Art in Action, Ilyse Hogue, the Campaign Director for, and Anna Lappé co-author of Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen and Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet I have taken away six steps we can all take to make a difference.

1. Be passionate. What do you really care about? What would you really like to see change? It can be something big, like equal access to education, or small, like healthier lunches at the school down the street. What topics do you naturally want to learn more about? Mary Brune’s daughter, Olivia, keeps her motivated to do her work, “As a nursing mother, I find it unbelievable that there are toxic chemicals in my breast milk. Even so, I know that breast milk is superior to any other choice. But will that always be true if chemicals are allowed to remain unchecked and unregulated in our marketplace? I’m motivated to make sure that Olivia and all children of the next generation continue to enjoy the benefits provided by mother’s milk.”

2. Educate yourself.
Spend time learning about the issues you care about, volunteer at organizations related to your interest, and be sure to ask the people you want to help what their ideas are for solutions. In her book, Paradigm Found: Leading and Managing for Positive Change, Anne Firth Murray, the co-founder of the Global Fund for Women, said that when the Fund started, it was ahead of its time because, “We would listen to the women building these programs, and we would respond to them rather than set agendas for them to follow.”

3. Take small steps.
We can’t all be Rosa Parks, Gloria Steinem or Dr. Vandana Shiva. As Ilyse Hogue says, “Social change is about what you choose to do everyday, how you interact with your neighbors, where you buy your groceries, who you’re voting for, where you keep your money in the bank, what kind of car you’re driving. . . . I think that is where it starts. . . . It’s not what action you take, but it’s taking action that makes the difference.”

4. Have a big vision.
Many of today’s problems are long-term problems with long-term solutions. As Alli Chagi-Starr, Events Director for the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights' Reclaim the Future Program wisely notes, we need to realize, “that we are seed planters. We are going to probably die before we see all those seeds become trees, and it doesn’t matter. You just have to keep planting and know that other people will come along and water those seeds and that those trees are for our children’s children.”

5. Find like-minded people to share your vision.
Online services like VolunteerMatch, Idealist, Craigslist and the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network make it easy to find volunteer opportunities and events near you. Giving circles like Dining for Women can help you combine having fun with doing good, and will allow you to raise more money for the causes you care about. Social networks like the Omidyar Network can connect you with folks who want to collaborate with you on your vision.

6. Believe that you can make a difference.
Anna Lappé often is asked whether one person can really make a difference when the challenges we face are so huge. “People often say they feel like just a ‘drop in the bucket,’” Lappé says, “with the sense of futileness that the idea conveys. But it’s probably more accurate to say people feel they’re a drop in the desert—their drop dissipates before even touching ground. If you think about the idea of a bucket as a container that holds all of our drops, you’d sense how fast a bucket can fill and that--you never know--you could even be the one drop that pushes the water over the edge.”

It is easy these days to get discouraged and say that we are powerless to create change, but really, that kind of attitude is a luxury from a different time. Now is the time for all of us, in whatever small way, to get up in the morning with a big vision for a better world. Time’s a wastin’.

Photo by Adriano Bravo.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Birthday Blog

On August 19th, this blog turned 1 and I turned 37. Wahoo! I celebrated by spending the day at the Craigslist Nonprofit Boot Camp where I heard what I think will be my quote for the year in a speech by Van Jones of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights,

"You have a dream inside yourself, and it is an impossible dream. That is why the Creator gave it to your crazy ass. If it was easy, She would have given it to someone else."

The next day I continued celebrating with a trip to the farmer's market, lunch at Cafe Gratitude with friends, and a cupcake at the Teacake Bakeshop.

I have a lot to be grateful for this year and a few "impossible" dreams for the year to come.

My dream for the writing I do for this blog, BlogHer and NetSquared, and for the interviews I do for the Big Vision Podcast is to somehow make a difference, to live up to how one friend described Have Fun * Do Good as, "inspiring people by seeing the efforts of others in hopes that they will be moved to act themselves."

Thanks to all of you who read this blog and pass posts on to friends. You have my gratitude.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Greenwashing Organic Milk

I have to admit that I'm a half and half organic shopper. When a pound of asparagus is $12 or a red pepper is $3, not so much for me, but I always try to buy organic milk 'cause the whole having hormones and antibiotics in my milk thing really grosses me out. I usually buy from Horizon, largely because I can find it in most stores, until now.

The Organic Consumers Association, nonprofit public interest organization, has called for a boycott of Horizon and Aurora organic dairy products and the Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group based in Wisconsin, filed a legal complaint last Thursday with the USDA against Horizon Milk.

According to the Cornucopia Institute's press release:

The crux of the controversy, which has smoldered within the organic industry for over six years, stems from a small handful of industrial-scale dairies, managing 2000-10,000 cows, that are allegedly producing milk in feedlot conditions without adequately grazing their cattle as required by law.

As consumers, we need to be selective about what we boycott 'cause given where most of our food comes from these days, there wouldn't be much left to eat if we boycotted everything that should be boycotted(!), but I'm going with this one because as the green wave grows, I do think it is important for corporations that are jumping on the green bandwagon to be held accountable and not be allowed to slap the word organic or green on just anything.

The OCA is also boycotting Aurora Organic Dairy because of its, "intensive confinement of dairy cows." Aurora Organic Dairy supplies milk to Costco's "Kirkland Signature," Publix's "High Meadows," Safeway's "O" Organics, Wild Oats' organic milk and Giant's "Nature's Promise". Didn't you just know when Safeway came out with the "O" brand that something was awry? Sigh.

I'm going to try to buy Straus Family Creamery based in Marshall, CA. The Cornucopia Institute gave them 4 out of 5 "cows" on their Organic Dairy Report.

Update: The afternoon after I wrote this post I went to my local grocery store and low and behold, they weren't carrying any Horizon products and had replaced them with Organic Valley products from La Farge, WI. The Cornucopia Institute gave them 4 out of 5 "cows" too.

Photo Credit: Meet Watermelon Helen by Lady-bug/Lisa

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Small Group Can Make a Big Difference

I've been thinking a lot lately about everyday activism, things that we can all do to make the world a better place. Last month I wrote a post, Cocktails and School Supplies, about a fundraising event in Los Angeles that our friend Meg produced to collect money and school supplies for a school Covenant House (a shelter that houses homeless and runaway youth) is opening in Tijuana. Her event raised over $2,000!

Last weekend Meg, a group of young people from Covenant House, and other volunteers and Covenant House staff members went down to deliver the supplies. I thought I would share Meg's story of their trip as an example of the difference a small group of people can make, and the difference your check can make, even if it is small, when you donate to a charitable organzation. As Anna Lappé said in my interview with her, even if you feel like what you are doing is a drop in the bucket, your drop, combined with others, could be the one that makes the bucket spill over.
After being stopped going into Mexico by border guards who turned us around (apparently carrying cargo into Mexico without a permit is a no-no no matter how noble one's intentions) we rallied and headed to a border crossing to the East that let us through. We were late getting to the school and the kids had been anxiously waiting for us for hours so we rushed to set up and get the supplies organized in a way that would ensure that everyone left with something and all the supplies were used.

After about an hour we started the party and kids and their moms arrived to pick up clothes, do arts & crafts projects supervised by the Covenant House youth (we brought 19 CH youths with us on the trip) and of course pick up school supplies and backpacks! We were able to hand out 210 backpacks and had about 20 left over to leave with the school for children who missed the event. Each backpack was STUFFED with school supplies that many of you generously donated and the money that we raised allowed us to rent an extra van and bring over a thousand bottles of water along on the trip. We also filled the school's storage unit with supplies that will be used throughout the year.

It is difficult to convey the true scope of these peoples' living situation. All the land around the school was originally landfill and part of the city dump. Some 20,000 people have colonized the area, erecting crude shelters out of scrap metal, wood and cardboard where they now live with their families and children.

The women who run the school are extraordinary and next up I'm hoping to raise enough money for them to build a permanent house on the site for volunteers who want to commit a year to living and working with the community.
If you would like to continue to support the school, contact Margaret Farrell ( She can accept donations and tell people how to get involved. If you want tips from Meg about how she made her fundraising event such a success, ask your questions in the comments of this post.

Photo Credit: "Outside the School" by Meg Martin.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Solutionary Women: Majora Carter (You Have to Hear Her Speak!)

Unfortunately, I didn't get to interview this week's Solutionary Woman, Majora Carter, but I did get to hear her speak last May at a Solutions Salon put on by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland. And she was incredible.

Majora is the the founder and Executive Director of Sustainable South Bronx, a nonprofit working to implement, "sustainable development projects for the South Bronx that are informed by the needs of the community and the values of Environmental Justice." She is a 2005 MacArthur "Genius" Fellow, and it shows.

You can watch the video of her speech (she gave the same talk at the Solutions Salon as at the TED Conference) on the TED site here.

You have to watch the video of her talk.

You just have to.

Photo: majora from John Berrie's Flickr photo stream.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Pink M&Ms & Fair Trade

A friend recently forwarded an email to me about a promotion M&M will be continuing this year with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. During September, October and November (October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month) you will be able to buy pink M&Ms and a percentage of your purchase will go to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. The M&M web site still has 2005 dates on its promotions page, so I'm not absolutely sure that they will be repeating the campaign.

Either way, as someone who likes to bake cupcakes, I was pretty excited about using pink M&Ms, but then I decided to do a little research on Global Exchange and CorpWatch about M&M/Mars Incorporated.

I was disturbed to find out that according to Global Exchange,
In 2001, the U.S. State Department, the International Labor Organization and others reported child slavery on many cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast, source of 43% of the worlds cocoa. Subsequent research by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture revealed some 284,000 children between the ages of 9 and 12 working in hazardous conditions on West African cocoa farms. Of these children, it was reported that some 12,000 child cocoa workers that had participated in the study were likely to have arrived in their situation as a result of child trafficking.
In response to the child slavery allegations, a CorpWatch article, via AlterNet, "Africa, the Dark Side of Chocolate" states that,
In 2001, following an avalanche of negative publicity, the major chocolate companies agreed to a voluntary protocol to eliminate child labor on West African farms rather than face binding legislation from Congress that would have required them to label their products "slave free" -- a label none of the major chocolate companies would have qualified for.
And according to Global Exchange, "while this is a positive step, the Protocol and Joint Statement leaves poverty untouched and make continued slavery a possibility because they don't insure fair wages for adult workers."

I'm not saying to boycott pink M&Ms (don't take money away from the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation!), but consider participating in Global Exchange's M&M/Mars campaign and write, call, fax or email M&M/Mars Incorporated and ask them to start selling Fair Trade Certified chocolate.

TransFair USA also has a big list of companies that sell Fair Trade certified chocolate, if you would like a chocolate alternative.

Update 9/28/10:  Here's a more recent post about Fair Trade chocolate, Nine Fair Trade Chocolate Bars.

Photo credit: M&M's for Breast Cancer by Sadaqah

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Find a Farmers' Market in Your Town

Daryl Hannah has a nice piece about the importance of buying your veggies at farmers' markets on her vlog, dh love life.

She links at the end to to help you find a farmer's market near you. They have five listed for my city, Oakland. I've listed them at the end of this post.

My husband and I went to a new farmers' market in Oakland, the Temescal Farmers' Market, a couple weeks ago, where I took the photos of the beets and tomatoes, and almost all of the produce there was organic, which was a real treat.

The Temescal Farmers' Market and is on Sundays, year-round, from 9 AM- 1 PM in the DMV Parking Lot at 5300 Claremont Ave.

Check out these heirloom tomatoes. Yum!

Farmers' Markets in Oakland via

East Oakland CFM
73rd Avenue & International Blvd
Oakland, CA 94621
Contact: Shene Bowie/Victor Johnson
(510) 638-1742
Friday, 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.

Kaiser Hospital-Oakland CFM
3801 Howe Street
Oakland, CA 94901
Contact: Allen Moy
(800) 949-FARM
Friday, 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m

Oakland Grand Lake CFM
Grand & Lakepark Way
Oakland, CA 94901
Contact: Barbara Ambler-Thomas
(800) 897-FARM
Saturday, 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.

Oakland Mandela CFM
5th Street & Mandela Parkway
Oakland, CA 94610
Contact: David Roach
(510) 776-4178
Saturday, 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.

Oakland Jack London Square CFM
Broadway & Embarcadero Streets
Oakland, CA 94520
Contact: Tom Dorn
(800) 949-FARM
Sunday, 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Solutionary Women: Anna Lappé of Grub

I was thrilled when Ilyse Hogue, contacted me to say that her friend Anna Lappé was in town to promote her new book, Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen, and might be available for an interview. You can hear the interview on the Big Vision Podcast, or read the transcript below. In addition to co-authoring Grub with Bryant Terry, Anna also co-authored Hope's Edge with her mother Frances Moore Lappé and is a co-founder, with her mother, of the Small Planet Fund, and a founding principal of the Small Planet Institute, based in Cambridge Massachusetts.

"Grub" is our word for food that's local, that's sustainable, and that's grown with fairness from all along the way, from the seed to the table. And when we, my co-author Bryant Terry and I, were talking about doing this book project together, and we were trying to think about, is there one word out there to describe the food that we talk about in the book, and that we encourage people to support and to buy and to eat, and we celebrate? We just didn't feel like any one word really summed it up. For instance, "organic". A lot of people have a lot of various associations with the word organic, and for some people organic implies food that's for a certain kind of person, that makes a certain amount of money and lives in a certain area, and we also know that organic only tells you a little piece about your food. It only tells you about how that food was produced, but it doesn't tell you how far away it was produced, it doesn't tell you how the farm workers were treated and if the farmer was paid a fair price. It doesn't tell you any of that. And so organic didn't cut it, and there was no other word out there that summed up the food that we talk about in our book, Grub. So "grub" became our kind of catchall term for those three things, for kind of the values of local, of sustainable, and of fairness. And also I really like the word "grub" to talk about this food because, to me, grub has been used forever in a slangy way to talk about food, and it has always, to me, connoted food that's kind of everybody's food, and kind of down-home country cooking, and home cooking. We really like the idea that this food we're talking about isn't precious, and it's food that should be accessible to everybody. You know, there's no reason why, especially in a country like the U.S., we all shouldn't have access to this food.

What are some of the Grub success stories that you've seen?

Well, in the past couple months, I've been to 28 cities, or something like that, all across the country. And really in every single city I have been meeting incredible people and learning about local efforts that I didn't even know existed when I was doing the research for Grub and so it's everything from, for instance, just across the Bay in Berkeley, the city of Berkeley hiring Anne Cooper to be the head of Berkeley Unified School Districts' food service, and to try to really revolutionize how kids eat. And actually instead of having them eat high calorie, high fat, high sugar, high salt, bad-for-you food, to actually bring in fresh food, and connect with local farmers and farms. And so Anne Cooper and Berkeley is a great example for me of the success story, but it's not just in Berkeley, where people might think, "Oh yeah, of course, Berkeley, you know, of course they're doing that in Berkeley." There are now more than 200 school districts all across the country that are doing this kind of thing, and in a lot of the cities that I went to, I met people in school districts that are bringing in healthy foods. So that's just one example. I threw a Grub party at a friend's farm in rural North Carolina that was started by four friends who were living in Brooklyn, living the city life, and decided to take over the family farm in North Carolina, and have totally taken over this farm, and made it organic, selling to their neighbors, selling to their community. That, to me, is another success story of young people who are realizing how important it is to keep the farms that are growing food, growing food in a healthy way, to keep them alive, and thriving. But I could go on and on, I mean everywhere I went, there were amazing stories, and I kind of feel like now I could open up an atlas, or a map of the United States, and point to anywhere, and go there and find people who are doing this work of really trying to insure that there's healthy food available for everybody.

What brought you to this work? Why did you write Grub?

The genesis of Grub in some ways goes way, way back, but it some ways it also was a direct result of having done this book project with my mother, Francis Moore Lappé, we wrote a book that came out in 2002 called Hope's Edge, and that book was our chronicling this incredible journey we took to Bangladesh, India, Brazil, Poland, Kenya, France, and to places in the U.S. And in that book we were really interested in hearing the voices, the stories of people around the world that were addressing the root causes of hunger and poverty. We met some of the most incredible social movement leaders, and met Wangari Mathai, this incredible environmental leader in Kenya who ended up winning the Nobel Peace Prize several years ago.

And so after that experience, of writing that book, and talking to those people around the world and coming home, I had moved back to Brooklyn, New York, and I was thinking about what I wanted to do for my next project. One of the things that kept coming up for me is I was thinking about, what did I learn? What are some of the things that I learned in writing the book? I kept hearing from people around the world how much of an impact the United States has on the rest of the world. Well, we all know that probably, but especially in terms of food, especially in terms of hunger, especially in terms of the fate of farmers around the world. The policies that get set here, the ways in which we either have regulations and standards that corporations have to follow, or don't. The way U.S. consumers shop for food, the choices that we make about the food we buy, all of these things are having a ripple effect, not just in our own bodies, in our own country, but all around the world. And so it became really important in my mind for me to think about another project that would actually get me looking at and get me talking about what's happening in this country, with the awareness that what we do here as individuals, as consumers, as citizens, has this global effect. That often, I think, the percentage of Americans who have passports is like, eight percent of Americans have passports. And so you think about, most of us also aren't leaving the country; most of the news we get from around the world is very narrowly focused on a few hot spots, that's it. And so I think it's easy to forget that we have this global impact as a nation of individuals, right? So just trying to get us to really see that.

How did you connect with your Grub co-author?

I met Bryant Terry, who became my co-author, actually, very fortuitously. I had just moved to Brooklyn, New York, and I knew some people who were part of this organization called The Active Element Foundation, and they had just published a book called The Future 500. It was a listing, really, of 500 youth-led activist organizations all around the country, at least one in every single state, and there were all kinds of really incredible projects. So one afternoon I was home in this new neighborhood of mine in Brooklyn and I thought I would flip through The Future 500 and see who was doing stuff that was interesting to me, and that was into the kind of issues that I was working on, and that also if anybody happened to live near me, or be working near me, that would be an added bonus.

And so I got to this description of this organization called b-healthy! which stands for Build Healthy Eating and Lifestyles to Help Youth. And I was reading it, and the organization works with low-income young people in New York City, and was an organization that was teaching young people about how to cook healthy food. But going beyond that, not just how to cook that food, but why should they, and why should they care? And then even going beyond that, and getting the young people to then ask the next question, which is, "Why is it that in my low-income neighborhood in the Bronx, or in Queens, or in East New York, it's easy for me to find a bottle of alcohol, but it's really hard for me to find an organic fresh local tomato?" Meanwhile in Union Square, and in all these places throughout the city, it's really easy to find these amazing local produce. So kind of getting them to ask those questions then getting them to become leaders in fighting for those foods and fighting for that in their community.

So I thought, "Wow, this sounds like an amazing organization," and then I read about the founder and it turned out that he lived five blocks away from me in this neighborhood. So, I mustered up the courage to send him an email, and said, "You don't know me, but I'd really love to meet you and talk about your work." It turns out that he had actually read Hope's Edge, knew about my work, and so we ended up meeting for coffee, and we just kind of struck up a friendship first, and then over many conversations we had this idea of working on this book together.

Britt: What do you want people listening to this podcast to do? What is one small action that they can take?

Well, I think the good thing about this work, and about really the message of Grub the book, and of my work, is that I think a lot of people are constantly asking me the question of "What can I do?" And I think the good news is that there's a lot we can do. Of course, the bad news flip side to that is because so much is going wrong, there's a lot we can do. But I think just to get people to realize that we never know the impact of our actions. A lot of people feel like, "Well, whatever I do is so inconsequential it won't make a difference." But I've met so many people who their step, their action, their activism, their voice has been a tipping point in something really much larger than they ever dreamed possible happening.

And so I often talk about that metaphor we have where people downplay their potential impact by saying that they'd feel like they were just a drop in the bucket. And I was thinking about it. When you think about being a drop in the bucket and that sense of futileness that that conveys, well, it's really I think more that people feel like they're like a drop in the desert, because it's that feeling of it dissipating even before it touches ground. Because if you think about a bucket, and especially a very small bucket, but if you think about the idea of that bucket as a container of your drops, and your one drop, well, you could be the drop that pushes the water over the edge, and that actually a bucket can fill up really fast. And so I think part of my work with Hope's Edge and with Grub is getting people to see the bucket, to realize that they're not alone, and that all of these drops are not just dissipating, that we're actually adding to each other, and that in the same way that there can be this negative cycle and this momentum of negativity. There's also this momentum of positive action, that now that we have. For instance, as I mentioned before, we have these 200 school districts that are connecting with area farms to bring in fresh local food into the schools. Well, that number is only increasing, and you think about farmers' markets. In the early seventies in this country there were just a few hundred farmers' markets left, and there are now more than 4, 000 farmers' markets around the country. And so again, there's only going to be more farmers' markets if we keep this momentum going.

So, I think partly what I hope people do is just kind of reframe their own sense of power and realize that actually we have a lot more power than we think and that part of the strategy, part of the dynamic of the status quo is to try to get us to not see that power and accept the way things are. So whatever you can do to realize your own power, I say, is an important step because I don't think there's any one way of life, that your life has to look a certain way to really be part of making a difference. I think that I certainly have friends that cross the whole spectrum in terms of what they're choosing to do with their personal and professional lives, and I still think of them as very much change makers. So whether it's just thinking about it on a daily basis, food is one of those things that you do buy every day, probably, or you eat it every day, if you're not buying it every day, and to realize that every time we go to the supermarket, or go to a farmers' market, or go to a food coop, that the choices that we make about food are really a vote for the world that we want. So every time I buy organic produce, for instance, I feel like I'm part of saying, "I'm sick and tired of 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides being sprayed every year in this country; I don't want to buy into it," literally. I think it's been a very long time since I've bought, for instance, a Coca-Cola product, although it gets harder now that they make Dasani, and they own Odwalla, and they do all these things. But I try not to buy, for instance, Coca-Cola, and until I think that their company has better business practices, I plan not to. So that's just one thing, one very simple thing that we all can do, I mean, we all do it anyway, and whether we like it or not, our dollars are casting a vote, and it's either a vote that you're consciously making, or you're unconsciously making. And so that's one thing that we all do every day anyway

And then I think that, again, there's no one right answer about, beyond that, what people choose to do. I think any way in which we engage with the world, whether it's just having conversations with our friends, or reading a book that we think is interesting, or will be informative, or reading the newspaper, or any of those things are important, as well as if you do have the time and you want to be more engaged, there are these thousands of ways to get engaged. That's also what is so inspiring for me to see, all these people around the country that are really defining "activism" in a whole variety of ways so that it can mean volunteering at your kid's school, or it can mean trying to run for office, or it can mean a whole range of different things. It doesn't have to look one certain way.

Britt :
Are there any books that have particularly inspired you that you can recommend?

Well, some of my favorite books, and I should for full disclosure say that this is an organization whose board I'm about to join in a month or two, which I'm really excited about, but some of my favorite books that have been really influential for me are from an organization called the Center for Media and Democracy. And they're called, Toxic Sludge is Good For You, is one of them, and Trust Us, We're Experts is another. Just something about those books and how they helped me understand how to see the world with fresh eyes, and how to see how the ways in which industry shapes public perception, and about a whole range of different issues through their public relations and through the way in which they spin themselves, and the media, has been really helpful for me in thinking through a lot of these issues. I mean, I sort of see it like, I just was talking to a friend of mine who's an ethnobotanist, and he was taking us through Central Park on an edible walking tour of Central Park. And he was showing us all the things you could eat in Central Park. And basically it seemed like you could pretty much eat anything, but don't hold me to that! But basically we were eating all these different leaves, off of all these different trees, and he was pointing all of them out. He knew the names of everything, and he knew exactly their medicinal purposes, and their healing purposes, and how they tasted, everything. And there was this way in which when he walked through Central Park that he just saw the trees for what they were, he had names for them, he just could see right through them in some ways.

And I think about how through those books, Toxic Sludge is Good For You, and other books that I've read, and Marion Nestle's work, who, she wrote Food Politics and Safe Food and her latest book, What to Eat, or Eric Schlosser's books, and through my own research, I mean, I feel like I can walk into the supermarket now and I don't see the veneers of the labels. I can kind of penetrate the products in a way that I didn't before, just like my ethnobotanist friend can do in Central Park. It's a liberating feeling as opposed to an oppressive one, and it's like, "Ok, I know that in a supermarket of these 40,000 items, about half of them come from ten corporations, and I know that of these 40,000 items I can pretty much guess which ones, about three quarters of them, will have genetically modified organisms in them and, ok, I can pretty much know which ones are going to have high fructose corn syrup, or the things I want to stay away from." So it's sort of about kind of exposing ourselves to that information to figure out a way to penetrate the world with new eyes.

Is there anything else you want people to know about Grub?

Well, one of the things that we really stress in our book is that eating this food and sharing it with your friends and family is a fun thing to do, and so the menus in Grub that Bryant created are oriented around dinner parties. We include suggested soundtracks of music to listen to while you're cooking and while you're having fun, and that ultimately it's also about feeling good. Since I got into this work through Hope's Edge and now through Grub, I don't always eat the perfect diet by any means, but I know how good it feels when I do. And that's something that I think is really a really critical point that we stress in the book and in our work.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Solutionary Women: Viet-Ly Nguyen

After a little hiatus, I am resuming my Solutionary Women series, profiles of women who are creating social change.

This week's Solutionary woman is Viet-Ly Nguyen, a former co-worker from Streetside Stories, who I interviewed for my Big Vision Podcast last winter. Streetside Stories is a San Francisco based arts education nonprofit that actually just started a blog, so give them a little link love!

Here is a partial transcript from my interview with Viet-Ly:

Viet-Ly: Streetside Stories is a nonprofit literacy arts program based in San Francisco and we work with the middle schools -- the public middle schools -- of the San Francisco Unified School District. There are a couple different parts to Streetside Stories and the one I work with is the Storytelling Exchange. I work with a co-facilitator and we visit sixth grade language arts and social studies classes for two-week writing workshops. Our writing workshops focus on autobiographical writing and storytelling, and we actually do a lot of storytelling performance and theater with the students. It's really neat because the students work on one autobiographical story for two weeks, and at the end they have one complete story that they can call their very own. We publish a quarter of all of the students' stories in our annual anthology, which you can find in San Francisco bookstores [and on the Streetside web site]. It's really neat because they are published at the age of eleven or twelve and their picture is in it, and they show all of their family and friends.

Britt Bravo: Are there any young people that you've worked with who were super-challenging in the class, either academically or behaviorally, and you saw that arts education made a difference to them?

Viet-Ly: There was one student that I worked with, a sixth-grader, who had gone through a lot of troubling things. His cousin had just recently been shot and killed, accidentally, and he actually got to write about that. The story is one of the most powerful stories I've ever read and it just really shakes you up because he's very honest about the story. What happened was that he was walking along the street and they found a gun, and they went back to their grandma's house, and they decided to play with the gun, and the gun went off accidentally and shot and killed his cousin. He'd been traumatized throughout the whole year by that, and he finally got to write about it.

At one moment, I just remember he kind of just stopped. He's a big kid, people see him as a bully, everybody is scared of him, but also wants to be his friend because they want him on their side. He just took a moment and stopped and he was like, "Wow! Thank you, Viet-Ly!" Just very sincere. That you don't see a lot from sixth-graders: when they take the time to really say, "Thank you", or say something that's on their mind or, "It was nice to meet you". I actually had that again student this year because he repeated the sixth grade, and this year he got to write about repeating the sixth grade, what his decision was about that, and what he needed to decide to do from that point on to be successful.

Actually, we went to a different school later on in the school year and I actually saw him in the schoolyard of that new school. He had gotten expelled from the other school and came to this other school. He was like, "You know, Viet-Ly, I checked all my classes, and the teachers I have right now, they don't have Streetside Stories so I'm bummed."

Britt: What part of your work as a teacher for Streetside Stories brings you the most joy?

Viet-Ly: I'll hear students say, "I really want to thank Streetside Stories for coming here because if you didn't, then I would just keep this story in my heart, and it would be really heavy, and now I get to write about it." Hearing things like that, making it possible for students to write about stories, guiding them along the way, it's just a small impact, and it might not last forever, but at that point it's very crucial.

Britt: What are some of the biggest challenges of the work that you do?

Viet-Ly: The biggest challenge is that some of the students have very low writing skills. They really do want to tell a story, but sometimes it's very difficult for them to begin because they're really intimidated by the writing process. One of our biggest challenges is to get them to just write. Trying to get those stories out and on paper for them is probably the biggest challenge.

Britt: What do you see as the next step for you?

Viet-Ly: I actually realized this year that being in a two-week workshop is really amazing and great, but I also wanted to know how they were doing throughout the whole entire year. So, I decided that I want to be a classroom teacher, and I've applied to school. Actually, I find out pretty soon, but I want to be a middle school Language Arts/Social Studies teacher. [Update: Viet-Ly was accepted into a teach credential program for this fall].

I also think that it was very surprising to me to work in the San Francisco public schools and not really encounter any teachers of color in the public schools. That really baffled me. So I think it's really important for teachers of color to be in the classroom, especially in middle school. Maybe there are more in elementary or high school, but in the middle school, we just didn't run into any, especially with language arts or social studies. So, I think I want to play that role; I want to be that role, be a support for the students throughout the whole time and see them grow and learn for an entire year.

Britt: Can you talk a little more about why you think it's important for there to be teachers of color for young people in the San Francisco public middle schools?

Viet-Ly: I really think that a lot of classrooms I've been to that are taught by white teachers, there's a certain kind of environment, or a certain kind of atmosphere that's set, and there have been some situations where I've seen that a student's home life, or a student's home culture is not necessarily valued in the classroom. I really think it's important to combine, or kind of interweave, a student's home life and a student's school life together, and just make it a whole process, a whole life. It's important for students to be comfortable in the classroom, and to go home and be themselves, and also come to school and be themselves, and feel safe, and feel supported in the school.

A lot of that has to do with language development, too, that I've seen. Students will say that if they're speaking their home language in the classroom, a student or a teacher will say, "Speak English! Speak English!" The students get offended. They're like, "Why can't I speak my home language?" It gets shoved to the side. I want to value a student's process of learning English, because I think it's really important, but at the same time, I want to keep their home language alive.

I think students having more teachers of color in the public schools is also important so that students can see a part of themselves in front of the classroom and see people of color in positions as an administrator or as a teacher. So not only can they be a student, but they can also be a teacher and create that cycle of, "I get an education, and then go back to education," because that needs to continue happening.

Britt: Why do you think there aren't as many teachers of color in the public schools?

Viet-Ly: I have no idea. [Laughter] I don't know. Maybe it starts from students of color not having a great experience in the public education system so they kind of wonder, "Why would I go back there?" It's not the most revered profession in terms of salary and praise, so...I actually have no idea, but I want to change it.

If you know a Solutionary Woman who works for a nonprofit or NGO who you think I should profile, please email me at britt at brittbravo dot com with their name, organization and contact info.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Girls for a Change: Call for Mentors

Girls for a Change, a nonprofit that pairs women with middle and high school girls to help them create social change in their communities, is looking for mentors in the Bay Area and Phoenix.

Courtney Macavinta, coauthor of RESPECT: A Girl's Guide to Getting Respect & Dealing When Your Line is Crossed, talks about her experience as a GFC mentor on her blog:

One of the most amazing experiences I get to have week after week is coaching Girls For A Change Team 13 at Overfelt High School in San Jose. Through this awesome after-school program, these young women are becoming true social change agents.

Their project this year is to prevent teen pregnancy by educating girls about: how to make informed choices, how to protect against the risks that come with being sexually active, and how to get support and resources along the way.

Already they have invited experts to their meetings to educate them about pregnancy and STDs. They came up with a timeline for developing their program and planning a workshop presentation. They have narrowed down the three points they will cover. They even got a grant to fund their project! Every meeting, they are making decisions, leading, listening to one another, and forming strong bonds of sisterhood.

Mostly, they are discovering as one team member, Thalia, put it: "I'm learning that teen girls can get together and change their community."

Mentors can be a:

Girl Action Team Coach (10 -15 hours per month, September - May) who co-facilitates teams of 5-10 girls as they identify challenges in their communities and create projects to help solve those challenges,

or a Girl Action Team Consultant (10-20 hours per year starting anytime) to provide professional support to the girls as they plan and implement projects.

To volunteer in the Bay Area, contact contact Patty Torres at patricia AT

To volunteer in Phoenix, contact Carrie Ellett, at carrie AT

The GFC blog, InHer City, is also looking for girls to be guest authors.

Illustration credit: Logo via Girls for a Change.