Small Farms Also Struggle as Restaurants Shut Down Due to Coronavirus

Civil Eats

Small Farms Also Struggle as Restaurants Shut Down Due to Coronavirus

With the sudden closure of restaurants around the country, farmers are looking for new ways to feed their communities and stay afloat.

 

At Norwich Meadows Farm in upstate New York, Zaid Kurdieh and his wife Haifa grow varieties of vegetables coveted by New York City chefs. If this were a normal week, diners would be enjoying their produce at restaurants like Blue HillABC Kitchen, and Gramercy Tavern. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, however those restaurants are closed indefinitely—creating a dire situation for them and others like them. But it’s not just restaurant owners and workers who stand to suffer in the wake of the virus.

While it’s still unclear how all farmers will be economically impacted by the coronavirus, the situation is already affecting small-scale producers who sell into local markets.

“It’s unprecedented. I’ve never seen anything like this,” Kurdieh said, estimating that about 60 percent of his business depends on restaurants, and at this time of year, that number is closer to 75 percent. “We are figuring everything out day by day.”

The fate of farmers’ markets is still uncertain in many places, but COVID-19’s catastrophic effect on restaurants that buy from local growers is now assured. President Trump issued new guidelines on Monday that advised Americans to avoid groups of 10 or more people and called for governors in affected states to close restaurants and bars. Before that, governors in many states across the country had already ordered restaurants closed except for takeout and delivery.

Mayors in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. all issued similar but varying directives. And in places where government officials haven’t stepped in, many restaurants are closing anyway, either out of necessity due to lack of customers or in service of the public interest to slow the spread of the virus.

“We really rely on restaurants,” Joe Schirmer, owner of Dirty Girl Produce, a 40-acre organic farm in Santa Cruz, California told Civil Eats on Monday. “[Those sales are] at zero. It’s totally done. There are no restaurants buying.”

The shuttering of institutions—especially schools—is also affecting small farms. As of March 16, 35 states had closed public schools.

Sky Island Farm's Kate Harwell. (Photo courtesy of Sky Island Farm)

Kate Harwell. (Photo courtesy of Sky Island Farm)

Kate Harwell grows vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers at Sky Island Farm in Grays Harbor, Washington, a couple of hours outside of Seattle. She had been structuring her whole season around starting a contract to sell produce to Seattle public schools starting in mid-April.

“We were basically going to be wholesaling a large percentage of what we’re growing to them. That was going to be a big chunk of money,” she said. Seattle schools are now officially closed through April 24, and Harwell hasn’t heard back from her district contact. “I’m sure she’s dealing with a lot right now,” she said.

Given the uncertainty around when schools will reopen, Harwell is now working with the assumption that she has lost that sales channel. Her goal is to make up the income by shifting gears and expanding her community supported agriculture (CSA) program, which she had previously kept small.

After she reopened it and began posting about it on Instagram, including a new offer for home delivery, her membership grew faster than it ever had before. “I got 10 sign-ups just yesterday,” she said.

And she’s not alone. Many farmers are pivoting from restaurant and institutional sales to sell directly to customers who are holed up at home. In New York, Kurdieh is ramping up online sales of his produce through the platform OurHarvest. In the Bay Area, which instituted a “shelter in place” order as of March 17, Schirmer is working on quickly putting together a “box” program with both pick-up and delivery options. (Essential activities including food shopping and medical visits are not restricted by the order.)

One of his oldest restaurant customers, Zuni Café, is helping put together a produce pick-up that will aggregate local food from Dirty Girl Produce and other farms they work with. In an Instagram post on Monday, the restaurant hinted at the initiative. “In the coming days we will be starting a new project that we are hopeful will keep our farmers connected to everyone,” they wrote.

Schirmer said there has been an outpouring of support from the local food community, and that keeping the business afloat will require his team to be extraordinarily nimble. “We’ve got food, we’ve got a crew, we’ve got trucks and infrastructure,” he said. “We’re just changing our business model on the fly.”

Emma Jagoz, small farmer at Moon Valley Farm.

Emma Jagoz. (Photo courtesy of Moon Valley Farm)

Like many East Coast farms, Moon Valley Farm, a favorite supplier for restaurants in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., would typically be gearing up to start its CSAseason in the coming weeks. But farmer Emma Jagoz announced on Saturday that the farm would begin “veggie home delivery,” offering a la carte CSA shares (rather than requiring a seasonal commitment) delivered to customers, starting this week.

Also in Maryland, Beckie Gurley owns the seven-acre organic fruit and vegetable farm Calvert’s Gift Farm with her husband, Jack. She also runs Chesapeake Farm to Table, a platform that has aggregated produce from local growers to sell to restaurants in Baltimore, including Rye Street TavernDylan’s, and Larder.

“Of course [the closures] are going to affect our bottom line,” Gurley said, but the cooperative is in a better position than it would be otherwise, because it already has the capacity to take online orders and offer home delivery. “We’re hoping the word gets out. In order to recoup the lost restaurant business, we hope that we can get these direct sales moving, and people realize we’re out there and how safe and available local food is.”

Gurley has also set up a pick-up point for produce orders in conjunction with a restaurant partner, Well Crafted Kitchen, that is continuing to operate a takeout business.

So far, farmers say the pandemic is not affecting them as much as it would during summer or fall, when most of their revenue generally comes in. But if it continues into peak harvest time, things are going to get much more difficult. “If this was peak season, this would be a disaster,” Kurdieh said. “We don’t know how this is going to turn out, but we’re planning [for summer] just as if it was a normal year, because I don’t know how else to do it.”

Depending on the length of the crisis, without restaurants and institutions, they may have to sell all their food directly to consumers.

“[We’re asking]: ‘How do we feed our communities?’ I think that’s the goal of every small farmer at this point,” Kate Harwell said. “If [global] commerce stops, we have to get our food from somewhere. I think people should absolutely start thinking about their local farmers, and I hope this puts them in a position to support them.”

Thousands Of People Are Growing ‘Climate Victory Gardens’ To Save The Planet

HuffPost – U.S.

Thousands Of People Are Growing ‘Climate Victory Gardens’ To Save The Planet

Kyla Mandel             February 6, 2020

Right across from Atholton High School in Columbia, Maryland, sits a garden roughly a third of an acre with rows of vegetable beds and a newly added pond to encourage wildlife. The garden, located along the road so it’s the first thing people see when they drive past, is being managed mostly by students who planted their first perennial seeds to support pollinators last fall and are now eagerly waiting to see what springs up.

It is part of a 6.4-acre plot of farmland bought last June by the Community Ecology Institute, a nonprofit that seeks to reunite people with nature, from a retiring organic farmer who had managed it since the 1980’s and didn’t want it to be lost to development. Fifty years ago, the entire area was agricultural land. Today, this plot is the only farm left. And one of the first things the Community Ecology Institute did when it took over the farm was to plant this “climate victory garden.”

The nonprofit is one of over 2,000 organizations and individuals across the country growing food in climate victory gardens ― be it on a balcony or in a backyard, a community garden or larger urban farm project ― in a bid to mitigate the climate crisis.

Climate change is “a tremendous crisis, but it’s also a really amazing opportunity to shift the way that we’ve been doing things that no longer work,” said Chiara D’Amore, the Community Ecology Institute’s executive director. “We want to use the entire farm as a way to teach about climate action … and we see land-based climate action as one of the more tangible, gratifying ways to help people feel like there’s some hope, feel like there’s something they can do.”

The Community Ecology Institute's climate victory garden in Columbia, Maryland. (Photo: HuffPost)
The Community Ecology Institute’s climate victory garden in Columbia, Maryland. (Photo: HuffPost)

 

The climate victory garden movement was launched by nonprofit Green America two years ago. It is inspired by the estimated 20 million victory gardens planted across the U.S. by the end of World War II, responsible for producing 40% of all vegetables consumed in the country at the time. The environmental nonprofit is calling on people to use whatever outdoor space they have to grow fruits and vegetables, using “regenerative” methods to help tackle agriculture’s carbon footprint.

About a third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from food production ― that includes emissions related to storing, transporting and selling food. However, the main climate contribution comes from growing crops and livestock and the effect of deforestation to create more cropland. In the U.S., the agriculture sector accounts for roughly 9% of the country’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. Industrial agriculture can also contribute to water pollution from fertilizer runoff and a loss in biodiversity.

Individual gardening efforts alone aren’t enough to address these issues, but it’s a start. “Certainly the victory garden didn’t solve the problem, it didn’t win the war, but it was something people could be called on to do to feel like they were a part of the solution and doing something that was a benefit,” reflected D’Amore, who said the same goes for the climate crisis today.

A World War II victory garden poster at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. (Photo: Billy Metcalf Photography / Flickr)
A World War II victory garden poster at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. (Photo: Billy Metcalf Photography / Flickr)

 

Many of the goals of the victory garden in the 20th century are echoed in the modern environmental movement.

Herbert Hoover, head of the U.S. Food Administration during World War I, encouraged Americans to live simply, grow their own food and consume less. The Federal Bureau of Education also launched the U.S. School Garden Army, which enrolled 2.5 million children in 1919. Those school gardens are credited with helping produce food worth $48 million at the time. Thanks to efforts like these, the U.S. successfully avoided having to ration during that war.

During World War II, citizens were once again encouraged to grow everything from potatoes to peach trees, and many women, as part of the Women’s Land Army, stepped in to manage urban victory gardens and rural farms. In 1943, first lady Eleanore Roosevelt planted a victory garden on the front lawn of the White House in an effort to show that anyone could successfully grow food.

Soy was promoted as an alternative protein to meat ― although more because meat was being rationed to feed the military than over environmental concerns. Soybeans were marketed as “wonder” or “miracle” beans that were easier to grow and store than meat. Canning, drying and preserving were also encouraged to help foods last longer.

Two women from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts tend a World War II victory garden. (Photo: Bettmann via Getty Images)
Two women from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts tend a World War II victory garden. (Photo: Bettmann via Getty Images)

 

“For us, the inspiration grew from knowing how many people were involved [in these victory gardens], how many people wanted to make a difference, and how many people really wanted to be involved in this food culture,” said Jillian Semaan, food campaigns director for Green America. “Knowing those numbers and what victory gardens did at that time, we felt we had a great opportunity.”

The difference now, though, is that Green America hopes to harness this same spirit through the potential of what’s known as “regenerative agriculture” ― a way of farming that’s dedicated to enriching the soil while also producing healthful food, with the added benefit of storing carbon in the ground. As the government’s 2018 National Climate Assessment, along with many other scientists, acknowledges, “agriculture is one of the few sectors with the potential for significant increases in carbon sequestration to offset [greenhouse gas] emissions.”

The challenge, however, will be to scale it up. There’s a long way to go before reaching wartime levels, but Green America hopes to more than double the number of climate victory gardens this year to 5,000.

Plants are sprouting at the BLISS Meadows climate victory garden in Baltimore. Healthy soil means more nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables. (Photo: Atiya Wells)
Plants are sprouting at the BLISS Meadows climate victory garden in Baltimore. Healthy soil means more nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables. (Photo: Atiya Wells)

 

The term “regenerative agriculture” was coined in the 1980’s by Robert Rodale, son of the man who applied the term “organic” to food. The most important idea behind regenerative farming (or “carbon farming”) is soil health. This means relying far less on fertilizers and chemicals and focusing more on methods like planting cover crops, applying compost to build up nutrients in the soil and make it more fertile, and not tilling.

Tilling ― breaking up the soil’s surface ― is used to fight weeds and prepare soil for growing. But it reduces the soil’s structural integrity, meaning it won’t hold as much water and will erode more easily ― two qualities of increasing importance as climate change brings extreme weather, such as the devastating floods the Midwest experienced last year.

Tilling also releases carbon that has been locked into the earth throughout the plant’s life cycle. The more carbon-rich the soil becomes, the better plants grow.

Prioritizing soil health is what differentiates climate victory gardens from organic or wildlife gardens, D’Amore said. “Starting from that literally ground-up perspective, we need to make sure that the soil is really healthy to be mindful of what we’re growing,” she said, describing roots as a “whole underground infrastructure” that helps sequester carbon. In practice, this means finding some edible perennial plants with deep roots, such as currant bushes, which her farm will be growing along with other berries.

Meanwhile, cover crops ― like clover, turnips, barley and spinach ― help keep the soil in place and act as a protective blanket in winter.

The Community Ecology Institute in Columbia, Maryland, is growing vegetables with the help of high school students to help tackle climate change. (Photo: Community Ecology Institute)
The Community Ecology Institute in Columbia, Maryland, is growing vegetables with the help of high school students to help tackle climate change. (Photo: Community Ecology Institute)

 

“If a farmer is practicing regenerative agriculture on his or her land, the soil is getting improved over time. It’s going to get healthier,” said Jeff Tkach, chief impact officer at the Rodale Institute, an educational nonprofit that researches and promotes regenerative organic farming. “If the soil is improving, well, then the food that the farmer is producing is going to become more nutrient-dense over time. And if those consuming that food are eating more nutrient-dense food, then they’re going to get healthier over time … and the community’s going to thrive.”

A healthy community is at the heart of BLISS Meadows, a climate victory garden that launched last March in Baltimore. The urban farm is run by Backyard Basecamp, an organization that seeks to connect communities of color with nature.

Its founder and executive director, Atiya Wells, is a pediatric nurse by trade, and her approach is to promote the health benefits of having a local green space and of growing your own food. The community garden is in the process of renovating a vacant home next door to the farm and plans to transform it into a community kitchen that will host cooking classes and tastings, Wells said, “to show people we can eat healthier and it can be delicious.”

But it’s also about community resilience. “When we all think about climate change and what’s going to happen, we know that people who have means can just pick up and go, and the rest of us are going to be here,” Wells said. The BLISS Meadows garden is in a predominantly black and brown neighborhood.

“So this is kind of us really starting things so that when that time comes, we already have a self-sustaining neighborhood where we’re growing food for our neighbors,” she explained, “[and] we’re able to continue to survive.”

A child sits next to a pond filled with wildlife at BLISS Meadows in Baltimore. (Photo: Atiya Wells)
A child sits next to a pond filled with wildlife at BLISS Meadows in Baltimore. (Photo: Atiya Wells)

 

Many who support the regenerative agriculture movement see it as a clear, easy climate win with enormous potential. Some, including Green America, go so far as to claim we can “reverse” climate change by simply changing how we farm.

According to a 40-year trial conducted by the Rodale Institute of growing conventional and regenerative crops side-by-side, adopting regenerative methods brought 40% higher crop yields during drought times, used 45% less energy and produced 40% fewer emissions compared to conventional farming.

However, as David Montgomery, a geologist at the University of Washington and author of two books on dirt and soil, told Civil Eats last October, regenerative agriculture should be seen as a “good down-payment on reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide” as opposed to a panacea. Claims that it can reverse climate change, he said, are a stretch.

The hope is that climate victory gardens will nudge us toward climate action. But how can something as seemingly small as one person growing tomatoes in their backyard help tackle a problem as immense as agriculture’s effect on climate?

“Everything starts with incremental change,” Semaan said. It begins with reconnecting people to their food and how it got to their plates.

Working with high school students in the Maryland area, the Community Ecology Institute plans to help set up a youth-led program to encourage others to start climate victory gardens throughout the community. “I think our youth get it in a way that many of our leaders and older generations, in general, don’t,” D’Amore said. “They see climate change as the crisis it is. It’s going to impact all our lives, and they want to feel like they can do something that matters.”

Every item grown at home also means one less thing purchased from the store, cutting down on transportation. Even if it’s just a patch of chives, Semaan said, each gardener knows the resources, from water to gas money, that are saved with those plants. “It’s all incremental change,” she said, “and the more people who do it, even if it’s just herbs on a windowsill, the better the planet is for it.”

Tkach agreed. He views the climate victory gardens as a way to “shift people’s consciousness by getting people to just take some kind of action in their own backyards.”

By growing your own food, you have a better understanding of what goes into it, he echoed. “I think as consumers become more attuned to that, it’s going to influence their own decisions,” so people might pay closer attention to food labels that tell you how and where something was grown. “When they go to the grocery store, they’re going to be more adept at [knowing] what to look for.”

Eventually, if enough people are doing this, they can help shift society toward a tipping point, where consumer demand for regenerative farming disrupts the conventional system, Tkach explained.

“I feel like it’s our moment in history. If we could just continue to change the way people eat, it changes everything.”

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HuffPost’s “This New World” series is funded by Partners for a New Economy and the Kendeda Fund. All content is editorially independent, with no influence or input from the foundations. If you have an idea or tip for the editorial series, send an email to thisnewworld@huffpost.com.

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It’s Our Choice: Medicare for All, or Endless War?

Common Dreams

Published on       November 20, 2019 by OtherWords

It’s Our Choice: Medicare for All, or Endless War?

If we end wars, shut down wasteful and failing weapons programs, and close unnecessary foreign bases, we could come up with an extra $350 billion to spend on Medicare for All—without sacrificing security.

by Lindsay Koshgarian       November 20, 2019
Together with common-sense cuts to runaway overhead costs, and by rolling current Pentagon health care costs into a universal health plan, we easily get more than the $300 billion needed for Medicare for All. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Together with common-sense cuts to runaway overhead costs, and by rolling current Pentagon health care costs into a universal health plan, we easily get more than the $300 billion needed for Medicare for All. (Photo: Shutterstock)

If you’re following the presidential race, you’ve heard plenty of sniping about Medicare for All and whether we can afford it. But when it comes to endless war or endless profits for Pentagon contractors, we’re told we simply must afford it—no questions asked.

Where can we find it? In a giant pot of money that’s already rampant with waste and abuse: the Pentagon.

According to one study, even if universal health insurance didn’t bring health care prices down—an unlikely worst-case scenario—we’d need an extra $300 billion a year beyond our current spending to provide full insurance for everyone.

Where can we find it? In a giant pot of money that’s already rampant with waste and abuse: the Pentagon.

Right now, only about one quarter of the $738 billion Pentagon budget goes to our troops. The rest is mainly three things: the cost of maintaining 800 military installations all over the world; lucrative Pentagon contracts, which account for nearly half of the entire Pentagon budget; and, of course, our never-ending wars in the Middle East.

According to my research, if we end those wars, shut down wasteful and failing weapons programs, and close unnecessary foreign bases, we could come up with an extra $350 billion to spend on Medicare for All—without sacrificing security.

As experts of various political stripes will tell you, the U.S. military is carrying out a costly 20th-century security vision in a 21st century world. For instance, the Pentagon still keeps tens of thousands of troops in Germany and Italy. Maybe 75 years after the end of World War II (and nearly 20 years into our ill-fated Iraq adventure) is a good time to finally bring those troops home?

Closing 60 percent of our foreign bases would save $90 billion a year. There’d be enough left over for more than one foreign military installation in each country on earth, if we insisted.

Right now, those bases enable our endless wars. Troops rotate from Germany into the Middle East and Africa, and tens of thousands are stationed in the conflict-ridden Middle East at any given time. Yet our wars have only further destabilized the region. It’s time we brought our troops home for good—and saved $66 billion each year in the bargain.

Then there are those highly paid contractors. For instance, the F-35 fighter jet is projected to cost more than the entire military budget of Iran. But even after many years and massive cost overruns, the lead Pentagon tester just reported that the F-35 is still “breaking more often than planned and taking longer to fix.”

We should halt the F-35 boondoggle, cut back on 20th century war technology like the aircraft carrier, and freeze nuclear weapons spending, with the eventual goal of eliminating these weapons that could wipe us all out at a keystroke.

All told, we could cut $100 billion from outdated, ill-conceived, or outright dangerous programs like these. The contractors will howl, but they’ve run things long enough.

None of this is as radical as it sounds. Today, military spending higher than it was at the peak of the Vietnam War. Even with a $350 billion cut, it would simply return to levels from the late 1990’s.

Together with common-sense cuts to runaway overhead costs, and by rolling current Pentagon health care costs into a universal health plan, we easily get more than the $300 billion needed for Medicare for All.

Which would make us safer: Medicare for All or endless wars? The choice is ours.

Lindsay Koshgarian

Lindsay Koshgarian directs the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Finnish Prime Minister Marin calls for a 4-day-week and 6-hour-day for her country

Scoop.me – Europe

Finnish Prime Minister Marin calls for a 4-day-week and 6-hour-day for her country

Finland’s new head of state caused enthusiasm in the country: Sanna Marin (34) is the youngest female head of government worldwide. She leads a centre-left coalition in which all 5 government parties have women at the top. Her aim: To introduce the 4-day-week and the 6-hour-working day in Finland.

Sanna Marin is the new Prime Minister of Finland. The 34-year-old social democrat was celebrated internationally because of strong women-led government: It is a coalition of five parties – and in all of them, women are the leaders.

For Sanna Marin, the fact that she is young and female doesn’t play a big role:

“I have never thought about my age or gender. I think more about the motivations that brought me into politics.”

Marin wants “much shorter working hours”

More important for Marin is the question, how long the Finns should have to work. She demands much shorter working hours on the occasion of the 120th anniversary of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Turku. In her position as Minister of Transport and Communications, she said:

A four-day work week, a six-hour workday. Why couldn’t it be the next step? Is eight hours really the ultimate truth? I believe people deserve to spend more time with their families, loved ones, hobbies and other aspects of life, such as culture. This could be the next step for us in working life.

In Finland, 8-hour-days for five days a week are common in peoples’ work life. The left-wing alliance, with which Marin has formed a coalition recently, demanded a test run for the 6-hour-day.

Göteborg proves it: 6-hour-days keep you happy and healthy

The 6-hour-day already works in Finland’s neighbour country Sweden: In 2015, Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city, reduced working time to six hours a day in the old peoples’ homes and the municipal hospital – while still full paying their employees. The results two years later: The employees were happier, healthier and more productive. With the reduction in working hours, services were expanded and patients were more satisfied.

And the costs were stable: More employees were hired, which resulted in more tax revenue. In Addition to that, fewer sick days, fewer invalidity pensions and fewer people unemployed saved money.

Swedish Tech Industry as Pioneer

In the Swedish tech industry, the 6-hour-day has been default for many years. First and foremost, the automobile manufacturer Toyota proved how it works. As early as 2003, the Gothenburg plant switched to shorter working days with full pay.

Not only were Toyota’s employees more satisfied and motivated, they could also increase their productivity – and in the end: Toyota’s profits. The reasons for this are simple: First, unnecessarily long meetings were discarded or made more efficient. And second, there are much fewer idle times in the working day that are filled with social media or Internet surfing.

People go to work and do it more focused and concentrated. Then they go home and have enough time to spend the afternoon with their families, friends and hobbies.

The social democratic magazine Kontrast.at covers current political events, both in Austria and in the rest of the world. We view society, state and economy from a progressive, emancipatory point of view. Kontrast casts the gaze of social justice on the world.

For Mouth & Foot Painting Artists, anything really is possible

CBS Sunday Morning

For Mouth & Foot Painting Artists, anything really is possible

CBS NEWS                        December 15, 2019

At the Zenger Group printing plant in Buffalo, New York, Christmas came early … really early. It was August when holiday cards were rolling off the presses –a summer-time snowdrift of paper, each card as individual as a snowflake.

You might think in these digital days of ours that sending greeting cards like these is a bit old-fashioned. But for the very special artists who paint them, it’s anything but just a quaint tradition.

“I would love just for people to just enjoy the piece for what it is, and not necessarily be taken back by the way that I’m doing it,” said artist Alana Tillman.

She was born with a condition that left her arms locked in place, but she’s been drawing with her mouth since he was a kid.

alana-tillman-mouth-and-foot-painting-artist-with-lee-cowan-620.jpg
Artist Alana Tillman, a member of Mouth & Foot Painting Artists.  CBS NEWS

 

“No one taught you how to do it? You just figured it out?” asked correspondent Lee Cowan.

“No, I just kind of figured it out,” Tillman said. “I’ve always had to prove myself to people that I am capable. Doubters in my life just made me want to achieve even more.”

Then there’s artist Brom Wikstrom: “When I got out of the hospital it was just something to maintain my sanity, you know, to give me something to do,” he said.

“More therapy than anything?” asked Cowan.

“Yeah, to help me feel better about myself.”

brom-wikstrom-mouth-and-foot-painting-artist-620.jpg
Artist Brom Wikstrom at work.  CBS NEWS

 

Wikstrom was paralyzed at age 21, when he dove head-first into the Mississippi River in 1975.  He’s been painting with his mouth almost every day since“I would just paint from morning until night,” he said.

“So, it sounds like it’s almost a need for you to paint,” Cowan said.

“At this point, I can’t imagine what else I’d be doing.”

It’s remarkable to watch either of them paint – the detail, the finesse, the control.

brom-wikstrom-mouth-and-foot-painting-artwork-620.jpg
An example of Brom Wikstrom’s artwork.  CBS NEWS

 

And no, they don’t just paint holiday cards; they each have huge portfolios. But it’s the Christmas cards that have helped pave the way for their careers, and which have helped make possible an association called the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists. Its name takes a bit of getting used to, but not its goal: the money from its Christmas cards goes to financing disabled artists. It’s not about charity; it’s about empowerment.

It is, said Jim March, the director of North American Operations, “very much not a non-profit. They’re very proud of not being a non-profit situation. It’s a business to make money to give them a living.”

The MFPA, as it’s called, was started in 1957 by Arnulf Erich Stegmann, a German painter who had lost the use of his hands due to polio. Despite his challenges, he became an accomplished artist and publisher, who sought out other painters like him to help further their skills and build their careers.

holiday-cards-from-mouth-and-foot-painting-artists-montage-620.jpg
Examples of holiday cards from the Mouth & Foot Painting Artists.  MFPA

 

Today, there are about 800 artists who are members of the association, and every one of them gets a monthly stipend based on their skill level. They enter as student members, like Alana Tillman, who lives on her own in Santa Rosa, California.  She gets enough to pay for art courses as well as supplies, and it certainly helps pay the rent.

“Before they came along, I was just living off of my Social Security. I didn’t really feel like I was a contributing member to society,” she said.

“So, has it given you a sense of independence?” asked Cowan.

“Way more independence.”

She’s adapted to just about everything, including driving to work. She now owns her own business, called ArtXcursion, where she offers painting lessons (people don’t have to paint with their feet or mouth), with a side of wine and appetizers.

“Talking about my adversities, I think is what kind of helps them realize that they can actually do it, too,” Tillman said.

Brom Wikstrom has been with the MFPA so long, he gets a full salary, the equivalent of what any other commercial artist near his home in Seattle might be paid.  “I thought that I was going to be on public assistance, or you know, how was I going to make it?” he said.

Now he’s on the payroll forever, regardless of whether he stops painting or not.  “It is a lifetime position now, so if physically I was incapable of working, they would be there for me,” he said.

That’s a relief not only for him, but for his wife of 30 years, Anne. The association, she said, has not only provided Brom with a living wage, but something much harder to quantify: Confidence.

Wikstrom works part-time at the Burke Museum at the University of Washington, and he volunteers at schools, showing children that, yes, anything really is possible.

As successful as both Wikstrom and Tillman have become, their daily struggles remain. But what they hope can be changed is perception.

They want to be seen simply as artists, not “disabled artists,” who at this time of year are truly making our season bright.

“I think people do us kind of a double kindness because they’re buying our cards, but they also get to send those cards out to their loved ones,” Wikstrom said. “And it seems like such a small thing  but it means a lot.”


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This is why we need a public option for the ACA or Medicare For All !