Category Archives: Culture

Lady Jangchup Palmo, which means "honorific mother" in Tibetan, shares a moment with His Holiness The Dalai Lama.(Photo courtesy of Jigme Palmo)

Practicing Peace

[deck]The Dalai Lama visited Eugene, Oregon in May on behalf of a special family hoping to promote compassion, love, and kindness by opening a center for peace.[/deck]

His Holiness The Dalai Lama began his talk by calling everyone in the audience his brothers and sisters. (Kathryn Boyd-Batstone/Flux)

The Dalai Lama began his talk on May 10 at the University of Oregon by calling everyone in the audience his brothers and sisters. (Kathryn Boyd-Batstone/Flux)

According to the Buddhist calendar, May 10 is the day the first Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was born and, after one of the most significant lifetimes in history, the day he died. On May 10 of this year, thousands of people packed Matthew Knight Arena to its capacity to see the man whom many Buddhists believe to be the reincarnation of the original Buddha, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.

Before the Dalai Lama came on stage, the crowd was buzzing. Voices young and old sounded in anticipation. Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike counted down the minutes before they would see and hear the most respected contemporary spiritual leader of Buddhism. It would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many.

However, among the thousands there was one woman who had been waiting for this moment for more than a decade, and she was the reason the Dalai Lama was in Eugene for the first time.

Lady Jangchup Palmo is a Buddhist spiritual leader who was born in Tibet. For more than ten years, she wrote a monthly letter to the Dalai Lama. She also met with him on multiple occasions, and through their correspondence, she repeatedly requested he visit Eugene.

Two of Lady Palmo’s sons are also spiritual leaders, and when the Dalai Lama answered Lady Palmo’s request, they helped organize the event with their mother. Jigme Rinpoche was honored to speak on stage to help introduce the Dalai Lama before his talk. Ngaglo Rinpoche, who was also present at the talk and who met with the Dalai Lama afterward along with his mother and brother, is believed to be the reincarnation of the teacher of the man who taught the Dalai Lama.

Both sons have followed in their mother’s footsteps on the path to compassion, despite the crimes against their family and tens of thousands of other Tibetans.

“Her life mission is very much furthering His Holiness’s vision,” says Jigme Rinpoche. “I think she rejoices in the fact that many of the students got to feel his presence. The fact that all of us came together, it’s indeed from a Buddhist point of view, good karma—to be in the presence of one of the most revered men to come to Eugene.”

Lady Jangchup Palmo and her family enjoy a special meeting with His Holiness The Dalai Lama.  (Photo courtesy of Jigme Rinpoche)

Lady Jangchup Palmo and her family enjoy a special meeting with the Dalai Lama. (Photo courtesy of Jigme Rinpoche)

Lady Palmo and the Dalai Lama both suffered greatly at young ages during China’s invasion of Tibet, but that suffering is likely the reason they became influential leaders of peace and happiness.

Lady Palmo was fifteen years old when the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1959, massacring close to 90,000 Tibetans and displacing an entire culture. The survivors crossed the Himalayas and entered a village in Dharamsala, India, where the exiled Tibetan government and the Dalai Lama reside today. During the invasion, Lady Palmo’s parents were murdered and she was shot six times. She survived, only to become a prisoner for two years.

“She lost everything. She lost her home, her loving parents, peaceful country,” says Rinpoche, who translates for Lady Palmo as she prefers to speak in her native Tibetan during interviews. “Initially, a lot of anger, almost hatred toward the Chinese. Even to hear the name China or Chinese, her eyes would go red … extremely angry just to hear that name.”

Sitting with mother and son in the lobby of the Marriott Residence Inn in Eugene, it is difficult to imagine that such a welcoming woman could ever express hatred in any form. Her positive outlook on life, however, required years of training to overcome the crimes that were committed against her and her culture, crimes that left her scarred both physically and mentally.

At one point during the interview, she lifts a pant leg to reveal scars where bullets punctured her skin. Two are near her ankle, indents in her foot where the bullets entered and exited.

Lady Palmo. (Photo courtesy of Jigme Rinpoche)

Lady Palmo. (Kathryn Boyd-Batstone/Flux)

Two years after she was shot and taken, her strength returned and she fled captivity. She traveled to Mount Kailash where she met her spiritual teacher. It was under his guidance that she learned to meditate and train her mind. She learned that there was no way to erase the suffering she’d experienced, and the only way to cope was to accept it and forgive those who had harmed her.

“Those who made that decision to kill, attack, persecute … the means they employed was to bring suffering on themselves,” says Rinpoche for Lady Palmo. “Understanding the karma, that gave rise to her compassion. She was feeling their misery, so much so that later, when she heard Chinese, she felt so much compassion, so much love.”

Lady Palmo interrupts Rinpoche, ensuring that her son translated her next words correctly: “There came a point of complete equanimity. There was no difference between Chinese and Tibetans—they’re all the same, all looking for happiness.”

She says her attackers were the best teachers, as they were the source of her knowledge of compassion and oneness of humanity.

Lady Palmo and her son Jigme Rinpoche are responsible for bringing His Holiness The Dalai Lama to Eugene. (Kathryn Boyd-Batstone/Flux)

Lady Palmo and her son Jigme Rinpoche are responsible for bringing the Dalai Lama to Eugene. (Kathryn Boyd-Batstone/Flux)

Lady Palmo’s positive attitude was echoed in the actions of the Dalai Lama at the Mathew Knight Arena. During the event, the Dalai Lama spoke conversationally, engaging with the audience as much from his words as from his own outbursts of laughter that the audience mirrored, even during serious moments.

“We are same human beings. We are human brothers and sisters,” he began. “We are just one small planet; one world. We must make clear concept of oneness of humanity.”

The Dalai Lama discussed the importance of future mothers and their role in teaching compassion to their children through affection.

“We get our affection through our mothers,” he says. “It is in their skin, in their blood.”

Rinpoche and Lady Palmo emphasize separating the impulsive emotions of the brain from our minds in order to rid suffering and practice compassion.

“If you look at your mind, it is distracted. We need to find ways to bring mind home,” says Rinpoche for Lady Palmo. “Meditation is a way for you to know yourself, to understand your mind, how it works. Right now you’re at the mercy of situation and circumstances. With meditation, no matter the outer circumstances, you have enormous amount of comfort and ease.”

Jigme Rinpoche (middle) bows after introducing His Holiness The Dalai Lama at the University of Oregon.

Jigme Rinpoche (center) bows after introducing the Dalai Lama to the audience at the University of Oregon Matthew Night Arena on May 10. (Kathryn Boyd-Batstone/Flux)

According to Rinpoche, the U.S. education system often does not look at emotions as a cause of suffering. Educators simply punish students for negative behaviors rather than considering what caused them to act that way. To that end, Lady Palmo and her sons have plans for a Palmo Peace Center as a place to study, contemplate, and reflect on what it means to realize peace. Rinpoche and Lady Palmo say that there are currently no such centers that welcome people from all walks of life and faiths. Their mission is to change that.

“There are many Buddhist teachers, but very few that are actually trying to implement the heart of Buddhist teaching, and I think of all religions, which is promoting these basic human feelings: compassion, love, and kindness,” says Rinpoche. “I’ve said this many times, and [Lady Palmo] feels the same way, that religion alone will not save this planet. We need secular education that addresses these challenges. This is what we’re trying to do, and His Holiness is very much supporting this effort.”

On the Dalai Lama’s last night in Oregon, Lady Palmo and her sons were in Portland with him, speaking about their efforts to build a peace center to promote the values that pervade his talks.

“This kind of education needs to be provided,” says Rinpoche for Lady Palmo. “The highlight of his talk was on how important education is. Our policymakers seem to lack this effort to emphasize a need for the emotional intelligence.”

Rinpoche says they intend to open the peace center within two years. And after spending eight months of intensive planning for the Dalai Lama’s arrival, they will begin again. When the peace center is complete, the Dalai Lama told them he would return to Eugene for another visit.

Lady Palmo hopes the center will bring to fruition the Dalai Lama’s wish that humans recognize the humanity in all people.

“First and foremost, we are human beings,” says Rinpoche for Lady Palmo. “The path to peace and compassion is the most practical way of sustaining human relationships and mental happiness.”

Lady Jangchup Palmo, which means "honorific mother" in Tibetan, shares a moment with His Holiness The Dalai Lama.(Photo courtesy of Jigme Palmo)

Lady Jangchup Palmo, which means “honorific mother” in Tibetan, shares a moment with the Dalai Lama.(Photo courtesy of Jigme Rinpoche)

A herd of goats runs through the grass toward Sherry Millican. Behind her lies the house where she grew up, which is now inhabited by her son and his wife. (Kathryn Boyd-Batstone/Flux)

A Living Legacy


BY: LAUREN MESSMAN
PHOTOS: KATHRYN BOYD-BATSTONE


A homesteading family reflects on the land of its heritage

Every time Sherry Millican drives her ‘94 Jeep Cherokee down Oregon Route 126, she passes a town marker crafted of oversized, chestnut-colored logs on the right-hand side of the road. The large white letters on the sign read “Walterville.”

The town is named after Walter Millican, one of her ancestors who helped settle the McKenzie River Valley in the early 1900s. As the rolling green farmland whips by, she passes a street sign for Millican Road—a nod to her great grandfather, Robert Millican. About a mile further, she approaches a wooden arch at the entrance to a gravel road. A rustic metal nameplate that reads “Triangle 5 Ranch” sits overhead as she drives under the arch onto the dirt road and up to the 640-acre ranch that five generations of her family have called “home.”

Millican is a homesteader–someone who makes both her home and her living on the same plot of land. For her, it’s more than her preferred lifestyle—it’s the family business. She and her husband, Todd Richey, own and operate a ranch on her ancestor’s homestead. It’s a tough job that requires demanding labor from sunup to sundown as they struggle to keep the ranch afloat and meet modern standards. But the way she sees it, if the next generation can continue to drive under the Triangle Ranch 5 sign, it will all be worth it.

“The future of the ranch—it can be anything we want to build it to,” Richey says. “We’ve got the ground to do anything. Time is our biggest problem.”

Though they are in their 60s, the couple continues to wake up every morning and care for their animals, just as generations of Millicans have done before them.

In 1865, Robert Millican joined the wave of pioneers settling the west in response to the Homestead Act of 1862. After boarding a ship in New York, sailing around the Isthmus of Panama to Portland, and walking from Albany to Eugene, Oregon, Robert received a John Latta Donation Land Claim and settled in Lane County.

Four name changes and 148 years later, Triangle 5 Ranch is still run by the Millican family.

Sherry Millican looks on at two horses on their ranch in Walterville, Oregon.

In the past, Millican worked a forty-hour-a-week job in town. When Millican and her husband Todd Richey started a trail-riding business, Millican was able to live and work on the ranch like her ancestors. (Kathryn Boyd-Batstone/Flux)

Today, the ranch boasts three original hand-built barns that stand as a testament to Robert’s meticulous craftsmanship. The massive charcoal-grey barn that towers over the acreage is one of the oldest in Lane County. Additionally, the same white, two-story house where Millican was raised has sat at the top of the dirt road for over a century. She and Richey follow in her ancestor’s footsteps by preserving the original buildings, raising goats and horses and growing their own hay. They even use Robert’s remaining agricultural tools.  

“As you do your work you can think about how many hands have held this, how many hours of work and tedium and love have gone into making something that is great,” Millican says as she gazes out the wide kitchen window at the land that bound her family together for hundreds of years. “When I look out on the field, I can see my great grandfather tilling the land. They were heartier people than I.”

She always knew keeping the ranch in the family would be a challenge. But she never imagined it would start so soon. Two years ago, the death of Millican’s mother, Neva Millican, sparked a family dispute regarding her will. Neva left a quarter of the ranch to each of her four daughters, three of whom had no interest in living or working on the family’s land.

“Sherry’s mom probably thought the sisters would play well and try to sell [their portion of the ranch] to Sherry,” Richey says. “Well, that wasn’t the way it went at all.”

Millican’s three sisters didn’t see ranching as a practical means of making a living. Kathy Millican, her oldest sister, pursued her dream of having her own ranch and has since retired on a smaller acreage. Her other two sisters, Karen Coreson and Sandra Welker, chose a different lifestyle altogether.

“As I matured, the ability to earn a living on any farm decreased. The single-family farm became obsolete as a means to make a living,” says Welker, a retired dental hygienist. “So I gravitated toward where I could make a living and that was away from the land.”

Though she acknowledges that Millican has a better understanding of the ranching lifestyle, Welker and her sisters had other plans for the land. Not seeing the ranch as a practical or profitable venture, they decided to place their portions of the ranch up for general sale.

Diary of Robert Millican, who recorded the weather and behavior of his animals daily beginning in the 1860s.

Millican still treasures her great-grandfather’s diaries that date back to the 1860s. Robert Millican, who bought the land in 1865 under the Homestead Act, recorded the weather and behavior of his animals daily. (Kathryn Boyd-Batstone/Flux)

Lawyers were hired, negotiations were made, and bitter feelings transpired. Millican’s sisters wanted to sell the land to a cattle rancher for around $2.4 million, which would be split between the four of them. It was an offer that Millican and Richey couldn’t afford to counter. Devastated by the potential loss of the family homestead and all the sentimental value that it carried, the couple was determined to fight in order to save the land.

“I said to the girls, ‘I cannot sit here and see everything that has been our heritage bulldozed into a heap and burned,’” Millican says.

Despite what Richey describes as a strong reluctance from the three sisters to sell the land to his wife, they decided to hear the couple’s business plan. Scrambling to counter the offer, Millican and Richey proposed to log $2.6 million worth of trees for a profit that would be distributed three ways. The sisters weighed the couple’s proposal and ultimately decided to take their offer.

“It was sort of like, we traded the trees for the land,” says Welker. “[Sherry] has the knowledge and she is the best one to serve the ranch, and it’s a means of keeping the ranch in one piece. I’m very happy that way and I’m sure [Sherry] is too.”

It was a victory for Millican and Richey, but the impediments didn’t stop there. The ranching industry has undergone significant changes, and they’ve had to evolve the ranch to meet the changing economic environment.

According to land usage data from the Environmental Protection Agency, small family farms represent the majority of farms in America, but economies of scale increasingly favor growth in large industrial farm operations. Data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service in 2002 indicates that every week, 330 farmers leave their land.

Millican inspects a new mother goat as its kid looks on. The mother's udders are infected, preventing the kid from obtaining enough milk. With Millican's vast knowledge of animals passed down through the generations, she knows to bring in a second mothering goat as a supplement for nourishment. (Kathryn Boyd-Batstone/Flux)

Millican inspects a new mother goat as its kid looks on. The mother’s udders are infected, preventing the kid from obtaining enough milk. With Millican’s vast knowledge of animals passed down through the generations, she knows to bring in a second mothering goat as a supplement for nourishment. (Kathryn Boyd-Batstone/Flux)

Hoping to avoid joining that statistic, Millican and Richey mapped out a way to continue to make a living off their land. When they married eighteen years ago, Millican tended the ranch, took care of her elderly mother, and worked a forty-hour-a-week job. But once they launched a trail riding business on the ranch, Millican was able to quit her job.

“We were taking people horseback riding every weekend. Every weekend in the summer [it] was either friends, friends of friends, or family,” says Richey. “Nowadays we probably see a thousand people a year.”

In addition to trail rides, the couple is in the process of building an arena for roping cattle and horseback riding lessons. Millican estimates the overall cost of the arena could reach up to $90,000 and take five years to complete, but that the profit would outweigh the costs. Other modern ventures include logging trees and renting out a portion of the land to various agricultural companies, which would provide enough financial support to help sustain their traditional ranching lifestyle.

“The ranch is a living, breathing entity,” says Richey. “It’s no different than a sibling, or your son or daughter, and you have to take care of it. It just doesn’t take care of itself.”

Bob Reno, a local farrier and fellow rancher, shaves down horseshoe nails while Millican watches. For Millican, the distinct sound of scraping metal on horse hooves takes her back to her childhood on the ranch. (Kathryn Boyd-Batstone/Flux)

Bob Reno, a local farrier and fellow rancher, shaves down horseshoe nails while Millican watches. For Millican, the distinct sound of scraping metal on horse hooves takes her back to her childhood on the ranch. (Kathryn Boyd-Batstone/Flux)

Every day the couple feeds and cares for their fifty goats, sixteen horses, and a single llama named Fuzzy. Millican, who knows every animal by name, takes special care of the elderly animals, examines goats for possible pregnancies, and disbuds baby goats by removing their horns.

“[The animals] don’t care if you’re sick, they don’t care if you’re hurt, they don’t care if it’s Sunday, they don’t care if it’s Christmas,” Millican says. “You either love it or you hate it. It’s hard work but I can’t see myself living in a cul-de-sac.”

The family gathers in the kitchen for their traditional Sunday night dinner. During the day, Millican and Richey work on maintaining the homestead while Curan Manzer, Millican's son, works at his taxidermy business. His wife Michelle tends to her geese and ducks. (Kathryn Boyd-Batstone/Flux)

The family gathers in the kitchen for their traditional Sunday night dinner. During the day, Millican and Richey work on maintaining the homestead while Curan Manzer, Millican’s son, works at his taxidermy business. His wife Michelle tends to her geese and ducks. (Kathryn Boyd-Batstone/Flux)

But while Millican and Richey’s passion continues to fuel the ranch, its future remains uncertain. The fate of the land, the traditions, and the Millican homesteading lifestyle rests in the hands of their only son, Curran Manzer.

Manzer lives on the homestead with his wife, Michelle. After moving back to his ancestor’s land to help care for his grandmother, he decided to start his own taxidermy business and operate out of his grandfather’s old shop.

Like his mother, Manzer successfully integrates the old with the new. He believes that keeping the land in the family is vital, but his commitment to ranching itself is a bit more complicated.

He enjoys living and hunting on the ranch, but says he only feels connected with the animals when he hunts them.

Although his vocation focuses on preservation, Manzer is unsure of how he plans to maintain the ranch for future generations, and has only vague plans for a possible succession. His wife plans to take care of the animals, but other details are still up in the air.

“If we ask, Curran participates,” Millican says. While her son is capable of helping with the ranch work, she says it isn’t his primary interest.

“At this point in his life, it isn’t something he’s ready to step off and take up the reins,” says Millican. “He’s got his young business that he’s building.”

Millican and Richey stop for a short beak to chat about the farm. After eighteen years of marriage they have learned how to live and work on the ranch as a team. (Kathryn Boyd-Batstone/Flux)

Millican and Richey stop for a short beak to chat about the farm. After eighteen years of marriage they have learned how to live and work on the ranch as a team. (Kathryn Boyd-Batstone/Flux)

Yet even as the future of the ranch remains uncertain, the family holds onto its traditions. Following in Neva’s footsteps, the two couples hold a family dinner every Sunday evening. They share good food and stories as a means to create new memories and preserve old ones.

In the years to come, the Millicans will navigate the tempestuous waters of diverse family interests, financial stability, and future preparations. In the face of the many changes that come their way, Millican and Richey focus on preserving the land they love and doing what the Millican ancestors did before them: taking care of the animals, cultivating the land, and waking up to do it all over again.

 

The Triangle 5 Ranch logo, based on five generations of Millican homesteaders who have worked the land, frames the entryway onto Millican's property. (Kathryn Boyd-Batstone/Flux)

The Triangle 5 Ranch logo, based on five generations of Millican homesteaders who have worked the land, frames the entryway into Millican’s property. (Kathryn Boyd-Batstone/Flux)

Hamming it Up

[deck]Ham radio operators use “the original social network” to communicate with people around the world and provide aid in times of emergencies.[/deck]

At the Red Cross Center in Eugene, Oregon, a class begins in a nondescript meeting room. It’s an unlikely location for a lesson on electricity, but ham radio operators do not take up the activity for glamor or accolades. Most are drawn to the prospect of talking to people they have not and will never meet in person.

Among the students is Reena Schilt, whose grandfather introduced her to ham radio at a young age. She recalls sitting on his lap and talking to people over the radio.

“My grandpa did ham radio for fifty years. He passed away in July,” Schilt says. “He had a call sign, and I want it.”

A call sign is a special nickname in ham radio culture. Schilt plans to pursue the third and highest certification among ham radio aficionados: the extra designation, which would allow her to use microwave wavelengths—and claim her grandpa’s call sign.

“My grandpa’s name was Kermit,” she says, “So his call sign was Kerm W7BG.”

Schilt is taking the class through the Valley Radio Club in Eugene. Prospective “hammers,” or certified amateur-radio operators, must take an eight-week long training program to become “entry-level technicians,” the most basic level of certification. Once certified, they can tap radio wavelengths that aren’t used commercially, meaning the people they contact are scouring the airwaves for the same thing: a friendly chat.

“Ham radio was the original social network,” says Arnold “Matt” Dillon, the trustee of the Valley Radio Club. “I do it for personal reward. I’ve had conversations with people from all over the world.”

The club has a partnership with the Eugene Red Cross Center, which allows the hammers to use the meeting room once a week, as well as transmit from the building. They transmit from a small room called “the shack.” Inside the unassuming room, several radios can be found. A glance around the room reveals what Dillon calls “QSL cards.” They are taped to the wall in multiple columns that nearly touch the ceiling. Each has a picture and most display the country name that they came from.

“A whole group of Q signals were used in Morse code. You use the code to say something,” Dillon says. “So QSL is confirmation of contact.”

Dillon says that Valley Radio Club has made contact with every continent. He has frequently contacted hammers from South Africa, Russia, Sweden, France, Germany, Japan, and Australia.

His passion for the activity has inspired him to share it with others. He leads the eight-week training program, and emphasizes that all ages are welcome to attend. The program attracts many students who are drawn to the activity for a variety of reasons.

Fred Fawbush is currently enrolled in the class. He works for the Oregon Defense Force, which provides support during natural or man-made disasters.

“The reason we use ham radio is that too many people use Citizens’ Band, too much chatter,” Fawbush says.

Citizens’ Band radio is a form of short-distance communication that is used commercially. Operators are required to have a license and use different frequencies, eliminating the chatter that can detract from communication when Fawbush would need it most, during a disaster.

As Fawbush takes out his notebook, Dillon begins the class. The twenty students fall silent as he methodically describes electricity, explaining its tricky intricacies to his attentive class.

“It’s going to be a challenge learning the technical aspect, understanding electronics and setup,” Les Holdiman says before beginning the class. Holdiman is pursuing a ham certification out of curiosity and a desire to talk to people.

And while talking to people is one of the main draws for many new hammers, that’s not its only purpose. Dillon says that one of the tenets of ham radio is to “provide public service, particularly related to emergency communications.”

“I’ve used my radio several times to bring aid to people who had no other means of communication,” he says.

A few years ago, fiber optic cables were obstructed in the Mohawk Valley, cutting off an emergency dispatch center from its residents. Dillon bridged the gap by establishing radio communication from a nearby fire station.

“All emergency calls went to the fire station, and I relayed them down to another 911 center,” he says. “We were at operation from 2 p.m. to 9 a.m.”

On another occasion, a troupe of boy scouts was camping in the Cascades when one suffered an eye injury. Dillon connected the scouts, who had no other form of communication, to a doctor.

In order to draw more participants to the activity of working with ham radios, the Valley Radio Club sets up a portable radio station in a Wal-Mart parking lot each June. One year, a father and son stopped by the demonstration and were immediately hooked. Paul and Matt Grimes, respectively, shared their newfound passion for the activity with others.

“The father ended up revitalizing Springfield ham radio,” says Dillon. “His son started a program in [Cal Young] Middle School.”

There are even contests among hammers. Dillon says that almost every weekend, hammers compete to contact as many different regions as possible using the default language in ham radio, English.

“This is something you can do off the grid, communicate with people, and it’s fun,” Schilt says.

She has two years to earn the extra designation before someone else can claim her grandpa’s call sign. When she does, W7BG will again fill the airwaves, searching for someone to talk to.

 

 

Illustration. (Lisa Inoue/FLUX)

A Fair Exchange

[deck]The Corvallis HOURS Exchange aims to use its alternative currency to build community and invest in local businesses. But will locals buy into a currency that isn’t tied to greenbacks?[/deck]

Illustration. (Inoue/FLUX)

Illustration. (Inoue/FLUX)

Dylan Schwartz first discovered the instability of the U.S. dollar while researching The Great Depression for a project in high school.

“The problem was the intentional and willful manipulation of the nation’s money supply,” says Schwartz. “The most shocking thing to me was that at the time, we seemed to be setting up to repeat this same cycle.”

This realization attracted him to local currencies, leading him to discover the HOURS Exchange. Located in Corvallis, Oregon, the organization facilitates the distribution of a local currency separate from the dollar. Unlike other local currencies, HOURS are not backed by the dollar and cannot be converted easily into the national currency. But, if conversion is needed, each “one-HOUR” note is about ten dollars. Being able to provide a service to other members is the only way to gain membership, which often turns hobbies into sources of income for the members.

The HOURS Exchange founder, Christina Calkins, was first introduced to the idea of local currency while vacationing in Hawaii. She came across an islander who was part of a local currency network. He explained that all of the money invested in that currency remained on the island. Calkins was intrigued and decided to bring that concept from the island community to Corvallis.

“It inspired me,” Calkins says of the currency network she encountered in Hawaii. It was simple, but he put in in my hands of how it could be done, the nuts and bolts, and how to discourage counterfeiting. It seemed so basic an idea.”

Now, the HOURS Exchange is run by Cheryl Good, whose favorite parts of the program are supporting local businesses and developing relationships with other members. The HOURS Exchange offers an alternative to the standard US economic system that no one had questioned because, seemingly, it was the only option. However, local currencies provide aspects that enrich communities in ways the dollar cannot. Good explains that HOURS are guaranteed to stay local and to circulate many times within that specific economy.

To spend HOURS, a participant must have a conversation with the recipient, tell them what good or service is wanted, find out how much of the cost they are willing to accept in hours, and determine whether or not they want something in return. The unique characteristic of Corvallis’ local currency is the person-to-person communication that often blooms into lasting friendships.

To promote the growth of the HOURS Exchange and the relationships it builds, Good partnered with the Corvallis Independent Business Alliance, an organization founded in 2002 that promotes small local businesses. The partnership was natural as it follows the Hours Exchange requirement of limiting purchases to local goods or services.

The HOURS Exchange is also contemplating a partnership with the First Alternative Food Co-op in Corvallis in the hopes of circulating more HOURS notes. Like the dollar, anyone can use the HOURS currency regardless of membership. Being able to purchase locally-harvested eggs and vegetables at the co-op would provide members with more uses for the currency.

But such partnerships do have potential pitfalls.  For example, if the co-op pays its employees partly in HOURS, employees might be inclined to turn around and spend those notes on groceries from the co-op rather than continuing the trading process. At that point, the HOURS would devolve from a local currency into an internal currency for the co-op, stifling business for some of HOURS’ original members. Good says such a change “would take away all the other possible little food trades that are going on.”

“If I can go to the co-op and buy eggs, I probably won’t call [an HOURS Exchange member] and buy eggs,” says Good. “It’s just a convenience thing.”

The HOURS Exchange wants to share and expand their wholesome image, but that image is hindering their growth due to the skepticism around investing in an entirely separate currency.

“I found that many people are completely confounded by the idea of any currency that isn’t a greenback,” says Calkins. “They have never thought there could be anything else, so it is hard for them to imagine. It gets discredited.”

Because of this uncertainty, Good has seen little growth in her membership. For the last six years, the network has been stuck at a membership plateau. HOURS Exchange has been floating around one hundred members and currently has the equivalent HOURS of a mere $1,800 in circulation. To battle its stunted member numbers, Good has network growth of the network her top priority. Last April at a committee meeting, board members set an annual goal of 300. Good’s ultimate goal is to reach 1 percent of the population. In Corvallis, that would be about 500 members.

“If 1 percent of the population is using local currency, you’ve kind of hit a critical mass,” Good says. “It’s really hard for people to buy local, so even committing only 1 percent of your income annually to be spent in HOURS is a big push for people.”

However, ten months later, no progress has been made towards her membership goal.

Dr. Loren Gatch, a political science professor at the University of Central Oklahoma who studies local currencies, has a theory on why the HOURS Exchange and other currencies like it have struggled with expansion.

“I think that complementary currencies are a good idea, but probably have limited impact,” Dr. Gatch says. “The HOURS model never worked very well, since it’s always difficult translating the value of HOURS-type currency into US dollars.”

Dr. Ed Collom, a professor of sociology at Southern Maine University, says that while local currencies are increasing in general popularity, membership plateau is common.

“It is clear that the movement is growing if you consider all forms,” says Dr. Collom. “The Corvallis one is based on the Ithaca Hour model, and those forms may be in decline. About 80 percent of them had stopped operating. However, time banks and discount scrip systems are definitely growing in the down economy.”

Schwartz believes local currency can shield wealth from the federal government, but many of the users are thinking on a smaller scale when investing in the HOURS Exchange. For Good, the exchange took her hobby of sewing and transformed it into a lucrative trade. Other members gain peace of mind knowing they are helping the Corvallis economy grow and providing a sense of community within the network. While an hours exchange model may not be in the cards just yet for Corvallis, the network can continue to nourish other valuable exchanges: those of ideas, communication, and friendship.

Sarah Parsons helps create the plot that her younger brother attending Edison will use come Spring.

An Edible Education

[deck]Muddy school clothes are making parents smile, for a change.[/deck]

Sarah Parsons helps create the plot that her younger brother attending Edison will use come Spring.

Sarah Parsons helps create the plot that her younger brother attending Edison Elementary School will use in the spring. (Boyd-Batstone/FLUX)

On a cool, cloudy afternoon in the backyard of Eugene’s Edison Elementary School, a small group of parents and children toil in grassy fields, their shovels knifing through the dampened grass to reveal dark soil beneath. No one shies away from the earth, evidenced by the green and brown smudges covering the gardeners’ clothing. The volunteers peel back beds of grass, rolling them up like a rug and hoisting them into a wheelbarrow to be carted away. They are preparing the grounds for a garden.

Near the corner where they dig, several raised beds already house carrots, radishes, and onions. It is a humble start to what will soon be a sprawling field of food. When completed, it will be the largest schoolyard garden in Eugene. But the school principal, who digs and talks alongside the volunteers, has more than just quantity in mind.

“It’s so important to know where our food comes from, where our water comes from, and what’s in our soil,” says Thomas Horn, principal of Edison Elementary. “Those are things I think we need to be teaching kids.”

Horn plans to borrow ideas from a movement that had similarly modest beginnings but is now planting its seeds in schools across the nation. “The Edible Schoolyard Project,” which began in a Berkeley middle school in 1996, aims to teach the importance of eating healthy and practicing sustainability by connecting students with their food in the most intimate of ways: by planting, maintaining, and cooking it themselves.

“Every day at the Edible Schoolyard, we see children’s lives altered forever by the meaning of food,” says Megan Holmes, an Operations and Administration intern at the Edible Schoolyard Project in Berkeley. “Children involved in all aspects of food—from planting to cooking—are willing to eat the healthy items that they normally avoid . . . Children take edible lessons home with them.”

The Edible Schoolyard Project is the brainchild of Alice Waters, a successful chef and founder of Chez Panisse restaurant. On her way to her restaurant one day, she was struck with the idea to plant a garden at the local school she passed daily. She thought teachers could take advantage of the garden by conducting science experiments and using the produce for school meals. She shared her idea with the principal of Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, and the concept has been growing like a weed ever since.

Less than twenty years later, 750 schools have joined an online network to share their stories and resources, says Holmes. The network is a kick-starter for schools like Edison that wish to join the movement—a network that Horn was already familiar with before coming to Edison last fall.

At his previous position as principal of Al Kennedy Alternative High School in Cottage Grove, Oregon, he oversaw the creation of a master garden on the grounds, boasting an 8,000 square foot greenhouse, twelve beehives, and a large aquarium tank for tilapia fish. With the experience at Kennedy under his belt, Horn is confident that Edison Elementary can be “a potential leader” in bringing the movement to schools across Eugene.

“Having kids actually have ownership over what they make and a social connection to good food—I think that’s something we’re yearning to teach a little bit more about in the schools,” Horn says. “It translates into healthy adults and healthy habits.”

During Horn’s five-year tenure at Kennedy, attendance rates nearly quadrupled from 23 percent to 91 percent. Horn credits the turnaround to the agricultural projects based around the garden that he helped introduce. These projects included extracting honey from the beehives, studying pH levels in the soil, using growth analysis models to study plants, and donating excess food to needy families and food banks.

Horn says his students grew nearly four tons of food each year while learning about sustainability, social justice, environmental integrity, economic development, and maintaining healthy eating habits.

“Part of that was really connecting deeply with organizations such as the Edible Schoolyard,” Horn says.

Volunteers measure out and dig up garden plots at Edison. Eventually the whole of the grassy area will be garden plots abundant with food. (Boyd-Batstone/FLUX)

By the time Horn transferred to Edison last fall, the program was firmly established. It continues to thrive even after Horn’s departure. This year, the program received a Workforce Investment Grant to complement the donations and plant sales that go toward funding.

Laurel Henry, a transition specialist involved with the program at Al Kennedy Alternative High School, says that her main objective is to prepare at-risk teens for the workforce, specifically in industries such as green technology, manufacturing, and medicine.

“It’s cool to learn about plants because I just thought you had to water the soil and watch it grow,” says Anastacia Pena, a student of the program. “But there’s much more to it than that.”

The Kennedy program also welcomes students from nearby Cottage Grove High School, such as Pena, who says she recently studied diseases that affect plants.

A crucial partnership that the Kennedy program has made is with Healing Harvest, a Eugene-based non-profit organization that uses horticulture as therapeutic means for victims of abuse, those with physical and mental challenges, and at-risk youth. The executive director of the organization, Maggie Matoba, commutes to Kennedy every Wednesday to lead the weekly two-hour class. She was one of the first people Horn contacted to help him start the garden at Kennedy.

“Tom asked us to start working with a garden,” she says, “but we just started working with kids too.”

Back at Edison, the parent volunteers and their children are creating their own edible schoolyard like the one at Kennedy. They won’t begin planting until spring, but parents are enthusiastic when they talk about the project and their children’s role in it.

“I think growing your own food is one of the most important things you can learn,” says volunteer Tinessa Winkler, whose daughter, Oria, is enrolled at Edison. “My daughter loves being outdoors, so she loves this.”

Winkler says she maintained a garden for ten years before moving to Eugene. Now living in an apartment, she was disappointed that she couldn’t maintain another one. The project at Edison has filled that void for her and her daughter.

“It’s a great way for kids to participate in things they may not be able to get at home,” she says. “We’re lucky because we live in Oregon and we have this opportunity. It’s harder in more urban places than here.”

Megan Holmes has been interning with The Edible Schoolyard Project for over a year. She says students whose schools engage in the movement or similar ones reap long-lasting benefits from their experiences.

“It’s so important to know where our food comes from and where our water comes from, and what’s in our soil,” says Horn. “Those are things I think we need to be teaching kids.”

A 2010 study echoes Horn’s words. Researchers at the Center for Weight and Health at the University of California at Berkeley observed 238 fourth- through eighth-grade students to “determine the effects of the School Lunch Initiative on students’ attitudes toward healthy eating and environmental responsibility.” The researchers divided schools into two categories based on their food education. This developed into the School Lunch Initiative program, which provided cooking and gardening classes integrated into classroom lessons. Schools with lesser-developed programs focused on improving nutritional values of school food but did not offer regular classes.

According to the study, which the Chez Panisse Foundation commissioned, 35 percent of parents with students in developed programs say school improved their child’s eating habits, compared to 16 percent in lesser-developed programs. The report found that students in developed programs “increased fruit and vegetable intake by nearly one and a half servings per day.”

Dean Lamoureux, a member of the Eugene community whose son attended Edison, thinks the project will be worthwhile because it can teach students the importance of knowing where their food comes from, something he says that many never consider.

“I don’t think it’s for all the kids, but I think it’s important for a certain percentage of them,” he says. “As a parent who gardens, I think it’s an important thing to learn.”

Before they stash their shovels, the volunteers and Horn dig twice as many beds as planned. They decide to meet again in two weeks to continue working until the large field is ready for planting the seeds that will grow the largest schoolyard garden in Eugene.

“There’s a communion that happens when you eat together,” Horn says. “And if you’ve grown your own food, and it’s part of this whole process of sustainability, it’s a pretty neat experience—it’s a beautiful experience. That’s our future here at Edison.”

Thomas Horn (right), Edison's principal, works with other parent volunteers to create garden plots that will become an Edible Schoolyard. Horn's goal is to bring together the community and further learning outside of the classroom. (Boyd-Batstone, FLUX)

John kneels before the alter praying and asking for blessings before he prepares the food dishes.

Chant and Be Happy

[deck]Hare Krishna followers in Eugene, Oregon have found a way to redefine comprehensive consciousness for themselves and others.[/deck]

John kneels before the alter praying and asking for blessings before he prepares the food dishes.

John Coniffin kneels before the alter praying and asking for blessings before he prepares food dishes for the worshippers.

“Just chant the Hare Krishna mantra and be happy,” says Jnana (gah-nuh), a 39-year-old Hare Krishna devotee who founded and now oversees the Hare Krishna Consciousness Center in Eugene, Oregon. “It’s really so simple.”

Jnana opens the Hare Krishna Consciousness Center on Oak Street for chanting, worship, and a free vegan meal every Sunday at 6:00 p.m. On Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m., it is open for chanting. Many of the devotees who attend these chanting ceremonies say that they value the unique spiritual science behind them and remarkable way in which they bring people together.

The United States is ranked as one of the most individualistic countries in the world, according to Geert Hofstede, a Dutch researcher whose focus is organizational culture. This measurement is based on “the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members” in the nation. In other words, people are considered more likely to look after themselves only, while family and group loyalty is generally considered less of a priority.

In Eugene, Hare Krishna has emerged to help combat this isolationism. The Consciousness Center was started by a hardworking devotee, Jhana through grassroots organization in March of 2012. After living on a Hare Krishna farm called New Talavan in Carriere, Mississippi, Jnana used money he earned from a cab business to move to Eugene and founded the center.

“I saw there was a need,” says Jnana who chose to settle in Eugene because of the impressive organic farming in the area. “There weren’t too many people going out facilitating Krishna consciousness. I wanted to see people be more conscious and less exploitative of the environment, others, and themselves.”

He estimates that there are around 200 devotees in the area, with anywhere from 100,000 to 250,000 devotees nationwide. His center sees about ten to twenty people at each worship.

John looks on at his congregation dance, chat, and sing to Hare Krishna while serving up a dish of homemade vegan Indian food. It is a tradition at Hare Krishna to serve to the guests of the congregation a free meal every Sunday.

Coniffin looks on at fellow worshippers while serving up a dish of homemade vegan Indian food. It is a spiritual tradition serve guests a free meal every Sunday.

The Hare Krishna Consciousness Center is the only ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) presence in Eugene, meaning Jnana’s practices are based on the teachings of A.C. Bhaktivedanta, the founder and first teacher of Krishna in the United States.

“People have been suffering throughout time. It’s not new,” says Jnana. “What we have to offer philosophically is a device of God. Krishna Consciousness has something for everybody.”

Judy has found her place in Hare spirituality and attends worship on most Sundays. She is a frequent visitor to the Krishna Consciousness Center and also an active member of the congregant at the Beth Israel Synagogue in Eugene.

Jnana estimates that 10 to 15 percent of the people who come to the center are not devotees, but are people like Judy who are simply interested in learning more about the practice. The majority of these people are between 18 and 25-years-old, which he calls a “fruitful age” for activism.

“That’s my goal,” says Jnana. “To get people who don’t know anything about it and to have them experience it.”

Judy admits that while she is faithful to Judaism, the uplifting chanting of the Hare Krishna worship keeps her grounded after a long week.

One of her favorite anecdotes she likes to share with the devotees is about her rebellious 8-year-old son who lacks interest in his Hebrew school courses.

“I finally get it,” her son had exclaimed to her one day. “Religion exists so that people have support when they need it most.”

According to a study by the Merck Manual, religion can provide numerous psychological benefits, including “a sense of meaning and purpose in life, which affects health behaviors and social and family relationships.”

This helps to bring new faces through the doors of religious organizations like the Hare Krishna.

Ryan Scarlett and Coniffin pray to Hare Krishna, asking for his blessing.

Ryan Scarlett and Coniffin pray to Hare Krishna, asking for his blessing.

The first time Grace walked into the center, she was instantly met with the rich smell of burning incense. The sticks burned next to images of beautiful icons of Krishna, a young bluish boy full of innocence and the formal representation of the Krishna God. Soon, the smiling faces of the shoeless devotees came to greet her—warm, friendly, and excited to see another enthusiastic participant.

The chanting experience is incredibly sensory, especially when a ritual known as Aarti (pronounced ARE-TEA) is performed. Here, earth is offered from burning incense, fire is offered from a wick candle, water is offered from a conch shell, air is offered from the fanning of the deities, and ether is offered from the devotees’ singing voices.

At any typical Krishna worship, each person in attendance is asked to offer a reading, and each person has his or her own story and reason for taking time out of the day to join the worship.

“People want to be happy and this free practice gives me the most incredible, natural high,” says *Tim, who became a devotee while attending high school in Cleveland.

After beginning a quest for consciousness that included experimentation with various hallucinogenic drugs, Tim’s search seemed to fit the tenants of Hare Krishna. He eventually shaved his head, moved to India, and lived as a monk. Practicing as a devotee has helped him remain sober and content with his life.

“This is an undeniably positive influence in my life,” Tim says, “Every little bit helps.”

Some devotees note that the Krishna consciousness offers an alternative to everyday struggles, and takes worshippers back to their natural and most blissful state, which is known as Satcitananda (pronounced sach-chid-ānanda).

Another devotee, Nava Sundari Didi, moved to Eugene in 1999. She first discovered the concepts of Hare Krishna consciousness when she met an individual at Eugene food co- op Sundance Natural Foods in 2001.

“I was attracted to the clarity and light of the individual that I met,” says Sundari Didi, who at the time hoped to find a spiritual support system in an unfamiliar town. Nowadays, it’s the community of Hare Krishna that helps her remain strong.

Nava visits three to four homes a week for scripture and chanting. To strengthen relationships with other Hare members between these formal settings, she also visits Govindas (pronounced goh-vihn-das), a vegetarian buffet in Eugene and a unique part of the Hare Krishna community, as well as a local used car dealership called Auto Rama (a reference to Krishna), which is run by a member of the Hare Krishna community.

Legendary musician George Harrison of the Beatles became closely involved in the Krishna movement in the 1960s and expressed similar interests and personal attachment to the consciousness he experienced.

“I always felt at home with Krishna,” Harrison told Mukunda Goswami during an interview in 1982. “Krishna consciousness was especially good for me because . . . it was a spiritual thing that just fit in with my lifestyle.”

Being surrounded by other devotees made the entire experience an impactful part of Harrison’s life.

“Going to a temple or chanting with a group of other people—the vibration is that much stronger,” he said in the same interview.

One individual who found Krishna for similar reasons was Sacidulala dasa (pronounced Sah-chee-doo-lahl dasa). This translates to “servant to Chaitanya,” a 16th century Vaishnava saint (Vaishnava is a branch of Hinduism). The name was given to him directly by A.C. Bhaktivedanta himself.

“I was looking for something that I could live as I believed,” says Sacidulala dasa, who met his first devotees at the Krishna temple in Topanga, California.

To him, it was an exotic change of pace from what he was accustomed to. To the devotees, it was a direct representation of God. Sacidulala dasa was initially interested in the vegetarian philosophies of the movement, however, as he started coming for the free food that the centers offered at meetings.

“Food distribution is such a huge aspect of Krishna consciousness,” says Jnana, who recently raised enough money to provide free food distribution in Eugene.

Aiding the community by providing food to others is a unifying aspect of Hare Krishna. According to the Con Agra Foods Foundation, Oregon has the highest rate of children in households without consistent access to food, despite the fact that the land around Eugene is fertile enough to feed the entire Northwest.

With food playing such an important role in the Krishna ideology, Sacidulala dasa soon began cleaning up after group meals and delivering utensils to the temple. Eventually, he listened to records of chanting, and found the devotees to be genuine and supportive of his interests.

“I also love seeing people of different backgrounds come together,” Sacidulala dasa says. “If someone gives me something, I want to reciprocate.”

He believes in the karmic cause and effect taught by Krishna consciousness and that everything on Earth comes from a loving exchange. Nowhere is this more apparent than during the collective chanting of the Krishna mantra that recites the names of God:

“Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna.
Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare.
Hare Rama, Hare Rama.
Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

According to Jnana, people hear the Hare Krishna mantra and want to feel more of it. His hope is to teach them that they are a soul, that their spiritual life is already there, that all of humanity is full of knowledge, and to set their minds free in a pleasure-seeking society.

In the next few years, Jnana hopes to see hundreds of people in Eugene actively spreading Krishna consciousness.

Under the notion of simple living and high thinking, a concept stressed by the teachings of A.C. Bhaktivedanta, Jnana and his community take the Veda scriptures (directly translated to “knowledge”) and see everything, nature, self, and others, in relation to God.

For many, religion and spirituality provide comfort in an increasingly isolated world. When asked, Sacidulala dasa speaks passionately about the purpose of any religion. For him, Hare Krishna fills a void.

“We all want to be protected, we all want to be free from fear, and we all want love.”

The Rise of the Coffee Community

Brooklyn Walker, left, and Holly Gibson play a game of Rummikub in the corner of Eugene Coffee Co., where they enjoy the laid-back atmosphere and intimate feel of the coffee shop. Both students at Northwest Christian University, Walker, a junior, and Gibson, a sophomore, have visited the store three to four times to play their favorite game. (Michael Arellano/Flux)

In the Northwest, coffee shops have evolved from pit stops for professionals in need of a morning caffeine jolt to central gathering spaces that welcome relaxation and community. But will these coffee communities last?

It’s eleven o’clock on a Sunday morning and the Washburne Café in Springfield, Oregon, is awake.

The bell on the front door dings as customers enter to join the handful of people already sitting at wooden tables and plush sofas, immersed in their conversations or buried in their newspapers. Parents discuss politics over their now-tepid coffees as children run around waitresses who cart plates brimming with breakfast burritos and fresh fruit. Voices blend together in an unintelligible hum that makes the clinking of silverware and sputtering of cars outside almost imperceptible.

Nestled between a hair salon and a fabric shop on Main Street, the Washburne Café is where business executives, hipsters, and grandparents meet. It’s where people escape from their homes or workplaces to relax with a cup of coffee and take a break from the outside world. It’s also a prime example of what sociologists call “the third place.”

“I always say that we’re selling an experience, not necessarily coffee.”

-Sue Harnley, Eugene Coffee Company owner

In 1989, Ray Oldenburg coined the term “the third place” to mean an informal meeting space where communities gather and interact. The term originates from the theory that the home serves as an individual’s “first place,” and the office a “second place.” Third places are described as a home away from home, a hub that provides a comfortable environment for people to think, unwind, and interact with like-minded individuals.

“Through a radically different kind of setting for a home, the third place is remarkably similar to a good home in the psychological comfort and support that it extends,” Oldenberg wrote in his best-selling book, The Great Good Place. “Here joy and acceptance reign over anxiety and alienation.”

Despite the recent popularization of the term, the concept of the third place isn’t new. Public gathering spaces have long served as breeding grounds for political participation, civic engagement, and literary inspiration.

In the 1800s, amidst the abolition of slavery, organizers of the Underground Railroad used barbershops and saloons as congregation centers for the black community. Later in the 1900s, diners emerged as third places for inexpensive outings during the Great Depression. Today, coffee shops have attracted a plethora of public figures, including Malcolm Gladwell and J.K. Rowling, authors who each wrote bestsellers at café tables, scrawling on loose-leaf paper or the corners of napkins. People seem to feel a need to find gathering spaces that are distinct from their offices or homes.

 Looks Matter

“Homeliness is the ‘protective coloration’ of many third places . . . [they do] not have that shiny bright appearance of the franchise establishment.”
—Oldenberg in his novel The Great Good Place

Coffee shops have become popular during recent years as shop owners attempt to establish a sense of “homeliness,” especially in areas that have a large coffee culture already. Several cafés in Portland have employed distinctive interior design techniques to promote community gathering. Specialty coffee company Ristretto Roasters received national attention in 2011 for the decorative flair at its NW Nicolai location. Owner Din Johnson partnered with Bamboo Revolution, an architecture firm, to design a coffee house inside the showroom of a high-end lighting business, School House Electric and Supply Co. Here, Johnson hand-selected a variety of custom lighting fixtures to illuminate the building, including a set of lamps once used in mine shafts.

The popular result of Johnson’s meticulous work at Ristretto is a spacious café with lofty ceilings and an explosion of bamboo trim, tables, and shelving. A floor-to-ceiling photo of Portland’s St. Johns Bridge occupies one of the white walls, illuminated by the sunlight seeping in through large bay windows. Past wrought iron gates, the shop transitions seamlessly into the School House Electric showroom, where customers sit in upholstered chairs next to smooth mahogany tables that look more like they belong in a Pottery Barn catalog than a coffee shop.

“I think people can afford a $3 pleasure. They can’t afford the big screen TVs or the fancy vacations, but people are going to afford themselves that little bit of comfort, that little bit of routine at a time when things seem so crazy.”

-Harnley

“Din built this up to be a really fancy example of coffeehouses to showcase what we can do,” barista Ben Schultz says. “This [location] is not so much about the community. We are more of a destination for most people.”

Although Ristretto sees its fair share of regular customers, many first-time visitors flock to this coffeehouse to sip their carefully decorated lattes, listen to indie music playing over the speakers, and bask in the overall ambiance of the shop.

Two men chat with each other at Eugene Coffee Company, a place frequented by many locals daily. (Michael Arellano/Flux)

 A Home Away from Home

“Those who, on the outside, command deference and attention by the sheer weight of their position find themselves in the third place enjoined, embraced, accepted, and enjoyed where conventional status counts for little.”
-Oldenberg

“I always say that we’re selling an experience, not necessarily coffee,” says Sue Harnly, owner of Eugene Coffee Company, a small brew shop located in Eugene, Oregon.

Harnly bought the Eugene Coffee Company in 2008 and has since introduced a wide variety of event offerings, including a silent coffee hour for the hearing impaired, women’s poker night, and barista training for high schoolers, making the shop the heart of the community for many West Eugene residents.

“There are so many places in this town where you can get coffee, but there are not so many places where you can have a known connection with people,” Harnly says. “So that’s what I think keeps bringing people back.”

Neal Connor, one of the many regular patrons at Eugene Coffee Company, comes to the coffee shop every morning to work on his novel. He orders the same drink each day (his “poison,” or four shots of espresso), which is served in his personal, brown-speckled ceramic mug by one of the many baristas that know him by name.

As a recovered alcoholic, Connor uses his time at the Eugene Coffee Company to stay organized and productive. He says his third place used to be bars, but since embracing sobriety, he has switched to coffee shops.

“The Eugene Coffee Company has become sort of my extended family, which is great since I live alone,” Connor says as he cradles his steaming mug. “Going to coffee shops becomes a big part of your life when you’ve graduated from a drunken lifestyle.”

 A Sense of Togetherness

 “Life without community has produced, for many, a life style consisting mainly of a home-to-work-and-back-again shuttle. Social well-being and psychological health depend upon community.”
—Oldenberg

Third places have attracted a diversity of community members, but retirees in particular compose a significant portion of coffee shop patrons. According to the National Coffee Association, adults aged 55-64 are 28 percent more likely to purchase coffee away from home than younger generations. Whether it’s for exercise or social stimulation, seniors seem to believe in the importance of frequenting cafés and becoming involved in the local community.

Retiree Phyllis Kesner is one of the Washburne’s many regular customers. She’s been coming to the coffee shop for years due to its convenient location.

“I live alone, so I grab opportunities to talk to people,” Kesner says. And she’ll talk about anything—her two tortoises, her favorite operas, and that time in high school when she held the door open for Eleanor Roosevelt. “You can often get into a conversation at a café. . . Somehow the permission is there.”

Beverly Kjellander, 60, also visits the Washburne to socialize and meet with friends. Ever since the café opened, she’s been coming twice a week for her usual decaf, non-fat, no foam, extra-hot latte, and over the years she has grown alongside the coffee shop.

“The staff knows me well enough that I don’t have to tell them what I drink,” Kjellander says. “It feels much like the Cheers of coffee shops for me.”

She’s become so well-known at the café that she was even given a special pastry with a candle on it for her birthday, and if she calls ahead, the baristas save her a piece of strawberry shortcake or pie.

“If you live alone, it is a good thing to ‘get out amongst ’em,’” Kjellander says. “Coffee shops can be a very non-threatening place to go.”

Shamra Clark spends her Saturday morning making a to-do list, reading up on health tips, and catching up on a TV show while sipping on tea at the Wandering Goat Coffee Shop. (Kathryn Boyd-Batstone/Flux)

 Here to Stay?

“Third places are the heart of a community’s social vitality, the grassroots of democracy, but sadly, they constitute a diminishing aspect of the American social landscape.”
– Oldenberg

Regular customers like Kjellander and Kesner are a fading breed among coffee shop clientele. According to research conducted by the National Coffee Association in 2010, 86 percent of coffee drinkers prepare their coffee at home and the rate is rising. While 66 percent of adults purchased their coffee away from home in 2003, the recession has since cut that number in half. Now, only 30 percent of adults get their caffeine buzz outside of the home.

 “You can often get into a conversation at a café. Somehow the permission is there.”

-Phyllis Kesner, Washburne Cafe regular

Despite a lull in business, Harnly of Eugene Coffee Company is optimistic about the future of coffee shops, and her café in particular.

“I think people can afford a $3 pleasure. They can’t afford the big screen TVs or the fancy vacations,” Harnly says. “But people are going to afford themselves that little bit of comfort, that little bit of routine at a time when things seem so crazy.”

With his own struggling business, customer Neal Connor’s income has been suffering—making his daily coffee a much greater financial sacrifice. Yet, he still finds room in his tight budget for his daily visits to the Eugene Coffee Company.

“In the last two years, I really haven’t gotten out of debt, but I have to have my coffee,” Connor says. “There are a couple of basic needs we have. I mean, why do you keep eating every day? Why do you breathe?”

Despite empty wallets and full schedules, frequent customers like those at the Washburne and Eugene Coffee Company offer at least some proof that coffee shops have continued to serve as cornerstones of community. They are where couples have their first dates, where employees go before starting their workdays, and where regulars find a sense of family. Coffee is no longer just a staple of the working person’s diet, but a vessel for conversation and a liquid confidence for the lonely.

“Even if you are not involved in the chatter, there is something comforting about being around that sound of people talking and laughing,” Beverly Kjellander says. “Along with the coffee, it gives you a warm feeling . . . a feeling that you belong.”

 

Activism 2.0

As the debate over internet activism continues, a new social activism organization is leveraging the power of the web to do good both online and offline. 

The aroma of incense wafts through the air. Motivational messages and the Grateful Dead concert memorabilia line the walls. On a table sits a computer. This is where the magic happens.

Welcome to David Freeman’s living room, the humble nucleus of the Pledge project, one of Eugene, Oregon’s newest nonprofit organizations.

Those who choose to “take The Pledge” do so by joining as members in an online community that encourages idea-sharing and empowerment to further social movements. Ultimately, the project aims to inspire Pledge participants to make a difference outside the confines of cyberspace by contributing to community meetings (“called Community Unity Team Gatherings”). According to Pledge team member Kaya Berry, the social outreach website is  as envisioned by Freeman “to provide a methodology for uniting people in a way that makes a discernible difference . . . that works for everyone.”

While The Pledge’s approach may seem commonplace, this organization is actually part of a larger trend among similar nonprofit projects. Since the advent of the Internet, protests have gradually been replaced by “Likes”, online petitions, viral videos, and memes. While social and political upheavals in the past were characterized by picket lines and sit-ins, many of today’s budding activists (often derided as “slacktivists”) are more likely to be found sitting in front of their computers. Social media is increasingly becoming the modern platform for raising awareness, but some see the internet as an ineffective way to support social causes and fear that this trend is undermining the progress of traditional activism.

One well-known and controversial episode in the social networking activism debate was spurred in March 2012 with the release of Invisible Children, Inc.’s Kony2012, a thirty-minute film that quickly became a viral Internet sensation. The video, which chronicles the journey of a Sudanese refugee who escaped oppression and genocide as part of guerilla leader Joseph Kony’s army of child soldiers, was viewed over 100 million times in the span of six days. Jason Russell, the Invisible Children, Inc. co-founder and creator of the video, had seemingly united an entire planet against its most  wanted fugitive. Yet, as time passed, many supporters lost interest in the cause, and the internet community moved on to newer trending topics.

Kony2012 showed the world a prime example of what can occur when millions join in support of a common cause, but it’s unclear whether the campaign created a net benefit in ending child armies in Africa. According to video analysts at Visible Measures Corporation, a set of viewers larger than the population of Germany sympathized with Invisible Children’s pursuit of ending genocide and child armies through the film. Even with these numbers, however, few actually took the initiative to do more than “liking” and sharing Russell’s video on their own page.

Clearly, a debate has formed. Does bringing attention to an issue by using social media make someone socially active, or is this increasingly common habit simply breeding future generations of passive activists? Merely “liking” or sharing an organization’s post online with no further action has become so customary that in 2010 the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS coined the term “slacktivism,” stating it “posits that people who support a cause by performing simple measures are not truly engaged or devoted to making a change.” The term even has its own Urban Dictionary entry.

At 72 years of age, Pledge founder David Freeman is no stranger to activism. Since the 1960s, Freeman has participated in several social and political movements and has witnessed activism’s transformation from marches and protests to Facebook “likes” and viral videos. During the tumultuous cultural upheaval of the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, the United States was experiencing what he terms “a coming together unheard of at that time.”

Watching the positive change he and others like him were making throughout this era motivated Freeman to promote societal unity.

“I remember staring at the sunset near the bay and crying out ‘It doesn’t have to be like this! We are all one,’” he says.

Frustrated with the lack of social justice in the United States during his childhood, Freeman sought an outlet to encourage his peers to coexist.

“I had this desire to find a healing family, connection, and a difference,” he says. “That’s where The Pledge project actually started.”

Since it was first conceived by Freeman decades ago, the project has gone through many changes. Originally, the organization was titled “god’s pledge” with a lower case g to show zero exclusivity. The initial concept was a viral hit with impressive first quarter membership totals for the small Internet community of the time. However, an insufficient server forced Freeman to put his dream and “god’s pledge” on hold.

As he’s continued to age, Freeman’s transformation and adaptation to the times mimics society’s own state of flux. Revamped, reworked, and fresh off its formal re-launch, the modern Pledge project is officially operating using the webpage address www.pledgein.org. The site hosts discussion forums where all beliefs and denominations can share ideas and learn from one another. Freeman calls this medium the “body of wisdom,” and Pledge representatives are optimistic that after finding guidance on the website, members will then become active in the physical world instead of residing exclusively in virtual forums.

Since the inception of websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, society has increasingly begun using social media as a platform for self-expression. In October 2012, Facebook reached a monumental milestone when the total number of users exceeded one billion. While social network activism advocates like Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerburg claim the Internet can aid philanthropic efforts, critics are uncertain as to whether or not networking has actually rendered any positive results.

The Pledge, on the other hand, purports that a combined online presence as well as a physical community can create an environment suitable for inciting radical awareness and change among its followers. By using sites like Facebook and Twitter, Freeman’s organization has the potential to reach millions of users for recruitment in a shorter amount of time.

“The Internet is an incredible tool,” says Freeman. “Look at the things that have happened through Facebook.”

However, Freeman is also concerned with society’s dependence on social media and disregard for volunteering. After observing the way technology had transformed culture, Freeman decided to incorporate social media sharing on his website to prevent his mission from tumbling down the same obsolete path as flyers tacked to a corkboard.

“It is easy to say, ‘Oh I did my part. I went to Facebook and I liked that.’ But now, go out and actually make a difference,” says Freeman.

There is a fine balance to maintain when reaching out to the public via social networking sites. Too much online sharing, and the cause becomes more about clicks and views than actual activism; too little, and no one will know such organizations or causes exist.

“People like being in a caring, loving social setting,” says Freeman. “And the sharing of information isn’t as great as actually doing things.”

Websites like The Pledge are on their way to accomplishing this, however. One study published by Georgetown University in 2010 suggests that organizations like The Pledge and Invisible Children, Inc. may be onto something. Researchers found that those who share their beliefs using social media and advocate for reform through those networks are twice as likely to volunteer and show up in-person at events such as rallies.

These days, The Pledge is trying to remove the slump from modern activism by promoting its motto “A Different Difference.” Freeman believes his site is unique because of its breadth in appealing to computer users as well as community members, achieving that essential balance of connecting nonprofit organizations with the masses.

“People have looked at The Pledge and they say, ‘What’s the difference between what The Pledge is saying and what Buddha or Jesus said?’” Freeman says. “My stock answer is, ‘They didn’t have the Internet.’”

Though membership is low right now, The Pledge is confident that its ideas will catch on and inspire a socially active member base. Like anyone who has seen as vibrant a life as Freeman’s, exhaustion catches up to the activist from time to time. While he must periodically rest as he works, there is only so much time for leisure during the day. This project is his profession—and his passion.

On this particular day, Freeman reclines to take a break on the sofa next to his computer table. After a time, the shrill whistle of the tea kettle echoes from the kitchen, finally coaxing Freeman from his seat. But only for a moment.

Freeman fills his mug, and then retreats to his computer. The social network beckons.