Bringing Home Fresh Ideas

Kristen Baskin, a Future Generations student based in Athens, Georgia, joined the Appalachian regional residential this past September. Here’s a description of the experience in her own words:
The Future Generations Appalachia residential was interesting, insightful, well-planned, and incredibly helpful for my community in Athens, Georgia. Luke Taylor-Ide [Regional Academic Director for Appalachia] planned a residential that was so organized – meals, lodging and schedule – that we could 100% focus on our learning. I’ve been working in the field of urban gardening for a long time, and eventually started a composting business, Let Us Compost.  If Let Us Compost were a bike, the residential was a living bike shop, oiling the gears, patching the holes in the tires, straightening the bottom bracket, while as I looked back upon Athens, I could see old bike paths I’d ridden a million times, new avenues to ride, and the air all around us that feeds everything.
Future Generations is so applied that I often don’t see a gap between my business, Let Us Compost, and  my graduate school work.  Even though we had to travel for ten days to go on the residential, the alignment with work at home was spectacular, relating mostly to farms, food, community health and public policy. The residential was like a GIS layer placed on top of my community and business – each site visit was a better lens into what we we’re doing, how we could improve, and mostly a lens into the assets we already had – friends, partners, dedicated customers, land to make compost, a steady stream of food scraps, a team of spirited and passionate cyclists, and a governmental landscape that made it possible for us to grow.  It was really new and difficult being away from my daughters, and I know for many people this is a big challenge for the program – but it’s really important to have that separation from your community and even sometimes your family to grow and become better.  Coming home I love my family even more, and am crafting our systems at home to be better for everyone.

The most powerful visit was the trip to Refresh Appalachia, where we learned from a farmer how to use pigs to till the soil, use milk crates for an entire start to finish egg business, and how female animals really run the farms.This particular farmer was working in a coal mine and turning it into remediated, farmable land. He used an egg crate inside his hen house for roosts, the same crates to store empty egg cartons, to haul eggs (they have perfect circles that hold them steady), to wash and dry eggs (perfect drainage system), and finally to stack the full crates of eggs in nice squares for the market.  The crates were free from a dairy and he used them for everything!  With the land and sun he had an incredibly cycle that didn’t cost very much at all. 

We visited the Capitol Market in Charleston where we saw a hand-painted public piano. I loved that it was out for everyone to see, anyone could play it and it spread joy all around. Somehow it was beautifully maintained too, and didn’t get destroyed by the weather.This taught me that if I’m going to get everyone in Athens to compost, I need for my community to understand what we are doing, and why. But more important than that, I need to involve my community more in what we are playing – asking for their input, talking to people who don’t compost and what they need to do so, and digging into the deeper environmental concerns that our community has – rather than just my own. I can set up a beautiful piano of sorts, but everyone needs to play it, the proper person needs to maintain it, and it needs to benefit the public, even if with new songs I’ve never heard. 

Let Us Compost has changed a lot since I came home – we created a knowledge management system on Evernote so that everyone can see the operations manuals and have tools that they need at any time – this was a combination of my organizational management class with Dr. Ruben Puentes and absorbing my classmate Stephanie’s mind for organization. We created better systems for events so that our staff can manage them and interact with the community in new ways. We’ve pitched two stories to the local newspaper and were printed up in both Flagpole Magazine and the Athens Banner Herald – these were pitched by community members and our bike haulers! The interview with Flagpolewas conducted by phone on the residential.  This advice came from Dr. Daniel Taylor, who told me to gather community voices rather than drawing a famous inspirational speaker – that these voices would grow composting more. A video was made about our bike hauling and I didn’t make an appearance or have any input on it which was wonderful!! It was delightful to see “my” company become our community’s company.  
Due to a conflict that occurred with a Let Us Compost staff member while I was away on the residential, I created a template for our composting pilot which allowed our farm manager to give us six months of information about how to compost weird things at a farm. Before having this report, all his information was kept secret, and he felt like he wasn’t listened to or valued. Now he openly shares his ideas and processes, so we can all be a part of it.We launched a new test pilot to pick up CHaRM materials – things that are traditionally hard to recycle, and the only people participating are our clients – so they get all the input. My classmate Ashley inspired putting this into action – hearing about her community’s struggle with recycling made me incredibly grateful for the infrastructure we had – I finally saw it as an asset! Future Generations has really stressed this point – our community voices is what should drive social change – and it can flow through SEED-SCALE‘s process. Within days the lessons from the residential were applied – and it’s been working really well – our team is united, we’re sharing ideas, following process, and repeating systems instead of creating new ones.  Thank you for my education!!