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It’s so frustrating to see so many stories about people feeling hopeless, homes being lost, and buildings being vandalized.  The media, the people, and even the government calling for ways to make things better, and yet we sit. Here we have an idea that can light a candle for many people, locally and nationally, but it’s not “out of the box enough,” and too small scale for others to consider.
What if “outside of the box,” is not what hasn’t been invented yet, but those things we let fall through the cracks?  We certainly need to look toward alternative energies that will make it safer to use nuclear power, ways to get carbon out of the atmosphere, and protect our oceans.  But what do we do while we seek these wonders?  If we believe the media we all sit in envy of our neighbor’s new car, or strive for a five bathroom house, but what about those people who are trying to hold onto the house and afford the maintenance they know is coming? They can afford the mortgage payment, but not the roof repair at the same time.  How do we make our lives better today while we work toward tomorrow?

Here at North Country Sustainability Center, Inc. we are finding such a catch 22.  The skills we want to offer are not sexy, but simply practical.  Isn’t it sexy to feel competent?  Doesn’t a person feel pride when they can prepare a healthy meal for their family?   What if people could learn how to fix that roof themselves? Or just learn basic safety aspects of working on a ladder? Who is going to teach them that?  Home Depot?  Maybe, along with a sales pitch.  Lowe’s? possibly, while they guide them to the “safety belt” aisle.  Here at NCSC, a person can come to a simple “home safety” class for a few dollars and meet a potential mentor in the region that they can call for some advice in the future.  They save on mileage, and save precious time, and meet others who may become friends or work buddies for a future project.
The First Lady has rightly stressed the problem of physical fitness and proper diet for our youngsters, but many people lack the skills, or the tools, to learn to cook.  If you live in an apartment with no stove, or can’t afford electricity, how do you prepare food? When you’re worried about making the time for work, how do you take the time to cook?  But what if there were a community kitchen where a person can learn to prepare food, or make a week’s worth of food to take home and feed later? What if that place employed homemakers to teach cooking and food preservation classes?  What if those people became caterers, or nutritionists, or just saved money for the family by stretching food dollars and avoiding medical costs?   That’s what we’re trying to do at NCSC.
Some of what we’re doing is thinking out of the box.  While looking at potential income for our programs we realized that there is a growing pet industry that seems to be “recession proof.” They have fewer and fewer places to practice and exhibit their animals.  The facility that we want to purchase has a riding arena that isn’t suitable for large horse shows, but would be ideal for dog shows, agility and herding trials and other animal based events. This provides people a chance to build businesses based on dog training or handling, and also helps keep people safer as they learn how to properly approach a dog, or save money by offering low cost health clinics, with the support of area veterinarians.  This strengthens our sense of community, and makes life more sustainable and happier, here in our area.
Part of my personal frustration is that we are frequently told to applying for arts funds, to promote our area artists, which we are glad to do.  But can people purchase art or craft pieces if they can’t find food?  Can people find local food when ordinances make it illegal to have livestock in town, or there are no supports for those who wish to raise livestock?  Where do the culinary arts change from “cooking” to artistic?  Where does art start when a repaired sheet turns into a quilt?  How does a fiber artist practice their talent without a place to find wool, flax or cotton?  I maintain that the arts and agriculture are inseparable. The arts were the reward from the hard work of farming, and farming made the tools for the arts.
But these are not “technological” innovations – they are just necessities.  They are not limited to one area or another  or limited to “urban” or “rural” environments.  We are thinking outside of the box by looking what was left behind as we moved forward. Those items have always important. We were just focused on the shiny new stuff in front of us and forgot that shiny things need polishing, and that old rag really does come in handy.
The other thing I don’t understand in this quandary is that funders want “three years of proven success,” and yet we can’t get started to get that track record to show.  Our tools are tried and true. It’s the combination that’s new, or is it?  Our preferred is referred to “in house” as “The Village,” because it represents the arts, the industry, the agriculture, the people and the trades that built every community in this nation.  It’s not a new idea. It’s been done for thousands of years. It’s just in a new form, using old buildings, established traditions and new technology to reach out to people to take power over their current lives, so that they can have a better future.  
To see what we’re doing, visit our website at www.northcountrysustain.org.  If you can help us purchase the buildings and operate the program while we grow, we will be ever so grateful.  IF you want more information about how we’re doing what we’re doing, keep in touch, through this blog, or through email.  We exist to show that it’s possible to build a stronger community with existing tools,  and that’s not limited to Central New England, but we have a great location to work with, if we can get it before the buildings decline any further.  Thank you for your interest, though. Let others know about NCSC and see if we can’t work together to get this “new” prototype up and thriving.  

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