So tell us what Tara told you. Nice segue. I do love how you read my mind. Tara Russell leads a similar organization in Idaho called Create Common Good that provides job training for refugees and others with barriers to employment. They use food to change lives and build healthy communities. They’re invested seeds-to-soup-to-nuts, growing produce on a farm and producing daily volume food products for food service institutions (restaurants, schools, corporate cafeterias, retail, and gas stations) while providing a whole range of hands-on culinary arts training - they even make granola. I asked her if she ever gets lonely. Her answer: “Incredibly!! It’s like climbing Mr. Everest day after day without a rest.” Which of course made me feel wonderfully normal. And I should be clear, I don’t think loneliness means unmeaningful or dissatisfying. For me it’s part of having a vision without a much of a blueprint. Maybe that’s just basic entrepreneurship.

How about coping strategies. I'm just moving things along. Maybe if you share some of yours, your fellow social venture entrepreneurs will get back with theirs. My most recent little self-pep-talk in a box is the letters “SPPU”-which is not an acronym for sold pending pickup. Actually, to me it sounds like a political party… (deep voice: Yes, I’ll have the privilege of attending the SPPU convention as a delegate in Minneapolis this spring), or a railroad. Not a highway. It’s funny, I'm not sure acronyms even help my memory. There was one night a few weeks ago that I bolted awake and I kept thinking, now what does that second P stand for?

Uh huh. Yes.

Okay. Four Imperatives. The first, is be strong, which is kind of a joke, because I know I mean it as mental strength, yet it’s physical exertion that reminds me. I probably personally handle every ounce of granola we make a few times over. And we’re getting up into the tons now. If I had to start this thing again, I’d pick something with a little less heft. A healthy artisan, gluten-free take on cotton candy. Light as a feather with no artificial colors. Did you know honey weighs 12 lbs a gallon? The higher the quality, the heavier. Water’s about 8. Artisan cotton candy would be about 2 heavenly ounces. I’ll confess, when nobody’s around I’ve taken to grunting like a tennis player when I heave pails of honey down the stairs. Every now and then I hear that phrase “common” “unskilled” labor(er) on NPR. And I think what does that mean? I realize it’s what some people call themselves, but anyone with a white collar job who uses it should try getting out from behind their desk and experiencing it. It doesn’t feel common. It takes skill to get pails of honey down a flight of stairs. It really does baffle me sometimes that the more physical labor a job requires, the less it pays. And kitchen work takes stamina. I have a lot of sympathy for the McDonalds’ workers who want better pay. They deserve it.

Moving right along? Okay. Be Positive

Ah, good timing. I work with people who have been through hell in some way or another. And their lives aren’t exactly easy now. I’m, well, let’s put this positively, and call it “quite sensitive.” I’m aware that the world needs empathy and empathetic people—but there’s a downside to being one of those "needed" people if you start to carry things around that you can’t do anything about. Syria for instance. The 6:30 news always seems to offer a little smorgasbord of things to carry.

One reason I’ve been drawn to building a social venture is because it invites us past the 6:30 news. If you feel concerned about refugees, then you can do something concrete. It might be as small as buying a granola bar, but it’s something that connects you personally. And something positive. I can enjoy eating something made by someone who enjoyed making it, in part because it was a step towards greater belonging in a new community. And the connections come along the way. That’s why farmers’ markets work so well for us. Or home deliveries. Sure it costs a bit more. But listening to the news costs too. I’ve talked to very few of our employees about what they’ve been through, but it’s terrific to be together, surrounded by smells and spices and have our hands deep in something delicious. Gloves on, of course. Hair nets too. The work itself invites me to stay positive, but I also have to make that choice.

And actually I need to take another break.

Got to make the granola? It’s Monday morning and we're planning to make 1200 bars plus 520 pounds this week. So this is where I remind our kind readers to get orders in--in case we need to adapt those plans.

Written by Keith Cooper

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