MINNEAPOLIS—Canvass workers from the non-profit mobile food shelf Sisters’ Camelot have formed a foodsharing organization of their own, the North Country Food Alliance. The canvassers went public to their bosses, the Sisters’ Camelot managing collective, as a union affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) at the end of February. On March 1st, the managing collective refused to negotiate with the union causing the workers to go on strike. Three days later management fired one of the striking canvassers, a firing that was later found to be illegal by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Rather than accepting the NLRB’s settlement offer, the Sisters’ Camelot managing collective chose instead to work with a national union-busting law firm, FordHarrison, to fight the decision before a administrative law judge. Both sides are awaiting the verdict from the trial. After four months of striking and witnessing Sisters’ Camelot lose its positive reputation and their source of funding, causing them to drastically scale back programming, and move out of their warehouse space, the canvassers from Sisters’ Camelot decided to start something new.
North Country Food Alliance (NCFA) is a worker-run, IWW closed union shop. It is modeled on the principal that workers who are empowered within their workplace have greater investment in their jobs and therefore in the organization as a whole. NCFA is operated democratically through the workers’ weekly meetings, at which all decisions concerning the daily operation of the organization are made. All workers have an equal say and no group or individuals’ votes are valued above anyone else’s. Despite being a brand-new organization, this non-hierarchical model has already attracted several new workers, who say they enjoy being part of an organization that they truly believe in.
“Most of us at have worked at other non-profits on issues that we care about and have realized most of them function hypocritically,” said Quinn Bourdot, an NCFA worker who was not part of the Canvass Union, “Instead of causing workers to become disillusioned by chewing them up and spitting them out, North Country provides workers with a rewarding experience where they can develop diverse skills, confidence in, and commitment to their ideals.”
North Country Food Alliance increases access to food and shares food with people in need. This is accomplished through three main program areas: foodshare, foraging, and gardening. The foodshare program works with local co-ops to collect their overstock produce, which would normally go to waste, and distributes it for free in low-income neighborhoods. “We pick a different location every week to do our foodshare,” said NCFA worker Will Dixon, “and we make sure to mix it up and not get stuck doing foodshares in the same neighborhoods all the time.”
The foraging program holds weekly workshops which teach participants to safely identify and harvest wild-growing greens, berries, mushrooms, and other foods. “The foraging program has allowed me to meet a lot of wonderful, new people and overall has been a very rewarding experience,” said Maria Wesserle, foraging coordinator.
North Country Food Alliance is developing a gardening program to provide resources for communities to take full advantage of the urban gardening opportunities in the Twin Cities. Their goal is to help create gardens and in time hand them over to the communities where they are based, providing the tools and resources to empower people to grow their own food. “We’ve been making a lot of headway in building relationships with neighborhood associations to establish community gardens. We also have some gleaning opportunities coming up,” said Tiffany Keri, one of the garden coordinators.
Despite finding having new jobs with their organization, the canvassers are not ending their strike at Sisters’ Camelot.
“We want to make one thing perfectly clear,” said NCFA worker ShugE Mississipi, “We are still on strike at Sisters’ Camelot and anyone who canvasses for them is a scab. We have zero tolerance for scabbing.”
Look for the North Country Food Alliance at busy intersections, community garden plots, local wild areas, and at your doorstep. To learn more or to make a donation visit it www.northcountryfoodalliance.org.