by Paul Wolf
It was Labor Day weekend when a simple lesson in economics on Twitter from Rainbow Cooperative got really interesting, really fast:
FUN FACT: If you bought a $25.00 rainbow membership in 2000, that’s 34.94 in 2016 dollars! It’s a pretty good investment!
– Rainbow Co-op (@RainbowCoOp) September 2, 2016
What followed was a string of responses on inflation, raccoons and kombucha— from Rainbow TO Rainbow – that had me and everyone around me complimenting the organic grocer’s head tweeter (click through the embedded tweet above and you can read the stream).
That would be Patrick Jerome, Community Outreach Director for, as he likes to call it, “The Rainbow.”
“I’m a standup comedian,” he says to explain his humorous take on a serious issue: health. “I think people pay attention when stuff is funny. A lot of what we talk about here can be scary, so I like to liven it up a little bit.”
And liven he does.
Jerome’s disarming take on GMO’s, tofu and seitan is creating a culture of new shoppers at least willing to listen and give Rainbow’s products and people a try.
A Canton native and 2004 Millsaps College graduate, Jerome began working for Rainbow ten years ago. At first he was a part-timer (“just to get the discount,” he told me) but after Hurricane Katrina, his full-time employer was flooded and he approached the co-op for a 40 hour-a-week gig.
While Jerome has worked the stock crew and, for the longest time, produce, his Community Outreach Director position came about a year and a half ago. The title comes with the responsibility of public relations, advertising and event planning as well as visits to local farms to ensure their growing practices meet Rainbow’s standards.
Jerome is using his position to help dismiss the stereotypes of the “health food industry.” “It’s gross, and bland,” he says of the reputation he believes health food inflicted on itself in 70’s and 80’s. “You had everyone thinking ‘almonds, kale and quinoa — good for you’ — equals boring.”
And then there was the big push to tell people what health food wasn’t. “Instead of focusing on that, [let’s focus on] what’s positive about it. [Comedy] keeps it from being intimidating. We have a lot to overcome.”
Add to that a push to “eat local,” one Jerome believes will make us — and our planet — a bit healthier. “People don’t understand what goes into big farming operations to get food from there to here,” he explains. “If we order lettuce from California, it goes from one place to another, traveling thousands of miles, putting off tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. By contrast, if we order from Salad Days Farms in Flora, they load 60 cases on a van and travel 15 miles. These things add up. In the big picture, it builds in a hurry, causing a ripple effect. So what’s good for you is also good for the environment.”
When he’s not saving the planet, Jerome can be seen — and heard — around town, doing standup comedy at places like Offbeat, Miketown Comedy Club, Hal & Mal’s, One Block East and Fenians and, occasionally, in Hattiesburg, too.
What’s in his act? “I don’t like to say ‘life in Mississippi’ because people have a specific idea of what that is. It’s really about a modern person who grew up here and how they don’t always fit in. It’s the usual ‘things that don’t seem weird until you think about them.’
He also writes for his website, PearlRiverFlow.com, an often irreverent but always creative observation on life. He chronicles his explorations of an underappreciated stretch of “wild space” along the Pearl River between High Street and Fortification Street, “a place you can go to, somewhat be removed from civilization.”
For all of his humor and levity, Jerome, a board member of the Mississippi Humanist Society, has a thoughtful signpost to point to on this journey called life. “Do what you can while you’re here, making sure you are improving other’s lives a bit… There’s work to do and it’s a long haul to improve anything.”
Meet Patrick and other co-op’ers at “The Rainbow’s” Annual Meeting on Sunday, October 9, at Rainbow at 1pm. “It’s a blast and we have a lot of fun,” he says. “We have a great potluck – and beer. And if you’ve got an idea, this is the best place to bring it up. As a co-op we have a mechanism by which you can be heard.”