Tuesday, June 8, 2010
The Sac Bee, by way of the New York Times, reports on the social networking abilities of soldiers at Beale Air Force Base (home of the U2 spy plane pictured above). Lots of interesting things in this article, but for me the personal connection is to the enlisted soldiers who put in twelve-hour shifts guzzling energy drinks to keep alert. I teach classes at Beale AFB (which is how I came to know about the feral olive groves there), and it is enlisted "airmen" like these who guzzle energy drinks to stay awake during my lectures after they've put in twelve-hour shifts on the Flight Line or spotting IED's on satellite feeds. Teaching sociology to active-duty military personnel is intense: First, military men and women always call professors "Sir", and sign their emails, "Very Respectfully"--which can feel good until you realize that these formalities can have multiple layers of meaning in a very hierarchical institution... And getting into heady discussions with airmen about ideas like "authority" and "freedom" "nationalism" "solidarity" and other key sociological concepts can be profound, especially when you consider that any moment, these folks can be deployed to "the shit", or sent to places like The Gulf (of Mexico) for humanitarian emergencies like hurricanes and oil spills. Sociology is a little less abstract to students like these.
And Beale AFB sits at the end of North Beale Road, which is the major thoroughfare that runs through Linda and on which also sit Yuba College and Harmony Health Family Resource Center. At the opposite end of North Beale Road is Wal*Mart. The several mile stretch of North Beale between the Base and the Superstore is what some in the world of community development would call a "Corridor of Shit"--lots of vacant lots and empty storefronts, punctuated by check-cashing outlets, liquor stores, junk brokers, dollar stores, etc. "Corridor of Shit" is surely an elitist phrase, but that does not make it untrue, and it is more than ironic that The Men and Women who Defend this Great Country have to drive through a corridor of shit to get to and from their 12-hour shifts on the Base. Is it too much then to say that the effort to revitalize Linda is a patriotic act? Anyway I am still dreaming that one day we will be involving the Base in our nonprofit olive venture, and I have to believe that airmen and their families would get more enjoyment from producing tasty, healthy, olive oil, then from putting their lives on the line for oil in the Gulf (either of Persia or Mexico).
And I certainly stand with those in the olive oil industry who say, "No More Reliance On Foreign Oil!", which brings me to my next item:
The Sac Bee also recently reported on a major development in the US olive oil industry--the establishment of scientific (i.e., enforceable) standards for terms like "virgin" and "extra virgin" olive oil. In my last post I alluded to the previous lack of standards, and these new standards are intended precisely to "level the playing field" so domestic olive oil producers can compete more fairly and truthfully with the imports. No mention is made in the article of establishing standards to verify terms like "domestic" and "locally grown", or of standards to regulate table olives, but it seems like things are moving in a good direction. Other developments that could help the US olive industry include the fiscal crisis in the European Union (state subsidies to olive producers could be reduced) and the pioneering work of UC Davis in developing "Super High Density" olive orchards. These are orchards where the trees are planted very close together, and kept quite short, so that a big harvesting machine can roll right over the tops of the trees and cleanly (and cheaply) pick the fruit (see the pic above). But why is the Sac Bee relying on the Associated Press to report on the California olive industry (or the New York Times to report on Beale AFB, for that matter)? Oh yeah, blogs have killed print journalism...
When I am not teaching classes at Beale, I teach them on the Yuba College campus, where my students are an amazingly diverse group, with very interesting connections to agriculture. We have white students who are descended from the "Okies" who founded Olivehurst, and who John Steinbeck did research on before writing Grapes of Wrath. Latino students who are often the children or grandchildren of migrant farmworkers. We have Hmong students whose families fled military conflict in Southeast Asia and and now work in the fields of Yuba and Sutter Counties, while often maintaining remarkable vegetable gardens at their homes with crops unfamiliar to many Americans. We have Sikh students, many of whom were raised by families that own peach orchards and/or Dried Plum (don't say "prunes"!) operations.
So, when I told my students I wanted to teach a class on Community Entrepreneurship and involve students in harvesting and processing olives, they said, "Oh, so you are sending us back to the fields"? But while it is true that many of our students come to Yuba College precisely to get away from lives of agricultural drudgery and pursue new knowledge and opportunities, I truly believe that "community entrepreneurship" offers something new and alternative to students like these.
I will be exploring the concept of community entrepreneurship further in coming posts, but for now, an idea came to me last night that I am sure I got from somewhere else (need to track down my source), but is thought-provoking to me: "Three Dimensional Capitalism". That is, we can think of "capital" as having three dimensions: Economic, Social, and Cultural. In other words, there are three main kinds of capital--financial capital (i.e., wealth or property), social capital (connections between people) and cultural capital (knowledge and information, or "meaning"). A truly successful enterprise, it seems to me, is one that is able to both invest and generate *all three* types of capital. For example, BP seems to be a one-dimensional company that pursues financial capital at the expense of the other two (i.e., its "social capital"--the company's connections to people like consumers and workers--and its "cultural capital", the meaning of the enterprise and what it values and stands for). A company like Apple, on the other hand, seems to be a bit more three-dimensional (e.g., they like to be "insanely cool", not just insanely rich). And how is BP doing right now?(CEO Tony Howard says he wants his life back) How is Apple doing? (Its stock recently passed Microsoft's if I am not mistaken) And if I can extend the metaphor, I might say that capitalism's first stage (roughly 1492 to 1929) was one-dimensional, when nations and firms pursued financial wealth ruthlessly and exploitatively (while destroying social relationships and meaning). Capitalism's second stage (roughly 1930-2001) was two-dimensional, when the creation of the Welfare state made social connections (i.e., firms' relationships to their workers and their customers in mass markets) more central to capitalism (but which also meant a disposable consumer culture in the developed world that depended on massive poverty, "cultural imperialism", and environmental destruction in the developing or undeveloped world). So maybe now we are entering the era of three dimensional capitalism, when firms must also care about the meaning, for all of global humanity, of what they do; When customers also care about the meaning and sustainability of what they consume; and when workers can and do expect that their work (and their compensation) will be meaningful and sustainable.
This, anyway, is one answer I can give to my students who worry that I am simply "sending them back to the fields". Harvesting fruit is certainly drudgery when it is done for one-dimensional reasons by one-dimensional workers working for one-dimensional companies. But what if harvesting olives does three things--generates money (economic capital), stimulates robust new social connections and relationships for workers and consumers (social capital), and leads to new knowledge and meanings (cultural capital), such as Linda/Olivehurst's "rebranding" from a "corridor of shit" to a center of high-quality, hand-picked olives? Then maybe the Grapes of Wrath can be transformed into the Olives of Destiny! Or something... Gotta go vote.