The Long Way Home 3.17.23

The manager of our office in Sioux Falls, SD, back when I was a corporate guy, used to say,, “Nothing stays the same except rocks.”

Like rocks, the problems facing our country and our community seem unchanging. Food security, vulnerable infrastructure, and affordable housing among others seem permanent, and intractable. They’ve been around since well before I was born, seven decades ago, and I fear they will be around long after I’m gone. They are the rocks of ages. 

There are countless nonprofits and government bureaucracies, federal, state and local, striving to address these problems, with varying degrees of success. It seems like a new group pops up every year.

Addressing the food security issue, a new group called Cook County Food System Network held its kickoff meeting in Grand Marais this week (after the deadline for this paper). In its press release announcing the get together, the Network wrote that its aim is, “to connect organizations and engaged caring community members who are working towards a sustainable, equitable, more connected local food system through information sharing, opportunity identification, and promoting collaboration. Attendees will leave feeling connected to each other in new ways and excited to continue learning and working together.” It plans quarterly meetings to facilitate those connections.

The Network is led by The Northwoods Food Project. It is a small non-profit that is, “working to connect, grow, and support a sustainable local food system in Cook County, Minnesota from farmer to fork,” according to its press release for the kickoff.

When I was younger, my friend’s dad used to say to me, “Fernlund, if BS were music you’d be a brass band.” 

That’s why my BS detector is pretty well tuned after writing and editing press releases, political flyers, and this column. Weasel words and phrases, those intended to look like they say something meaningful without meaning much of anything, pop out at me all the time. I see a great deal of weasel words and phrases in the press releases that come across my screen. I even find myself using them with alarming regularity.

An example of a weasel phrase would be the mission statement adopted by an architectural firm in the Twin Cities in the late 90s. I believe in the value of a clear, written mission statement for any organization. A statement that is easy to read and shared often with all stakeholders, including customers. It should state the organization's purpose, overall intention, and its reason for existence. Not an easy task if done correctly.

This particular firm, according to a staffer who attended a weekend long strategic planning session, adopted the mission statement, “Enjoy the Journey.” And a consultant was paid big bucks to “facilitate” the planning session. The statement is totally meaningless of course, but it sounds really good. 

I guess it makes sense to bring people and groups with similar goals together for networking purposes, but I’d be happier if, instead of leaving the kickoff meeting of the Network “feeling connected…in new ways” that they came away with new solutions to get food where it’s needed.

Networking is useful. Committees can be also. As a cranky old observer though, I’d like to see more decisions, fewer committees, more results, and far less BS.

I’m glad that there is the Food Project, striving to do better, to break the rocks that are our problems.