By Art Menius, June 14, 2015
Opening Vision Session: Soil is Life
The opening session of the 2015 BALLE conference began inside the grand old Phoenix hemp house, the Orpheum, with powerful poetry from Myrlin Hepworth. He began the process of shattering stereotypes about Phoenix.
Our gracious host, Kimber Lanning of Local First Arizona, told us about goodfoodfinder.com and introduced the Phoenix mayor, welcomed us warmly.
Michelle Long then offered a humorous, enthusiastic, fact filled introduction. She urged us to cultivate our capacity to care for all life and exhibit confidence in our work. She also pointed out that most net job growth in last five years has been in businesses with fewer than 20 employees with minority owned businesses the most successful. Michelle presented her theme for the week. Collaboration is more natural than competition. We feel best when we connect with ourselves, connect with others, respect nature, and act with generosity.
After Michelle Nikki Silvestri led a conversation with Sallie Calhoun of Paicines Ranch and Mark Tilsen of Pine Ridge reservation based Native American Foods, manufacturer of Tanka. 100 community members created the Tanka brand. Profits from the tasty, not at all like jerky, bison meat plus fruit, go to restoring buffalo herds with a target of 1,000,000 head. Tanka bars are sold in Whole Foods and similar stores. Calhoun told us that 75% of the life in our topsoil had been lost during the past one hundred years.
That set us up for the keynote address by Joel Saladin of Virginia’s Polyface Farms. Saladin was by turns hilarious, pointed, provocative, and inspirational. Among other things, Saladin noted that we don’t have an accounting system for the damage we do to the Earth, to our ecosystem, to the soil. The entire US agriculture system attacks the biomass, while we worry about exactly the wrong things. Animals democratize and restore the biomass. In ten years with the right animal husbandry we could sequester all the carbon emissions of the last century. It would only take elevating the organic matter in the soil from 1% to 2%.
Following the first of many networking breaks and book signings, Phoenix Sparks brought us ten speakers in a speedy Ted style. Each one got five minutes and twenty slides.
Joe Johnston of Agritopia described a planned sustainable community. While, developers are selling products rather than homes and communities, thereby producing segregation. Agritopia, by contrast, mimics a traditional village that is integrated, not isolated. Miguel Jordan told us about Local Soil Company with a patented composting system they want to take to scale.
Heidi from WebPT described a business based in culture, people, and conscious leadership. As an employer, she recognizes that people nurtured by autonomy, mastery, and purpose. She never said what WebPT did. I googled and learned that WebPT is an online resource for physical therapy professionals. Postcommodity.com will produce a spectacular art installation in October along US Mexican border. Ann Morton about 13 Fridays, an initiative that makes housing the homeless its first priority. The Barrio Café fights hatred with art.
Oye Waddell of Hustle-PHX impressed me the most as both speaker and project. Hustle provides marginalized youth with nine weeks of business training, then a professional support team, and finally access to capital. In short, the young entrepreneurs with intellectual capital, social capital, and financial capital.
Then we poured out into the Orpheum’s court yard, where drinks were served, and Adams Street, which had been blocked to accommodate four food trucks.