At a meeting in a little town in the middle of nowhere, a group of people met to discuss how to make it easier to farm in their town.

“If we could sell what we raise, life would be a lot easier,” commented one member of the group.

“Yea, I found out that we would have to spend a lot of money just to make fudge from my farm,” said another. “ Because I have a private well and private septic, the rules are much stiffer than for those people who are on town water. They’re afraid I’m going to blow up my septic tank with the extra fat.”

“Doesn’t the fat stay in the fudge? “ asked another group member.

“Yea, but they don’t care. They said I use fresh milk, but I’d still have to have my septic pumped and tested, water tested and grease trap put on my sink, just like I was a restaurant.”

“I know. I just want to roast some pine nuts to sell, but I’d need to do the same thing. It’s just ridiculous,”  was added by another group member.  “If we only had a commercial kitchen.”

And so North Country Sustainability Center was born. Starting with a germ of a question in September 2010, it was incorporated by December that year, and received IRS 501(c)(3) status the following June.  From that conversation about the need for a shared commercial kitchen, grew the commercial micro-creamery, 4H exhibition center, educational and community gardens, arts center, industrial arts center for woodworking and sewing and space for dog training.  How does all that fit together? Because there happens to be a foreclosed riding stable adjacent to a foreclosed furniture factory, all on acreage and near the center of town.  The dog training and kitchen/creamery rents could support the upkeep of the basic facility and the shared facilities would allow new businesses to start.

Sound too good to be true? So did I, but then it all started rolling. The buildings we had in mind were more affordable than we thought. Inspection showed that they weren’t beyond use and the soil tests came back clean enough for gardens. The acreage was enough to allow us exemption from town zoning restrictions and the land itself was zoned for use as an agricultural zone.  Artists and farmers began to come out of the woods to tell us that they would use our facility, if we could make it happen? Soon we had 24 individuals and businesses waiting to use the buildings. But we didn’t own them yet.

We started teaching classes wherever we could find space, but the plan required the whole region to participate, not just a few neighboring towns.  We didn’t know where the teaching spaces were in other towns, so we needed to find a place to “call home.” Low and behold there was an empty school building we could use, if we paid for the utilities and furnace maintenance.  And so, we opened our Artist’s outlet, called “The Porch,” and dreamed of a farmer’s market oulet.  A little inquiry made it possible for us to create that shared outlet, “The Farmer’s Porch,” and now people could get fresh meat, eggs and baked goods, even when the farmers market wasn’t running. We also had space for a Farmer’s Market inside for the winter, so we started that too.

The artists began asking about gallery space, and since we had an empty wall, we looked into it. A group of people came together, donated energy, time and money to prepare and paint the hallway and “The SchoolHouse Gallery” was born.  It’s now in the middle of its second show.  Now we’ve asked the town to let us have the remainder of the school to add to the gallery, have an art classroom and weaving studio, puppet theater and community meeting space. All this has been done with volunteer effort.

No one has gotten paid yet, except for the dozen or more vendors who sell from “The Porch,” the five farmers who sell from the “Farmer’s Porch,” and the artists who have exhibited at the Gallery.  Those of us who are negotiating space, doing the maintenance, seeking funding, doing the PR and teaching the classes are donating that effort. But we can’t keep this up, and we still don’t have the money for the buildings because we’ve used it up in feeding the dinosaur of a furnace in the old elementary school.

So, I come to you to ask that you help us. This has the potential to be a model for any town/city in the country.  It’s not at all unique except that everything seems to have fallen into place, so far. Our plan is to rebuild the local economy by teaching people how to take care of themselves and their homes again, find community and make money off the skills they already have, because we all share the start up facilities. Once a business outgrows us, they have a proven track record, and product, to secure conventional funding.  We’re an incubator, for a lot of different businesses, not just food.

Our land is ideal for solar power, and is adjacent to a mill pond that we could eventually use for micro-hydropower.  We’ve had inquiries about people wanting to lease space for their greenhouses, cider press, and wood fired oven.  We’ve had blacksmiths, carpenters and brickmasons agree to help rehab the buildings and teach about their skills at the same time.  We have more than 50 members already, and we’re only getting started.  Many people are following us on Facebook, so we know we’re being watched from afar, as well.

A lot of people think this can’t happen, but it is. It would happen faster if could buy those buildings, and pay some of our volunteers so they could give us more time.  Please help with our “Ingredients for a New Economy,” at www.indiegogo.com/NCSCIngredients.   We are working to build a food hub where people can learn to grow their own food, find locally raised food, and build a new “local ag infrastructure,” which will employ people close to home and “connect the food dots.”

If you want more information, please visit www.northcountrysustain.org or check out my blog at www.growingfuture.wordpress.com.  This isn’t rocket science, but there has been a lot of luck involved so far. Help us get past the “fortunate” part to make it a reality – building a sustainable economy and community by working with the human and physical resources we already have. Then, we’ll be glad to help others do the same in their areas. Please help us by visiting the Indiegogo site. Thank you.

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