All together now

Robin Wall Kimmerer

In the 2013 book “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants,” botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer describes the collective output of pecan trees.

As one of the energy-rich food sources for wildlife, pecan trees are one of many “mast” species that skip a variable number of years before producing seeds. Yet all of the trees seed at the same time, across a wide geographical area, regardless of differing levels of water and sun.

Scientists are not clear how pecan trees know when to do synchronous seed production, but believe it evolved as a survival strategy. In a mast year, so many seeds are produced that wildlife cannot eat all of them, enabling the trees to repopulate with new sprouts.

On April 11, New York-based Kimmerer will speak at a public event with Heid Erdrich in an event co-hosted by Milkweed Edition. The next night, Milkweed’s visiting author, Louisa Gilder, is speaking on the 10th anniversary of her book, “The Age of Entanglement: When Quantum Physics Was Reborn.”

The nerdly aspects of me are all abuzz. In my mind, the quantum entanglement phenomenon and the communication capacities of plants are part of the many mysteries of the universe that remind humans that we don’t KNOW nearly as much as we tend to think we do. In that humbling lesson, I believe, might lie our capacity to eventually recognize how connected, rather than disconnected, we really are — despite ourselves.

‘White dudes with breweries’

Minnesota tends to have a strong cooperative mindset: our entrepreneurs, farmers, grassroots activists.

Perhaps there is something in the sentience of a wintry plains existence, alongside a mighty river that runs along the south-to-north expanse of the country. Some here seem to recognize that it is only in flowing as a collective that our rugged individualism can thrive — that our ecosystem is wide and entangled rather than separated parts.

A group of investors and Minnesota entrepreneurs from typically marginalized communities — women and people of color — met in downtown Minneapolis in March for a two-day ConnectUp! MN discussion about how to improve the financial seeding system.

The conversations were about the cooperative communities forming around impact or integrated investing, aimed at updating a system that currently seems to limit funding to businesses led by white men. As one angel investor put it, a lot of local investment is going to “white dudes with breweries.”

Minne Inno was formed last year by American City Business Journals to cover the local “thriving startup scene and innovation economy.” One of its first statistical findings was that only 4 percent of overall venture capital investment went to women-led businesses in the Twin Cities in 2016.

The state of Minnesota did its own housekeeping recently and discovered that of its $2 billion procurement budget in 2015 only $135,000 was going to businesses owned by African-Americans. It has since begun to try to reach a better balance.

As the new owner and editor of Minnesota Women’s Press, I have been talking almost exclusively with women entrepreneurs engaged in social change. Without ample funding, it’s hard to make innovations in food justice, health initiatives, affordable housing, safety, cradle-to-career education and other points on the Minnesota Compass scorecard.

Most women do not inherit large sums of money, and they don’t tend to have the high-paying jobs that enable banks to offer loans. The non-profit world is limited in capacity to feed a vast ecosystem of interconnected parts.

At the ConnectUp! event, much of the conversation enabled entrepreneurs and local investors to meet. Not to deliver and listen to pitches, but to discuss deeper ways of creating a new system.

What happens when we’re only feeding one pipeline? How can communities thrive with that much limitation placed on the system?

New seeds and shoots

A few days later, I talked with an Uptown-based architect who is interested in creating a way for people in marginalized communities to take part in Real Estate Investment Trusts. We profit as a collective.

A few days after that, in a North Minneapolis living room, I listened to members of the Community Power group, which has long been involved in building universal access to community solar, as well as inclusive financing options. As they have been explaining to those who will listen, it is limiting to allow only people with high credit scores to qualify for solar energy-related savings on their energy bills. Inclusive financing would enable any Minnesotan to save money while paying for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects on their monthly utility bills, rather than requiring upfront payment. When we all do better, we all do better.

The Ubuntu-like philosophy that seems to prevail in many of the people I am meeting these days gives me strength and hope. We live in a region metaphorically rich with pecan groves, where many whisper to each other. When we all grow together, we thrive.

Mikki Morrissette is co-hosting an April 25 Minnesota Women’s Press event with Chowgirls that invites perspectives on how we can individually and collectively enhance the power of women’s local leadership in 2018.