Life after Millersville: Radical entrepreneurs

Julia Scheib
News Editor

Millersville alumni Josh Redd (anthropology, ’09) and Courtney Lawson (economics with a concentration in political economy, ’13) are two of the original members of the Seed, a worker-owned collective on North Queen in downtown Lancaster that functions as a vegetarian restaurant, a place for community events, a radical and progressive library and a safe space for LGBTQ people. Lawson is a new husband and Redd is a new dad.

Snapper: What did you think you would do when you were younger?
Courtney Lawson: When I was at West Chester [for nutrition], I wanted to deal with poverty and nutrition in the U.S. and abroad. I spent time in Honduras and saw the poverty and nutrition issues they faced there, in the countryside. But I also wanted to deal with food issues in America—access to food for the poor in America. [After I got my degree from WCU] I went to Millersville to continue that, to work on policy programs, like WIC, to help low-income families, to make the programs stronger and more effective.

Founding members of the Seed pictured in summer '12. From right to left: Courtney Lawson, Fen Alankus, Amanda Reitz, Josh Redd, and Audrie Marsh. Four of the five founding members of—Redd, Lawson, Marsh (English & Sociology ‘03), and Alankus (communications ’10)—are Millersville alumni.
Founding members of the Seed pictured in summer ’12. From right to left: Courtney Lawson, Fen Alankus, Amanda Reitz, Josh Redd, and Audrie Marsh. Four of the five founding members of—Redd, Lawson, Marsh (English & Sociology ‘03), and Alankus (communications ’10)—are Millersville alumni.

Snapper: Josh, can you talk about your work with IWW (Industrial Workers of the World, an international union that includes all industries and strives to win fair conditions for workers)?
Josh Redd: I’ve been a member of the Lancaster branch for five or six years now; I’m currently the treasurer. A few years ago I was an intern for a union—I helped them gather information on a job site that they were looking to do a campaign on. My job was to connect with rank-and-file workers and try to see what their conditions were, try to see how they feel about unions. Then the campaign would be built around the top concerns, whether it was the pay or workplace safety or something else.

Snapper: What else did you do before starting the Seed?
JR: Right after graduating, I went to New Brunswick, NJ to work for a group called Empower our Neighborhoods. Their goal was to get people politically engaged, to give people the tools to carry out the changes that need to be made in their communities.

Snapper: Did you meet each other at Occupy in Lancaster?
CL: No, we met after Occupy, in the winter of 2012.
JR: I met Amanda [Reitz, another founding member] the summer before Occupy, and I met Fen [Alankus, a founding member and MU alum] at a counter protest by the Millersville bell tower. We were protesting the TFP [Tradition Family Property, a conservative organization that protests various things, including homosexuality]. They are men who play bagpipes.

Snapper: What has Occupy turned into?
JR: The rioting and protesting has subsided, but there are places where it has turned into other things—Occupy your Home, protesting bank foreclosures, a protest about student loan forgiveness, etc. People have started new businesses and organizations to keep the ideas going. Occupy Lancaster led to cross-pollination between different groups: membership grew in many cases, and groups could take on larger projects.
CL: Occupy took on very local causes. Here in Lancaster, with all the farmland we have and the preservation movement, which already existed, it turned toward environmentalism, the environmental movement. The anti-fracking movement—fracking is a very important issue here. Because we don’t have the financial district here, it doesn’t make as much sense to protest that.

Snapper: Is the Seed kind of a product of Occupy?
CL: After Occupy, the same discontent was still felt but it manifested in a number of ways. Some organizations saw their membership increase. But in Lancaster, there weren’t a lot of places for people to meet [for that purpose]. When I came to Lancaster I was briefly part of the IWW and we would meet in cafes, which, if you could find a place to sit, OK. If not you had to find somewhere else. The Seed is a place for groups, for members of the environmental movement, to meet, share ideas, fundraise.
JR: And it provides services that aren’t easily available to those groups of people. [Our lending library] has books that aren’t available, necessarily, in the public library or bookstore, because of what’s in people’s minds in this area. It gives people access to ideas they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to.

Snapper: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced, starting the business?
CL: For anyone who has a small business, trying to stay afloat financially is hard. As much as America talks a big game about small businesses, it’s difficult to get startup capital without a huge interest rate. What we ended up doing was crowdfunding through Indiegogo. We did one campaign for the initial startup and then another for the expansion [into the space next door].
JR: We have an anti-profit philosophy, but the café has to be for-profit.
CL: Nobody’s looking for this to become the next Starbucks, and be sold for millions of dollars, but we want to be able to make a living. And none of us [the members of the collective] have accounting degrees. We have friends who possess lots of skills and they’ve stepped up to help us—painting the walls, providing art for the walls, etc.