- Courtesy Of Henri Bynx
- Henri Bynx in the garden
The Ishtar Collective, which bills itself as Vermont's only organization for sex workers, has started a farming operation that's feeding people in need.
Henri Bynx and J. Leigh Oshiro-Brantly created the Ishtar Collective just before the pandemic started, in January 2020. Sex workers themselves, they wanted to organize and push for policy change in the state, fight sex trafficking, and destigmatize their chosen line of work. COVID-19 derailed those goals temporarily and put the nascent org in "crisis control with members of the sex-worker community" who were struggling financially, said Bynx.
"The pandemic really highlighted an already existing disparity between people who have enough and people who don't," Bynx said.
Many of the latter were sex workers whom organizers knew, single parents, people of color, formerly incarcerated folks or members of the LGBTQ community. Bynx, who had spent time working in agriculture, decided to start a garden and give away food to those who need it — "no red tape."
"We did toss around the idea of calling it 'Hookers Who Hoe,' but I don't know if Vermont's ready for that," Oshiro-Brantly quipped.
The collective's Free Food Garden Project takes up about an acre in Barre Town next to the Thunder Road International Speedbowl. Thus far, it's fed nearly 20 households, according to Bynx.
"I quickly learned through the farms that I was working on that it's not enough to produce ethically sourced food if you're going to perpetuate a cycle that says poor people can't have it," Bynx said.
Part of the project, Bynx said, is to "demystify the image of the sex worker" for neighbors.
"You know, 'Hey, we're here. We're not scary,'" Bynx said. "'Would you like some lettuce?'"
The project is now one of about 60 vying for grants from Expensify.org, the charitable arm of a San Francisco-based software company. Voting is open through July 26; the top 10 vote-getters will receive $100,000.
Bynx says the cash would help the collective continue its work and provide for those in need, even as the pandemic ebbs.
"Poverty is still real; wealth disparity is still very real," Bynx said. "If we cannot look to our federal government to fill in these holes and take care of its people, then who else is going to show up? We can."