Archive for the ‘Trends’ category

Local Food Scene (II)

August 1, 2009

I spent a couple of hours yesterday doing what my father used to call “pearl diving”. Not much at the bottom of that bowl of soapy water but dirty dishes, though. I volunteered to help with the “Friday Mornings@Selma” event that Lisa Gottlieb and Jeff McCabe host in their home weekly. As the recent article in the Ann Arbor Chronicle explained, they have regularized their legal position by linking with Slow Food Huron Valley, a 501(c)(3) organization, so can collect donations for the breakfasts they serve to an eager multitude (recent weeks have seen as many as 120 people at their table through the morning).

I’ve sat at that table a couple of times in the past.  It is the place to be for meeting people involved in the local food movement. Matt Grocoff, whose main expertise is in green energy for the home, was next to me last time I attended. He has gained some celebrity because of his backyard chickens (he taught a workshop on backyard chickens as part of the Transition Ann Arbor Reskilling Workshop).  Kim Bayer,  Slow Food officer and food blogger is a regular (she is now doing a podcast).  Local food bloggers “rule” at Selma, actually – volunteering as well as eating.  Bayer was recently a guest chef and Shana of Gastronomical Three often coordinates volunteers.  This week, Jen of A2eatwrite was on the waffle detail.  Her Local Love Fridays is now a feature of  And the matriarch of local food bloggers – “Mom” of “Mother’s Kitchen” tries never to miss a Friday Mornings@Selma on her way to work.  Mom or “MK” is now organizing a canned good production project for Selma.  This week I met Jane Pacheco, the director of Chelsea Community Kitchen (a collective effort to have a commercial kitchen where local growers and cooks can make products that can be sold legally).  There are others, from neighbors to UM students to organizers of the Homegrown Festival.  It is always a lively conversation, and always there is much to be learned.

The kitchen is where most people are seated, with a large overflow table in the dining room.  But lots of people sit around the massive wood-topped kitchen island (nearly the size of a small room), while volunteers are working frantically at its other end to send breakfasts out.  There is little formal coordination of volunteers; people can sign up on the website, or calls for help go out by email when a need hasn’t been filled.  Thus, my encounter with the soapy water.   Somehow, it works, like a ballet with people bobbing and weaving as they pass each other on their tasks.   (Chefs, sometimes from well-known restaurants, also volunteer their time and there is usually a “special” or two.)

To some extent, Selma is a good metaphor for the whole local food movement, which is, especially from the outside, chaotic and disorganized.  It has been a matter of a few dedicated people presenting an opportunity to take part in the vision of clean, healthful food prepared by hand – and persuading others to join them.  The movement has bubbled up from the community, rather than coming from institutions.  It mirrors and shares in some of the values of “Transition“, which is also a local movement with national and international referents.  Competence (learning how to grow and prepare food) and values (making choices to focus on local and “sustainably raised” food) are important in both. Other important concepts are community food security (making sure that people in our community have access to fresh healthful food) and localization (building a strong local economy). But to me the important thing is that it is arising spontaneously and locally, through the actions of individuals and self-assembled groups.

The first event I attended at “Selma” was a fundraiser for Chris Bedford, a filmmaker who specializes in food issues.  Now Bedford’s latest film, Coming Home: E.F. Schumacher and the Reinvention of the Local Economy,  is showing on September 3 at the Michigan Theater.

The money raised by McCabe and Gottlieb is going to a “Small Farms – Small Farmers” initiative, primarily to buy hoophouses for new ventures.  These unheated greenhouses can extend Michigan’s growing season nearly to all year, as has been shown by local hoophouse pioneer Shannon Brines.  One of the people I shared my breakfast table with was a young woman who, with her husband, is starting a small organic farm north of Ann Arbor – and building a hoophouse with a grant from Selma’s work.  As I hung up my teatowel and left after noon on Friday, Jeff McCabe was working with a new group of volunteers, who will be working today to “raise” a hoophouse near Detroit – purchased in part by another grant from Selma.

Maybe there were pearls in that soapy water, after all.

The Ann Arbor Media Flip

July 23, 2009

Today’s the day – the last day of publication for the Ann Arbor News.  Tomorrow the successor (it has the same publisher, at least) ,, is formally initiated (they seem to be sneaking up on it today).  So – as I’ve noted in a couple of previous posts, it’ll be up to us to figure out how we get our news.  There’ll never be “the newspaper” again – or at least that particular reality doesn’t seem to be on the horizon.

Of course, this has provoked a good deal of soul-searching and plenty of trips down memory lane, including one by a former reporter, Jeff Mortimer, in the Ann Arbor Chronicle today. Regular readers of the Chronicle will remember a couple of heart-wrenching stories by its publisher, Mary Morgan, who was with the News for many years.   Arbor Update’s Juliew asks some very good questions along the line of What is a newspaper? What is a journalist? What is news?  There is a pretty good discussion, including submissions by actual journalists.  (Okay, I’ve stepped into the swamp of definitions.  A journalist is someone who actually investigates and reports, not someone who merely repeats what they’ve heard and offers opinions.)  (And since you’re asking, I consider myself to be teetering just on the edge of that, but I’m getting a lot of my reporting from other people, and I definitely have opinions.)

So that still leaves us with the question – how do we find out what is going on – the news and the background behind the news?  We’ve been listing sites that seem to convey some actual news about the Ann Arbor area, or at least aggregate it.  Today Ann Arbor Business Review will come off the list, since they are being submerged into

A new addition:  The Michigan Daily.   I didn’t think of it earlier because, frankly, I have not been in the habit of reading a “student newspaper”.  However, a glance at the site shows some pretty serious reporting, not just on student topics, and it is worthy of inclusion.

I won’t be adding our two major NPR stations, for different reasons.  WEMU is an important source for local news (especially listen in the morning just after the top and bottom of the hour); they have long sent reporters to meetings and done original and timely reporting on Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Washtenaw County news.  But as far as I can tell, extensive coverage is not carried over to their website.  On the other hand, though WUOM has a good deal of “Michigan News” on their website, it is rarely local to Ann Arbor.

More blogs and online efforts are likely to pop into this vacuum.  The Ann Arbor News says that Tom Gantert, a longtime reporter for the News, is starting an online political journal called The Michigan Reporter – which he hopes will be funded by grants.  Not a good beginning to read his quote about it.  It is clear between that and his comments on Arbor Update that this transition is not going well for him.

Then there are alternative newsweeklies/newsmonthlies.  Ann Arbor has had a string of them.  The Ann Arbor Observer, of course, has news as well as other types of features, and is still mostly a print publication.  (We’ve put the online version, ArborWeb, on the blogroll.)For many years, one could pick up Agenda, a liberal monthly, free at some newstands.  I haven’t seen it for a long time, though it is still listed as extant.  More recently, I’ve seen a well-produced GLBT paper, Between the Lines. I’m not sure that it is still being printed, but I don’t get to the places like coffee shops where it is likely to be found.  There is also Current, vaguely in the free shopper category, but has finally gotten its website up so that one can read the features and reviews online.

Maybe next someone should start an alternative publication like that now being read in Flint.  It is being passed out for free by volunteers – just like the old broadsides back in the days of the American Revolution.

Update: Today’s Arborweb (Ann Arbor Observer) and Ann Arbor Chronicle have reciprocal links to one another.  Connectivity lives!

Second Update: The Ann Arbor Chronicle has added the Lucy Ann Lance (1290 AM) blog to its “local news” links.

Third Update: The A2Journal, which was supposed to be a print publication delivered to homes weekly, also has a web presence.  We didn’t have a delivery last week (after receiving them for two weeks).  It’s not clear how much actual reporting they are doing.

Fourth Update: The Ann Arbor Chronicle provided this link to a Time Magazine story on the death of the Ann Arbor News.  It reports that the move was a bold business decision rather than a burial.

Fridays at the Workantile Exchange

July 10, 2009

The work is already going on at the Workantile Exchange.  As described in a couple of Ann Arbor Chronicle articles earlier this year, this space at 118 South Main was set up by Michael Kessler as a co-working space where independent workers can share a space and some facilities while working on their own projects.  But as the management explains, this is neither a conventional business incubator nor a rent-a-cubicle operation.  Rather, it appears to be an attempt to create a deliberate community where independent entrepreneurs and creative workers can bounce ideas off one another (fortified by the Mighty Good Coffee that also serves as an entrance hall), find others who have resources and skills needed for a current project, and schedule meetings and classes (the facility has a couple of conference and training rooms).  “We’re here for anybody pursuing a project-driven career, whether or not it’s their full-time profession. There will be the expected “geeks” and “suits” among us, but also lawyers and artists, sales professionals and writers, teachers and filmmakers.”  For about $100 a month, you can buy access to this free-floating brainstorm. Today, the main room (the Café floor) had a casual but quietly focused air, with several low-tone conversations going on while others worked at laptops.  A tiled set of large Post-its on the wall asked for leads to people with specific skills or noted future discussions; “B corporations and IF-profits” looked intriguing.

The mutual training seems to be a big part of this enterprise.  To that end, the Workantile Exchange is hosting some public brown-bag lunch seminars, especially on Fridays.  It’s a good excuse to check out the real estate.  And the topics are mind-bending. The next one, presented by Bill Tozier, is “The Independent Film Model for Project-Driven Businesses” (having little or nothing to do with film-making).

More Ann Arbor Media News

July 9, 2009

The media reassortments keep on coming.  The latest news over the transom was the announcement that Ann Arbor Business Review is ceasing publication and will be replaced by a new “business channel” on  According to the story, “Ann Arbor Business Review executives said the weekly business-to-business news journal remained a strong editorial product despite a business climate that made the ongoing printing of a weekly product unsustainable”.  I have indeed found this publication to be a good source of business-oriented news, often more timely and more insightful than coverage by the old Ann Arbor News.  Apparently my paper copies will stop coming in August too.

There are now a steady parade of announcements across the top of the page, with new staff members and affiliations.  One not there but which I welcome is the addition of Jennifer Haines of a2eatwrite as the food blogger.  What I’m also not seeing is the offer I received by email yesterday.  I’m now signed up to receive

  • Daily digital newsletter
  • Weekly Deals and more
  • Daily Obituaries Update.
  • (These are three different feeds, and I can unsubscribe any time.)

The announcement said I was receiving the offer because of a prior relationship with the Ann Arbor News, MLive or Ann Arbor Business Review.  I’d guess that they will be offered to the general public once is up and running.

Hyper Ann Arbor

July 1, 2009

Edward Vielmetti, whose ecletic blog Vacuum is global in reach but local in focus, calls attention to new tools to “aggregate, curate, and publish” local news via for Publishers. As I noted in an earlier post, a growing trend toward “hyperlocal” news sites is helping to fill the gap being left by the demise of traditional newspapers. These pull together numerous online news sources, including some blogs, and sometimes supplement them with governmental notices. The result is not the same as a traditional newspaper but can help people keep a good information flow about their own locality.

Ed’s post made me take a second look at the Ann Arbor version of and it will now appear on our blogroll. It does a very decent job of pulling news stories from a number of sources, including some I am not familiar with, and giving a brief headline/summary/link in a very timely way. The link to neighborhoods was a little less successful. Using my own neighborhood (they appear to use the Ann Arbor Observer City Guide classifications, which I find less than satisfactory since my humble neighborhood is lumped with the big houses up Newport), I found that some stories were highly relevant and others (like movie reviews!) more general.

Of course, the Ann Arbor Chronicle is moving right along with this hyperlocal reporting (and is very frequently the source for They do some curating and aggregation themselves (the plural noun is because it is a partnership) and I find their “New Media” and “Old Media” items very helpful, where they pull news and comment from nationwide publications and local blogs.

Yet to be revealed is how effective the new mostly online news from will be. A very good piece of news is that they have hired Edward Vielmetti to be the “blogging leader”. They’ve been making a number of announcements and appointments and their apparent openness is fairly impressive. I only recently signed up on their site and took their poll, and this morning I got several updates on decisions on policy. Apparently they took all the items I gave high points to and are sending me instantaneous status updates. (I am able to turn off this feature.) If this is not all hype/marketing, it could be good.

Blogging in Ann Arbor and the Comment Question

June 22, 2009

Some vigorous discussion has been going on lately here and there about “rules” for comments on blogs.   I found the recent post on quite amusing.  According to his post, plans to moderate comments.  I’ll let you read Mark’s take on it for yourself.  Meanwhile, “Murph” posted an essay on moderation on Arbor Update (and comments were not enabled) after a particularly contentious run of discussions about policy on deleting comments.  Arbor Update also has a current discussion about the use of pseudonymous commentors.  And Edward Vielmetti, whose thoughts are never vacuous, provides a whole series of discussions from blogs and news sites around the world on this subject.  Ann Arbor Chronicle, which of course is not a blog, handled a recent run of troublesome off-topic comments neatly by simply excising them and making them available in an orphan section.

I won’t try to add to the chorus on this subject but I thought it a good opportunity to lay out rules for commenting on this blog.

1. Most comments will be published immediately, without prior review.

2. WordPress sends suspect comments into a spam folder.  It hasn’t caught any local comments yet.

3. Though you are asked for your email address in filling out comments, it will never be published and I will not send you any messages unless necessary for some administrative reason (can’t think of any right now).

4. Filling in a URL in the comment page will mean that people can go to your website, but this is optional – just leave it out if you don’t want to be linked to.

5. If you must use a pseudonym, I will reluctantly permit it.  Best if you have a well-known one used elsewhere also.  Personally, I’d rather see you stand behind your opinions with your real name.

6. I will delete your comment only if it is abusive, seriously off-topic, or otherwise totally unacceptable.  I won’t publish personal attacks against me or anyone else, and if the comment contains obvious falsehoods I’ll address that in a reply.  What is totally unacceptable?  It follows Justice Stewart’s rule. (Offensive language falls under the “abusive” label, again using the J.S. rule.)  But differences of opinion and especially corrections of fact are welcomed.

All that said, here’s hoping for more comments!

Ann Arbor Gets a NEWspaper

June 8, 2009

Breaking news – Heritage Newspapers, the operator of the Chelsea Standard and Dexter Leader, has announced a newspaper (right, the kind on newsprint) to be published weekly starting July 9, according to the Business Review.

The new weekly, to be called A2Journal, is to be  “A free weekly, home-delivered newspaper launching July 9 covering the people, traditions and institutions that make Ann Arbor unique.”

As mentioned earlier, the Ann Arbor News will be closing in July.  Its successor,, is said to be planning two print versions a week – Thursday and Sunday.  This was presumably meant to capture the supermarket sale ad market and the government notices market.  It ‘ll be interesting to see whether the new weekly can be a worthy competitor.