Olympia Food Co-op Growth

Tonight I went to a forum about growth for the Oly Food Co-op. Those who know me know that I love the co-op more than anything else, and I love to enumerate its many virtues. That is mostly why I went to the meeting tonight. I thought it would be a great opportunity to get together with other people who love the co-op, eat free co-op snacks, gush about the co-op and decide what to do next.
It was kind of like that, only not so much of the gushing part. I learned that a lot of people who love the co-op also have strong emotions about it because they don't feel it is all it could be.
This was interesting to me because I think the co-op is perfect. But some people feel it needs to be more competitive, convenient, and attractive-looking. Some people feel it needs to return to its roots and be more stringent about environmental choices, nutrition standards, and politics. Some people think it needs to be bigger, some think it needs to splinter into smaller co-ops, some think we need a Tumwater location. There are a lot of considerations out there.
I listened to people worry about Whole Foods moving in and using aggressive business tactics to hurt the co-op. I listened to people who feel the co-op is headed the way of Seattle's flashy PCC, people who miss the days when the co-op was a sugar-free safehaven, people who are upset about the process the co-op is using to get member feedback about growth, and people who felt we needed to stick to the agenda.
I know not everyone out there cares about the considerations of a grocery store, but to me it is so important. I was busting with love for the co-op through every contentious moment.
Yes, I am a big dork for the co-op.
I enjoy giving them money.
I don't mind writing down my prices.
I consider grocery shopping to be a good Friday night date.
This summer I went to check out and saw that in my heaping cart, all of my produce was locally grown. I care about that. I can see people that I know who grew that food in my food, and the rain and melting glaciers and familiar places in my food. Maybe that sounds hippy-dippy, but that is really how I feel about it. I think local produce is healthier for me nutritionally, politically, and spiritually.
SO, anyway, regardless of how the co-op grows or stays small, I will be there with her. I love our co-op because it is a welcoming, ethical, smart business where good people work. I will continue to shop there, and I don't mind writing down prices, scavenging in the reduced bin, appreciating the volunteers, sweeping up the bulk aisle, bringing in my egg cartons, sampling the peas, and noticing the staff who do such a spectacular job of making the co-op a good place to be.
If you are a member of the Olympia Food Co-op, you can make your thoughts known on growth issues by filling out an advisory ballot, and by attending the annual membership meeting. If you are not a member of the Olympia Food Co-op, I could not recommend it more highly.


What do you want in your coffee?

There comes a time to talk about coffee shops and it is time again. We have visited the subject of coffee shops, or cafes if you prefer, from time to time, and will probably revisit the topic in the future.

Those that know me know that I’m not a huge fan of Batdorf and Bronson’s. I care less for Starbucks. You will find me having coffee at B&B because it is the lesser of two evils, but not by much in my estimation. Certainly B&B has a great location. The decor I am not concerned with. Physical plants are not what ultimately turns me on. I ask you readers to consider this, what do you prefer to be turned on by, people or things? I take the people every time, just can’t get too excited about things. Ambiance is good, but I don’t consider it the highest thing on my list for a place to drink coffee.

Drinking coffee is what coffee shops are about. But it is not so simple as that. You can drink coffee anywhere. So what is it about the coffee shop that makes drinking coffee there the experience that it is? The answer is the people. People that drink coffee in coffee shops want to be with people that are also drinking coffee, but more to the point they want to commune with those drinking coffee. So coffee is the hook and the communing is the reason for being there.

Why I find issue with B&B and Starbucks is that there is very little communing going on in those places. Free WiFi glues people to their laptops. The arrangement of furniture does very little do further conversations, particularly for larger groups. Starbucks is even worse, you really don’t even want to hang around with your laptop very long in a Starbucks, seating really only a step above what you get at a McDonalds, and you have to realize that the seating in McDonalds is specifically designed so that you only occupy it for 20 minutes maximum.

A coffee shop should always be designed to be a place of conversation. A place to meet and greet and settle down in conversation. The coffee shop should be flexible enough to allow people to enter and leave conversations, even with people they might not know at first. Furniture should facilitate conversation. If you are a stranger to town a coffee shop should be the kind of place where you can get a cup of coffee and in 5 minutes be part of a conversation. A coffee shop should be the first place a stranger goes to find out what is going on in the town.

I like reading in coffee shops, I like writing in coffee shops. Those are fine solitary things to do in a coffee shop, but what I really want from my coffee shop is community and I don’t believe we have such a thing in Olympia. I know those out there are saying “ooooo, what about B&B? they have community there”. I ask you, next time you are in B&B to pay attention to what is really going on. You will find mostly solitary people engaged in solitary activities. You’ll see a sprinkling of conversation, but you will not find a conversation to join in on within 5 minutes.

There is room in our town for the B&Bs and the Starbucks. No doubt about it. They serve different purposes. But don’t really call these places coffee shops, they may pretend to be coffee shops, they may fill the void when there are no coffee shops, but they ain’t coffee shops, at least in my estimation. If you have enough conversation in a good coffee shop it doesn’t matter how much they charge for a cup of coffee. One cup will last you the whole afternoon in such an environment.


Ethiopian Restaurant

I would really like to see an Ethiopian Restaurant in Olympia.
Ethiopian food is great. It features a lot of meats that have been simmered in spicy sauces-chiles, onion, ginger, garlic, cardamom- I don't know what else but it tastes spectacular. There are a lot of vegetarian and vegan options as well. Legume stews, various fried vegetables, spicy salads- one need not partake in flesh to enjoy Ethiopian food. In accordance with a culture which places heavy emphasis on socializing, food comes on one communal platter, and there are no untensils. There is a large tangy, pancake-like bread which the dishes are served on called Injera. Small pieces are torn off and used to scoop the food up and pop it into your mouth. It is a very sweet experience to eat this way with friends.
Sometimes the people of this area fancy we invented coffee culture. But Ethiopians have a coffee culture that I think is even deeper and more evolved than the one here in the Pacific Northwest. Like it is in the NW, coffee is a tool for fostering community. In fact, there is an expression in Ethiopia that translates to "Coffee is our bread." But its not just coffee that is taken seriously: it is the friendship, hospitality, and community that is created around coffee.
In Ethiopia, people gather for the coffee ceremony daily. Coffee is not about staying awake through the work day- its about being together. Its a time to invite strangers in. Its a time to gather to bullshit, share news and gossip, and nurture friendships. Its a way of showing respect to elders. Its a time to pause and appreciate the blessings of the day- even if you are working your tail off, even if you are living in poverty.
Once I was eating lunch in an Ethiopian restaurant in Seattle and it came time for the coffee ceremony. The staff came out from the back of the restaurant, and the owner of the restaurant brought out a tray with incense burning, small cups, the coffee pot, and sugar. The customers were invited to join them for the ceremony. Soon she brought out a pot of smoldering coffee beans that she had roasted over the burner in the back. She crushed the freshly roasted beans and put them into the coffee pot with boiling water to brew. The coffee was delicious!
She poured round after round for us, free of charge. Traditional black with sugar, then cream and sugar, then black with honey. The staff, her children, the customers- all were guests for the hour or more that we sat having coffee. In Ethiopia, they do this three times every day!
One thing I love about Olympia's culture is the people who make coffee a daily ceremony, if an informal one. You know where to find them. You know that if you are ever in need of a familiar face, you can at any hour find someone having their coffee ceremony who has time to argue with you, listen to you, cheer you up, or smoke a cigarette with you.
I think its in no small part because of this ritual that the downtown culture of Olympia is unusually friendly, easy-going, safe, and generous. We have created a plot in which these things grow well.
I lived in an Ethiopian-dominated neighborhood in Seattle and it was the same way. People were so friendly and so good to one another. I felt welcomed and cared for by my neighbors.
Anyway, everyone in Olympia is always complaining that we need more restaurants. It seems to me we have an abundance of restaraunts, but we need more types of restaurants. And I think Ethiopian would be a good place to start...


A New Library

Please join this hot thread on Olyblog to hear what the community has to say about the future of the Olympia library.


An Accidental Downtown Olympia

I often find myself wandering around flickr.com. In this particular instance I was looking for tags of: Downtown Olympia. Pretty much the usual pictures came up, the lovers statue, Procession of the Species pictures. And I stumbled upon this picture. It was a dream. It was not downtown Olympia Washington, it was downtown Olympia Greece. But it is my vision of downtown Olympia.

People living right downtown, life on the streets of all kinds. The smallest pushcart operator to the largest retailer. Sidewalk cafes, benches and improvised seating. The balconies above the stores are great. You can see that this is a downtown that works. Sure it is a little moth eaten around the edges, but even in the picture you see it has life. There is no disconnect between the street and the life.

This is what this town needs. It was not supposed to be part of my research, but it showed up anyway. What really amazed me about the picture was that I thought I was actually looking a a picture of Olympia Washington at first. I didn't quite recognize the area or the era, but then it occurred to me that it was not our town, still something about it seemed so right.

A larger version of the picture, way bigger can be found at: http://flickr.com/photo_zoom.gne?id=88669854&size=l

Former Olympian Steve Lodefink shot this 2-minute Super8 film of the trip from Olympia to Seattle in 1988 using stills. The soundtrack is his band Incredible Force of Junior. They broke up. Super8 is such a good medium for Olympia, especially when coupled with an indie pop/punk song.

Note how clear the roads were, and how much more green the areas along the I-5. Watch for the Rainier brewery sign- that used to be my signal as a kid that we were almost there.

Olympia: A Cheap Place You'd Want to Live

MSN has named Olympia one of their 8 cheap places you'd want to to live in the country. They define a good affordable place to live as a place with a strong economy, a college, and a low crime rate. Isn't something to be proud of that we are a community where you don't have to be rich to have good quality of life? I think that is a hard thing to come by anymore.


Human Feces: Olympia's WMD's?

By the way, (take note, Olympian reporters) this picture was not taken in downtown Olympia. It came from the website http://madeyouthink.org, where you can order these George Bush poo flags for the price of a self-addressed stamped envelope. Thousands have been planted worldwide, even puzzling German Police , who were apparently unaware of the website, and may still be searching for "the culprit".
I don't know if the makers of the website endorse participants creating their own piles to plant the flags in. I'm fairly certain that the Bush Administration and the Olympia City Council do not. What This Town Needs is united with them on this particular issue.
There are as many piles of human doo doo in downtown as there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Let's not create a problem where there isn't one...Um. Yeah.

Regime Change or Weapons of Mass Destruction?

Originally posted by Crenshaw Sepulveda on Olyblog

It seems to me that the voices claiming that downtown Olympia is such a terrible place are very similar to the voices that got us into this war in Iraq. The lead up to the war had the administration trotting out for public display any voice that would claim that Iraq had these weapons of mass destruction and they were pointed at Podunk, Iowa. So we got the war, killed plenty of people. Of course there were no weapons of mass destruction.

So we now have all these voices saying how terrible downtown Olympia is. Between politicians, business people, writers to the comments section of the Olympian, and reporters for the Olympian. All these voices that say downtown Olympia is awful. But really, downtown Olympia is terrific. Most of the people that I know that see it for the first time love it. They love it even more after continued exposure. So we have this disconnect. What people are trying to portray downtown Olympia as and the real truth about downtown Olympia, and that is that it is a very successsful downtown with a distinct personality and unique mix of mostly locally owned businesses. Our downtown is populated with a diverse mixture of people that add to the life of downtown.

So if it is not the weapons of mass destruction, or in this case the horribly unsafe conditions of downtown, it must be that the people that are making the claims are actually going for regime change. The short story is that big business does not like little business. Big business would give us Applebys, Red Lobster, and the Gap downtown. They would give us sterile shopping districts that would be vacated after closing time. Big business would give us the illusion of safety without actually providing safety. I'll say that again, they would give us the illusion of safety without providing actual safety. Huh? Remove the panhandlers, remove the young street people, remove the interesting characters that populate the downtown area and you would have the illusion of safety. No panhandlers, no bums, no mentally ill people wandering around and all will proclaim that downtown is safe. I hope by now that you know better than that. What we will have is a void in our town after hours, the void will be filled by those that really pose a safety threat to the downtown. Where street life doesn't exist you have the increased potential for trouble. Couple that with the sterility of the businesses that would take the place of our local businesses and you have an environment that is so without humanity that it would drive the most pious to a life of crime.

What we have in downtown is what will make it better. We are well aware that there are people in downtown that need help. Unlike most downtowns I believe that our downtown can do this in the most humane and meaningful way. I say that because I believe that even the poorest of our community are worthy of inclusion in our community. I believe that they may be capable of making the most profound of contributions to our community.

Make no mistake, what is going on is not unlike the run up to the Iraq war. They are saying one thing, but you know what they really want, and that is regime change. Yes we have a war on our hands. It is a war against the poor. It is a war against the small business person that makes our town unique. There is a war because downtown Olympia stands for what big business doesn't. Couple that with the fact that downtown Olympia sits on some very desirable and valuable real estate and you can hear the war machines cranking up.


Out of Town...

for several days. Expect the blog to be unmanned until next week...Thanks.


Pat Tassoni's History of the Sidewalk

Its more interesting than the title would suggest...

I was going to do like an academic masters degree thingy on the history of traffic laws as a political social struggle -- but then Asphalt Nation came out and I abandoned any idea that I could be a master of the subject.

Traffic laws come about only with the intermixing of new modes, with the exception of one law founded in christian morality that dates back to the 17th century in America: Under the colonial law sections related to gambling, it is illegal to race horses on Sunday. In urban areas in the late 18th century where there was a conflict between the modes of horses and pedestrians, it became illegal to ride horses on sidewalks. This had more to do with horses coming off the dirty and muddy roads and destroying the raised wooden sidewalks [really porches] in front of buildings. At this point the porches and any awnings were property of the building owner. This private benefit would change to public property as it became the role of government through taxes to build roads and sidewalks during the next century.

Although during the mid-1800s the first speeding law made was to protect the pedestrian from horses so horses could not run through densely populated urban areas, real speed limitations came with the introduction of railroads through urban areas. Another pre-industrial traffic law is still seen today: why the fuck do we drive on the right-side of the road - at least most of us? To regulate too many horses and carriages going over urban bridges that were built to human scale.

With industrialization in the late 1800s came the beginnings of non-dirt roads as people using those new fangled modes of transportation -- bicycles -- lobbied for better roads. So we got brick, cobble stone, granite slabs before the recipe for concrete and asphalt was developed. Olympia still has some stone and brick streets downtown, paved over though. It also became illegal to ride bicycles, like horses, on sidewalks [still wood]. I don't think it is illegal to race them though on Sundays. Personally, I think it is an antiquated law that doesn't fit downtown Oly because there is not the density here as evidenced by the frequent cops riding their bikes around without problems. [Oooo!, I remember once an OPD cop harassing some food not bombs people using a shopping cart and threatening to charge them with the long-standing law of stealing a cart. That law makes reference to a horse-drawn carriage and dates back to a time when you could essentially shoot someone for stealing your horse]. During this time too, urban areas required horse drawn carriages to carry bells and lanterns to warn pedestrians of their comings and goings. Trains too, and then cars.

At the beginning of the 19th century new laws were developed first to restrict automobiles and to protect pedestrians and horses from them. But the rich ended up having continued lobbying effect, roads and cities became paved and the car has won out and pushed away horses, marginalized bicycles and all but criminalized pedestrians in public spaces. The automobile industry also has a history of illegally controlling the development of other modes and destroying the existing ones in their favor. At least Ralph Nader pushed back.

But there was a brief moment in American history when the vast majority of people were by one definition poor and the few cars were just monstrous toys of the rich. Marketplace democracy prevailed for a while as the rich were heavily regulated to keep their cars out of sight and away from people [and horses]. Now we have lost that perspective and our pedestrian rights to the roads and public property.

Eat the rich.


Troy Remembers Bremerton

I felt a little pang reading this timely post on Troy's Work Table, a (sort of) local blog I am fond of. Is this the ghost of Olympia-future paying us a visit?

"When I wandered around Bremerton two weeks ago, the town in which I grew up, similar memories were stirred by landmarks present and absent. I was taken back to my childhood, my teenage years, my years as a young adult. I wandered by the storefront that once was Harbor Books—a favorite hangout of mine when my brother or sister were taking swimming lessons at the long-demolished YMCA. Thinking of Harbor Books brought a flood of wonderful book associations with the space: browsing and then buying H.P. Lovecraft tomes; picking up the latest Dungeons & Dragons and Traveller modules; looking through the maps and discount books in the loft; buying books by Stephen King, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Ramsey Campbell, Clive Barker.

I passed the old Bremer's building, once the department store of downtown Bremerton, and Kitsap County. I passed the corner where Woolworth's with its soda fountain and lunch counter used to stand, now fenced in and claimed in a land grab by Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. I passed the places where the record store and tattoo parlor and the Roxy and Admiral theaters stood.

The dream of Bremerton-past shimmered and then faded. Sepia tone gave way to now: the steel frames of condominiums-under-construction on the waterfront, the new Kitsap Federal Credit Union building, the Kitsap Conference Center, the Bremerton Transportation Center, the Norm Dicks Government Building."

A Call for Visions

As you may have noticed, I have been dragging up and reposting a lot of comments from folks on Olyblog about the proposed downtown ordinances and the community conversation about downtown.

This issue is so central, and the visions that are coming out of the conversation are exactly what I had in mind when starting What This Town Needs. I can't help but to post all these ideas.

I would like to invite others who have visions for downtown, or comments about this issue to post them on What This Town Needs. Of course, I am not posting everything. WTTN has a certain philosophy and vision for Olympia, so I am interested in comments that are mostly in line with this philosophy. I have certainly posted other people's comments that I don't agree with 100%, but it should essentially be ideas that are, in Crenshaw Sepulveda's words "inclusive and empowering".

If you have differing opinions, Olyblog is set up to be a community forum, so I would encourage you to post there, or feel free to comment on posts here that you disagree with. I publish all comments except those that are crude or threatening, or contain personal information about others.

Broaden the Sidewalks

[Bumped to the front by Rick]

If I have a complaint about downtown Olympia (and actually I have more than one) it would be that the sidewalks are too narrow. This is not because there are people I need to step over, because I never have to step over people (what an insulting concept). It is not because the sidewalks are covered with feces and I can not find a feces free spot to walk. The sidewalks are too narrow because they do not adequately function in their intended manner.

Sidewalks are a public space. Their nature is to provide the zone where people can mingle and converse in a public place. People seem to think that the sidewalk is the zone that protects the buildings from the cars in the street. Others view the sidewalk as the arterial on which people travel. Travel on a sidewalk is really not common as one thinks. Think of the people you know that will get in a car to drive two blocks to buy a qallon of milk.

A side walk is a public place. There should be room for outdoor cafes, push cart vendors, peoples making and selling art. There should be benches and improvised furniture on which people can relax. A sidewalk should be what the users can make of it. Getting from point A to point B is just one function of the sidewalk, and probably the least used and least important function of the sidewalk. Lacking a town square, or similar feature, the sidewalk, in its natural functioning, will take over the role of the town square.

Some might begrudge the homeless and young their space on the sidewalk and this is sad. We have to insist that the sidewalk is a public place to be used for a variety of purposes. The purposes are defined by the users. I'm not saying that the sidewalks are intended for illegal purposes but they are intended for people to live part of their public life. I can not say what defines living a public life. It might mean hanging around, chatting with friends, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, reading a newspaper, talking on the phone, watching people, napping, resting, shopping, running into friends and people that become friends. Our sidewalks need to be wider, there is too much going on there.

Most cities will make sidewalks narrower as to accomodate more cars on the streets. Sidewalks are sacrificed to provide more lanes for cars to travel. A place dominated by automobile travel will cease to be public places. Good examples are the so called sidewalks around our strip malls and big box stores. If you can find side walks at all in those locations you will never see people using the sidewalk as a public place, indeed it is usually impossible at a strip mall or big box store to use the sidewalk to get from point A to point B.

I understand that buildings can not be moved when roads are widened. Again, the sidewalk is sacrificed. But the sidewalk is the lifeblood of a neighborhood, in many ways it is the sidewalk and the life on the sidewalk that creates the safety in the neighborhood. Make the sidewalks narrow enough and our neighborhoods become strip malls and the functional equivilents of big box stores. Cars can prowl and people on foot will no longer exist or be provided for. Maybe this is the intent of the civic planners. Continue to serve the automobiles (which by their very nature are private spaces using public facilities) and make certain that public lives can not exist. Why a city would want to eliminate sidewalks as public places will take up another huge block of space so I will address that at another time.

"I would make it impossible for the covetous and avaricious to utterly impoverish the poor. The rich can take care of themselves."
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