Life, Interrupted: The Santa Claus of Newburgh, Maine

Jim and Norma Corliss

Turning into the rocky driveway off Trundy Road in the rural town of Newburgh, Maine, and seeing Jim and Norma Corliss’ house, you might be surprised to also see a lush, green backdrop of some of Maine’s proudest Christmas trees. A weathered wooden sign announces that you’re at the Piper Mountain Christmas Trees farm, a property settled in 1800 by the Bickford family and run as a dairy farm for five generations, right up until the early 20th century.

Jim and Norma, married for 63 years, live just a feet from the trees. After selling their first Christmas tree in 1978, they became the proud owners and founders of the farm, where they work year-round, taking care of all 185 acres of Christmas trees. “I think that any time after you retire from your primary career, it’s very important … to be able to stay busy,” says Jim about starting a Christmas tree business with his wife a little late in life.

The Corlisses had no idea where selling Christmas trees would take them. In 1989, Jim was asked to represent Maine on the board of the National Christmas Tree Association. The first thing he did was create a committee that encouraged the nationwide recycling of Christmas trees.

 

Shortly after, Jim was elected to the executive committee. Within three years, Jim was elected its president. “So far, I’m actually the only New England grower who’s ever been president,” he says. Every year, the association has a summer convention, and growers from around the country compete to win first prize. The winner of the competition takes an 18.5-foot tree to the White House, and presents it to the first lady. The association’s president goes as well, to represent the other members.

“It was a wonderful experience,” Jim tells OZY. “We had our picture taken with President and Mrs. George W. Bush in the White House, right in front of the Oval Office.”

Third Rail With OZY: Who Lost the Biggest in 2017?

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This week: Who lost the biggest in 2017? Let us know by email or in the comments below.

It’s that time of year when we start to see magazine covers touting the best, brightest and most influential people on the planet during the previous 11 months (nobody seems to wait to see what happens in December). GQ recently dubbed former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick as its Citizen of the Year. Time magazine opted for “The Silence Breakers” as its Person of the Year. But at Third Rail With OZY, in keeping with our goal of putting our finger on the more contentious side of things, we wanted to know: Who were some of the biggest losers of 2017?

Every list of losers must start with the growing list of casualties from the burgeoning #MeToo movement. A number of careers came to a premature and much-deserved halt in 2017 — so many that it’s getting hard to keep up or even to gauge who had the hardest fall. Several entertainers, including Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K., tumbled from peak moments in their careers, while Matt Lauer, Bill O’Reilly, Charlie Rose and many other high-profile journalists have been relegated to the sidelines for what is proving to be one of the most significant moments in their profession’s history. And, of course, Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, now the unshaven poster boy for social movement tipping points, has seen an entire industry scramble to disavow and disentangle itself from every project he placed his prolific paws on.

Two of the largest losers … come at the intersection of #MeToo and American politics.

American politics also dominated the news in 2017, and likewise should feature prominently in any discussion of the year’s losers. Somewhat paradoxically, both Donald Trump and Barack Obama deserve to be near the top of the list. Trump, whose approval ratings have fallen to historic lows, has had perhaps the roughest first year of any first-year president in recent memory, having managed only one major legislative accomplishment despite having his party in control of Congress. On the other hand, Trump has already managed — through executive orders, judicial appointments, policy changes, administrative reversals and more — to take a major bite out of his predecessor’s legacy. 

Two of the largest, and most recent, losers of 2017, however, come at the intersection of #MeToo and American politics. For Daniel Urman, director of Northeastern University’s Doctorate in Law and Policy program, one of the biggest casualties of the year was Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, who announced his resignation from Congress while other politicians facing claims of sexual harassment did not. “He admitted to mistakes,” says Urman, “but those who deny credible claims are still in office.”

One of those politicians who denied the claims against him, but was in turn denied office by voters, Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, was the biggest loser of the year, according to Steffen Schmidt, a political science professor at Iowa State University. “The reason is that expectations were so high for him,” says Schmidt, and that his election loss will have “potentially disastrous consequences for the GOP in 2018.”

So what do you think? Who were the biggest losers of 2017? Let us know by emailing thirdrail@ozy.com or by answering in the comments below. 

Loved Him Two Times

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When my mom called from Pittsburgh to tell me Rob was in New York, I’d been living in the city three months. If she remembered the crush I had on him in high school, she didn’t mention it.

Rob and I got together the next week so he could take me on a tour of Brooklyn, my new home. He introduced me to the Brooklyn Inn with its low light and historic bar. We went to a party in a “garden apartment.” He told me that’s what basements are called in New York. If he noticed the crush I had on him that night, he didn’t say.

Thursday nights that fall, Rob and I became fixtures at Mooney’s, the neighborhood bar on Flatbush Avenue halfway between our apartments. We’d meet after work and talk about high school and home, and the people we were dating. I knew I’d drop whoever I was seeing if Rob showed the least bit of interest, but he never did, even when he walked out of his way to make sure I got home safely after a few Rolling Rocks.

In early December that year, we spent a chilly Saturday in lower Manhattan holiday shopping for our families. At the Holiday Cocktail Lounge on St. Marks Place, we found a booth where we could warm up and inspect our haul. I went to the bar to buy the first round, but Stefan, the curmudgeonly owner, ignored me while he talked to the men in plaid shirts listing off their stools.

Stefan scared and amazed me. I had a childish desire to make him like me. While I waited for him to take my order, I occupied my thoughts with how lucky I was to be in New York City, to have my dream job, to be friends with Rob, even though I wanted so much more. When Stefan finally acknowledged me, I opened my mouth to speak, but he stole my air.

The crush I had at 21 made me demure, and demure didn’t suit me.

“And what are you? In love again?”

Was I in love again? Had I ever been in love before? Is this what love felt like?

“Two Rolling Rocks, please,” is all I could think to say.

Toward the end of that December, I’d had enough of the pining, enough of the not knowing, enough of thinking Rob might kiss me when he never did. The crush I had when I was 14 was boisterous, as if I were determined to prove his movie-star good looks didn’t unnerve me. The crush I had at 21 made me demure, and demure didn’t suit me.

“I’m going to tell him,” I said to a friend.

“Tell him what?” she asked.

“That I like him.”

 

“You think he doesn’t know that?” she asked. “You think we all don’t know that?”

Embarrassed, but undeterred, I continued. “I have to say something. I have to know for sure.”

I told my roommate, another Pittsburgh transplant, that I was going to tell Rob how I felt at lunch the next week. She was excited — she believed in love and Pittsburghers with equal fervor, and she thought Stefan was a seer. He always took her order quickly.

Rob canceled our lunch, and before we could reschedule, I met my husband.

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Rob (far left) and friends.

Source Courtesy of Jamie Beth Cohen

Seventeen years later, my friend Michele and I are barely awake as the coach bus pulls out of the parking lot in south central Pennsylvania. The day trip to “The City” is a fundraiser for our daughters’ school. We’ve left our kids at home with our husbands so we can pretend to be young and unencumbered in New York. We’re meeting Rob for lunch, so I tell Michele the whole story.

“Does he know?” she asks.

“That I was in love with him? Apparently everyone knew, but I never told him.”

“And you stayed friends?”

“Good friends.”

When I say it out loud, I realize how ludicrous it sounds. We came through those years in Brooklyn even closer than we’d been in high school, despite how easily it could have unraveled, like the time Rob drunkenly kissed me goodbye at a party, not exactly on my lips, in front of my now husband. In my mind, I had cast us in an alternate version of When Harry Met Sally in which Harry (Rob) and Sally (me) are just friends who marry other people, text each other about parenting issues and get the families together every few years, all things we actually do.

I don’t know if Michele believes me. “You should tell him today,” she says with a devilish grin.

We meet Rob at the Polish Tea Room, days before it’s set to be closed forever, another casualty of high rents in a New York I barely recognize. Mooney’s has closed. The Brooklyn Inn has a Facebook page. Stefan has died. I’ve only been to Cafe Edison, the real name of the the Polish Tea Room, once before, with a boss who was horrified I’d never been. It’s so meta — we meet to say goodbye to something we were supposed to treasure, but never really valued.

Rob and I sit together in the booth across from Michele.

“On the way up I told her about Brooklyn,” I say.

“Our drunken youth?”

“You know I had a crush on you, right?”

“Yeah, I think I knew that.”

His aw-shucks smile puts me at ease. In coming clean, I let go of shame I didn’t know I’d been holding on to. He says he doesn’t remember why he canceled the lunch that derailed my declaration. Michele isn’t satisfied. “What would you have said?” she asks.

I shoot her a dirty look. I don’t want to hear why we were “just friends.” That he wasn’t attracted to me, that he didn’t like me “that way.” I’m married, successful in my field, nearly 40 years old, and still desperate for approval from my older brother’s cute friend. Maybe I haven’t let go of all of the shame.

When Rob speaks, he speaks to Michele.

“I would have been a bad boyfriend. She didn’t deserve a bad boyfriend.”

It’s the ultimate “it’s not you, it’s me,” but I know him well enough to know he means it. I lean into him, and he wraps his arm around my shoulders. I was in love at the Holiday, it just wasn’t the kind of love Stefan was talking about. Or maybe it was. 

11 Holiday Treats: The OZY Highlights Reel

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In a wild week of tax restructuring plans, a train derailment in Washington and preparations for the holidays (not to mention the announcement that life expectancy rates are falling), you may have missed some delicious OZY treats. So we’ve gathered them for you. Sit back and read, watch and listen to this week’s highlights.

#1 Listen: Holiday Music

It’s the most wonderful (and wacky) time of the year. This playlist covers all the feel-good holiday classics, as well as a few oddballs that may have had too much eggnog! Happy holidays from Sony and OZY.

LISTEN >>

 

#2 Read: The Entrepreneur Cleaning Up Argentina’s Digital Junk

Let’s face it: Our world is awash in digital junk. Andrea Nallim is fighting the good fight against the rising tide of electronic waste.

READ MORE >>

 

#3 Know This: Startups Are Hacking Past New Immigration Rules

Tech firms are leveraging unpredictability injected into the system by President Trump’s policies to help visa applicants. 

READ MORE >>

 

#4 Watch: The Namibian Making Political Statements With Tin Cans

This artist crafts stunning artworks about conflict … from one of the sources creating that conflict in Africa.

READ MORE >>

 

#5 Meet: Can a Moderate Republican Win in Kansas? 

You’ve heard about Gov. Sam Brownback’s failed tax cuts. Now meet Ed O’Malley, the centrist looking to succeed him. 

READ MORE >>

 

#6 Check This Out: Can Unused Medical Supplies Save the World?

Did you know that billions of dollars’ worth of usable meds and equipment end up in landfills? Elizabeth McLellan’s nonprofit ships this medical “waste” to countries in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. 

READ MORE >>

 

#7 Remember: Six Famous Events That Happened on Christmas

The birth of Jesus is just one anniversary that falls on December 25.

READ MORE >>

 

#8 Drink Up: Cool Mexican Party Drinks Beyond Tequila

Delight in the varied and tasty distillates of the agave plant, and you can be the know-it-all at your next party. 

READ MORE >>

 

#9 Be Intrigued: When Hollywood Filmmaking Gets Political

Coming soon to a theater near you: a film with a wide-ranging advocacy plan attached.  

READ MORE >>

 

#10 Get Ready: College Basketball’s Best Conference?

Left behind by its football-fearing former members, the “new Big East” is on the verge of another record-breaking season.

READ MORE >>

 

#11 It’s True: West Point Had an Infamous Eggnog Riot in 1826

When cadets smuggled four gallons of whiskey into a West Point Christmas party in 1826, things quickly got out of hand.  

READ MORE >>

Argentina’s Answer to the Coen Brothers

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If the Coen brothers are America’s subversive siblings celebrated for making movies that cause audiences to snicker, squirm and grind their teeth, then this Argentine screenwriter could be the Coens’ long-lost stepbrother.

Andrés Duprat, 53, is the screenwriter behind The Artist (2008), The Man Next Door (2009) and The Distinguished Citizen (2016), a comedy-drama that won the award for best foreign film at the Venice Film Festival last year. Were you to meet his protagonists, you’d conclude, as Duprat tells OZY, that he is “interested in that someone who feels dead inside, who’s desperate to transform his life and who all of a sudden sees an exit. I think those moments happen to all of us.” His screenplays are an alternative, arguably refreshing attitude toward life in a region saturated with overtly politicized storytelling at best and soporific, superficial soaps at worst. “His whole ideology is to produce discomfort,” says Juan Becerra, an Argentine novelist who is writing a book on Duprat’s screenplays. “I think there are really dark moments, betrayals of self in all of us. And that is what Andrés explores and what he’s really good at.” The scripts come to life in what Duprat calls a “rock band” collaboration involving two producers who partner with him in nearly all his work, his brother Gastón and Mariano Cohn. Duprat’s next screenplay, Mi Obra Maestro (My Master Work), is currently in production.

With a background in contemporary art, Duprat says his screenplays often go after the clash between high culture and popular culture: A nobody nurse with a meaningless life turns into a famous painter overnight by stealing his patient’s art in The Artist. Leonardo, an uptight designer, butts heads with his crass neighbor over a mundane home renovation project in The Man Next Door. Daniel Mantovani is The Distinguished Citizen, a Nobel Prize–winning writer, well past his prime, who returns to his backward, isolated hometown, where jealousy, hatred and obsession creep up and eventually overtake him. “A recurring theme in my scripts,” Duprat tells OZY, “is the clash of two different worldviews.”

Duprat cops to having bouts of despair over the world’s troubles … but he also believes in the human spirit.

Duprat’s view of his world while growing up in the 1970s and early 1980s was of an Argentina in the grip of a brutal dictatorship where tens of thousands of people were forcibly “disappeared.” Time folded that trauma of deceit, cheating and betrayal into the country’s national psyche — as well as Duprat’s adolescent imagination. The social tensions he absorbed as a youth are still everywhere in Latin America, making the region fertile ground for his philosophical experiments to play out on-screen. As Becerra puts it, when you put people under “systems of repression, at some point, the savage emerges.”

 

Born in La Plata to a family of lawyers, Duprat broke with tradition and chose to study architecture and move to Italy. Most of his early professional career was defined by design, curatorial work at museums and university teaching. His entrance into screenwriting came late — without any experience — when he was 42 years old. Annoyed by what he considered the snobbery, elitism and hypocrisy of the contemporary art universe, he sat down at his computer and banged out an essay criticizing all that was wrong in his profession, and shared it with a good friend, the late Argentine artist León Ferrari. “This isn’t an essay, it’s a screenplay!” Ferrari told Duprat. Inspired, he transformed the essay into his first work, The Artist. Looking back, Duprat says, he can see that everything he did in the art world “stays there, it doesn’t leave. Not like making films. It was like an exorcism for me.”

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“A recurring theme in my scripts,” Duprat tells OZY, “is the clash of two different worldviews.”

Source Courtesy of Andrés Duprat

Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat started making video art and experimental cinema in the early 1990s. A decade later, they had launched their own company and began putting out documentaries. When Andrés cooked up The Artist, Gastón and Cohn were the obvious team to turn to — and they’ve been his main collaborators ever since. It’s a trio that occupies the gray area in any production: There are no firm lines, Gastón and Cohn weigh in on every script, and Andrés helps with casting decisions and advises on production.

Still, while their roles may blur the lines, the scope of Duprat’s work has thus far been quite defined, and limited. “He works a lot in the world of art. So, it’s worth asking why not work in fields he doesn’t know?” Becerra says. “I mean, to throw yourself out into the void. That’s the squeeze I want to see him in.” Short of leaping into the void, the Duprat brothers and Cohn have edged into new terrain with their latest documentary, on Argentina’s obsession with meat, Todo Sobre El Asado (Everything About Barbecue), which aired on Netflix last year.

Was it a welcome reprieve for a filmmaker obsessed with man’s darker impulses? Duprat cops to having bouts of despair over the world’s troubles: borders shutting down, wars in the Middle East, hunger, starvation. But he also believes in the human spirit — “that everything gets resolved down here on earth,” and that we have the tools to correct course and put ourselves back on track. Maybe that’s why he repeatedly shows us what it looks like to go off the rails. One part warning, the other part asking: Why do we do it?

A Text Message From Inside a Panic Attack

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While we like to call the holiday season the most wonderful time of the year — cue the carols for reference — it’s not uncommon to feel especially anxious right about now. Plummeting temperatures and short days — compounded with family issues and forced merriment — account for a rise in mental health issues. 

“During this holiday season, some of us will be with family and friends; others will be alone. The holidays may offer joy for some, but their social and financial pressures are vexing for others,” notes Dr. Arpan Waghray, chief medical officer for Well Being Trust. He recommends reaching out to someone close, and really being there for them if they need you. One way to do this is via text. 

“Texting is such a low barrier to entry because you don’t have to say something out loud or risk someone overhearing you,” explains Maggie Van de Loo, director of Los Angeles’ Crisis Text Line. To further investigate, we solicited a real text conversation from someone who regularly experiences panic attacks. 

“Sometimes I’m afraid to talk about how I’m feeling with people,” says the participant, who chose to remain anonymous. “But when you’re feeling anxious or stuck in a cycle of depressive thoughts, texting someone can be calming and helps you connect back to reality.”

Below, find a real, unedited conversation between two young women using texts as their preferred means of getting through. Read on, and don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend — or the Crisis Text Line — if you need a little bit of support this season. 

Meet France’s Mr. Potato Head

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When Antoine-Augustin Parmentier was a prisoner of war, the lesson he learned was this: Prison food is amazing.

The year was 1763, and potatoes — a fairly recent import from the Americas — were illegal in France, as they were considered dirty, diseased and unfit for human consumption. But Parmentier, a young army pharmacist, was forced to eat them while in a Prussian military prison during the Seven Years’ War, and it changed his life.

“If a thing fell on the ground, you didn’t eat it,” says John Baxter, author of Eating Eternity, who says foods grown in the ground were similarly considered dirty in a world where hunting was the sport of kings. Except for a few countries in Europe, potatoes were largely used only to nourish animals.

Parmentier is credited with convincing Paris’ medical establishment to decriminalize the potato in 1772. 

Parmentier saw something else in them: a wheat substitute for France’s poor, a hospital food and a vegetable worthy of feeding royalty. A decade after he returned to Paris from the battlefield, he (and the potato) won an essay contest singing the spud’s praises. French peasants pointed out that they’d been supplementing scarce wheat with potato flour long before Parmentier brought the idea to the scientific establishment.

According to E.C. Spary’s Feeding France, Parmentier was able to propagate himself, and the potato, as symbols of the Enlightenment — two warriors battling backward received wisdom, feeding the world with science. In fact, some food historians have theorized that Parmentier’s potato bread, which was overreliant on potato starch, may have delayed the vegetable’s acceptance among some in France. He is, however, credited with convincing Paris’ medical establishment to decriminalize the potato in 1772. 

 

The army pharmacist wasn’t just ahead of his time on edible starches: He was also forward-looking when it came to marketing. Knowing he’d have to popularize potatoes to realize his dream, he worked to make fetch happen from every angle. First he talked up the potato to the monarchs at the time, Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, and managed to at least convince Marie to wear potato flowers in her hair, which made them fashionable.

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Antoine-Augustin Parmentier

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Parmentier once hosted a 20-course potato-themed dinner, including distilled potato liquid to drink, a splash that propelled the potato to a fame that would outlast the French monarchy by nearly two centuries and counting. He also fed his favorite tuber to foreign celebrities like the U.S. ambassador, Benjamin Franklin — imagine coming all the way to France to eat a tuber that originated in the Andes — in an attempt to up its cool factor.

Meanwhile, he was getting potatoes into the hands of the working classes with his potato patches in the Bois de Boulogne, watched over by armed guards who were explicitly instructed to take nights off and accept any and all bribes from curious gawkers. Those patches proved key to Paris when a poor wheat harvest in 1787 left peasants in need of a substitute — “and thus survived to depose Louis and Marie Antoinette two years later,” writes Baxter in Eating Eternity. Parmentier’s fever was catching: 1793 saw France’s first all-potato cookbook (and the first published by a woman), Mme. Mérigot’s La Cuisinière Républicaine

France wasn’t the only place where potatoes were a battlefield. In 1778, Prussia and Austria got embroiled in the Kartoffelkrieg, or Potato War — also called the War of the Bavarian Succession — in which opposing generals sabotaged each other’s food supply and in which as many as 20,000 people died. Meanwhile, the huge increase in potato crops was one factor in Europe’s population explosion, from 140 million in 1750 to 266 million in 1850. Parmentier also wrote about beets and chestnuts, and helped organize the first smallpox vaccination drive. But his legacies are intertwined, and Parmentier’s role as potato Jesus is still taught in French schools.

Potatoes aren’t as basic in France as they are the the U.S. or U.K., where fries and hash browns can form a basic part of multiple daily meals. But Parmentier’s prize crop still holds some sway in cuisine, with multiple potato dishes named for Parmentier, along with a Métro station decorated with dancing potatoes and potato mosaics. Parmentier is buried in Père Lachaise cemetery, in a grave surrounded by blooming potato plants. Admirers, who still make pilgrimages today, leave spuds for the spud god, adorning his tomb with the vegetable he loved.

Rural Kansas Fights to Save Grocery Shops

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Loren Lance was less than impressed when he pulled up to Charlie Brown’s Market, his community grocery store in Mildred, Kansas, to find the doors locked and the shelves bare a few years back. After fretting about it for a few days, the farmer’s wife, Regena, said: “I think we should see about buying it.” So they did just that, reopening it as Mildred Store, much to the community’s delight, two months later. Keeping the 102-year-old shop viable is tricky, Lance admits, but he gets at least one person every day thanking him for being there.

“If I get within 10 miles, I stop by,” a passerby says, strolling past the deli counter. “That’s why it’s here,” Lance nods, “as a community service.” To generate business, Lance hosts live country music nights each month, drawing in 80–160 people for concerts and dances in an adjacent room.

People are getting creative and, I think, realizing that they have to do it themselves.

Yvonne Scott, AmeriCorps VISTA healthy food access coordinator

“When the grocery store in a small town dies, the town dies,” says Yvonne Scott, AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) healthy food access coordinator, noting how the government estimates that 55 million Americans live in food deserts — more than 10 miles away from a grocery store. In Kansas, part of at least a third of the state’s 105 counties suffer from food deserts, affecting roughly 800,000 people, according to David Procter, director of Kansas State University’s Center for Engagement and Community Development, which tracks the closure of small-town groceries and works to equip communities and shop owners with access to savvy business plans, marketing analysis tips and ways to assess their town for store viability. By making Mildred Store known not only for its meaty Charlie Brown sandwich but also as a communal meeting space, Lance is among a cadre of individuals and communities that have begun fighting back to ensure access to healthy food in rural parts of the Wheat State — drawing on civic-minded locals and community-minded organizations to keep their stores alive. 

 

Since 2007, when there were about 213 rural grocery stores in Kansas, says Procter, 45 communities have lost their stores. His work and that of community members and organizations like the Sunflower Foundation, Thrive, Live Well and the Kansas Health Foundation have helped save or restore many stores; today there are an estimated 193 rural shops. “There are lots of innovative things that people are doing to try to either start or sustain their local stores,” he says. 

Some communities are pooling resources, making stores “community-owned,” Procter says. In other towns, communities are banding together to turn stores into cooperatives. In Moran, Kansas, for example, the local Stub’s Market is at risk of closing because its owners are looking to retire. Locals, hoping to save it, are working to convert the store into a food cooperative called Marmaton Market. Thrive Allen County asked AmeriCorps VISTA for help, and it sent Scott. So far, almost 100 members have signed on with the $100 membership fee. While the membership fees won’t generate operating capital, they do reflect community buy-in, which helps cooperatives secure grants and loans. 

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Stub’s Market offers much-need fruit and veg to rural Kansans.

Source Tracy Moran/Ozy

Some communities are striking a private-public partnership to keep their stores alive — meaning local officials declare food access a public good and use public dollars to support the grocery store. This approach is keeping the St. Paul Supermarket in St. Paul, Kansas, afloat. The city council paid to build the market, Procter says. He explains that a couple runs the shop, paying off the debt and drawing a salary, but that the city will always own the enterprise. By ensuring that the store is community-owned, no board or owner can turn around and say, “Your bottom line isn’t working.” In Kiowa, Kansas, the community has created a cooperative, and in Little River, the city government and a community foundation have invested together to ensure their store survives. Tax credits and grants are being used more than ever before. And in Plains, in the southwest part of Kansas, the community is taking the nonprofit route to open a store next year. “People are getting creative and, I think, realizing that they have to do it themselves,” says Scott.

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Scores gather each month for live music nights at Mildred Store.

Source Tracy Moran/Ozy

After the supercenter Walmart moved in on the north side of Iola, most small grocers went out of business — not unusual when shops with bigger overheads like Walmart or Dollar General open nearby. Since then, the townspeople have struggled to get a grocery store back in the center of town that’s walkable for elderly residents. “This was a unique opportunity to bring the county and city together, along with a local group called Iola Industries,” says Bill Maness, Thrive’s economic development program manager, whose organization supported the effort by providing data, like the fact that Iola was losing $7 million a year as people left the town to shop elsewhere. Alongside grassroots support, this helped push local authorities to work harder to bring a store to town. The new G&W, a regional grocery chain, is set to open there this month.

Procter isn’t comfortable concluding yet that the reopening or sustainability rate for rural Kansas groceries is better than it was in the early 2000s, but he’s happy his work is beginning to make a difference. 

Over at Mildred Store, old-fashioned Christmas candy — a trademark sales item there — fills shelves this time of year. And owner Lance, who’s busy farming and preparing to sell some cattle in the morning, is planning his upcoming music night, where locals dance amid the store’s antiques as he and other musicians take to their fiddles and guitars. There’s no guarantee that Mildred Store will survive. Nor is it assured that the Marmaton Market co-op will take off to replace Stub’s. But, says Carole Hamilton, a cashier at Stub’s who lives right across the street, “I believe people will fight to keep it open.”