We recently did an interview with a participant in Rochester's sharing economy, Antoinette Ena Johnson. Ena talked with us about her passion for generosity, and how the sharing economy has been influential in her life. We hope you enjoy hearing what she has to say as much as we did!
RocShare: How would you describe yourself in one-ish sentences?
Antoinette Ena Johnson: I am a naturalist with survival inclinations for the preservation of myself and those around me through healing, feeding, and protective measures. (I’m trying to be as concise as possible!)
RS: Wow that's great! Concise is good, but let’s unpack that a little: can you tell me about the healing, feeding, and protective measures (I think going into them each separately would be best)?
AEJ: So I knit, I mix oils that act as elixirs, and I grow food. I just like growing food and it just happens to be good for everyone and a useful skill for the future. I learned to knit a couple of years ago and it keeps me warm and I can make things for other people as well. Again, I just love to do it. Repeat the same story and replace it with mixing oils. Something I learned how to do, it protects my skin, helps heal wounds, and is multi-purpose. I also get to share my skill/product with others.
RS: You have the skill of letting yourself do what you love. Are those three things how you support yourself? Or are they just hobbies? Or something in-between?
AEJ: I would say both. Gardening is like an unseen savings, and this was the first year, so the investment was high, but it will pay for itself. Knitting is pure cash. Yarn is cheap, freely acquired, or apart of the cost, so the production is a mix of hobby (I would just as easily make something for myself) and income, as I charge whatever I want. The elixirs have a smaller profit margin. I make between .50 and $3.00 per elixir I sell, between how much I personally consume, give away as samples, and give away in general. But it's worth it in that the price of the product, cost included, covers all the others, so it is basically free for me.
RS: It's awesome that you are able to use the things you love like that. So, how are you engaged in the sharing economy? I mean, growing your own food is a given, but I'm also interested in how much of your business ends up being non-monetary (gifting, barter, etc)?
AEJ: As of now, I am mostly on the giving end. If I see a need, I try to fulfill it. Other people see when I need something and either give me things when they have them or only charge their overhead. I would love to connect with more people who either need things or have something I could use. In fact the other day, a guy I used to work with kept his eye out of for some yarn for me and I ended up getting around 300lbs of yarn, twine, beads, and thread! I didn't need it all, so I gave some to all my knitting friends, donated some to my local resource center, and am still giving some away.
RS: Wow, that’s awesome!
AEJ: But my friend was the awesome one, he watched out for months for that yarn he found. I gave him an elixir in return.
RS: RocShare definitely talks about creating a culture of generosity and it sounds like you are living in one! Do you have any ideas as to how that happened? Did you seek it out, did you create it, did you stumble upon it?
AEJ: It starts with you. The more I give, the more I get. I think people can recognize it when they see it, and if they can't then you just move on. Keep an open heart, trust people, and be attentive.
RS: I was wondering how this community formed? Is this a neighborhood thing? Or is it your friend group? Coworkers?
AEJ: I'm not sure, I guess it just kind of happened? It depends, it happens everywhere. If you share with the right people, or they see you sharing with others, they are more inclined to share as well.
AEJ: I'm sure you've had to experience the same thing?
RS: Yes, definitely! One of the challenges of the sharing economy is that many people have experienced community like that, but creating it intentionally is difficult.
AEJ: I suppose defining it may take away from the generosity...or the genuineness of it.
RS: That's definitely a risk! If you formalize the love right out of sharing, it doesn't work anymore. But a little bit of formalization can help open the sharing economy up to people that might not be part of it otherwise. It's a fine line.
AEJ: That's true, plus those that are already open and participating in sharing communities may help ease others in. I feel like I am consistent teaching people the meaning of sharing by both doing and explaining it.
RS: Teaching by example! Do you see a need for more sharing? In your community, in Rochester, or in a specific group?
AEJ: I think everyone should be sharing in some way! It helps open communication, trust, support, and so much more. It's a matter of doing it and helping others do it.
RS: I agree! How did you start? How were you first introduced to these ideas and practices?
AEJ: Maybe because my mom is very generous, even when she doesn't have much. She always got so much back in return. That and I think I was taught and shown many of these principles in church growing up.
RS: That's almost exactly how I would have answered that question!
AEJ: ...And Oprah!
RS: I think generous community has been a part of the black community in America for a long time, and an important part of the Christian church historically.
RS: Do you have any other interesting examples of sharing in your life or community?
AEJ: Probably a thousand, but at the moment none come to mind. I can say that I get a lot of "gifts." Things people don't want anymore and so they give them to me, as I have a habit of making a use for everything. In return, I do the same for others. If someone tries on a dress that I have and it looks better on them then on me, then I just give it to them. Oh, that reminds me- clothing swaps. Both are great ways of reusing and recycling clothes.
RS: Oh yes, definitely! Do you organize your own? We hope to organize a big one sometime.
AEJ: I haven't yet, but I might do so in January.
RS: Cool. Last question! If you were to give the world one piece of advice, what would it be?
AEJ: Don't judge other people. Hear what they have to say and don't make assumptions. And have patience.
RS: Wonderful. Anything else you wanted to say before we are done?
AEJ: Reread the above carefully!
RS: Alright! Thank you so much Ena!