How are we supposed to "change the world," if all the funders want to see conventional approaches to a problem? Conventional works, but if we are going to manifest substantial change quickly, I believe we need to "think out of the box."
Rural areas are full of small farmers who know how to grow and prepare food. Many of them have great recipes that could be mass produced, but they don't have access facilities to make it possible. Farms have wells and septic systems which bureaucrats have decided are much more dangerous than municipal utilities. (As I type this, Worcester, MA is on its third day of "boil water," order, due to a water line break.)
Dairy farmers, like myself, are faced with raising grain prices, and constant requests from people to allow them buy milk, cheese, yogurt or ice cream from us, but I can't say yes.
I can't afford the equipment or the testing, to make that happen. But if we could create a location that people could share, then it would be possible to grow these small businesses and meet the growing demand for our products. One of our potential users makes a nearly allergen-free (98%) ice cream, using products from her farm. She has a long list of families and school districts that want her product, but she can't afford the facilities, but she could use ours.
Speaking of kids with special needs, many times they require special diets, or they benefit from hippo-therapy or other animal-assisted therapy. Finding facilities that are available and affordable is a challenge, depending upon the concentration of population. But the dogs that provide this assistance, and the people who love them, often participate in other dog activities that need large spaces, another premium in an urban area. What if we created a place where these provider dogs can serve their clients, and the owners could increase their income through training, clinics or just plain fun?
Looking at what else is needed in our area, we have discovered that young people lack the knowledge to know good meat from bad meat, to cook unless the directions are on the side of a box, or how to sew on a button. These skills, and many others, were once taught by parents and grandparents, but as "country folk," became more shamed for being rural, they focused more on the consumer skills that commercials promote -- buy, buy, buy. Instead of an economy based on the corner hardware store or mercantile where you could get the basic supplies to make into a finished product, consumers now look to someone else to build, bake or create a product for them.
They became reliant on contractors, rather than their own skills, to take care of their homes, their families and themselves. What's the problem with that? Nothing, if you are the contractor, tailor or caterer. But if you don't have the money to purchase these services, and you don't have the skills to complete the work yourself, what do you do?
Upon examining what else is needed in our region, we discovered a myriad of talented performers, musicians and artists who want the quality of life in the country, but lack a means of making a living. We also find willing audience members driving 20 minutes to 2 hours to see a performance, or visit a museum, burning fossil fuels and supporting someone else's economy, along their travels.
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There's room in our plan for the artists too, and others will come to them, if we make it worth their while to do so.
This big project has such potential, but it's so big it doesn't fit into the conventional funding model. It's feasible to reuse an antique mill building, with an existing water power source, to create this project. It's possible for us to create a new economy based upon car-sharing, green transportation and enhanced mass transit, if we make it worthwhile for that to happen. It's also extremely viable to take this project to other places within the nation, not just in our area.
When asked "Where's your audience?" I'm forced to say "Whoever wants to come." When asked where the "seed money" comes from, my answer is small donations and membership fees. We have a few larger donors, but they aren't on the massive scale people in philanthropy think of, because there is no one like that in this area. These answers make the donors nervous because they sound like we haven't thought this through -- we have.
Do we have to wait for the government to think of this? If so, the building will be gone and the funding will be at the discretion of elected officials. Do we wait for an urban area to treat these problems? They won't deal with the same issues we will, because they don't have the producers we have. Do we give up? I can't. Not with kids waiting for healthy food, 4H kids looking for a place to show and learn, artists seeking exhibit space, and curious neighbors seeking a place to learn.
It's too good to give up on. But it needs the help of others who see the logic, the vision and understand that sometimes change comes from a different direction than you expect. But along with that new path comes great possibilities and wonderful discoveries. How adventurous are you?
Do you know someone who needs special foods? a place to grow a food based business? a child on the "spectrum?" a friend who wants to learn to knit, crochet, sew, can or sell their crafts? Do you wonder how you'd rebuild your home if a "superstorm" hit your neighborhood? Would you like to be able to find locally produced, sustainable raised food in the same place you went to a concert, or told a story? If so, then give a dollar or two for each person you know that fits those questions.
Tell your friends, your twitter followers, and the twitter folks you follow. Shout it to the hills, but help us get this project started so people don't have to wait for someone else. We've all been waiting a long time, and I for one, am tired of watching people give up.
Global warming is here, but if we can share facilities, transportation, and knowledge we can build a stronger future.
The government can do some things, but education and community can do a lot too. North Country Sustainability Center is a tool in the climate change toolkit. Help us make the tool kit stronger, so that others can build their own tool sets for their regions. Please give and share.