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Food for Thought: Livable Wages

In this series, Gary Paul Nabhan muses on important topics relating to his forthcoming book Food from the Radical Center: Healing Our Land in CommunitiesIn this post, he writes about local jobs and livable wages. 

While “local” has become an overused buzzword in many places over the last two decades, “green livelihoods for local residents” remains a goal that many communities aspire to achieve. In southern Arizona along the border with Mexico, many rural communities have all but dried up for lack of jobs offering livable wages. Supporting start-up food microenterprises remains one of the best ways to jumpstart a lagging local economy, yet the crews that run such operations often work long hours with few benefits to counterbalance all the “sweat equity” they invest.

In the Canary Islands last week, I visited a unique strategy unfolding to help these new entrepreneurs gain both skills and markets. In the village of San Bartoleme on the island of Lanzarote, I spent time at Cesar Manrique’s Monument to the Campesino, where the famous architect/community planner built a training center showing foods, crafts, and artisanal products that use the local materials of the island.

At the rear of the training center is a courtyard with a series of rooms facing the central feature where a spiral staircase has been installed into an old stone quarry. Each of the rooms features practitioners of a different artisan craft and a shop that offers their traditional crafts and gifts for sale. Products range from wines and salsas to baskets and metalwork to weavings and sculptures. Visitors of the training center to practice the culinary arts that they see and taste the products that they make. What if every impoverished community in America had such a training and exhibition center to kickstart new jobs with livable wages?