Delivering freight by schooner

SUBHEAD: Maine is about to revive a salty history of revolution and independence delivering farm goods to Boston and New York.

By Rivera Sun on 6 August 2015 for the Greenhorns -

Image above: William Garden's exact 1986 replica of a 1870 Maine cargo topsail schooner under sail in Chili. From (

In this new millennium marked by the looming threat of transnational trade deals like the Transpacific Partnership (TPP), The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), one unusual trade adventure, Maine Sail Freight will embark on a creative, bold journey as an act of defiance against business-as-usual.

 When Maine Sail Freight launches its maiden voyage at the end of August carrying eleven tons of local, Maine-made cargo, the Greenhorns – a plucky band of young farmers – and the sailing crew of an historic wooden schooner are declaring their independence from corporate tyranny and re-invigorating sail freight as a wind-powered transportation agent of the booming local food economy.

And, interestingly, they will carry one freight item that has a long history of revolutionary potential: salt.

Yes, salt.

Over a hundred years before Gandhi’s independence movement kicked the British Empire out of India, the American colonies were roundly beating the same empire using tools of nonviolent action – noncooperation, civil disobedience, boycotts, strikes, blockades, parallel governments, marches, rallies, and self-reliance programs. The two independence movements even shared parallel salt campaigns.

Both the American Revolution and the India Self-Rule movement used salt as a tool of resistance and liberation. Gandhi’s 1930 Salt Satyagraha campaign is famous. The 1776 New England saltworks expansion is virtually unknown.

Indeed, the well-organized, clearly identifiable nonviolent campaigns are often overshadowed by violence and war in the retelling of revolutionary era history. The research, however, testifies to the nonviolent campaigns pivotal role in the struggle.

Know your history, as the saying goes. The British certainly should have. In 1930, one hundred and fifty years after American Independence, Lord Irwin, Viceroy of India, commented on the brewing salt law resistance saying, ”

At present the prospect of a salt campaign does not keep me awake at night.” Too bad . . . if he had stayed awake, studying the history of salt, colonial governments, and independence movements, he might have lost sleep . . . but he wouldn’t have lost India.

Over a century ago, in 1776, the British Empire lost the American colonies over a famous tax on tea . . . and salt. Everyone knows the story of the Boston Tea Party – rowdy colonists, incensed by the tax on tea, dressed up as Indians and stormed Boston Harbor to dump the contents of a ship carrying import goods into the water. The colonials boycotted tea, demanding “no taxation without representation”.

Less well known is that the tax on tea also contained a tax on salt.

At the time, salt was a necessity of both household survival and for the economic functionality of the colonial fisheries, which exported salted fish. There were, however, no saltworks along the lengthy coastlines of North America. The salt used by the colonists was imported from the British Caribbean.

When the new tax laws were announced in the colonies, the colonists declared they would boycott imported goods from Britain, refusing to cooperate. Of course, they didn’t use the term “boycott”, which would not be coined until 1880, when the Irish rebelled against the land agent Charles C. Boycott.

The colonists rebelled against the tax laws, declaring independence. A crippling embargo was placed on the colonies, cutting off the supply of imported salt entirely.

In response the Continental Congress placed a “bounty” on salt to encourage the young nation to build saltworks and produce this essential resource. Cape Cod responded to the call, even inventing new elements of the salt production process.

They rejected the process of boiling out the water, as it used too many cords of wood, and instead developed a system of producing salt that used wind power to haul the seawater to the drying troughs, natural solar power to evaporate the water,

and a unique construction of rolling canvas roofs that would keep the rain out of the troughs, then pull back on sunny days to allow the light in. The production of salt increased the Americans self-reliance, lessened their dependence on the empire, and strengthened their ability to resist British oppression. These three dynamics – increasing self-reliance, lessening dependence, and strengthening the ability to resist oppression – are all elements of what Gandhi would later call “constructive program”.

Gandhi employed eighteen different constructive programs in his movement, one of which was the production of salt. The 1930 Salt Satyagraha was a powerful demonstration of the two-fold strength of nonviolent action.

In addition to the constructive dynamics, it also utilized the “obstructive” dynamics of non-cooperation and mass civil disobedience, as well as many acts of protest and persuasion including marches, rallies, picketing, letter writing, and demonstrations.

The story is simple: the British Empire held a monopoly on the production of salt in colonial India, operating the saltworks to their own profit and charging the Indians for the staple. In 1930, Gandhi decided to openly defy the salt laws, inciting thousands of Indians to make and sell salt, rendering the salt laws unenforceable through mass noncooperation. Gandhi, as always, added his usual political clarity and dramatic flair to the undertaking.

Where the Americans pragmatically made salt as a necessity of survival and a tool of self-reliance, Gandhi’s marches, public announcements, mass disobedience, and inimitable sense of humor made humble salt the downfall of British authority over India. Gandhi overtly challenged the British over salt . . . and won.

Today, contemporary struggles revolve not around colonies and crowns, but rather between citizens and trans-national corporations. The basic lessons of salt still hold true for modern times. Increase self-reliance. Lessen dependency on oppressors. Refuse cooperation with injustice. Build parallel institutions.

As Maine Sail Freight travels from Portland to Boston, reinvigorating traditional ocean trade routes, the participants are also joining the growing popular resistance to global corporate domination.

As history will attest, their success lies in the willingness of the people to non-cooperate with business-as-usual, and instead participate with the constructive actions of local, sustainable, and renewable economies. Here’s where to find out more and join the Portland to Boston adventure.

{IB Publisher's note: For more on this see (]

• Rivera Sun is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection, Billionaire Buddha, and Steam Drills, Treadmills, and Shooting Stars, the cohost of Occupy Radio, and the cofounder of the Love-In-Action Network. She tours nationally speaking and educating in nonviolent civil resistance. Her essays on social justice movements appear in Truthout and Popular Resistance.

Severine von Tscharner Fleming
SUBHEAD: She wants to borrow your boat, but it's all about farming.

By Mary Pols on 14 September 2014 for Portland Press Herald - 

Image above: Severine von Tscharner Fleming’s brainchild, Maine Sail Freight, aims to sail Maine produce and dry goods to Boston and New York and points in between. Photo by Gordon Chibroski. From original article.

Severine von Tscharner Fleming recently landed a spot (No. 23) on Food & Wine and Fortune magazines’ dual list of the most powerful women in food and drink.

The honor came about in large part because of her work with the Greenhorns, a national organization to support new farmers, but the 33-year-old resident of Essex, New York, and frequent visitor to Maine has her hands in many projects.

The latest is Maine Sail Freight, a plan to get Maine sailors and farmers to work together to ship goods down the coast to urban centers (Boston and New York, as well as points in between) in the old-fashioned way.

Von Tscharner Fleming participated in a similar project in Vermont in 2013, and now her vision is to harness the sustainability of wind power and the romance of the seas to spread the Maine brand in the prettiest possible way.

We talked to the University of California-Berkeley graduate, who majored in conservation and agro-ecology, about seaweed, the troublesome future and how to pronounce that mouthful of a name of hers (the “t” is silent).

I went to Pomona College first, where my focus was on environmental studies. I was part of the core group that started the organic farm at Pomona and became very engaged in the social logistics of making an all-volunteer-powered community farm on the campus. They actually fought us tooth and nail on that because of the liability issues.”

“That we would build fires, and we would have children visiting and homeless people coming to sleep there. That was definitely the beginning of being an activist because I said, ‘I’m going to stand up for this and fight for it.’ I learned a lot about how, when, if you want something in the real world, how you get it done. I was so frustrated by the Pomona adminstration saying no that I dropped out and spent a year farming.”

“I am a regular visitor in Maine because I am very keen on the seaweed. I have been working for the past couple of years for a couple of small seafood companies, She Sells Seaweed and Atlantic Holdfast Seaweed Company. I’m also making a film about Marada Cook and Leah Cook (of Northern Girl and Crown of Maine) and my hope is to keep coming back for the seaweed at least seasonally … And to launch this sailboat project and have an excuse to be in Maine.”

At the first Sail Freight meeting in Lincolnville in June, von Tscharner Fleming attempted to woo some crusty sailors who clearly thought her plan was sweetly idealistic and fairly nuts. In response, she was self-deprecating and funny (imagine comedian Kristen Schaal peddling a big environmentally friendly dream). “They hand me the microphone and I like to talk,” she said. And she knows how to work the media: “We are definitely new media kids,” she said. “I’ve been totally Internet since I was in sixth grade. But it is funny how the media works; a lot of people have learned about our work because their grandmother reads the newspaper or listens to NPR.”

To announce the Maine Sail Freight Project at the Common Ground Fair later this week. The group will put together a jury of judges and will solicit ideas on business models, available vessels and stops. (The Vermont Sail Project traveled Lake Champlain and the Hudson River all the way to Brooklyn and broke even, emboldening a second sail.) Von Tscharner Fleming aims to set up a Maine Sail Summit to consider five winning proposals picked by the jury. “Any number of millionaires could probably get a boat to go from Point A to Point B,” she said. “Our goal is to involve young people in creating a possible future that straddles the present and the future.”

“Obviously to compete with a truck you have to do a certain amount of agro-tourism or value-added product or farm-to-table events along the way,” she said. Meaning making pit stops to run pop-up farmers markets, which is how the Vermont project worked. “We’d be reviving the working sail and developing the connection between the boat people and the land people.”

“We’ve been looking at rivers as well. The Kennebec is a really powerful conduit,” she said. “One thing I’m pursuing is whether we can find an investor or donor supporter who will say, ‘If you can get your boat to Boston, we’ll buy your $20,000 worth of produce.’ ”

No, she says, this is not meant to get everyone ready for a “Hunger Games” future. “It’s not dystopian,” she said. “It’s optimistic … it’s an educational process. It’s value-added. You are delivering the food without using carbon.”

UNLESS YOU HAVE TO MOTOR: “Frankly whether or not it is sail-powered, I feel like using the waterways makes more sense in terms of liberating the roads from all the traffic.”

“It’s all about building a new economy inside the old economy,” she said. “It all seems hard but what we are doing now is clearly not working.” Citing corporate control of our food system, the international hunger crisis, our national obesity problem and the impact of climate change on land, she said, “It’s obviously impossible for us to sustain this food system. As a young person, trying to fit your life into that problematic context can be demoralizing. … These are the narratives that confound us as young people and diminish our power. Especially young people with 1.2 trillion dollars of college debt and this weird tendency to cluster in, you know, Brooklyn. But the time is now and bravery is needed.”

See also:
Culture Change: Tres Hombres Ship is Homeward Bound 4/21/15
The world’s foremost cargo sailing ship, the beautiful square-rigged Tres Hombres, is now sailing back to Europe from the Dominican Republic. 
Ea O Ka Aina: Larry Ellison - Oracle/Sailer 6/21/12
Island Breath: Sail Transport Network 1/21/08
Island Breath: Rethinking the sail 12/25/07.

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