Monday, November 30, 2015

Between the Lines: A Life in Libraries

by Zinta Aistars
for WMUK 102.1 FM
Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate

Between the Lines is my weekly radio show about books and writers with a Michigan connection. It airs every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m. (or listen anytime online), on WMUK 102.1 FM, Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate. I am the host of Between the Lines.

This week's guest: Marsha Meyer 

Marsha Meyer at WMUK for BETWEEN THE LINES (Photo credit Zinta Aistars)

We all have that first love. It hits us hard and we never forget. Some of us are lucky enough to hold onto that love our whole lives. For Marsha Meyer, that first and lasting love was the library. Meyer is retiring from the Portage District Library after 35 years but she remembers well that moment when she first entered the magical world of books as a child.

“It was an old building and it had quarter-sawn tables with the little yellow light, and I would go there after school and think—I want to live here,” Meyer recalls.
While today’s libraries are abuzz with technology, including electronic books, DVDs, CDs, and computers, Meyer remembers the library of her childhood with all of its bound books and card catalogs. “And I even loved the smell of the books,” Meyers says.
In Meyer’s eyes, a library is not only a fountain of knowledge and wonder but has today increasingly become a community center — a place where people connect.
“The library is the living room of the community,” she says. In an age of technology, people crave to meet face-to-face more than ever. The library is also a meeting place for book clubs and writers’ groups. It's also the beginning point for those researching family genealogy, seeking employment, studying for school, or even learning how to read with the help of tutors.
At the Portage District Library, Meyer is an event planner, filling rooms, sometimes to capacity, for countless author readings and literary events. She says the library not only showcases local authors, it also introduces the community to authors visiting Michigan.
After her retirement at the end of 2015, Meyer plans to ...

Thursday, November 19, 2015

People's Food Co-op continues to transform the local food scene

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media
November 19, 2015
Photography by Zinta Aistars

Chris Moore and Bree Bird at People's Food Co-op in Kalamazoo, MI

Forty-five years after Kalamazoo, Michigan’s People’s Food Co-op opened its doors to the public, the co-op’s management and shareholders continuously consider its relevance. Is there still a place and role for People’s?

In 1970, the co-op was a small retail program started by a group of students and recent graduates. Dale Anderson, now the owner of a gourmet chocolate shop called "Confections with Convictions" in downtown Kalamazoo, was one of the original volunteers when People’s was operating out of a house on North Street. He drove an old truck back and forth from Ann Arbor, bringing back huge bags of brown rice and other unprocessed foods that were hard to find at that time. 

"Organic foods weren’t a popular thing like they are now," says Chris Moore, media and communications coordinator at People’s. "There was a movement across the country of co-ops, and People’s wanted to bring that to Kalamazoo. The store moved from place to place, and for a while there was even an old truck that traveled around selling grains and food to people."

People’s Food Co-op was incorporated in 1973, moved to a tiny store on Burdick Street where it put down roots for 37 years, until 2011, when the co-op uprooted and moved to its current location at 507 Harrison Street, snug between the railroad tracks and MacKenzie’s Bakery. A volunteer staff expanded to include paid positions and a board of directors. 

"We have 35 people on staff at this time," Moore says. "Not all are full-time, though. We rely a lot on our more than 60 volunteers."

A co-op, Moore explains, is a consumer-owned cooperative with profits circulating back into the store or to its owners, or shareholders, in the form of rebates. It’s this arrangement that makes a co-op different than a traditional grocery store. But there’s more. 

"Since the co-op started, it’s always been about access," Moore says. "It’s about what’s healthy for people and the economy and what’s sustainable. That’s what drives us."

The tiny shop and old truck have expanded into a cooperative that today has 2,800 owners, a number that has tripled in the past five years. Owners enjoy an owner-designated week each month with special deals and a 10 percent discount on all non-sale items of one order, along with a coupon book issued at least four times a year along with discounts on special orders. 

Owners also elect board members and vote on co-op issues. One share costs $250, paid at once or on an installment plan of $10 per month or $50 per year. Benefits click in with the first payment of $10.

Benefits go beyond discounts, however. Moore emphasizes a commitment to the community, building of relationships, and values that go before profits. The numbers back him up. In 2014, PFC spent nearly $1.5 million locally. Produce in the store was purchased from 25 local farms, bolstering the local economy and supporting local jobs.

People’s general manager Chris Dilley writes: "The face of local and healthy food systems in Kalamazoo would not be the same if People's had not been working hard for the past 45 years to improve access by sourcing whole foods, supporting local growers and businesses, and developing relationships in the community. As it stands, there are hundreds of local food entrepreneurs bringing thousands of products to market, and we're all learning together how to make that system fair and affordable."

Shaping the local food movement

In People’s Food Co-op annual report, total sales for 2014 came to more than $3.6 million. That’s impressive. But with the co-op’s mission to connect with the community, strengthen the local food system, and continually expand access to fresh, healthy foods, sales of produce off the store shelves is only a starting point ...


Monday, November 16, 2015

Between the Lines: Poet Traci Brimhall

by Zinta Aistars
for WMUK 102.1 FM
Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate

Between the Lines is my weekly radio show about books and writers with a Michigan connection. It airs every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m. (or listen anytime online), on WMUK 102.1 FM, Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate. I am the host of Between the Lines.

This week's guest: Traci Brimhall

Traci Brimhall

Poet Traci Brimhall is well known and much loved in Kalamazoo’s literary community. One of the reasons her readers seem so drawn to her work is that she has the courage to say what others think but keep to themselves. “I like to be brave with poems,” says Brimhall. “I like to be brave when I sit down to write, and, occasionally, I like to do something brave at a reading, which is what I hope to do when I return to Kalamazoo.”

Brimhall, along with poets Adam Pasen and Heather A. Slomski, will read as part of the Gwen Frostic Series on Thursday, November 19, at 8 p.m. at Western Michigan University’s Bernhard Center, in rooms 157-159. The event is free and open to the public.
“Recently I started a Google group for people who want to write one brave poem a month,” Brimhall says. “We would share with each other the bravest thing we could think to say. Sometimes it’s the only poem I get to write all month…I try to confront something in myself and/or something in the world when I sit down to write.”
Brimhall says writing with courage is how she pushes herself forward as a poet. What that brave thing is can change with every day and every moment. “There are things you don’t want to admit that aren’t popular or kind to say about yourself, or aren’t good to say about the way you feel about your family or your spouse or what you do for a living. There can be things you don’t want to confront. The bravest poem I wrote most recently dealt with ...