There are so many problems to meet for the future, it can sometimes feel  overwhelming – climate change, increase in autism rates, obesity, hunger, gun violence, the economy… It makes me want to curl up and remember “the good old days,” – the ‘90’s.  But then I remember that those weren’t real.  That illusion of prosperity was just a facade that covered the reality of what was coming. If we’re going to continue to prosper in the future, we need to look at ways to multi-task these solutions.

I’m constantly amazed at what people take away from conversations about our “sustainability center.” Some people envision gardens on end, or dogs running amok, sheep grazing on the lawn, or cubicles of computers.  There are places that tackle the issues one at a time, but if we’re going to really make a difference, we need to look at how we combine spaces to solve multiple problems.

Preparing for an upcoming public meeting I’m trying to find the right image of our approach. So far, tapestry, quilt, and village haven’t worked, so how do I describe it? People usually start the conversation with “so what are you trying to do at NCSC?”  At this point, I make a big sigh and start explaining, “We want to provide facilities, such as a commercial kitchen and creamery, as well as studio space for practical skills and arts, so that our region’s residents can produce a saleable product.”  At this point there is a great pause as people try to envision such an endeavor.

Maybe I should make up a word. What would it need to be – community, kitchen, food, sales, arts, economy, dogs, sewing, carpentry, energy, environment, civics and youth. Taking those initials I come up with “C, K, F, S, A, E, D,S,C,E,E, C and Y.”  Got any suggestions?  But our efforts are not to try to solve any one of these problems.  It is to use these tools to address the needs of several groups.  Elders have knowledge that young people need, yet they are short on financial and spacial resources.  They often live in elder housing, with little space to teach, and they have downsized their belongs so that they have given away their tools, their sewing machines, their pots and pans.  By providing classroom space, appliances and equipment, they can make some money for themselves, meet other people, receive recognition while helping younger people learn  to save money, gain independence and possibly start a new venture themselves.  So who is the winner there?

People are unaware of the differences in fresh and store-bought food, and they have been raised to believe that someone else will do it better than they can, so they eat out, buy pre-packaged food, and gain weight and lose quality of nutrition.  But giving them access to fresh food, education about growing and preparing food, and empowering them to control their own diets saves their finances, increases their emotional and physical health, and promotes the local farms and economy. So, how do we label that?

The part that I love most, I have to confess, is the combination of 4H and dogs with sustainability.  Young people learn patience, business skills, community appreciation and gain confidence when they are involved agriculture and animals in particular.  I wanted to be in 4H when I was growing up, but there weren’t any clubs in suburban Detroit. That problem still exists in rural America, and the fairgrounds that promote them are being developed, so it’s getting harder to bring these valuable skills to our youth.

We also have a growing problem with autism in our young people. What are we going to do with these young people who look at the world so very differently?  Many of them benefit from fresh, organic or sustainably raised food, and from relationships with animals such as dogs and horses.  Can we put these populations together, or can’t we at least let them share a facility, and build a stronger future through those shared connections?  Who gets top billing?  We also need more people who are involved in animal-assisted therapy, or dog training and dog sports, to have locations where they can practice their skills?  By providing them with a location, we also increase the opportunity for exercise for people as they explore their connection with animals and have fun at the same time.  So is that physical education? therapy? agricultural education? or what?

These practical skills often grow into fine arts and amazing artistry.  We want to provide space and equipment for people to practice their craft and talent, educate others about their own talents and market the work of our region’s artists, on the same footprint of land where our cooking, animal, growing and other efforts all happen. Why not?  if the space is available, we can all help each other move to a better future.

How does climate change enter into all this? Because this facility can provide so many possibilities under one roof, or on one piece of land, we seriously put a dent into many family’s carbon footprints. By encouraging them to use natural alternatives to cleaning, growing, clothing, and more, we are increasing the number of informed consumers.  This space will also be a facility for education, environmental, economy, civic, culinary, as people from the region begin to recognize that a source exists for enrichment in their own region.  By being a model, people can travel to our facility, get inspired and take that knowledge back to their own communities and the movement grows.

What is the movement? To me it’s just a movement for the future. It’s more than environment, culture, even humanity. It’s a true holistic approach to the future. It is really what built this country. We aren’t trying to be everything to everyone. We want to provide spaces for others to follow their own dreams, whether it’s learning, or teaching, selling or buying.  Our funding will eventually come from the users, and we will increase their income as well. But we need to get that facility. We’ve lost out on four great facilities so far.  How do I explain this others so that they see the value in helping us? Suggestions? Donations? Thanks for participating in this amazing project.