Matt Funicello: From the Farmers’ Market to the Public Arena
Matt Funicello, sitting near the entrance of his Rockhill Bakehouse Café in downtown Glens Falls, greeting every customer by name, must be the most genial revolutionary ever.
But he’s a revolutionary nonetheless. The bombs he throws, though, are questions and arguments that challenge conventional wisdom about politics, the economy and what constitutes a good life.
Now Funicello and a remarkably large and enthusiastic number of supporters are ready for the fireworks.
Last month, Funicello announced that he is a candidate to become the Green Party’s nominee for Congress to represent the 21stDistrict, which includes most of the Adirondack Park and the North Country.
Funicello is a self-described, self-educated member of the working class.
“How often do you see someone who is not a millionaire running for Congress, without corporate funding, with a chance to win?” he asks. “This election is a rare opportunity. It’s an open seat, in a district where 38% of the voters are registered neither as Republicans nor Democrats. And we have enough independent media to carry the message to those voters.”
Both major parties rely too heavily upon funding from corporations to represent the interests of the individual, consumers, workers, small business owners and small farmers, he says.
Given that relationship, he says, it’s no accident that corporations receive welfare while workers struggle to pay bills and go without health care.
It’s what he calls “an upside down pyramid.”
He doesn’t expect to over-turn the system. “We can’t unplug completely,” he says.
But, he adds, “we can build an alternative political system, just as we have an alternative economic system through farmers’ markets, food co-ops and local breweries.”
The analogy between grass roots politics and locally sourced foods is hardly glib.
Funicello was present at the creation of the modern slow food movement and has been among its most visible local proponents for decades.
In 1987, he and his brother Josh began working with Michael and Wendy London’s Rock Hill bakehouse in their Greenwich, New York kitchen.
Within a few years, he was an owner, and moved the bakehouse to its current location in South Glens Falls.
“We’re a small wholesale bread bakery specializing in organic, naturally-leavened, hearth-baked breads. We started selling our breads in the Union Square Greenmarket twenty-five years ago and now sell to small markets and restaurants throughout the Adirondacks,” he says.
Rockhill also licenses its methods and recipes to bakeries throughout the nation.
In 2005, Funicello opened the Rockhill Bakehouse Café, which, in the years since then, has become a local center not only for food but for political activism, films, music and art.
Funicello has learned that if given a choice, people can be educated to make the better one.
And as he watched more and more people come to local farmers’ markets for their food, he became aware that the simple act of buying local vegetables, breads and meat had a political dimension. Communities were strengthened and local farms were supported.
Funicello has always had an independent view of the world.
“I went to the University of Ottawa for one year, and I decided I could get a better, less structured, less formulaic education on my own. I came to understand how the structure functioned, but I viewed it as a cynic. As a small businessowner, I knew that I was stuck with taxes, fees and regulations while corporations got the breaks. But in 1991, I became the step-father of a two year old girl, and in 1994 my son was born. Rather than remaining a cynic, I became someone who wants to help bring about positive political change,” he explains.
Funicello has been active in the presidential campaigns of Ralph Nader, whom he expects will endorse him, and Howie Hawkins’s campaigns for governor.
He has also testified before New York State officials on behalf of a universal, single-payer health care system.
He himself is without health insurance, and he is unable to pay for health insurance for his employees, much as he would like to.
His Green Party candidacy, he says, offers voters a “a principled political choice, based on the issues.”
As he himself might ask, if people can learn to choose the better bread, why not the better candidate?