- Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems
The Medusa General Store, in collaboration with numerous farmers and a supportive community, propose bring the community together to discuss and investigate the potential community benefit to developing a Maker Space for local farmers and small businesses in our region. This project will serve as the first step in a larger project to boost sustainable economic development in our largely agricultural region.
The Maker Movement, a grassroots initiative that has inspired everyone from community activists to our President (the White House announced it’s own Maker Faire this year!), proposes that everyone can and should have the opportunity to design and create, to be builders, hackers and innovators, not just consumers. From 3D printers and robotics to DIY transportation and sustainable technology, the Make movement is inspiring communities to create and explore together with promising outcomes.
Surprisingly, while the Makers have left their mark on organizations from big business to education, and inspired designers, young and old, it tends to be an urban movement. We think now’s the time to change that: we want to reach out to our community and design a maker space that promises to support our small farmers, especially in a region that has not yet recovered from a recession economy. Farmers are, after all, the very first “makers” and have longed thrived on their ingenuity and entrepreneurship. Our version could include an extensive resource library, a workshop with relevant tools and a space for sharing ideas and collaborating with other farmers and small businesses. It could precede a complementary effort to build a full scale rural business incubator in our region.
We plan to develop several education and outreach workshops in the four town region that makes up Albany County’s hill town community, introducing the concept of a Maker Space, sharing success stories and soliciting feedback about what might be the most useful design for a sustainable agriculture maker space. We are also planning to develop two different survey instruments, one aimed directly at the farmers and producers who might make good use of the space, and another aimed at the rest of our community that queries the types of on-farm and value added products that might be developed in our own region by Maker Space participants.
We would then hold a community conference, inviting farmers and residents to share in the results of our analysis, and based on those results, identify a workable plan for action.
Project objectives from proposal:
We are interested in identifying the community’s needs with regard to small farmer and rural business development. Specifically, we are interested in understanding to what degree providing resources, space and tools to the farming community will allow for more creative expression of entrepreneurship in our region. Is there evidence that a Maker Space would help to ignite more small farm and business development in our region? What would a proposed space look like? What kinds of tools, resources and services would be most useful to our budding small farming sector?
This feasibility study is attempting to answer these questions, via direct outreach and education meetings with residents, through self-administered questionnaires, and by inviting our community to brainstorm a plan for the future.
Our strategy combines education workshops, surveys and outreach to our four town community.
Our objectives and matching methods for this study are as follows:
* Develop and implement a series of education and outreach events that will provide a working knowledge of the benefits of a Maker Space. There are four townships, Berne, Knox, Westerlo and Rensselaerville, within our south western Albany County hilltown region, with numerous unincorporated hamlets within them; we have tentatively planned for 6, to make them as geographically accessible to residents as possible.
* Develop and execute two self-administered questionnaires. One will be aimed specifically as farmers and farmer producers querying their needs with regard to space and resources. Do they need space for designing and constructing? (For example, a local farmer is interested in developing low cost sustainable hives for his native bee honey business.) Do they need a space for connecting and networking and problem solving collaboratively, such as what the old Grange model used to provide? Do they need assistance with creative ways to educate consumers or identify funding?
The second will be aimed at our region’s residents, focused on what the types of businesses that are missing from our region, and would be supported by local residents should they be located closer to home. We are interested in identifying how we can make it easier on our residents to choose local products and services.
More specifically, we are interested at getting at the specific variable: is there a perceived need for a resource like a MakerSpace as one viable avenue towards economic development, and specifically as a tool to boost small farming productivity? Is it dependent on the kind of space we create? Does the particular township influence the support of a space? Are there other variables that will affect the perceived need for a space?
We plan to distribute the questionnaire in a paper version, as well as electronically. Access to broadband is another struggle and we are interested in ensuring the widest possible participation.
See attachments for draft of survey tool. An introductory letter will accompany the paper survey as well as the online tool, offering information about this project (including contact names and email addresses of the project leader), where to find additional information, and noting the schedule of events.
* Compile the results from the outreach events and the surveys into a final report. The results will be provided to our town and regional policy leaders. We will host a community conference to discuss the outcome of this study with farmers, business people, residents and policy leaders, including those from towns, county offices and our state senate.
As indicated on the accompanying attachment (NE SARE project Timeline), we plan to begin work in May, 2015.
The project will begin with the development of our education and outreach workshops. Tentatively, we will start with a focus on the current needs of our small farming community and ways in which development of a resource library and space for workshop projects might lend more sustainability and profitability. We will also explore any similar models available throughout the country, including both rural models, and those urban models which may lend themselves to replication in rural areas.
We will also identify factors that will lead towards greatest success, focusing on the following questions:
* What kinds of tools should be available?
* Is the critical mass for involvement? What would that critical mass be?
* Is this a volunteer funded project, or can we secure funds through local and regional government agencies? (Recent conversations with our Albany County Executive’s Office suggest that they are interested in funding projects in the hilltowns.)
* Are there unique characteristics of our region that make a MakerSpace more or less likely to succeed? How do we encourage or mitigate those characteristics?
*What will it take to get the most buy-in from surrounding farmers?
We anticipate scheduling workshops in October and November, near the end of our harvest season, when farmers have more time to devote to these projects. Questionnaires, informed both from the outreach workshops, and through investigation of similar projects, will be available by December, and completed by February. Data analysis will begin by February 15, 2016.
We anticipate a spring community conference to release the results of data analysis, review any new information, and facilitate community workshops designed to identify the next steps. During this conference we will explore the results of the initial outreach workshops, questionnaires and research. As this is the customary time for festivals in our region (perhaps originally due to the amount of maple producers!), we think this would be the best time to release the results of our study to the widest audience.
Our farmers will be participants in this project from the start. Outreach workshops will be widely publicized, both through our collaborating partners, such as the Helderberg Hilltowns Association (HHA), through our town boards and their newsletters, through posters and promotion materials, and through our local papers.
Final results will be made available specifically during the community conference in spring of 2016, which we plan to promote heavily. Moreover, we have devised this proposal with the support of several regional policy leaders, and we are planning to disseminate the final report to them as well. Town boards and our local community groups will also be provided with copies of the final report. An electronic copy of the final report,as well as materials used during all of our workshops will be made available online as well. Finally, In order to assure adequate dissemination of the results to the wider, we will be sending out releases to our local and regional papers.