Tag Archives: National Public Radio

“Thrifter” Alert for National Thrift Shop Day!!!

Throughout the nation volunteers at thrift shops of every stripe, site, specialty, and affiliation are loading the racks, shelves and bins with irresistible bargains sure to capture the gaze and hearts of ardent bargain hunters. National Thrift Shop Day 2015 http://nationaldaycalendar.com/national-thrift-shop-day-august-17/’   comes just in time for shoppers to snag that perfect State Fair outfit or the trendy back-to-school wardrobe for young scholars. Cost conscious consumers heed the data that calculate a cost of $630 to outfit a K-12 learner – though college students may keep clothing costs down they still have to furnish a room, for a statistical average of $899 – which, includes digital gear but omits tuition and fees….!

In her comprehensive study of American frugality journalist Lauren Weber concludes that what’s now called “thrifting” is in the DNA of this nation and its people. Though some historians credit the Puritans for importing the commitment to frugality Weber holds that American penny pinching can also be traced to Revolutionary era necessity. The obligatory habit was elevated to virtue status by the forefathers including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Ben Franklin who advised that the wise consumer would “rather to go to bed supperless than rise in debt.”

Weber’s broad view of our heritage of cheapness puts today’s thrift shops in historic perspective, a relatively modern indicator of need, proclivity, and creative rising to meet society’s needs. It is generally agreed that the first thrift shop was started in 1899 by the UK’s Wolverhampton Society for the Blind (later known as the Beacon Centre for the Blind.) In 1907 the Red Cross opened its first shop at 7 Old Bond Street in London. These shops, staffed by volunteers, served a dual purpose – to raise operating funds for the organization and to meet the immediate needs of impoverished families living in the community. Today’s thrift shops continue to serve this original purpose. At the same time, thrifting has evolved as habitual shopping for environmentalists concerned about preservation of natural resources and social justice advocates protesting the unfair treatment of sweatshop workers and unscrupulous apparel manufacturers. Today what is known as “resale” (as opposed to “retail”) is a multi-million dollar industry. First Research (http://www.firstresearch.com/industry-research/Used-Merchandise-Stores.html estimates the resale industry in the U.S. to have annual revenues of approximately $16 billion including revenue from antique stores which are 13% of their statistics. Established in 1984, the National Association of Retail Professionals (www.narts.org) calculates that there are more than 25,000 resale, consignment and not-for-private retail shops in the U.S. NARTS summarizes the current status of thrift shops thus: “The resale market is blossoming thanks to value-conscious consumers. With an increasing awareness of the importance of reducing pointless waste, we are progressing from a disposable society to a recycling society—a change that has enormous market potential for the resale industry as a whole. After all, “Resale is the ultimate in recycling!” (http://www.narts.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3285) Wise thrifters will want to take affirmative steps to gird their loins and prepare their psyches for National Thrift Shop Day 2015. Some suggestions:

  • Consult the online state-by-state guide to local thrift shop – though incomplete, it’s useful as a guide to the diversity, the unique profile, mission and site of many bargain opportunities. http://www.localthriftshops.org
  • Read the first chapter of In Cheap We Trust, posted online on the NPR site. Better yet, read the whole book – details on the NPR site.
  • Totally get down by marinading in the dulcet tones of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis in their unique rendition of Thrift Shop Feat (parental discretion advised…) youtube.com/watch?v=QK8mJJJvaes


Do/Should Minnesota Farms and Agribusiness REALLY “feed the world?”

Last Saturday was “Celebrate Ag & Food Day” at the Gophers game.  It was a day to laud the U of M research resources and the benefits thereof to the economic health of the state’s agribusiness sector.  The celebratory pitch should also give pause for Minnesotans who support that symbiotic relationship to think about the businesses themselves as well as the food products they create, produce, promote and profit from, the hype and the reality.

As recently as yesterday, September 17, National Public Radio carried a major piece on the much touted “Feed the World” promotion favored by corporate farmers and agribusiness.  The “we’re feeding the world” mantra, according to NPR reporter Dan Charles, is ”high-tech agriculture’s claim to the moral high ground.”  Charles Arnot, a one-time PR executive for food and farming companies, now CEO of the Center for Food Integrity, observes that  “U.S. farmers have a tremendous sense of pride in the fact that they’ve been able to help feed the world.”

The problem is not everyone agrees that large-scale, technology-based agriculture is an unmitigated good.  They hold that the cost to the environment and to the nutritional needs of this nation and the world needs to be factored in.  Some, including Margaret Mellon of Concerned Scientists, hold that use of the term itself is waning.

Mellon welcomes the disenchantment with the term.  The problem with ‘feeding the world,’ she says is that “the phrase conflates the important issues of food production and hunger alleviation.  It implies that producing corn and soybeans is the equivalent of putting food into the mouths of hungry people.  But there is no direct connection between U.S. corn and soy production and ending hunger elsewhere (or for that matter in the US).  In fact, the truth is that high production in the U.S. can depress world grain prices and throw developing country farmers off the land.”

It seems reasonable to me that, just because we have such a huge stake in farming and agribusiness, Minnesotans bear some responsibility to be informed about and involved in thinking about the complexities of food production and distribution.

On the one hand, we Minnesotans are a compassionate people for whom feeding the world seems such a worthy cause; access to food is a basic human right.  Moreover, as Mellon writes, the efforts to feed the world conjure “comfortable memories of preparing, serving and enjoying meals.  To satisfy this basic need for the whole world is a noble endeavor.  And, of course, there are grams of truth here. US farmers can feel good that they are helping to meet the food needs of those who can afford to buy their products.” Minnesotans have good reason to be proud of the education system and the political and economic environment that supports the cause.

As compassionate people Minnesotans also care about our neighbors who are hungry and kids who are reared on junk food at the same time we feed the world.  Complex as the issues are, we even pay attention to trade agreements, GMO’s, distribution and the actual consumption of the massive soybean and corn products our rich farmlands yield.  Lots of us, from University researchers to truck drivers, nutritionists to grocery shopper are active links along the food chain

The more I listen and read, the less I understand the complexities of food production, distribution and consumption.  The only thing of which I am certain is that, for the most part, we are not thinking systemically about food policy at the state, national or global level.

Minnesotans have a huge stake, as consumers, taxpayers, as a body politic.  We all care that our families and neighbors, the environment, the economy and people around the world are economically and physically healthy.  We just don’t think about it a lot and we don’t often exchange opinions with individuals or groups that approach the complexity from different perspectives.

As we take pride in our University research capability and community contributions of those who prosper in our agribusinesses, Minnesotans with different points of view and perspectives need to learn together about the results of the investment and the benefits gained as measured in human as well as financial terms.


Kee Malesky, a Librarian’s Librarian on NPR

Whenever I hear the credit to “librarian Kee Malesky” on National Public Radio I give a nod to that unknown librarian for her professionalism –  and to NPR for overtly acknowledging that librarian’s role.  Though librarians always get sometimes condescending mention in prefaces to historical tomes and doctoral dissertations, NPR puts it right out there.  Kee Malesky, who I always assumed was a male librarian, has become somewhat of a hero to me over the years.  I knew instinctively that she – or he – has to be good to get public appreciation.  I think I even took a little professional credit for our collective contribution to combating ignorance.


Now I know, Kee is a woman, a delightful, vivacious, vociferous, dedicated and determined woman who keeps the information wheels greased at NPR.  I know because Kee has just published All Facts Considered: The Essential Library of Inessential Knowledge (Wiley 2010),  a catalog of some of the facts that she has researched over the years as NPR’s longest-searching librarian.  From what I heard in her conversation with Weekend Edition host Scott Simon, the book is a lovely read, especially for anyone who savors the quest for good information – anyone who understands that the joy is not so much in the fact as in the thrill of the quest.


Good librarians have that thrill of the quest in their DNA – time on task just sharpens the skills and expands the possibilities.  Kee’s librarian DNA comes to the fore most prominently in her affirmative drive to get ahead of the questions reporters may initiate.  “We (librarians) read all the time,” she says.  “We’re constantly looking at new sources, at websites, at all kinds of things that are happening in the world….We’re all very proactive. It’s really a part of the proper job of a librarian.”   In spite of a hint of hyperbole in her description the “proper job of the librarian” she describes is as it should be in the best of all information age worlds.


Kee’s work makes a difference.  For one, the NPR reporters, editors and hosts have ready access to the facts, even before they need them.  For another, she deserves and probably demands credit for her work.  She’s also created a template that other high test librarians might emulate – the compilation of the searches, whether proactive or reactive, of any good librarian offes not just a reflection of a profession but a small glimmer of the many information paths being explored within any community of ideas, whether it’s a small town, an elementary school, a corporation or a university.


Fun staff, particularly since in today’s technology the information barriers are minimized and the quest is of the mind.