I warned y’all recently that I was going to start posting more having to do with the other kinds of sharing we practice as we travel. Although serving free tea is one of the main ways I like to share with people, I have taken to sharing in many of the other things I am fond of – namely small-scale, off-grid, hands-on, salvaged, low environmental impact, high social impact, systems-thinking, and community-oriented living. As I (we all?) transition away from highly-calculated exchange and back towards traditional human economy (non-calculated exchange), I find myself figuring out less-calculated forms of exchange as part of my transitional ethics. These ways of sharing were at the heart of this summer for Ally, Edna, and I as we worked on making Front Street Grocer and Kitchen a reality. I was hired on as the lead builder, and Ally as the Start-Up Manager.
Thomas, WV was a rural food desert. I mean, don’t get me wrong, West Virginians are known to be home gardeners, so real food isn’t rare for people with a plot of land. Poverty has a tendency to make people more self- and community-reliant. People share their excess, take turns taking care of kids, and lend tools. This is small community living. An older fellow would bring me home-brewed raspberry wine or tomatoes, simply because he wanted to share. There was no grocery in town. You could travel a few miles to Davis, but the main grocery store barely contains things you and I would recognize as food (mostly processed, non-organic, GMO). The small local grocery in Davis did offer some good local foods, but was far from enough, and too small for variety and the quality varied. Many people drove 30 minutes to Walmart to buy organic food.
I was asked to help build Front Street Grocers and Kitchen precisely because of my dedication to salvaged-building, eco-friendly products, healthy food, alternative-energy, small space design, and making community spaces. The space itself was a disaster when we arrived, with bats of insulation in piles, wood strewn about, random furniture, kitchen appliances scattered about. By the time we left, four months later, it was a fully functional kitchen and grocery, with seating at two copper bars and in an old alleyway we enclosed called Bake Alley. The store features mostly salvaged and locally-milled wood, eco-friendly finishes, organic and natural foods, a wood-fired oven (in Bake Alley), kombucha and wine on tap, and is completely solar-powered. I designed and/or built most of the wood projects, as well as the beverage on-tap system.
I needed to make some cash, as my reserves were running a little low, but I also knew that this was a great opportunity to practice some less-calculated exchange. The project lead, Justin, is an amazing collaborator and was totally open for such things. I did not work for an hourly rate; rather I had a range per week that in the ideal world would reflect the amount I worked, the quality of my work, and any other relevant factors. I was also paid in a place to shower, food, an address, a washing machine, and good community to be with (all valuable things!). The truth is that the ideal of checking in once/week to discuss monetary and other pay didn’t pan out as I’d hoped. We were all too busy. I also never asked for the top of my pay range even in weeks that I worked 50+ hours and did good work. This was mostly due to the fact that the project was obviously running low on funds towards the end as we were all working hard. But hey, this is what less-calculated exchange is about: knowing how all people involved are feeling and taking appropriate action. Towards the second half of the build, we finished up the kitchen, and Corey (one of the owners, and the main chef/baker) began firing up the wood-fired oven, and making delicious things in the kitchen while we got to be guinea pigs.
I guess the best way for me to explore this space with you is just to show you. So, without further ado, here are the photos (there’s a lot):
Now that I have solidified my personal position that my work has to represent my moral framework, I feel good to know that I am invited to participate in such projects. I have so much respect and thanks for all the folks who I worked alongside as co-workers and friends. They are my community.
Big thanks to Justin, who led but, as a wonderful collaborator, gave tremendous voice and creativity to everyone involved; to Corey for allowing someone like me to come in and do creative work, much of which he could do himself; to Trevor for being a steady rock, even through the madness; to Jaime, who’s help, dedication, diligence, skills, and creativity were incredible and indispensible; to Eva (and Ruben) for taking care of family and hearth, as well as for much organizational/ordering work; to Mark, for taking orders from a young guy like me and building things; to Ally, who kept us organized and on task (and me sane); and to all the other creative hands who helped along the way (too many to name!).