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The Long Way Home

The manager of our office in Sioux Falls, SD, back when I was a corporate guy, used to say, “Nothing stays the same except rocks.”

Like rocks, the problems facing our country and our community seem unchanging. Food security, vulnerable infrastructure, and affordable housing among others seem permanent, and intractable. They’ve been around since well before I was born, seven decades ago, and I fear they will be around long after I’m gone. They are the rocks of ages.

There are countless nonprofits and government bureaucracies, federal, state and local, striving to address these problems with varying degrees of success. It seems like a new group pops up every year.

Addressing the food security issue, a new group called Cook County Food System Network held its kickoff meeting in Grand Marais this week (before this newspaper’s publication). In its press release announcing the get-together, the Network wrote that its aim is, “to connect organizations and engaged caring community members who are working towards a sustainable, equitable, more connected local food system through information sharing, opportunity identification, and promoting collaboration. Attendees will leave feeling connected to each other in new ways and excited to continue learning and working together.” It plans quarterly meetings to facilitate those connections.

The Network is led by The Northwoods Food Project. It is a small non-profit that is, “working to connect, grow, and support a sustainable local food system in Cook County, Minnesota from farmer to fork,” according to its press release for the kickoff.

When I was younger, my friend’s dad used to say to me, “Fernlund, if BS were music you’d be a brass band.”

That’s why my BS detector is pretty well-tuned after writing and editing press releases, political flyers, and this column. Weasel words and phrases, those intended to look like they say something meaningful without meaning much of anything, pop out at me all the time. I see a great deal of weasel words and phrases in the press releases that come across my screen. I even find myself using them with alarming regularity.

An example of a weasel phrase would be the mission statement adopted by an architectural firm in the Twin Cities in the late 90s. I believe in the value of a clear, written mission statement for any organization. A statement that is easy to read and shared often with all stakeholders, including customers. It should state the organization’s purpose, overall intention, and its reason for existence. Not an easy task if done correctly.

This particular firm, according to a staffer who attended a weekend-long strategic planning session, adopted the mission statement, “Enjoy the Journey.” And a consultant was paid big bucks to “facilitate” the planning session. The statement is totally meaningless of course, but it sounds really good.

I guess it makes sense to bring people and groups with similar goals together for networking purposes, but I’d be happier if, instead of leaving the kickoff meeting of the Network “feeling connected…in new ways” that they came away with new solutions to get food where it’s needed.

Networking is useful. Committees can be also. As a cranky old observer though, I’d like to see more decisions, fewer committees, more results, and far less BS.

I’m glad that there is the Food Project, striving to do better, to break the rocks that are our problems.

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Steve Fernlund
Steve Fernlund
Typically these “about me” pages include a list of academic achievements (I have none) and positions held (I have had many, but who really cares about those?) So, in the words of the late Admiral James Stockwell, “Who am I? Why am I here?” I’m well into my seventh decade on this blue planet we call home. I’m a pretty successful husband, father, and grandfather, at least in my humble opinion. My progeny may disagree. We have four children and five grandchildren. I spent most of my professional life in the freight business. At the tender age of 40, early retirement beckoned and we moved to Grand Marais. A year after we got here, we bought and operated the Cook County News Herald, a weekly newspaper in Grand Marais. A sharp learning curve for a dumb freight broker to become a newspaper editor and publisher. By 1999 the News Herald was an acquisition target for a rapidly consolidating media market. We sold our businesses and “retired” again, buying a winter retreat in Nevada. In the fall of 2016, we returned to Grand Marais and bought a house from old friends of ours on the ridge overlooking Lake Superior. They were able to move closer to family and their Mexico winter home. And we came home to what we say is our last house. I’m a strong believer in the value of local newspapers--both online and those you can wrap a fish in. I write a weekly column and a couple of feature stories for the Northshore Journal. I’m most interested in writing about the everyday lives of local people and reporting on issues of importance to them.
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