I’ve been trying to find the words that will bring people together to grow this project. Whenever I try to explain it, there’s one word that comes up repeatedly – common.  Not that this project is common, in the derogatory sense. It’s that what it has to offer was once “common knowledge.”

Common has come to mean plain or ordinary, as if that makes it less desirable.  But to me, common means “frequently found.”  However, this project focuses on things that are no longer easy to find – common sense, common knowledge, common denominators and common ground.  In that way, it transcends race, class or religion.  It is based upon the idea that there are things that are “common” to us all – food, air, water, and shelter.  Beyond that, everything else is extra.

But since the 1950’s we’ve gotten so fixated on the “extra,” that we lost track of the common skills that were taught from generation to generation.  Practices such as cooking, gardening, preserving, fishing, building, and repairing were once common activities in most homes around the world. It was the rare family that could afford to hire “a hand,” to fix things around the house or farm. It was part of being family.

Those common practices, including the traditional arts, were ways to bring neighbors together to maintaining the community.  Barn raisings, haying, quilting and shucking bees, were all ways to remain connected, and share in the work at hand. It was common place in rural America, and rural America was nearly everywhere.   Now, rural America is isolated from the arts, culture, and in many ways, the attention of most of the country.  People focus on urban areas as places that are blighted, and indeed they are. But solutions for those worthy areas are not necessarily transferable to rural America.

So what do rural communities have in common?  Large spaces between amenities; neighbors that are a bit of a walk, or drive away, delays in service returns when disasters hit.   They also need for opportunities that cities do not need.  Do cities need a place where farmers can create saleable cheese?  Do they have private well and septic systems that affect what is legal or not?  In areas where livestock are present, community activities are based upon seasonal changes and “chore time.”  These are the common considerations in the country.

But increasingly, the young people have moved from those small towns without learning that common knowledge that was celebrated in their hometowns.  But as “City foods,” become areas of concern, ie. high fat, high sodium, and food quality issues, they are looking for that food and information that was once common when they were growing up, only to find it missing.

They seek out others who share their concerns or interests and join CSA’s (community supported agriculture,) food coops, and farm shares, but often lack the understanding that quality is often higher, but variety is not always available.  Schedules are not as flexible, and respect is demanded of all members.  This was once common sense but unfortunately that is losing its frequency as well.

This brings us to opportunities that are available to these rural areas, if they are willing to develop them. Rather than long for a more suburban “civilized” lifestyle, they can embrace the common knowledge, common sense and sense of community that takes its roots from the word common.  By nurturing and developing common facilities for shared activities, these towns can maximize on their open space, capitalize on their knowledge and skill and bring that common sense, back to its former status.

That is what we’re doing at NCSC – developing a Commons.  A place for cooking and food based business, a place to learn and share arts, fine and practical.  A place for people to learn to grow and “put up” food, while others teach and supplement their income from their experience. And a place where traditional activities that celebrate the land, community and the food of life are held in a shared, common space.

We are not trying to be common, as in lowly, but honor the term as it refers to  universal.  This is the means for rebuilding our regional culture, and once we’re proven the concept, we’ll be glad to make it Common Knowledge, again.  What to join in the Common Good?

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