The question that I have been asking myself recently – and that I hope to answer through being a BALLE Local Economy Fellow is this:
How can individual efforts – mine, yours – be amplified? How can we engage in a collective effort and movement to create social change and a healthier, more sustainable and just future for our families and communities and planet?
My path for the last 15 years has been mostly an individual journey.
Growing up the son of immigrant small business owners that gave back to the community, I have been ingrained with a deep admiration and respect for how small businesses can be the backbone of our community. They can provide a path for economic opportunity, make a difference in the lives of the people they touch, and build resilience and health in our communities.
My own family – and really my two young children – led me to connecting to where our food comes from and caring for the people who grow that healthy food for my family and community. My work journey led me to providing microloans and technical assistance to hard-working, often immigrant families facing tons of barriers and challenges in the diverse communities of San Jose, San Francisco, and Oakland. My volunteering engaged me in fighting for environmental and social justice through better land use planning and sustainable development.
Three years ago, this individual path culminated at the intersection of all these important issues, leading to me founding Kitchen Table Advisors to fuel the economic viability of the next generation of sustainable small farms and ranches. We're fighting to help these farmers overcome barriers – like a 75% small farm failure rate and economics that often have them scraping by with just $10-25,000 in take-home pay – so they can steward our land, build community, and grow healthy food for our families.
This work in Northern California has led to engaging hundreds of individuals and businesses to give time, money, and social capital to help dozens of farms who employ dozens of people, ecologically steward hundreds of acres, and feed thousands of people with hundreds of thousands of pounds of healthy, sustainable food.
And yet, in the face of gross economic injustice, pending environmental disaster, and systemic barriers to social justice and equity, this feels like a drop in the bucket – in isolation, it is not nearly enough.
But what if I and we could engage in a broader movement of thousands or millions of individuals, businesses, and organizations fighting for economic, social, and environmental equity and justice? What might it look and feel like to learn from, collaborate with, and fight alongside a group of talented, passionate, committed leaders with common goals and vision?
What kind of change could we create together? Living wages for all? Millions of thriving businesses that respect people and the planets? An abundance of healthy, sustainable food available to all and grown in a way that takes care of the land, worker, and eaters?
As I look to my first BALLE Fellowship immersion at the end of May with dozens of leaders across North America tackling these problems, and becoming part of an even broader network of leaders doing this work, I hope to answer these questions. I look forward to experiencing how the thoughtful convening power of BALLE can rally, inspire, and stitch together many disparate people, efforts, and communities to help build a stronger movement for social change.