Tuesday, June 21, 2011
For several years, I have seen the unfulfilled potential in my family’s four wooded acres in Tracy City, Tennessee. However, lacking the skills and knowledge to bring that potential out—or the money to hire those who did—we have instead waged a constant battle with decay and disrepair. As an example, the water situation is particularly frustrating: when the well works at all, it gives about fifteen minutes of water at a time, and we have no running water in the house. While taking an Ecological Design course for my minor in Environmental Studies at Berea College, a small liberal arts school in Kentucky, I clarified a sense that I needed to take responsibility for knowing how to turn my ambitions for this land into a reality. For this reason, I chose to spend two months as an intern at Yestermorrow this summer. My primary goal is to develop a preliminary design for a house to be constructed on an existing foundation on our property. In addition, I hope to begin acquiring the skills and knowledge to work on the design I come up with, and to make repairs on our existing home.
Toward that end, I have already taken the Beginning Furniture Making course, and will also take Home Design/Build. Through my classes and work trade, I have begun to feel competent in areas such as woodworking, plumbing, gardening, and tool use and maintenance, for the first time in my life. As a woman from a low-income background, I have found my experience at Yestermorrow particularly empowering. As a member of a close-knit, but economically-distressed community, in the beautiful and remarkably biodiverse Cumberland Plateau, I find the worldview espoused by Yestermorrow and the culture of Vermont an inspiring and practical long-term alternative to the path of “progress” in my region. As a non-traditional student, I am glad to be part of a learning environment which helps me take responsibility for designing my own future and that of my community.
We work quickly and quietly, politely declining questions about our “booth.” Are they going to fly away in it? Does it generate electricity? The crowd is jovial, yet uneasy, circling gently as we place rounded plywood panels next to one another and hoist canoe–shaped trusses overhead. Finally, with the help of YM accomplice Kathy Meyer, set-up is complete and the contraption, though unusual, is a recognizable booth. The Yestermorrow kiosk, designed and built by the Kate Stephenson of yore as part of a Lightweight structures class, acts as a wonderful subsample of the YM ethos: in every structure lies an opportunity to create, to illicit feedback and dialogue, to call into question the everyday patterns – in this case rows of standard canvas market booths – that define our lives. From this vantage point we interacted with lots of great folks, including longtime community friends and curious visitors from afar. We also enjoyed some yummy tamales from Grace’s Tamales.
Many fun conversations were had this sunny Saturday, and we look forward to our once-a-month visits to the market this summer season. A big thanks to all the great folks at the Waitsfield Farmers Market for putting on a fabulous community event, and for welcoming nonprofits so warmly. See ya next time!
Malena & Jess
Thursday, June 09, 2011
The discussion between Jesse and Beet Street Gardens began as a request for a simple garden shed. By facilitating a holistic design process, Jesse's project reaches a broader community including a variety of partner organizations and their staff, residents and volunteers for a series of meetings and site visits. After an initial meeting the project quickly developed into something more substantial including a Permaculture assessment for the community garden at their flagship site, the Sasha Bruce House, and a versatile garden "cabana" constructed mostly out of reused materials. When completed the cabana may include a composting center, picnic and grilling facilities, veggie washing station, tool storage, herb drying, garden starts, information boards and more.
Here's what Jesse has to say about this very cool project:
"During early conversations about the shed project, it became clear that the new structure could serve a number of purposes beyond just storing garden tools. The initial design charette was attended by about a dozen people from several organizations. We brainstormed and walked around, mapping and making observations. Administrators from the house expressed the desire for food prep equipment for frequent BBQs and a place to have outdoor, group learning activities. They also expressed concerns about the high-visibility to the surrounding neighborhood, and some safety concerns. The Beet Street gardeners wanted a place to wash fresh veggies and a greenhouse for early-season planting. The location of the garden was a good distance from the areas where residents tended to congregate, so there was some disconnect there, and linking the two became an essential goal.
"It was a fruitful first meeting both for identifying a number of important constraints and existing assets, and for generating some potential design solutions. People were quite excited at the prospect of reinvigorating the property. I am currently working on the first design iteration through site mapping, listing goals, assets and constraints, doing bubble charts, analysis and assessment summaries and 3D modeling on SketchUp, and am just getting ready to send out the first set of images for feedback."
Congratulations Jesse, great work!
Sunday, June 05, 2011
I just got back from two fascinating days at the first ever Slow Living Summit in Brattleboro, VT. Designed to bring together a variety of people from business, education, government and non-profit organizations from New England and beyond, the Summit was an intensive exploration of ways to build healthy, thriving local economies while encouraging, mentoring and supporting a new generation of activists, entrepreneurs and engaged citizens. It was also scheduled as part of the lead up to the 10th annual Strolling of the Heifers, a parade focused on highlighting our agricultural heritage and featuring scores of heifers ambling up the town’s historic Main Street, along with many, many farmers, future farmers, cows, bulls, horses, goats, poultry, floats, tractors, bands, clowns, and much more. We were able to set up our Yestermorrow kiosk at the Live Green Expo which is held in conjunction with the parade.
I was intrigued by the idea of the Slow Living Summit partly because of my recent interest in Slow Food and Slow Money, recent initiatives to organize community based renewable energy projects, and the overall concept of how through our everyday actions and purchasing decisions we can help support a local economy rooted in sustainability. The Summit brought together participants from all over New England interested in exploring these themes, through five tracks: Food and Agriculture, Energy and Resources, Economy/Business/Finances/Entrepreneurship, Education for Sustainability, and Quality of Life. In addition, we heard from keynote speakers Chuck Ross, the Vermont Secretary of Agriculture, Gary Hirschberg from Stonyfield Farm, Christine Bushway from the Organic Trade Association and Bill McKibben from 350.org.
Over the course of the 2-day Summit, I met a whole host of interesting folks. One was Leah Cook, whose story and family business, Crown of Maine, was really inspiring. Starting out as a small family potato farm in northern Maine, their business has grown to distribute a wide variety of locally grown products from 150+ Maine farms to stores, restaurants, and buying clubs across the state. Another was Jesse Laflamme, who runs Pete and Gerry's organic egg farm in NH and who talked about how the egg farming industry is consolidated in an amazingly small number of (mega) farms in this country, and why buying organic eggs makes a difference. I also heard from Andrew Meyer from Vermont Soy and Vermont Natural Coatings talking about some of the many changes and innovations happening in Hardwick, VT around the creation of an integrated local food system. It's particularly inspiring to me to see so many young people involved in farming, entrepreneurship, and new ways of thinking about how to support local economies. In many ways these are the same sorts of people who are drawn to what we're doing at Yestermorrow, whether they want to know how to create a piece furniture, a farm, a landscape or a house. It's nice to know there are other folks out there working on these many related issues, and that there's a new forum for discussion of these topics.
To read summaries of many of the panels and keynotes from the Summit, check out the Slow Living Summit blog at http://slowlivingsummit.wordpress.com/.
-Kate Stephenson, Executive Director