Growing healthy and sustainable food starts with caring for the soil.
We think of SELC’s work as cultivating a healthy soil for more resilient communities to grow. We’re the soil biologists, not the farmers (metaphorically, at least - some of us actually are urban farmers)! So that’s why, as part of SELC’s People Powered Economies campaign, we are lifting up the work of our partners and allies who are rooted in the communities most impacted by the ills of an extractive economy, and most poised to cultivate and grow a new one.
A message from our Executive Director, Janelle Orsi:
Lately, this big word has been stuck in my head:
Three things are happening right NOW that are creating a sense of urgency at the Sustainable Economies Law Center. Sometimes, it's hard to see that they are happening, so we thought some visuals might help...Read more
SELC is pleased to introduce the luminaries, geniuses, and wonderful human beings that make up our Board of Directors and Advisory Board. Sushil Jacob of the Green Collar Communities Clinic and Farzana Serang, Executive Director of the Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive (CoFED) have recently joined our Board of Directors, and we've established a new Advisory Board filled with amazing people!
Below, you'll also find out about SELC's upcoming #PeoplePoweredEconomies campaign, Financial Transparency at SELC, upcoming events, and more!Read more
democracy |diˈmäkrəsē| noun - “A system of government in which all the people of a state ... are involved in making decisions about its affairs” (Oxford English Dictionary).
What if every one of us got involved in making decisions about our affairs by writing and passing ONE law? At SELC, we’re realizing that many laws need to be created and reformed if we are going to build just and resilient communities.
Our experience has taught us that anyone can become a citizen lawmaker! We've even developed a workshop to get you started! But first...
3 QUICK THINGS YOU CAN DO TO SUPPORT OUR POLICY WORK:Read more
Sustainable Economies Law Center has been fighting hard and may now be able to take credit for small reforms to one of California’s most draconian and economically repressive laws, the Money Transmission Act (MTA). The MTA presents a nearly insurmountable barrier for small enterprises and cooperatives that facilitate the sale of products and services by receiving payment from one person and transferring it to another.
Most people’s jaws drop when they learn that they may be committing a felony if they do not meet the requirement of a $5,000 initial license application fee, $2,500 annual renewal fee, a $250,000 or $500,000 bond or securities on deposit, and a minimum net worth of $250,000. The CA Department of Business Oversight’s latest draft of proposed regulations incorporates SELC’s suggestions that 501(c)(3) nonprofits be exempt from registration and that the Department create a process for other enterprises to apply for an exemption. It’s a small victory, and we will continue to urge the state to consider SELC’s proposals for a more sensible law.
Learn more about Money Transmission Laws and the potential implications for community currencies, cooperatives, and other small enterprises at CommunityCurrenciesLaw.org
Sarah Kessler published a piece in Fast Company entitled, "What does a Union look like in the Gig Economy?"
Janelle Orsi, from the Sustainable Economies Law Center, advocates for a worker-owned platform model:
"The only way for independent workers to really benefit from the platforms that use their labor, argues Janelle Orsi, a lawyer who specializes in sharing economy issues, is for them to own the platforms themselves, in what she calls a 'freelancer-owned cooperative.' Since these platforms would by definition treat workers better, she thinks they could challenge companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Homejoy by essentially stealing their workforces. 'The companies themselves have very few assets," she says. "They don’t own cars, and they don’t own infrastructure, they don’t own hotels. They just own a software platform and a lot of clout. And if that clout goes away, then they just have software. And lots of people can create software.'"
Read the whole article here: http://www.fastcompany.com/3042081/what-does-a-union-look-like-in-the-gig-economy
Rachel's Network, a non-profit committed to advancing women with solutions to our biggest environmental challenges, has chosen SELC Executive Director, Janelle Orsi, has their first fellow!
“More and more people are seeing that happiness comes not through owning things, but through having access to the things that foster rich experiences with their friends, family, and community,” says Rachel’s Network Liaison Annie Leonard. “[Janelle]’s got… an inspiring vision of sharing as a vehicle for social change.”
Read more about the fellowship, and how it'll support Janelle and SELC's work here:
February 11, 2015
It’s easy to take seeds for granted. Tiny dry pods hidden in packets and sacks, they make a brief appearance as gardeners and farmers collect them for future planting then later drop them into soil. They are not “what’s for dinner,” yet without them there would be no dinner. Seeds are the forgotten heroes of food—and of life itself.
Sharing these wellsprings of sustenance may sound innocuous enough, yet this increasingly popular exchange—and wider seed access—is up against a host of legal and economic obstacles. The players in this surreal saga, wherein the mere sharing of seeds is under attack, range from agriculture officials interpreting seed laws, to powerful corporations expanding their proprietary and market control.
Last year, we found out that over 300 nonprofit seed libraries were at risk of being shut down due to misapplication of seed laws by several state departments of agriculture.
In partnership with Shareable and Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library, and with the help of the Clif Bar Family Foundation and Seed Matters, we launched a national petition campaign to build support for seed libraries and to tell regulators to protect our right to freely save and share seeds
On Sunday, January 25th, the Sustainable Economies Law Center's Janelle Orsi and Ricardo Nuñez were interviewed by CBS' Bay Area Focus! They spoke about the work SELC does and why legal resources are needed in every community to support the creation of cooperatives, renewable energy, shared housing and transportation, and more! Watch the video below!Read more
Interview with Commons Transition
First published at CommonsTransition.org and republished under a Peer Production, P2P Attribution-ConditionalNonCommercial-ShareAlikeLicense
Can you define Commons Transition, tell us what it means to you?
Chris: To me, a commons transition speaks to the process of communities progressively controlling and self-governing more and more of their collective resources, by and for themselves and future generations. The “transition” implies that we are moving from one system of organizing society – in this case, global capitalism – to a wholly distinct socio-ecological paradigm rooted in age-old practices referred to as “the commons.” What’s particularly interesting about this transition is that, in many ways, it’s a return to principles of managing our homes that evolved over millennia before the onslaught of industrial capitalism. Our contemporary context is obviously much different from the indigenous and peasant cultures that sustained commons-based societies for thousands of years, but we have much to learn from them in how to undertake this transition.Read more
Today, the Neighborhood Food Act is officially in effect. So what does that mean for you? Find out by reading through our Neighborhood Food Act FAQ.
In the FAQ, you'll find answers to questions including:
- Why do we need this law?
- What does the law really do?
- Who does the law apply to?
- Can I sell food that I grow at home?
- And more!
Click the link above to download a PDF copy of the FAQ, and visit our Food Resources page to find the FAQ and plenty of other food law and policy related educational resources.
By: Dan Kraker, Minnesota Public Radio
(Originally published November 30, 2014)
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has given a thumbs down to a Duluth seed-sharing program that allows members to borrow vegetable seeds from the library in the spring and later return seeds they collect from their gardens.
State agriculture regulators say the exchange — one of about 300 in the United States — violates the state's seed law because it does not test seeds.
By Nathan Schneider, Shareable
"There are many ways to own. Simply giving up on ownership, however, will mean that those who actually do own the tools that we rely on to share will control them. People who want an economy of genuine sharing are coming to recognize that they must embrace ownership — and, as they do, they're changing what owning means altogether."Read more
Originally posted on Shareable.com on November 21, 2014
On Tuesday, the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) hosted its annual Fall Celebration and Showcase. Now in its fifth year, SELC is a driving force for the new economy, doing pioneering work around worker cooperatives, home-based food businesses, alternative currencies, legal guides for sharing, legal apprenticeships, accessible legal cafes, renewable energy, the commons, seed libraries and more.
At the celebration, the SELC team gave an overview of what they’ve accomplished this year, including removing many legal barriers to people growing and selling home-based food; legalizing alternative currencies in California; removing one of the biggest barriers to cooperative housing; and launching the Worker Coop Academy. As Executive Director Janelle Orsi put it, “This September, the governor was just signing our bills left and right.”
Shareable and SELC recently partnered up to support seed sharing and seed libraries. With a grant from the Clif Bar Family Foundation, SELC and Shareable are launching a nationwide campaign to educate legislators and the public about the essential need for and legality of seed libraries, and to clarify and protect the legal status of seed libraries, which have come under pressure from regulators recently. Shareable will be publishing articles on seed issues, including seed sharing, seed libraries, seed saving and more. We will also promote the campaign, activate grassroots networks, and advocate for a seed library exemption law in California.
On Tuesday, the SELC team also painted a picture of a very bright future; and they did so in true SELC form with lots of laughs, cartoons, smarts and silliness. With the help of a community-supported time machine, we traveled into a future complete with healthy, thriving, sustainable communities. Here’s how it plays out:
2015: The Year of the Seed
In 2015, there are seed libraries in almost every city in the country. From these libraries people can check out free seeds, grow them, harvest the food, eat it, and share seeds back to the library. People have free access to seeds, there are thriving local food systems, and we have a diverse seed commons. SELC contributed to this bright seed future by creating a seed law tool shed, launching a national seed law petition, and legalizing seed.
2016: The Year of Local Investing
In 2014, communities realized that they needed to move money out of Wall Street and divest from fossil fuels, but there weren’t many options to invest elsewhere, due in large part to legal barriers preventing investing in local businesses. In 2016, investment portfolios include cooperatives, credit unions and small businesses. SELC’s Sustainable Economies Securities Act enabled people to invest locally and became a model for other states throughout the country.
2017: The Year of Home-Based Food Business
In 2014, giant corporations with underpaid workers controlled much of the nations agriculture. People who wanted to start a small food business couldn’t because there were so many legal barriers. By 2017, SELC has made it possible for just about anyone to start their own farm or home-based food business by legalizing these entities, pioneering legal structures that help new farmers obtain access to land, and supporting the growth of worker owned farms.
2018: The Year of the Worker Cooperative
In 2014 there were only 300 to 400 worker cooperatives, and many barriers to creating them. Businesses and law schools didn’t educate their students how to advise or operate worker owned businesses, business incubators and development agencies didn’t provide resources to worker cooperatives, and, in fact, most people didn’t even know what a worker cooperative was.
In 2018 there are thousands of worker cooperatives because of SELC’s pioneering research, education and advocacy. SELC remains at the forefront of building an ecosystem of support services and laying the legal foundation for community ownership and democracy in the workplace. They partnered with the East Bay Community Law Center and Project Equity to create the first ever Worker Coop Academy in the Bay Area; there are now accredited worker cooperative courses in colleges across California and the country; and SELC’s model city policies, that prioritize worker coops, have been passed in cities across the country.
2019: The Year of the Transformed Legal Profession
In 2014, no one could afford an attorney because most attorneys were working for the very rich. The attorneys that came out of law school couldn’t find a job in 2014 and attorneys working for corporations were helping people build bigger and bigger corporations which was ruining the planet and widening the wealth gap. This was a failure of the legal system which is supposed to help people build a just and equitable society. By 2019, SELC’sResilient Communities Legal Cafes, which offer down to earth legal help for people doing real things in real communities, have caught on all across the country and there are legal cafes everywhere. SELC also supports individuals who are opening their own legal practices to build sustainable societies, and there's a network of a million lawyers, all over the world, who are helping to build sustainable societies.
2020: The Year of Apprenticeships
In 2014, attorneys were graduating from law school $200,000 in debt—not a good position to be in if they wanted to serve society's needs. By 2020, because of widespread legal apprenticeships however, a new generation of legal attorneys are able to roll up their sleeves and help cultivate sustainable societies. Legal apprenticeships have revolutionized the legal system and legal professionals now have a deep culture of teaching and learning. SELC created resources for legal apprentices to navigate their way through the legal apprenticeship, they blogged about their experiences, and they got the word out. They were even featured in the New York Times. They also introduced legal apprenticeships laws all over the US, so people everywhere can take the apprentice route to becoming an attorney.
2021: Year of the Awesome Nonprofit
In 2014, there were tons of big nonprofits where things happened very slowly. Funding sources diminished, organizations spent more on fundraising than they did on programs, staffers were overworked and always buried in paperwork, and highly paid executives and administrative staff were weighing nonprofits down. With all this, nonprofits weren’t changing our communities as fast as we needed them to. In 2021, the age of the agile nonprofit, tens of thousands of nonprofits have adopted SELC’s organizational model:
- Everyone gets paid the same living wage
- Every staff member is a leader and takes sense of own over the organization’s work
- Everyone has the flexibility to continue to build their skills and knowledge
- Everyone can bring proposals on ways to improve the impact of the organization
- Staff are encouraged to work 30 hour work weeks, to be creative, and, of course, to put on silly shows.
2022: The Year of Renewable Energy
In 2014, people were doing crazy stuff: injecting poisonous chemicals into the ground to extract gas, cutting mountaintops, burning everything and taking over land with industrial-scale solar farms. By 2022, communities have placed solar systems on every possible rooftop. People and communities now own and control their energy needs. SELC helped pass regulation to make sure people could actually invest in things that sustain these community solar, and other renewable energy, projects. SELC also developed legal structures to enable community solar projects and cooperatively owned solar projects that brought energy independence to every community across America.
2023: The Year of the Freelance Owned Cooperative
In 2014, freelancers were forced to bid on jobs and giant companies such as Task Rabbit and Uber were making millions off of freelancers. In 2023, there are freelancer-owned cooperatives, including Bay Area-based freelancer-owned cooperative Loconomics, everywhere. It’s because of the legal blueprint that Loconomics and SELC created that freelancers are allowed to share in profits, decision making power, tools and resources.
2024: The Year of the Commons
Before global capitalism, most land and water resources were managed by the people who used them. Communities everywhere managed their land and water resources as a commons. In 2014, these resources were highly concentrated in the hands of large corporations. But we learned from commoners and researchers including Elinor Ostrom, the principles to manage our commons. SELC created the first legal structure to collectively own and manage our farmland as a commons and has started creating more commons-based legal structures for land, water, housing, the Internet, banks and more—all things can be managed as a commons. In 2024, they're stewarded forever in the commons legal structures.
As the SELC staff and the audience were all basking in the glow of the vibrant, thriving future of sustainable communities, Orsi offered a reminder.
“You guys could stay here in the future,” she says, “but if you don’t go back and do your work, then none of this will exist.”