part of me comes from this island off the coast of sweden

I had dinner a few days ago with three people from Sweden. One of them had the last name Jakobsson. As that was the surname of my Swedish ancestors, we began chatting. All I know of my people was that they had been farmers in a coastal region, that they left for America in the late 1800’s, and that they had a fondness for eating eels. (According to my grandmother and her sister, a man would make his way through Galesburg, Il, where they lived, every year at holiday time, with a sack full of eels, selling them to the Swedish folks.) I, of course, shared all of this, and later called my grandmother, determined to find out more. And here’s what she told me.

Her grandfather, Johann August Jakobsson, was born 11/23/1870 in Ovra Wannborga Oland Sweden. The farm he lived on is apparently still in the family. Or at least it was in 1992, when she corresponded with Leif Jakobsson, the relative then living on the property. Johann left Sweden for Galesburg, Il in April, 1897. His wife Anna Gustafa Nilsson (my great great grandmother) was born in Dahlsland Sweden on 5/19/1871, and had immigrated to Galesburg on 5/18/1891. The Jakobssons had been on the island of Oland, as I understand it, from before when records of such things were kept.

Well, I told this to the fellow the following day, and he showed me where Oland was on a map, right off the eastern coast of Sweden. He said it was the most sunny place in Sweden. He said there weren’t many trees. He said the King of Sweden had a home there. And he showed me the path of the migrating eels. They apparently go right around the island. (Most folks in Sweden apparently don’t have a hankering for eel, but apparently it was something my people subsisted on, and had a fondness for.)

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time tonight, staring at the little island, wondering what my life might have been like had Johann stayed there, and not traveled off to America in search of a better life… Who knows, if the election had gone the other way, and McCain had won, I might be packing my bags right now.

Posted in Mark's Life | 10 Comments

state says detroit / ann arbor rail will happen by october 25, 2010

According to Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, there will be light rail running between Ann Arbor and Detroit in less than 23 months. A report by the Michigan Messenger today says that Carmine Palombo, the director of transportation at South East Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), while not officially having approved the project yet, supports it, and believes that it can be accomplished by the Governor’s deadline.

As I understand it, most of the major, non-budgetary hurdles have been cleared. The big problem at this point just appears to be money. According to Palombo and others, the line will most likely qualify for federal funds, but those funds would not be available until the route has been active for three years, carrying over 1,000 people per day. The question is, how do we pay for it now.

Hopefully, someone out there can explain this to me… As I recall, Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, during her recent campaign, took credit for acquiring $100 million in federal grants to establish an east-west passenger rail line connecting Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Metro Airport, Dearborn and Detroit. Has that money already been spent? And, if so, how much more are we talking about? Is it millions, tens of millions, or hundreds of millions?

Another question I have involves a comment made by John B O’Reilley, the Mayor of Dearborn, during a recent presentation about the line. O’Reilley stated that, at the outset, the train may only run four times a day. First off, I’m not sure if that’s four one-way trips, or four round trips. Second, either way, it seems to me that it would be near impossible to get 1,000 commuters hooked with such a limited schedule. Would a thousand people take the train to work knowing that, later in the day, there would only be one or two trains headed back home? Would people take the train knowing that if they missed that train back, for whatever reason, they’d be sleeping at the Detroit train station? That seems like a deal killer to me. And, unless some folks like arriving at the airport four hours prior to their flight, I can’t really see it working for people flying out of Metro Airport… But maybe I’m missing something… Here’s the video.

[note: We’ve discussed the Detroit / Ann Arbor line here before.]

Posted in Other | 5 Comments

give to your local ypsilanti non-profits this holiday season

For the past few years, Linette and I, and a number of volunteers have put out an annual “Shop Ypsi for the Holidays” brochure, encouraging people to keep their money local by purchasing gifts from businesses owned and operated by local folks. Last year, a significant portion of the printing costs for this brochure were picked up by a fellow in the community named Gary Clark. Gary not only liked the project, and wanted to support it, but he had an idea for similar initiative focused on local giving. And, now, thanks to another great set of volunteers, that’s also been accomplished. There’s a brochure that you can find in most downtown businesses, and a website that provides an almost comprehensive list of local nonprofits providing services within Ypsilanti. (If you see any that are missing, you can submit their names though the website and ask that they be added.)

As you can probably imagine, with the economy being as bad as it is here in Michigan, our local non-profits are hurting. As I mentioned here the other days, over 20% of people in Michigan are receiving some kind of public support, whether it be in the form of food stamps, unemployment insurance, or some other program. Our local non-profits provide services to a much wider group than just that, but I mention it to give you some idea of the enormity of the situation we’re facing. Our non-profits like SOS Community Services and the Corner Health Center are being asked to do more than ever, at the same time that, due to the economy, donations are becoming harder to come by. This holiday season, if you have any money at all to spare, please consider picking up a copy of Give Local brochure and find an Ypsilanti charity that you would like to support.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. With the speed at which things are changing in the world, there’s no way of knowing where we’ll all be in a year. Those of us who have jobs now, may not then. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have insurance now, may lose it. We could be well into another Depression. If that’s the case, we’re going to desperately need the support network of our local non-profits, even more than we do today…. We never know when it might be us needing a helping hand. So, if you can, give something today, while you can. It’s in your own best interest to do so, and it’ll make you feel damn good… So, this Christmas, instead of buying a piece of plastic junk for a relative who you know doesn’t need it, think about making a donation instead.

And, if you’re a reader of this blog from one of the 49 states that’s more well-off than Michigan, do me a favor and consider sending a few bucks to one of Ypsi’s fine non-profits. I can guarantee that it will be put to good use… Thanks.

Posted in Ypsilanti | 3 Comments

william clay ford jr’s vision for the future

The New York Times has an article today on William Clay Ford Jr., and his work behind the scenes to transition the American automotive industry away from oil, and toward a more sustainable future. Here’s a clip:

…William C. Ford Jr., the executive chairman and scion of the founding family of the Ford Motor Company, has been preparing for a bigger role in the industry’s plan for survival.
While General Motors and Chrysler plead to Congress for a bailout, Mr. Ford has reached out to President-elect Barack Obama in hopes that his company can benefit from the administration’s longer-term strategies for the auto industry.

Mr. Ford has been working behind the scenes, meeting one-on-one with Mr. Obama in August, conferring with his senior economic advisers, and teaming up with Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan to push a vision of a leaner, greener auto industry.

With Detroit on the brink of disaster, the great-grandson of Henry Ford could play a critical role in how the Obama administration decides to assist the companies financially and shape broader energy policies…

It’s not mentioned in the article, but Ford, through the Detroit Economic Club, which he’s chairman of, is presently planning a “National Summit” on Technology, Energy, Environment and Manufacturing. The event, which is intended to bring together leaders from industry, government and academia, is scheduled too take place June 15-17 at Ford Field.

It doesn’t surprise me that he’s trying to bring everyone together like this. When I heard Ford speak in late 2007, he stressed that it had taken a meeting like this in Europe for all parties concerned to 1) decide that clean diesel would become the standard, and, then, 2) put incentives and infrastructure in place to make it happen. Clearly, Ford thinks it’s possible to do something similar here — to get all the vested parties together, and, for the sake of the country, to come to an agreement as to what America’s transportation future will look like… One just hopes that next June isn’t too far off.

Oh, one last thing that I found interesting… In the New York Times article, Ford points out that we’re woefully behind in our capacity to manufacture the kinds of battery systems that will be required by electric vehicles. Here’s a clip:

…”One of the things we need to sort out as a country is batteries,” Mr. Ford said. “We really don’t want to trade one foreign dependency, oil, for another foreign dependency, batteries.” The main producers of batteries are Asian manufacturers…

Ford, for what it’s worth, is also a proponent of a gas tax, or at least he was. Like David Cole, who I’ve quoted here before, he’s seen promising alternative energy projects scrapped in the past when the price of fuel dropped and he doesn’t want to see it happen again… One imagines both increased funding for next generation battery systems, and the setting of a floor on the price of gasoline will be among those things discussed in June.

update: Since I posted this a few days ago, the Detroit Economic Club has launched a website for the National Summit.

Posted in Other | 15 Comments

tomorrow’s thanksgiving farmers market

Tomorrow, at the Corner Brewery, our friends at Growing Hope will be hosting a special pre-Thanksgiving indoor farmers market (pdf). The event is scheduled to run from 3:00 to 7:00… Following is a really quick interview I just did with Amanda Edmonds, the Executive Director of Growing Hope:

MARK: So, Amanda, what should we expect to see tomorrow? How many vendors? What kinds of stuff?

AMANDA: There will be veggies, holiday greens, honey, baked goods, cider, a few turkeys, & other gifts and goodies. Locavorious is also going to be doing their first share distribution there (but that’s for people who are already members) of locally-grown frozen! We’ve got three vendors who do greens in hoophouses (including us!!!!)… Many of our vendors were in a wait and see mode as to what veggies they’d have, though — so no guarantees. And what we have may go fast… We’ll also have some fresh herbs.

MARK: So, other than working on renovations to the Growing Hope Center, and caring for the plants in the hoophouse, what will you be doing this winter?

AMANDA: Raising money, budgeting, planning, orienting our five new full-time VISTAs who start in December (yay!), getting ready for the springtime, evaluating, documenting, et al… Always lots to do– running a nonprofit is a lot about the back-end stuff that continues all year. We’re also continuing to teach regularly in classrooms at East Middle School, West Middle School, & Head Start– throughout the year. Our after-school summer program– Roots & Shoots– has continued into the fall, because the kids don’t want to stop… And, one of our core programs– the Community & School Garden Development Institute– happens in January and February (for groups who want to develop gardens in Spring 09).

MARK: And what do we have to look forward to this Spring as far as our local farmers markets are concerned?

AMANDA: We’ve been overjoyed by the growth this year– sales were $65,000, compared to $28,000 last year. Food stamp sales were 6 times what they were last year, and some market days at the Tuesday Downtown Ypsi Farmers’ Market had over 800 people. We were psyched at how many new vendors we had too. We’re looking forward to really more of that growth– more customers=more sales=more vendors=more money in the local economy=more fresh healthy food for people=happy Ypsilanti.

If current trends continue, we’re going to see a growing percentage of our food coming from local sources, so come out tomorrow, have a beer, and meet the local farmers who either already are, or soon will be feeding your family.

Posted in Food | 9 Comments

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