anna brones

writer + artist + producer

Phyllis Johnson

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“Walking down a pathway of doing something you have no earthly idea of what it will bring–that’s called faith.”

-Phyllis Johnson

Phyllis Johnson is a powerhouse in the coffee industry. The founder of BD Imports, she sits on the board of the National Coffee Association and for two years served as the Vice President of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance.

Johnson works tirelessly to advocate for women in coffee as well as on diversity issues, which is essential in an industry that is predominantly white and male. Coffee comes with a complex, and often dark history, and the industry that keeps us caffeinated daily is still fraught with those complexities. Johnson believes in facing them head on. As she wrote in an article about diversity and representation in the coffee industry, “when we continue to ignore and normalize the effects of racism and inequality within the industry, we cannot expect positive outcomes.”

Through her work, Phyllis ensures that the people producing coffee are respected, paid and honored for their work and that women and minority communities have a seat at the table. A couple of years ago, I interviewed Johnson about race and coffee, which ended up being one of my favorite interviews that I have ever conducted, mostly because the conversation challenged my own thinking. So of course I wanted to include her in the Women’s Wisdom Project.

Johnson and I discussed her work by phone, and the interview has been edited for clarity.

Who is Phyllis Johnson?

I’m someone who cares deeply about a lot of things, I’m someone who is extremely optimistic. I’ve been blessed to be around people who were always encouraging, from the time I was a young child. So even now, there’s always that shadow of someone, either physically or no longer there, that kind of sits over me and says “you can do this, keep going.” I think that I’m very optimistic and one of the things that I always try to do is to be optimistic to other people. As I have gotten older, I can see the optimism in things but I can also see the other side of the things. I’m trying to understand even the simplest thing as a whole instead of coming to a quick decision on how you believe, or what you think about something.

When I think about who I am and I think about my, my past and my present, I’ve always tried to align myself with individuals who are not thought of as being the ones to have the answers. For most of my life, there are places that I walk in where I think people look at me as a positive figure. So I’m often trying see the other side of it and see what it’s like to not be heard. There are situations where I am totally not heard at all, don’t get me wrong. I know those moments in those times in my life when I have an invisible being, so I’m always thinking about that invisible being because it is who I am as well.

When we’re fighting the fight and we have our issues, we can lose sight of the humanity in each other. That’s something that I’ve always hoped to hold onto; even though we might disagree, there’s some message that you have for me and I have for you.

What does the word wisdom mean to you?

When I was younger I would think of wisdom being housed in older people who have struggled, the struggle is on their face, they learned from their experiences, that’s what wisdom kind of meant. After starting a company in my mid 30s, I remember a biblical verse that came to me when I felt that I was trying to do something that I had no idea what I was doing: “wisdom belongs to God.” For me, growing up with a Christian background, that gave me equal footing. It was like, “wow, wisdom doesn’t have to be held inside of me, it’s something that I can ask for and I can look for and gain insight from and it’s not relegated to certain people or race or gender, it’s out there. Then I have a chance at it.” As a younger person that verse resonated with me and even when I’m talking to a younger person who’s trying to find a way that’s something I always say to them because, you know, we always think that someone else knows how to do something better, or that they have the answer. I think that’s part of being a human being; we think that there’s a super human out there, someone who is smarter, brighter. But the ability to gain what they have isn’t impossible for you. There’s an equal opportunity at gaining wisdom and insight through different mechanisms, either experiences, or in conversations with people who share their experiences. It’s available, and it’s available at all ages.

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Written by Anna Brones

July 15, 2019 at 08:01

Posted in Uncategorized

Marianne Martin

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“Achievement is not success if it comes at the cost of goodness.”

-Marianne Martin

In 1984, Marianne Martin secured not only a yellow jersey, but a place in sports and cycling history: the first ever American to win the Tour de France.

But indicative of the gender inequality that still exists in many sports, particularly cycling, you may never have heard of Martin. After all, some of the greatest sporting feats have gone unnoticed simply because they were accomplished by women.

I read about Martin last year in a Peloton article that I came across around the start of the Tour de France. That led to a Guardian article, where I read the following:

“In 1984, one of the Tour de France’s organizers, Felix Levitan, decided to hold the Tour de France Féminin. News of women joining the Tour de France in its 71st year was met with opposition by many in France, according to Christopher Thompson in Tour de France: A Cultural History. The 1983 Tour winner, Laurent Fignon, was blunt in his assessment: ‘I like women, but I prefer to see them doing something else.'”

If that’s irritating, consider the opinion of Jacques Anquetil, the five-time Tour champion, who is quoted as saying: “I have absolutely nothing against women’s sports, but cycling is much too difficult for a woman.” I wonder what Anquetil would have to say about Alexendera Houchin, who just rode the entire Tour Divide on a singlespeed, setting a new record.

Things have changed over the last few decades, and today there is an ongoing growth of women in sports—in part thanks to policy changes—yet women still struggle with many inequities, like pay gaps, making it every more important to highlight some of the changemakers in sports history.

When it comes to one of the most quintessential bicycle races, Bicycling notes, “for the majority of its history, the Tour de France kept women squarely on the sidelines, with the only female roles being played by a loyal wife or fresh-faced girlfriend… Over the years, podium hostesses remain one of the most visible roles for women at the Tour.”  The same went for essentially every big bike race in the early and mid 1900s, although in 1924 Alfonsina Strada managed to fool the organizers into thinking she was a man and rode the Giro d’Italia.

While there was an attempt at a women’s tour in 1955, in 1984 the organizers behind the Tour de France launched the Tour de France Féminin, a notable moment in sports history. A moment of change. The overall race was shorter than the men’s, 18 stages instead of the men’s 23, yet despite the difference in distance, the course followed the men’s, and took the women up all the same climbs, each men’s and women’s stage ending at the same finish line. For their efforts, the men enjoyed ample prize money and an apartment even went to the cyclist claiming first place. The women however, couldn’t even cover their expenses. Martin told Peloton, “I won $1,000 at the Tour and had to share that with my team. I paid for my own flight to New York, to get to Paris. I funded everything myself, bought my own bikes, got into debt to fund my career.”

Many years later, and the Tour de France Féminin is defunct, now replaced by La Course, a daylong race (compared to the men’s 21 days). I was at the inaugural event in 2014 and got to cover it for Bike Portland. I’ll always remember that day, not just because the riding was just as exciting as any men’s race (and it was), but also because of the camaraderie that was displayed during and after the event. The entire thing felt so inherently different than the men’s race, and for me, that’s what made it special. In 2018, a group of women riders took on the entire Tour de France course on their own terms, no podiums, no prize money.

Where does that leave us? The push for equality is essential, but in our interview, Martin notes that for her, equality does not mean “sameness.” That’s a similar sentiment that Sally Jenkins wrote about in regards to the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team during the recent World Cup: “The lame idea of sameness is actually a “profoundly conservative goal” for women. Replicating male sports structures with their baked-in disenfranchisement of athletes in favor of “owners,” with their lousy assumptions and values, has never been what the women in the U.S. soccer program were really interested in.”

Whether it’s cycling, soccer or any other sport, we need to value women for their contributions, and continue to promote a culture in which women and girls are encouraged to pursue any athletic goal, and provide them the means to do so.

Thank you so much to Martin for saying yes to doing an interview for the Women’s Wisdom Project, it is an honor to feature her.

What does wisdom mean to you?

To me wisdom is the deep knowledge of how things really are, and the ability to see the good in it.

Is there an influential woman in your life who passed along a piece of wisdom to you?

My mom was a really good, good, person. She was mentally ill and that would come and go and made her life very, very challenging for her….but despite all of her challenges, she remained a deeply good, loving person.

When did you start cycling and at what point did you start racing?

I started cycling to race. I was in my early 20s, and I saw the Red Zinger, and a local race that my sister did, and I said “I want to do that!” I always loved sport but have no eye to hand coordination and most sports were ball sports. Bike racing was fast, colorful, and seemed so do-able to me. I loved the excitement of it all. I did ride a bike in elementary school quite a bit to get places—that I wasn’t supposed to go!!

How did riding a bicycle and racing make you feel?

More than powerful, the bicycle made me feel empowered. Even today, without sport or physical activity I feel my soul is less empowered—I cannot be happy and whole without fitness.

Laurent Fignon, who won the Tour the same year you did, is infamously known for saying, “I like women, but I prefer to see them doing something else.” How do you think our culture around women’s sports has changed since then, and in what ways do you feel that we still have work to do?

I think some men (falsely) feel more powerful than women so that helps them feel strong and needed, and therefore powerful. When they are around women who are strongly independent—in sports or career—they feel less so. It is so deeply engrained in some cultures it will take decades to shift… if ever. I meet so many men who feel they are enlightened and above that, but have no idea how deeply they still believe it.

I believe there are differences and men and women can’t always be equals in sport…. I mean we aren’t. The Tour is a great example: the men’s race has a huge history, it is even a tradition. To bring women in to that same tour is unrealistic and wrong. Society these days says women and men need to be equal. Equality, yes, but not the same. Having a men’s race that has been going on for 100 years does not mean that all of a sudden we have to have the same for women. I think it is great to bring women into it and I would LOVE nothing more than to have the women’s tour the way it was when I did it, because then they would grow their own following and create and prove their worth. But to demand it is not the way to go, and to be the same is not the way to go. Women are women and I think we need to embrace that and bring a different element and grace to sport.

What lessons would you say you learned from racing and winning the Tour in 1984? And to add on that, what lessons from cycling do you feel that you have taken on into the rest of your life?

1. That we are capable of way more than we ever believe.

2. That our beliefs are a huge part of what is holding us back.

3. That some people only want to know us because of something we’ve done, not who we are. I won the Tour but that is not who I am. I am (or at least I strive to be) a kind, funny, thoughtful, loving person. Winning the Tour is only something that I did. It might say something about me—my drive, my abilities—but not who I am. For example I really respect Lance Armstrong’s athletic abilities; drugs or no drugs, he is an amazing athlete. But I don’t respect how he treated others and handled himself—he showed himself to not be a good person. When I meet someone and they are aloof… then they find out I won the Tour and then they are friendly, I don’t like that. I lose respect for that person when they only want to get to know me because of something that I accomplished.

From your perspective, what do girls gain from participating in sports?

Empowerment, self confidence, inner strength, maturity.

What wisdom would you share with your younger self?

Even the best of the best have self doubts so just acknowledge that you have them, they have them, and we are all equal. What someone has done does not make them a good person. Kindness, thoughtfulness, honesty, generosity, friendliness: those are the qualities that make a good person. Achievement, in sports or work does not make you a good person, and to me, achievement is not success if it comes at the cost of goodness. Above all be a good person.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

July 12, 2019 at 06:51

Frida Kahlo

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“At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.”

-Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)

This papercut is a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

July 6, 2019 at 14:55

Florence Williams

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“Wisdom means having the experience and deep confidence to stay the course,

to know that you can come out of just about anything alive and whole. “

– Florence Williams

Last summer during a 3-week creative residency at Bloedel Reserve, I read The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative by Florence Williams. I had seen the book mentioned in a few places, and when I spotted it at the local bookstore near Bloedel, I knew that it was the perfect text to have with me during a residency that was intended for slowing down and bringing more awareness to my natural surroundings. There are books that we read that change how we think about things, and there are books that we read that encourage us to continue down a path of questioning that we are already on. The Nature Fix was a little of both, and it felt like it came into my hands at the right place and time.

Why do we need nature? That’s a question that underlies much of Williams’ book. Of course intuitively, we make know that we need nature—after all, we are born from the natural world—but in our modern society where technology and advancement rule, it’s easy to forget just how much we need the natural world. And not just on a once-in-awhile basis.

What stuck with me after reading The Nature Fix was how important any dose of nature was. A multi-day detox where we are entirely disconnected and immersed in the natural world is wonderful, but if we dodge all other opportunities for smaller doses of the outdoors, from a short walk or even peering out the window at a tree and letting our minds wander, we miss out on an array of benefits. As the subtitle for the book would lead us to believe, time in and with nature is essential to our emotional and physical wellbeing. In other words, as Williams says, “being in nature actually makes us more human.” Having come to understand that through many years of researching and writing, I think that Williams offers so much wisdom that we all can benefit from.

As I worked on this papercut (which I had to cut two times in order to get right) I thought a lot about the sentiment that Williams shared and that I chose to use in her portrait. “Stay the course,” is probably advice that we all could take. I know that 55/100 profiles into this long project, I needed to hear it myself. And perhaps it’s wisdom that the natural world would share with us as well; we need only look to the trees and the oceans to be reminded that nature is cyclical, that everything is in a constant flow, always shifting and evolving, but moving forward nonetheless. No matter what happens, the sun manages to rise and set every day. If nature stays the course, so can we.

I hope that after reading this profile, you take even the smallest moment to enjoy some time outside.

What does wisdom mean to you?

Wisdom means having the experience and deep confidence to stay the course, to know that you can come out of just about anything alive and whole. Wisdom is what you know at 50 that you wish you knew at 25. Wisdom is about knowing who you are, and who you are in relation to other people. I tend to think that wisdom is largely self-wisdom, but I also believe that sometimes wisdom can be shared.

Is there an influential woman in your life who passed along a piece of wisdom to you? Who and what?

My beautiful sister-in-law Lisa Jones, a gifted writer and teacher. She just kept telling me I was okay, and I eventually, I started to believe her.

Before you wrote The Nature Fix, what was your relationship with nature? Were you conscious about how it made you feel physically and mentally? How did (or didn’t) writing the book change that?

I’ve always had a strong connection to nature, and I’ve long known that it sustained me emotionally and creatively. Writing the book taught me to have a more generous view of nature, to accept, for example, the little patches of city nature could also be powerful and affecting, that I didn’t have to be in a dramatic mountainscape or desertscape to have a meaningful experience. It taught me some shortcuts to being more mindful in nature, to cue myself to look and listen and smell.

Something that was very apparent to me while reading the book was how essential it is to create a balanced relationship with nature. How do you create that balance in your everyday life?

I try really hard to have a daily dose of nature, whether it’s morning and evening walks with my dog or sometimes just sitting outside for a few moments where I can hear some birds and catch some sunlight. I make it more of a priority now, and I pay better attention to how I feel in different  environments. If it’s windy, I might seek a more sheltered walk. If it’s winter, I’ll think more about going midday when I can get more natural sunlight. If I’m in need of an emotional re-set, I’ll take out the earbuds and spend more time looking at my neighborhood river. There are a bunch of little hacks like that to optimize the benefits. Also, I know i love snow, so if any falls, I try that much harder to catch it.

Part of the subtitle of The Nature Fix is how nature makes us more creative. Why do you think creativity is important in our society?

I think we live in an age where attention is a scarce resource. It’s the ultimate luxury good. When we are scattered and distracted, our thoughts suffer, meaning suffers, our human connections suffer. Creativity demands this interesting combination of deep focus and open focus, neither of which can happen when we’re multi-surfing. Being outside serves a bunch of functions. It helps us be mindful, it helps our sensory brains come online, and it gives our thinking brains a little bit of a breather. It facilitates open focus, mind-wandering and free play.

As a writer, what stories are you drawn to telling and why?

I’m drawn to telling stories that bring to light the hidden or neglected connections between humans and our environment, whether they be harmful connections like the effects of pollutants on our cells (as in my first book, Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History) or beneficial, like why we are drawn to the colors green and blue.

What wisdom would you share with your younger self?

Have more confidence in your ability to withstand hardship; believe that your needs matter. Relax and play a little more.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Andrea Bemis

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“…food is the center of our lives and connects us to our community, our landscape, and our homes.”

-Andrea Bemis

Farmer and author Andrea Bemis is dedicated to not just growing food, but helping people have a better connection to what they eat.

Bemis and I met in person last spring when we worked on a project together, but I had been a follower of her blog Dishing Up the Dirt for a long time. In 2008, Bemis and her boyfriend (now husband) Taylor were living in Bend, Oregon, when they decided to move to Massachussets to work on his family’s organic farm. After a few seasons, the West Coast was calling, and in 2012 they landed on a 6-acre plot of land near Parkdale, Oregon, which they lovingly named Tumbleweed Farm.

With her hands literally in the dirt, Bemis has taken her love of growing food and turned it into a platform for not just getting people excited about what they eat, but having a deeper connection to it. She wrote a cookbook with the same name as her blog, sharing her recipes and wisdom for what to do with local and seasonal ingredients. She started an initiative called Local Thirty, where for a month she committed to sourcing her food from a 200-mile radius: “local food from local dirt.” That spawned a documentary film following Bemis and her husband on their journey, meeting local producers along the way.

I think that Bemis is wise in her understanding of the soil and what it produces, and her understanding of community. She knows that food is not just something that we eat, it’s something that sustains us, physically and emotionally. It connects us to people and places, and the more that we honor that, the more enjoyment we get.

What does wisdom mean to you?

Wisdom to me means having empathy for other people.

Is there an influential woman in your life who passed along a piece of wisdom to you? Who and what?

My older sister is very wise. She’s strong, thoughtful and has always encouraged me to not judge others and always put myself in their shoes.

What does investing in local food bring to your life, both as a farmer and as an eater?
I believe food is the center of our lives and connects us to our community, our landscape, and our homes. Knowing how, where and who grows my food is something I am extremely passionate about. When you know your farmers you are rooted deeper into the place you call home and I think that is very powerful.

How do you see the local food movement growing over the next few decades?

I think people are so damn hungry for connection. I have to believe that the local food movement will grow. It’s a great way get to know one another and discover a bounty that is all our own. When we start looking around and talking to each other I think we’ll discover that we all have so much. It’s time to ditch convenience and start connecting with our neighbors, our landscapes and our homes.

What lessons have you learned from being a farmer?

Being a farmer has taught me about patience, discomfort, and perseverance. When you’re a farmer you give, and then you give some more, and just when you think you’ve got nothing left in your fuel tank the farm gives back, and rewards you with bountiful harvests that will not only feed your household or your community, but it finds its way to feed your soul.

What wisdom would you share with your younger self?

The wisdom I would share with my younger self is to always be kind, and more often than not, be kinder than necessary. With myself, my friends, strangers and acquaintances.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

June 28, 2019 at 09:36

Silltårta // Pickled Herring Cake

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I was in Sweden celebrating midsummer a few years ago, and someone brought a pickled herring cake to the dinner. Beautifully decorated and pairing all of my favorite midsummer flavors in one dish, it was an instant favorite. Ever since, I’ve been making my own to add to the midsummer dinner spread.

If you’re a little weirded out by the idea of a herring cake, think of it more like a glorified open-faced sandwich. The bottom is a layer of sweet, dense rye bread which is then topped with herring, chives and eggs. Traditionally, the herring is mixed together with sour cream and cream cheese or quark, and then gelatin is used to firm it up. I never have any of the above on hand in my kitchen, so my twist is to use yogurt, straining it first to thicken it and make a kind of labneh, that is then mixed in with the herring.

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Written by Anna Brones

June 20, 2019 at 09:25

Winona LaDuke

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“Power is not brute force and money; power is in your spirit.

Power is in your soul. It is what your ancestors, your old people gave you.

Power is in the earth; it is in your relationship to the earth.”

-Winona LaDuke (b. 1959)

Environmentalist, economist, writer, politician, and activist Winona LaDuke has devoted her life to protecting indigenous lands and ways of life, working on sustainable development, climate-change mitigation efforts, and environmental justice.

LaDuke was born in Los Angeles to a mother of European and Jewish descent and a father from the Gaa-waabaabiganikaag reservation in Minnesota, also known as the White Earth Indian Reservation of the Ojibwe nation. Raised between California and Oregon, LaDuke attended Harvard University and earned a degree in rural economic development. While at Harvard, she met Jimmy Durham, a renowned Native American activist, who sparked her interest in and lifelong commitment to indigenous rights. At eighteen, she became the youngest woman to speak to the United Nations about Native American concerns.

After graduating from Harvard, LaDuke moved to the White Earth reservation. While working as the principal of the reservation high school, she completed a long-distance master’s degree in community economic development from Antioch University. Her work quickly became consumed with land rights, and she became involved with a lawsuit to recover lands that were promised to the Anishinaabeg people by an 1867 federal treaty.

While the case was eventually dismissed, LaDuke went on to found the White Earth Land Recovery Project, an organization whose work centers around land recovery and whose mission is dedicated to “preserving and restoring traditional practices of land stewardship, language fluency, community development, and strengthening our spiritual and cultural heritage.” In 2003 the organization won the International Slow Food Award for Biodiversity, honoring its work to protect wild rice from patenting and genetic engineering. Together with the folk-rock duo the Indigo Girls, LaDuke also founded Honor the Earth to raise awareness of native environmental issues through the arts, media, and sharing indigenous wisdom.

LaDuke’s work showcases the intersection of land and culture, showing that social and environmental rights are inextricably linked. An advocate for food sovereignty, LaDuke grows a variety of foods on her land on the White Earth Indian Reservation, including traditional species of corn and rice. She recently expressed her support for regenerative agriculture with the addition of industrial hemp.

LaDuke has written several books, including Recovering the Sacred, All Our Relations, and the novel Last Standing Woman. An outspoken activist for indigenous and environmental rights, she ran as the vice presidential candidate with Ralph Nader for the Green Party in both 1996 and 2000. Her tireless work and advocacy have earned her many awards, including Ms. Magazine‘s Woman of the Year, and she was nominated by Time magazine as one of the country’s fifty most promising leaders under the age of forty. In 2008 LaDuke was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Winona LaDuke is one of three women from the Women’s Wisdom Project series to be featured in a new article in the TEND issue of Taproot magazine. The other two are Margaret Murie and Jane Addams. I am honored to have contributed to this issue, and encourage you to check out this great publication that’s independent and ad-free. You can order a copy of the TEND issue here.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

April 26, 2019 at 08:47