Alignment, Small Business & Capitalism
First off, if you’ve made it this page, I’d like to extend my gratitude… thanks for checking this out and following us here at Northwoods Flora! There’s nothing we do here without passion, and it lights us up to share our passions and connect with others about them. For those of you who keep up with Northwoods Flora on social media, you’re probably a bit more familiar with my sister, Maggie, and our best friend and floral designer, Kathryn. Maggie steers this ship; without her undying vision and passion none of us would be here… And I mean that literally, she has dreamt, envisioned, and created this crazy little vortex we call Northwoods Flora! She’s the Captain. And it might sound cheesy, but Kathryn is the wind in our sails… (shit, she IS our sails!) She shows up with dynamic creativity, positivity, and endless laughter. Fueled by a deep reverence for mysticism and a love of flowers we work together to navigate the muddy waters of small business, ethics, and economics in search of balance and purpose.
Operating this tiny little business in this small Northern town has been FULL of learning lessons, more of which I hope to share in the future. But keeping communication lines radically open, making clear agreements, and establishing boundaries and roles have been essential in surviving this whirlwind.
My intention with this piece is to express and share the challenges we’ve faced and the insights we’ve gained when it comes to running a small business while trying to stay in alignment with what we feel is best for the planet, our community, and ourselves. Also, we want to acknowledge the larger community of entrepreneurs and small business owners that know the struggle, show up every damn day, and share their experiences so we can keep working through all of this together. More specifically I’d like to highlight Jennifer Armbrust and her book “Proposals for the Feminine Economy” which resonates on so many levels! But first, a bit of background info on me might be worthwhile.
Here at Northwoods Flora my role is more behind the scenes. I handle most of the finances, bookkeeping, tax filing…etc. which is something I never intended or expected. Keeping up with the ship analogy maybe it’d be fair to say that I keep us afloat. I graduated from Northern Michigan University in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies and Sustainability, which is the trendy way of saying “Human Geography”. I took an in depth look at the current systems that we’ve created that in many ways dictate the finances and economy of our world, including energy, agriculture, climate, and more. My peers and I quickly realized that these systems are very fragile, leaving humans and all the other living creatures on this planet in a very vulnerable situation. Our society faces crises at nearly every level including the environment, the economy, and how we utilize energy. Systemic social issues are only perpetuated by these crises. Clearly there’s still plenty of work to be done, but as a young college student I was left feeling motivated to gain as much practical experience as I could. Life skills, like farming, gardening, and building. I’ve spent time on small scale, diversified, organic farms in Northern Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, New Mexico, and Washington. This led me to study permaculture, which as a philosophy parallels Armbrust’s “Proposals for the Feminine Economy” in many ways.
My university education, gaining these practical life skills, and studying permaculture left me with many insights that I find very valuable. Observe. Listen. Create closed-loop or full-circle systems. Interact with those systems. Recognize patterns. Eliminate or minimize waste. Produce something. Utilize your strengths and hire out your weaknesses. Drink water. Integrate rather than segregate. Slow down. Be a steward for the land and revere it. Develop an ethic that is rooted in the idea that we as human beings are a single part of a much greater ecological, living whole. Many of these insights and more are included in Armbrust’s 100 Ways to Make More Money, which is a part of “Proposals for the Feminine Economy”. Most of all though, these experiences allowed me to cultivate a deep and intimate relationship with the land. And maybe it’s unfortunate or maybe it’s wise, but I also developed a strong distrust of the political and economic systems that breed inequality and oppression. Which is why it seems so crazy to me that I’m writing this from the same desk that I file my business taxes on.
I generally avoid calling myself “anti” this or that. I try to focus on being “pro” something – standing for things rather than against them. However, on more than one occasion I’ve referred to myself as anti-capitalist. It’s just too easy, or rather, too hard to ignore the patterns that clearly reflect the inherent dangers of capitalism. As it stands today, capitalism isn’t just our economic system; it completely fuels our culture. Consumerism, driven by capitalism has saturated every facet of daily life for the average American. When you fall asleep watching television that was created to generate income or wake up to an alarm so you can get to that job on time, your natural circadian rhythms/sleep cycles are greatly impacted in negative ways. If you need to consider the cost of food over the nutritional content of food, your body is compromised. When you allow yourself to be exposed to environmental or energetic toxins while fulfilling the obligations of your job, you end up feeling forced to do something that is detrimental to your health for money. And when people are consistently forced into these situations it creates a form of oppression, one in which our health, well-being, and self-worth are neglected to satisfy economic and social norms. This systemic oppression has led our culture to prioritize economic stability/gains/profits over our collective well-being. Profits over People? Profits over Planet Earth?
Not to say that we all can’t make individual choices that allow us to avoid participating in capitalism to an extent, we can. But capitalism is so engrained that is has penetrated the legislature. And the establishment has worked diligently to ensure that the system that consolidates wealth in the hands of very few individuals is protected by the law. The enormous wealth gap and systemic inequality is protected by these same establishment laws. These laws hold corporate executives legally responsible to maximize profits as much as possible, despite what that means for the Earth or their employees. This creates a scenario where decision makers are forced to either neglect or completely abandon their ethics and often-times, logic.
When logic is lost it becomes difficult to see that the constant growth necessary for capitalism to function not only completely undermines our planet but is entirely impossible within our ecological system. Continual growth of the economy is a necessity of capitalism and the free market. Though, infinite economic growth within a finite ecological system is just not possible. It will fail, it’s just a matter of when, and how.
So when will enough be enough? Now that we’ve undermined the greater ecological system and ourselves as individuals, maybe it’s clear that the current systems aren’t working. And if we wish to create something that does function for all of us without destroying the planet, we’ll have to embrace some major changes. So often people get too caught up in what this new system might look like that they never take any steps to start bringing that vision to life. Paralysis by analysis, it’s been called. But sometimes you’ve just got to put the paint brush to the canvas and see what happens. Or perhaps you’ve got to demolish the old house and start anew.
What is certain is that change is necessary and inevitable. And we can choose to embrace it or we can cling to a dying patriarchy because we’re afraid of being uncomfortable. Armbrust values and encourages change and diversity. “Proposals for the Feminine Economy” is a refreshing, concise, and accessible piece that offers a new lens to look at business and economics. It outlines the beginning steps we can take to create a new life, one in which it isn’t necessary to neglect your ethics in order to be “successful”.
Here at Northwoods Flora we’re working to build self-care and sustainability, or ideally regeneration, into our business model. This means re-defining what it means to be “successful” and “productive”. This means acknowledging that we are connected to our business and this space in many ways, some of which we might not even realize. When we as individuals flourish, so does this business. When we’re suffering, this place is suffering. If it’s not good for us, then it’s not good for Northwoods Flora. This means creating structures and boundaries that allow us to be present enough to determine what is and isn’t acceptable from business and personal standpoints. All of this requires observation, a deep listening to oneself so that we can express ourselves in ways that are truly fulfilling. It means having the hard conversations with each other and ourselves.
I asked myself this question recently and when I didn’t know the answer anymore I knew it was time to take a long look at what I’m doing with my life, my businesses… “Does my work ethic outweigh my moral code?” When I use a piece of ribbon in the flower shop that I know will make its way to the landfill, it stings. When I have to cover flowers in plastic bags to protect them from the cold, and I know that plastic bag is going to be floating around for 1000 years or some shit, it hurts my heart. That suffering translates somehow into the business. It radiates outward, affecting our customers and everything else. But when I find joy in day to day interactions with our customers, my sister, or our friends that radiates too. When I feel empowered because I’m working for myself, or I slow down enough to marvel at the radiant beauty of the flowers and house plants I’m surrounded by on a daily basis and I find gratitude in these experiences, that positivity permeates this place and is felt by the people who walk through the door. When I zoom out and take a look at the big picture, while simultaneously appreciating the little bits of priceless magic that occur here every damn day, I can find a middle ground. I can find a tranquility and stillness surrounded by chaos that I wouldn’t trade for the whole world. And it’s in those moments that I suddenly and more deeply understand that I am (we are) creating this…
Clearly, we’ve all still got a lot of work to do – the most work in recorded human history. But that’s what makes visionaries like Armbrust that much more vital. Now more than ever we need people questioning and breaking down current systems at every turn, and creating new visions for a society that makes sense and feels good to live in. That’s why when people say that these ideas are too radical, too big, or too optimistic, we must respond with action so that every day our our new paradigm is that much closer to reality.
Thanks for reading y’all! I hope to share more in the future and I’m looking forward to seeing all of your beautiful faces walk through the door of that big blue building on Baraga Ave!