Taking the Leap

[Note from Steve: This was written back in January on my professional blog over at Terroirism. It sort of gives some good background as to my professional life till now, and some of the things that drive our mission here at Diaspora. SSW]

A New Year seems like a good time as any to begin with an introduction (also, this has been a post a long time coming): Hi, my name is Stephen Wade. This blog was started as a way of distilling some of the work I was doing as a masters student at NYU's Department of Food Studies into more easily decipherable, legible, and less jargon-tastic pieces of short-form essaywork. Inspired too by my work in the world of specialty coffee and urban planning, the blog Terroirism was a melange of topics and covered a lot of ground in a lot of different capacities, albeit inconsistently and with gaps in time. (Realization: unless blogging is your professional life, your actual professional life gets in the way of writing occassional. Quelle shock!) 

I graduated with my Masters back in July, having written a thesis that was one part business plan and one part review of food hubs & institutions that mimic their capabilities. The thesis was an amalgamation of work not just in the program, but also professional consulting I had done (and still, on occassion, do) under the name of this very blog. The business plan element was a long time coming, something that I have had visions for but have always put off; coffee I have long jokingly defined as my abusive relationship, and my purpose of getting a masters was, in part, to get me back into the world of public policy, advocacy, and other work that I have done for a multitude of other organizations in volunteer andinternship capacities, yet never gotten the opportunity to work in. That's where I always felt I could do the most good, and the reason why I kept doing research papers, presenting at conferences, and doing things that were on the career-track for that line of work.

That line ends now. Or rather, is being recast. Part of what got me in my research was that food hubs take on a number of forms. And some of the restaurants and cafes where I have had the pleasure of working (or spending inordinate amounts of time at) fulfilled many the functions of food hubs, directly and indirectly. They were restaurants and classrooms; community spaces and coffeeshops, distribution points for CSA's and processing facilities for farm produce. Places like Charlie Hallowell's Pizzaiolo in Oakland, Jessica Koslow's Sqirl in Los Angeles, or Matthew Dillon's Sitka & Spruce group in Seattle all had elements of this at play, and all reflect their respective geographies. And they all play a role in my thinking about next steps. 

Ari Weizenberg, of Zingerman's, writes about how new businesses come from a process of good vision planning but also good mission statements. His method for going about this talks about the need to start from content (the who's, what's and why's of what you do) before moving to the composition and contrast of what you do -- the physical, material and structural things you will be building. This was an amazing exercise, and a conceptual framework I have used with clients before. It was crucial in setting up the business plan I assembled in my thesis, and as such, was useful once more when I sat down to reconceptualize the blog, but also my larger goals of which it has always been a part.

Terroirism is still going to be the home for a lot of content regarding urban planning, community economic development, and sustainable agriculture. Those are topics both near and dear to my heart, and are still professionally relevant moving forward. There'll still be thoughts on coffee and elements of the specialty coffee industry. But as one professional relation once told me, my visions and interests are too big to be constrained by sticking to coffee. And while it has served as a good medium for me to talk about a number of topics, there is a time to be moving on professionally within it. 

In that spirit, Terroirism is also going to become a home to document and talk about the day to day development of Diaspora Kitchen & Provisions, the pop-up element to a much larger project, that of establishing the business I laid out in my thesis work. I think smart businesses can integrate the goals of sustainable agriculture into their business models, and not only be profitable for themselves, but for their communities and employees as well. Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco and Rainbow Grocery both uphold that fact in very different ways. And while coffee is still a stimulating professional field, I need to begin actually working on applications of my other interests and goals within other fields I consider myself to be a growing and learning professional within. Coffee cannot, as of this time, remain my sole source of income nor can waiting for policy jobs to pick me up be a rational course of action. 

It was also in this spirit that a decision to remain in NYC has become personally important. When I left SF in 2010, I realize in retrospect I did so without putting up much of a fight and without following all my options. Being 23, sort of lost and at that point unemployed an trailing in kitchens was neither going to pay way in SF, and there was a lot of pushback from my parents that I had neither the confidence nor heart to protest. I left a lot in SF and I still regret that particular choice to not dig my heels in and commit. After over two years in NYC, and having split a professional life that has one eye cocked towards the west coast for some opportunity that has yet to avail itself, I've built up too much of a community, too many good people and see to much change that can happen in NYC to leave just yet. NYC has many of the same problems as the Bay Area -- a place I still look to and feel as my spiritual home -- and many things that it lacks, especially where food sustainability issues are concerned. If I can do work in this field -- this wide open space where all these things come together -- and make it here, then, well, you know how that old ditty goes.

Here's to 2014, everyone. Time to take that jump.