Cultivating Cultures

An Asia Dorsey Profile Piece

by Gen Rollins

Asia Dorsey is a force of motion for her hometown of Five Points, Colorado. She remarks the neighborhood as “the water that helped [her] grow.” A member of the local farmers market circuit, Dorsey proudly displays the handmade products of Five Points Fermentation every week. She speaks energetically about the culture of cultures, and the irreverent joy in building one’s creative spirit through cooperative work.

Dorsey pushes the barriers of agency within her community, evading the narrative that black means poor, and that poverty should never allow for healthy, meaningful food. She supports the spread of information, expressing that viewing the body as a community of beautiful, lively cultures and bacteria does more good thank knocking the spirit down with self-doubt. You can catch her ‘taking sugar and turning it into gold,’ all while lifting up the magic of makership!

The cooperative works with its surrounding communities, holding hands-on workshops to cultivate a mindset of sovereignty in food production and consumption. Dorsey’s work includes smiling with scobies, tasting vibrant, living foods, and upholding the need for culturally appropriate culinary experiences. The cooperative, Five Points Fermentation, is worker owned and specializes in foods which nurture healthy bacteria in the gut. The benefits of this process spread from maker to taster. Aside from their spices, which are drawn from around the world, everything that Five Points Fermentation prepares comes from seasonally and locally grown ingredients. The workers form a relationship with the microbes in their goods, which in turn work to feed whoever is lucky enough to taste—right in the emotional brain!

Asia embodies the food economy as a place of symbiosis, stating, “If you can’t afford my products, I’m gonna teach you how to make it, craft-style.” As an advocate for communal food sovereignty, Asia Dorsey has done her research into what it means to maintain community control. Her hometown of Five Points has drastically changed since her own childhood in the area. She has seen new waves of people come through and alter the landscape, before knowing the history, so she is careful with her cooperative and the footprint it makes. Being that cooperatives have become somewhat trendy, along with fermented foods, Dorsey makes sure to know the facts on how to serve communally. When asked about her best tools for fighting the gentrification that comes with bringing healthier foods into a neighborhood, Dorsey had a host of ideas.

The first ingredient is stability. Before attempting to widely affect change, it was important for FPF to be internally sound. In this way, they were able to create a culture of mutual ownership. Part of that meant having enough money to effectively pay workers, disengaging with the cycle of poverty. Second was making sure power & decision-making could be lateral, instead of hierarchical. For Dorsey, this entailed an intergenerational display of agency, allowing the people growing into movements to have an equal amount of access to those who laid the groundwork.

As the organization grew, it became necessary to ‘call in the allies.’ This could mean other organizations fighting similar problems, or individuals with power and influence who want to do good and are looking for the proper outlet. This comes in handy when dealing with legal issues, such as land ownership in spaces where food is cultivated, shops serve communities, and neighborhoods grow. Dorsey’s solution to this question of ownership is in building land trusts. According to Investopedia, land trusts involve a trustee, who holds ownership of a piece of land for use by a specific beneficiary. In the case of non-profits, this usually entails conservation purposes for a single intended use over long periods of time. This allows the land and properties on the land to remain affordable, rather than being priced out of a changing neighborhood. Despite Dorsey being so many states away, the message of holding onto what’s dear rings all the way through the Schuylkill waters. Philadelphians aren’t sleeping on it, though. The Campaign to Take Back Vacant Land is at play right in our own backyards, conserving our spaces for neighborhood use.

Throughout the country, makers and movers are spinning gold for their communities. As bodies made mostly of microbes, there are so many ways we can grow together. A special thanks to Asia Dorsey of Five Points Fermentation, and the organizers at the Slow Food Nations Conference, 2017.