How Much Could a Bike Ride Cost Anyway?

I’ve spent over a thousand dollars on major bike repairs and gear recently. It sounds like a lot, but some of it was way overdue. I hope I’m good on that for 6 months or so. Time will tell, but I’m hoping I can keep gear and maintenance to a $200 per month level. That will be more of a challenge as weekly mileage increases.

Transportation is the rest of the cost. This project is on a trail for the beauty and comparative safety. On trails, you only find the drivers who would be killers at intersections with roads. The only downside is driving to get out to the trail.

Some people think of the cost of gas as the cost of going somewhere and then never really figure out how much gas it took, especially on local trips. The cost of the car itself seems to get put in some other mental category called “having a car”.

Paying something closer to accurate attention to the cost of driving somewhere is a natural for me though. My father used to calculate the actual per mile cost of every car or truck he owned. Because of that influence, I usually figure that going to a fast food place costs about twice the menu price (ones I like are 15 minutes or so from my home). I’m more attentive than most, but still not as committed to an exact figure as Dad was. For a project like this though, I need to know.

I briefly worked for a company called National Opinion Research Center, (NORC) headquartered at the University of Chicago. They’re famous for opinion surveys, but they collect and analyze all kinds of soft and hard data. They did mileage calculations for the IRS in a manner to make the allowance adjustable. Have you noticed that the deductible allowance changes more often than it used to? Most of that change is due to fluctuation in gas prices because other costs do not fluctuate as often nor as much. The other part of the figure is calculated on the average cost of a car and maintenance. The cost of my car is 20% above average. (I’ve always driven economy cars, but now I sometimes need to carry 5-7 people, two of them over six feet tall). So the IRS figure is what you use if you want to take their average on business mileage. Keeping records and supporting a higher price is what you do if your car is more expensive than average. For this, I’m looking for the best approximation I can get without digging in my files.

The training rides I currently make are quite a bit further than my original plan. Now a ride requires a 96 mile drive round trip (RT) or $56 at the current IRS rate of 57.5 cents per mile. If you add an extra 10% because my car is 20% more expensive than average, that comes to $63.25. I’m currently attempting 3 of those a week, which is $189.75 per week or $796.95 transportation per month, plus the $200 in maintenance and gear for $996.95 total per month. While it is easier on my body to spread it out right now, actually sitting down to do the math increases my resolve to fit my training miles into 2 rides per week instead of 3.

As often as I tend to estimate the cost of transportation as being higher than other people do, the numbers were a surprise to me. And those numbers care about me like the virus does. None. At. All. The numbers and the virus simply exist. What the numbers mean to me though underscores the conflicting feelings that I can’t do this project now, and that I must. It took shelter-in-place to make it necessary to drive 96 miles for a “socially distant ride”, and it took spending time sheltering isolated from my rides and my fitness center to get me over my initial rejection of the idea that I could drive so far to ride. But, it only took that first short ride after sheltering-in-place, to make it pretty clear to me that riding was more important to my immediate health and wellbeing than anything else I could be doing with that same time and money. There’s always a rub isn’t there? I hope I can provide some entertaining footage to people who can’t make the trip.

How to be a Karen Without Being a Karen

That is the question.

It is really a big question, in some ways the question of a lifetime, certainly the question of our time. What it means to be a Karen, a Bad Karen, has morphed from simply the “May I see your manager?” type with a bad Posh Spice/Victoria Beckham bob complete with brash highlights, to a broader caricature that is offensive to a larger number of people (with a racial/racist component that kind of blindsided me because I didn’t realize it was a part of it all until the whole birding in the park incident). See this Guardian Article (or countless others) for more on Karen evolution. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/may/13/karen-meme-what-does-it-mean.There  

Posh, BTW, does seem like a more fitting moniker for a Bad Karen than Karen. Just think about it, from its elitist origins, to its current choice for an ungendered name. What other word ‘come name has a Snopes page about its etymology AND can apply to men and women equally? Because you know deep down Karenhood really isn’t a girls only club.

The first “Karens” I personally noticed were not older women, they were teens of both sexes. I used to volunteer in a local high school, and there were some kids who would say whatever phrase (to the principal if they had to) that got them what they wanted. It was never a true statement. It was simply saying the words that made the exception that got around the rules, an unscrupulous manipulation of the system for the purpose of having one’s way. The very epitome of entitled Karenhood, and yes, they probably learned the skill from their Boomer parents whose decades of egocentrism was peaking, or, at least I thought it had to be peaking. Not. The. First. Time. I. Was. Wrong.

“May I see your manager?” can be a fun question if you have something good to say. I once asked to speak to my postmaster, and afterward my letter carrier beamed smiles at me for a year. She smiled bigger than big when she saw me right up until she was given a new route. It can be an important question if you have the right motive. Or, it can be meme worthy if you want a refund, privilege, reward or result you don’t deserve.

 “If you see something, say something” is where the real challenge comes in. We’ve been “Together-Apart” in so many ways since long before the pandemic. Doing your part to be part of a community is a challenge. Sometimes talking to the manager does need to happen when things need fixing. The phrase “If you see something, say something” was promoted by Allen Kay of the New York MTA after 9-11, and it resulted in a real reduction of crime.

We’re about to switch off of “Karen”. I can tell because there are so many articles out there on Karenhood. One of them suggested to just not be a jerk. That is nobler. We need to be involved, talk to a manager, or a representative, or a businessperson when it’s time. We all know there’s a lot that’s broken, and together, as well as apart, we have to fix it.

Just try not to be a jerk.

Ooh, Ooh, That Smell: Safety Planning for the Long Haul

What’s “safe”, or relatively safe, makes a pretty big difference to me and my partner as we look at how best to be healthy while planning and completing this 2 year cycling and video project in Georgia and Alabama during the pandemic.

The original basic plan was to make the project goal on 8 paved miles of the Big Creek Greenway in Roswell and Alpharetta, Georgia. We would ride both directions 2 or 3 times per week for 32-48 miles with the near certainty that we’d get 30-60 minutes of good video for every week with rideable conditions and hopefully capture the occasional spectacular wildlife sighting. Big Creek is the shorter drive from home and the gently curving trail along the streambed is pretty with good habitat for wildlife viewing. It was perfect for the smaller basic plan, “was” being the operative word.

With the Shelter in Place order came change. The bike shops were deemed essential and they sold out. The people who bought all the bikes (and those who didn’t) showed up on trails everywhere straining park staff and facilities and crowding green spaces. The Greenway was filled with people not following social distancing nor mask guidelines, sometimes they even look at us a bit funny when we do. It seemed like we would have to postpone or cancel the project. After a couple of months of staying home, we realized that the project was more important than ever.

By definition, there’s no long standing science specific to a particular novel pandemic. There are guesses based on similar diseases, and a developing knowledge base that changes as we learn. Mistakes are made in haste and under pressure. Good information takes effort to find and it is hard for people without a science background to interpret or distinguish the good from the bad. People get burn-out, especially with the politicization of the subject. Some are too overloaded to even try to sniff out any answers.

What I’ve been able to find says 20 yards of separation is probably safe cycling. But, there are all kinds of variables. As Russ and I discuss what we will or won’t do, we’ve had some pretty detailed discussions, and even though we both have science backgrounds, we haven’t come up with the same safety parameters all the time.

One day, I was riding a remote section of the Silver Comet with, maybe, one trail user per mile. A guy passes me easily and when he’s around 30 or 40 yards beyond me I catch a whiff of “he’s been riding for a while”. Body odor or perfume is not something you pay much attention to until there are people dying and you’re trying to figure out how not to be one of them. Smelling smokers and other odors through my mask, especially when riding to, and through, Brushy Mountain Tunnel has caused me to wonder all kinds of things.

The tunnel is really damp. There is usually water trickling down the exterior sides at the entrance, and unless we’re in drought conditions, there are puddles on the tunnel floor. Air passing through the tunnel has been moving eastward since I started paying attention. So, as I come up to the tunnel from the east, I feel cool, damp air with a slight headwind well before I get there. Recently, I smelled a smoker on the far side of the tunnel while I was still at least 50 yards away. The tunnel is 800 ft long (about 267 yards). So I was able to sense particles, some of which came from inside someone else’s lungs, in the air 300 yards away and I was really questioning that 20 yard figure.

It makes me all the more wary of sharing crowded trails with unmasked hikers and bikers who think 6 ft (or business as usual) is fine. Russ says “But smell particles are so much bigger than virions…” Well, you know I had to look that up. Turns out he was correct related to smoke, but incorrect about most smell particles. But, here’s the thing. Does size really matter? I really don’t know that much about the fluid dynamics and aerodynamics of nano or micro-particulates. I do know virions, like humidity, the kind the south is known for, the kind the tunnel is filled with. Drying Covid-19 virions is one reason the virus dies faster on some surfaces than others. Should I be paying attention to smell and humidity? I often take several deep breaths as I approach a trail user, hold it as long as possible while passing and exhale slowly afterward. I have varying levels of success depending on my level of exertion and how soon I saw them.

Am I being ridiculous? I don’t know. There are enough variables to drive a girl crazy, even one who’s comfortable with science.

We don’t know that we can be safe, but we do know that strong and healthy is better than weak and stressed. So, as I’m looking at the project and making choices, I’m looking at three things. 1.) If I do get sick, my chances of a complete recovery will be better if I’m healthy and cycling regularly. My health and mental health were going downhill fast during “Shelter in Place”, so, I’m going to do everything I can to get out there and build my health back up, even take it to new levels. 2.) There are fewer people, and fewer unique people on the trail out in the rural areas of the Silver Comet Trail and Chief Ladiga Trail, so the basic plan needs move out there, even with the extra time and cost. 3.) Much of the stretch plan is already possible. There’s a good chance of a vaccine or better treatments as time goes on, so there is also a good likelihood that the whole plan will be possible.

The stretch goal was (and I hope still is) riding the entire Silver Comet and Chief Ladiga Trails in Georgia and Alabama in each direction weekly. Rides on the Greenway would then reduce to 1 or 2 recovery rides per week. As we work toward the full plan, the hours on video multiply and the chances of capturing some of the more thrilling wildlife experiences will increase. Putting in the full 250+ miles per week should allow me want to catch some the really cool wildlife sightings. That makes all the difference.

Karen Goes and Goes

After changing careers a while back, I was thinking about “What next?”. My sysadmin (also my son) recommended Karen Goes as a url that would easily be relevant to whatever I might do next, then next, and then after that. It was just before “Karen” became synonymous with the mother who wants to speak to the manager, and well before the name morphed into the world’s most heinously entitled woman exemplifying everything wrong with people who have “First World Problems”.

So, now that I’m off again. My next project is underway and the title “Karen Goes” is particularly appropriate, but I still thought about leaving “Bad Karen” behind until I remembered Dad’s favorite Jim Croce song. I had other favorites, but his liking it made me notice what a really nice song it is.

Like the pine trees linin’ the windin’ road
I’ve got a name, I’ve got a name
Like the singin’ bird and the croakin’ toad
I’ve got a name, I’ve got a name
And I carry it with me like my daddy did
But I’m living the dream that he kept hid

Movin’ me down the highway, rollin’ me down the highway
Movin’ ahead so life won’t pass me by

Like the north wind whistlin’ down the sky
I’ve got a song, I’ve got a song
Like the whippoorwill and the baby’s cry
I’ve got a song, I’ve got a song
And I carry it with me and I sing it loud
If it gets me nowhere, I’ll go there proud
Movin’ me down the highway, rollin’ me down the highway
Movin’ ahead so life won’t pass me by

And I’m gonna go there free

Like the fool I am and I’ll always be

I’ve got a dream, I’ve got a dream
They can change their minds but they can’t change me
I’ve got a dream, I’ve got a dream
Oh, I know I could share it if you want me to
If you’re goin’ my way, I’ll go with you

Movin’ me down the highway, rollin’ me down the highway
Movin’ ahead so life won’t pass me by
Movin’ me down the highway, rollin’ me down the highway
Movin’ ahead so life won’t pass me by

Like the pine trees linin’ the windin’ road
I’ve got a name, I’ve got a name
Like the singin’ bird and the croakin’ toad
I’ve got a name, I’ve got a name
And I carry it with me like my daddy did
But I’m living the dream that he kept hid

Movin’ me down the highway, rollin’ me down the highway
Movin’ ahead so life won’t pass me by

Like the north wind whistlin’ down the sky
I’ve got a song, I’ve got a song
Like the whippoorwill and the baby’s cry
I’ve got a song, I’ve got a song
And I carry it with me and I sing it loud
If it gets me nowhere, I’ll go there proud

Movin’ me down the highway, rollin’ me down the highway
Movin’ ahead so life won’t pass me by

And I’m gonna go there free

Like the fool I am and I’ll always be
I’ve got a dream, I’ve got a dream
They can change their minds but they can’t change me
I’ve got a dream, I’ve got a dream
Oh, I know I could share it if you want me to
If you’re goin’ my way, I’ll go with you

Movin’ me down the highway, rollin’ me down the highway
Movin’ ahead so life won’t pass me by
Movin’ me down the highway, rollin’ me down the highway
Movin’ ahead so life won’t pass me by

 

I always thought that was written by Jim Croce, but it was actually written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel and I’m a sap for it.

So, about that name change? Nah, it’s my name. And, I’ve got a dream.

Real World Dreaming in A Virtual World Game

by Karen

Whole Farm


This is one of two posts about my love-hate experience with Farmville.com. Here, I share how my Farmville design pays tribute to a co-op based farming and crafting educational center that I would like to build. The actual Farmville experience is somewhat tangential for this post. The Farmville context is here primarily because being otherwise engaged in distracting activities like playing a brainless game occupies the part of my mind that is in overdrive and gives me a little dreaming space. So, with no more delay, here is a little trip into the vision of one player.

Farmville is off the charts in “cute”, but it doesn’t translate well into the real world (or try). So, my imagineering includes things that are what they seem, but also things that are not so much real world features and what they mean to me is not apparent without the back story. For example: I have a green leprechaun garden gnome in each corner of the farm, a lighthearted acknowledgment to myself that I will need pots of gold for start-up cash. Some features represent key parts of my plan while others are just a bit of available whimsy.

I’ll share my co-op by beginning in the north at the top corner, continuing around the farm clockwise, and then finishing in the center. The general store and co-op in the southeast are the central theme of my vision and they contain the core features, so, if you are the “skip straight to desert” type, be sure to look there.

North

In the north corner there is a castle with three hot-air balloons. The balloons are placed closely together as they would be for an evening glow at a balloon festival. These balloons together with a castle remind me of Malcolm Forbes’s more famous pursuits. But, surprisingly, they are not among those things placed on my farm in whimsy. Renaissance Festivals and Hot-Air Balloon Festivals both present magnet for revenue and education with components that could be carried year ’round in activities as varied as costuming, crafting, cooking, sports, physics demonstrations, history lessons and creative writing inspiration. I have the background to pull off either type of festival successfully (preferably both and about 6 months apart) and to carry the themes through to bring the lessons and the business component. These events could realistically bring tourist dollars to the co-op area and also support to the educational portions of the co-op.


Moving East

Along the northeast perimeter of the farm there is a forest. I like to idealize this forest as a primary forest with pristine riparian zones and areas for recreation, education and conservation. If this type forest does not exist near my co-op location, we may instead visit Public Lands or commercial forests on field trips, in books or on websites where we can teach and learn about the differences between different types of private, public and commercial forests, what makes each type of forest important or unique and why they all need to exist. Often, even the people managing one of these types of forest knows little or nothing about the others. That understanding is, however, important to good management, communication, community planning, strong business interests and sustainability, even understanding the evening news.

The two schoolhouses beside the forest represent balance and two-way learning, educators as students and students as educators. Many non-profit organizations fail to help a community because they view a problem from the outside and preach solutions that worked in a different setting, culture or context, but they fail to adapt to the unique aspects of a particular situation or to listen to the people they are supposed to be helping. I have seen many surprising examples in the documentation of organizations who’s names you know. There have been improvements in recent years and many of the more complex issues in his type of work are now making it into news media, bringing about a more widespread familiarity with relevant complexities, but there is also a greater profusion of material that is churned out by people fed on opinion, sensationalism and fallacy. While better information is available, the water is murkier and in many way we must work even harder than ever to find the pearls and stay on target.

To handle these issues, this program will be about adaptation and two-way communication. We will look to see how other programs achieve success and where they have failed and if they hold a relevant lesson for us. There is a new age in these programs. Some organizations are applying business skills and careful analysis to finding the best ways to create benefits and independence rather than dependency. Finding the promise and the success will be difficult, but it is more achievable than ever before.

In the school as well as throughout the program, everything and everyone will multi-task. For example: The bicycles outside the schools are great for transportation or recreation. There are the more common modern bicycles as well as the old fashioned penny farthings that add extra interest and fun. When compared to each other, these bicycles can also be used to teach a lesson on gearing and mechanical advantage, or a history lesson on when and how the two different styles developed. The bicycles in this area fit into the plan in other ways. There could be rentals, cycling events to promote healthy outdoor activities, a program that repairs and redistributes donated bicycles. Perhaps I might even fulfill another dream through this program, a distance charity bike ride to Patch Adams’ Gesundheit Institute in West Virginia.


The stable is my “lemonade stand”. By that I mean that it represents an opportunity to make the best of things. I do not expect my co-op to actually have stables, but life is about unexpected opportunities and balancing focus with openness. The stable is here to remind me not to get too carried away in my vision to be able to see. In some ways this is the central point of my theme. There is a firm structure and a business plan that show up primarily in the co-op, but the stables really represent the mission statement. If life presents the co-op with stables and someway to manage them in a manner that benefits the program, there should be stables. If something else works, we need only to be able to see and say yes, to follow through an act on opportunity.

In the east corner there are barns. In Farmville the barns are used to store all of the farm loot that you accumulate through play. As an aside, Farmville can be seen as a “green” choice because it gives us a place to use that compulsive, seemingly evolutionary desire to collect stuff, trophies or status, to satisfy that need to keep up with the neighbors, without the accompanying accumulation of real world material goods.

The barn is another building that may or may not exist at my co-op. For now let’s say that one barn is for farm use and equipment, the second is multipurpose. In the fall there may be dances, hay rides or other traditional activities. The storage building beside the barns represents a drop off point for a Freecycle.org type program. Freecycle.org is dedicated to keeping useful things out of landfills. They use Yahoo!Groups to connect people with things that they don’t need to people who could use those things. The program is not designed for people who are selling, rather for those who are giving things away so that the purchase price is never what causes a thing to go in the landfill that might otherwise be used for a new purpose or by a new person. Sometimes those things are big ticket items, but more often they are small, sometimes even broken. Often garage sale left overs make it on, I’ve even seen people put something as small as coupons or as nice as expensive event tickets on Freecycle. There is a sense of paying it forward and sometimes givers even offer to mail paper items. With Freecycle people respond to emails and can meet in a central location, but usually pick things up at the owner’s home. In a small community with low population density a Freecycle group is not likely to already be in place. Since I’d be starting from scratch, I think a program of my own design with a central drop off point might create stronger benefits for this type of area in privacy and total miles driven by participants. I’ve recently heard of a tent in New York that is open 24 hours a day and based on the same principle. There is no need to provide security for the tent because everything is free and the tent is open 24 hours a day. Whether or not 24 hour access might be wise in the coop area would involve many considerations currently unknown.

Moving south, as we approach the general store (my representation of the co-op); there are a well, a pump, and a water barrel all together, here to acknowledge the importance of water. All of the water on Earth has been recycled through natural earth filters time and again. How we use water and how we conserve and care for it, whether or not we allow it to clean itself before reuse, whether or not we use water from aquifers faster than natural processes can refill it, all will dictate our future for many generations to come. Somewhere on my co-op there will be a large mural depicting a local river with a quote that closes one of my favorite books, A River Runs Through It “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”

And now for my co-op!

The general store and the fruit, flower and farmer’s market stands all represent the co-op portion of my plan. It is the core of the project and will contain farmers market items as well as a craft items. My co-operative is partly modeled after CASEM, a co-op that I visited and studied in Monteverde, Costa Rica, and it will be partly modeled on others. I would like to offer a micro-loan program for participants similar to the model of Grameen Bank. The Rwanda Project is a specific example of how micro-loans are working in foreign countries. I see the micro-loans as a means for participants who could not otherwise purchase supplies for crafting to get a start with the hand up rather than hand out philosophy.

The co-op will offer programs for adults as well as children and we will have leaders who can follow as well as lead. It will have low level goals like teaching a skill or learning facts and it will have high level goals like improving the fundamental quality of life for those who participate.

My co-op will differ from CASEM in that it will provide facilities for crafting in addition to sales space. We will provide for a wide variety craft activities from needle and paper arts to pottery, candle making, design, painting, sewing, paper mache’ and possibly woodworking, weaving or doll making. If someone donates equipment of any kind we will see what we can do with it. One can earn the use of the facilities by working in the co-op for a certain number of hours, by paying, or with a combination of both, what ever fits their need. I see these facilities in rooms across the back of the building with space to market co-op goods in front and cafe’ space in between. Goods from the co-op will also be offered via the Internet, possibly through a vendor like Etsy, possibly through a self-run program, possibly both. Teaching or learning business and financial skills will be an important part of the program from balancing of personal budgets to actual cost-benefit analysis to scheduling and motivation. I plan to build synergy. Volunteers who teach or work may also benefit by attending classes to learn other skills or trades, or they may simply volunteer.

I see this as located in a rural area, supplementing the incomes of stay at home parents or others who would like to earn more. However, the co-op also needs to be located in a area where there is access to brick and mortar customers as well as the Internet customers, near an interstate between rest stops where travelers might wish to stop or near a vacation spot are potential locations. It could also be on an urban edge and help to preserve a family farm or critical habitat. It will have several features to attract customers and visitors. These may include a dog walk-rest station for travelers with pets; a store/eatery, possibly a bakery (people are much more likely to buy a cup of coffee or a trinket for a good cause than to donate, so, I will invite people to support the program in the most comfortable ways possible),

I see a HAM station for education, communication and emergency preparedness (I would love it if the HAM station were in a scale replica of a blue police box, maybe even bigger inside than out. The Dr Who allegory would be great and the real world history and culture that also apply are pretty cool too). We may have an Internet cafe’ with secure internet access, a borrowers bookcase, maybe a download spot for audio books. The co-op will offer things like frozen yogurt, Dole Whips (You ought not to have to go to the Magic Kingdom or Hawaii to get one of those!) or Great Harvest Bread, whatever franchises research indicates to best justified for the location. A co-op branded line of value added foods might offer the best long-term potential, canned in glass Mason jars with a recycling program. The basic goal would be to provide value added goods and services that will draw people to spend a few minutes and a few dollars to support the co-op, and in turn support the community. I want people to drop in for creature comforts, but to leave with something more, and to get that extra something that makes them want to linger, then come to back over and over.

The interior design of the building will use layers of visual interest that teach, amuse, and inspire, perhaps on a rotating basis. People who stop in for a cup of coffee or a light meal will notice something new on each visit. The building may be LEEDS certified construction or renovation, potentially built as a project with a local trade school, or with recent graduates. The emphasis will be on using local labor to feed the local economy. Decor will be part retro-historic, part shabby chic, part local flavor and it will come together to involve the community in as many ways as possible. For instance, I wouldn’t just hire local talent to paint a mural, but also get local talent to teach and create more local talent while producing the mural. Perhaps an artist-teacher could work with a 4-H group, a group of scouts or a group from a school or church teaching the children how to paint. A mural might be in a classroom that would also be available for meetings afterward so that the new artists could enjoy their own work with pride on a regular basis. I would like my co-op to provide a community gathering spot, both in the Internet cafe’ and for other things, perhaps a book club, game night, a Dave Ramsey program, trivia night or what ever else is positive and takes root. My building will have a courtyard with a green wall and a staircase leading to the green roof above.

Many of the building furnishings will come from auctions, thrift stores and donations. If there is an existing building like the silo behind the general store or the light house that could be re-purposed with style, it would be incorporated into the plan. Local memorabilia large and small will add character. The parking lot might use porous pavers laid out with a local historic map design and there will be shade trees for cooler summer parking. A location at a crossroads to other local attractions would be perfect. Adding to the number of local attractions will increase pull to the area. The co-op will offer books, collectibles and art that reflect what is unique about the location.

Next is another feature that bears explanation, the crop circle. Less whimsy than it appears, it is inspired by a woman I heard about on the radio. She plants her front yard with wheat every year. When it is ready she invites all of the neighborhood children to make bread, teaching all of the processes from start to finish. I envision this lesson done on a larger scale than most front yards in conjunction with local schools and the side lessons could be varied as, cooking, home economics, self-sufficiency, the moral of the Little Red Hen, soil conservation, geography, landscape planning or why wheat grows best in the breadbasket of the U.S., even a lesson on where different foods come from historically. Whatever fits the needs of students has potential. Putting a crop circle or a maze in the wheat field could add extra fun for the kids, extra motivation for visitors to stop and see what is happening, maybe lead to additional lessons, but the big picture is in the seeds to bread lesson.

South

Monteverde Inspiration


While the farming portion of the co-op will focus on vegetables, the dairy and pig farms pictured side by side represent concepts I learned in agro-ecology as illustrated by the Monteverde Cheese Factory and the pig farm to which it donates by-products (whey). This pig farm has a wonderful design that has several levels of recycling to maximize the utility of inputs and reduce waste products to near zero. It is the multiple layers of efficiency and waste free design that I wish to carry through to my farm rather than the pigs and cattle. I will carry inspired planning, economy, recycling and minimal waste through in every feature of my design, from farm produce to arts and crafts produced to the furnishings of the buildings.

Beside the dairy are the hen house and green houses. This area moves into tour, tell and touch areas that would be attractive to youth education programs. The south corner is a petting zoo. If I have a petting zoo, mine will not look like the traditional concept. It will be spread around in separate enclosures rather than located in a single spot and will have very traditional animals that you would have seen on farms fifty and a hundred years ago, heirloom or heritage animals. The idea will be to come closer to naturalized enclosures. There might be a variety of chicken breeds, perhaps chickens of the rainbow with a big rainbow worked into the enclosure and coop designs.

West

Moving west, we find bees in the middle of a field. Beekeeping can provide honey, beeswax and beeswax crafts for sale as well as an opportunity to teach the importance of pollination and pollinators, the variety of pollinators and the struggles that beekeepers and farmers alike are now facing. The lesson would carry through to also talk about dispersers.

Dinner on the Grounds

Continuing west there are two long tables. This is a place for a dinner as a celebration of local and organic foods, connecting people to each other and to their food sources. We may invite the folks from Out Standing in a Field to put on a first class shindig for a special occasion, or we could go the more traditional route with a more lowbrow feast, fantastic all the same. I remember a painting my mother did “Dinner on the Grounds” of the Sunday picnic on the country church grounds as she remembered it from her childhood. This outdoors celebration in connection with our roots and our sustenance is a old as the hills, but the reconnection sometimes requires an event, a happening, to bring people together and back to the hills. Geography of food is a possible lesson for the educational version of this event, history is another and arts still another. On the other hand, it could be a good occasion for an outdoor movie showing or a concert, again, whatever takes flight.

Continuing west we run into the wind farm. These are modern smart grid windmills that can power the co-op, charge cars, or sell power back to the grid. The cars can plug into the co-op building and serve as battery back-up when not in use. If wind is scarce and water is plentiful, the power source would be water. Either might have solar supplements. Pieces of smart grid technology are already in use in many markets, but a small sample of the most complete system possible at my co-op would show a fuller picture and help to spread the design. It would be nice if co-op and especially features like the pottery kilns and the kitchen were self sufficient in on-site wind, water or solar power.

The area from the west corner leading back up to the north represents a recreational area. The forest and the Japanese Zen garden are for walking, enjoying the outdoors, meditating, learning about other cultures or simply appreciating the day. They will be part of the draw for visitors. Aside from being among the most beautiful of gardens, a Japanese garden might provide a basis for foreign exchange students to participate in internships. The Japanese theme is dear to my heart, but there could be a different theme to suit what ever may come. I would attempt to treat the relationship between local and global much the same as the Tennessee Aquarium. While not the largest or showiest, I believe the Tennessee Aquarium is one of the best I have ever visited because it has excellent displays that are primarily local, but it also places what is local in a global context for a richer understanding and greater appreciation of setting.

Central Area

Four trails lead toward the center where we have what Farmville calls the Botanical Garden. It represents the primary greenhouse to me. I actually envision this as attached to the co-op building. I would like for it to have a selection of plants chosen for local knowledge, health, clean indoor air, environmental awareness and of course marketability. I see these plants as fitting into three broad groups. One group will be unique types of fruits. There are a some varieties of fruit where only one selection of that variety is common or known in the continental US, but others exist. Kiwi and papaya are examples. If I can show one or more uncommon varieties in the green house it will give visitors one more reason to stop in. It might also provide a basis for co-op branded products and possibly present the potential for a different type of student internship. A second group would be indigenous plants like orchids and other unexpected plant varieties that seem exotic to help people realize that there are amazing indigenous species in their own back yard so to speak, to learn the advantages of planting native species and to appreciate the biological heritage of the area. A third grouping of plants could be those that are known to improve indoor air quality. I hope that the greenhouse will be an area that is of significant enough interest to stand alone as an attraction.

Somewhere between the greenhouse and the social space I plan to have a green (plant) wall and perhaps the co-op will have a green roof.

Co-op Central


And, finally, dead center is the farmer, me. That’s where I pop in to my Farmville farm when I log on and my dog Red runs in to greet me. I am surrounded by benches and plants because my virtual world neighbors can fertilize my crops faster if I am “contained” by objects, otherwise they must wait for my farmer character to walk everywhere they click. I have contained myself with things that are pleasant and I have placed doves on an olive branch nearby. Inside with me there is an open space. Every time I get the chance, I adopt an ugly duckling to put it in the spot beside me. Over time the bird realizes that it is,in fact, a beautiful swan. A sign pops up to tell me that the bird is ready. I click the transform button and move it over to join the other swans in the lake and the spot opens up again. I hope to sit beside many ducklings and watch as they transform themselves and learn to appreciate who they are and teach me what they know. This is a great center for my farm. After all, transformation is the whole point, isn’t it?

I have left a lot of questions unanswered. Location for instance. Many people think romantically about non-profit work and want to go abroad to exotic locations. That is a good thing, but charity begins at home and you never need to look very far away for an opportunity to make a difference. The right mix of conditions could exist in many locations. I sometimes imagine it near where I grew up in south Alabama or other places in the southeast because these are areas I know well. My actual location could be anywhere the co-op is needed, supported and feasible.

How realistic is my dream? I know that it will work and it can produce the expected results. It needs someone like me with diverse talent, education who has energy and the potential to help people. In the minus column, it will require a lot of start up funding, a small amount by many standards, but a large amount to me. My toughest feat will be in competing for those start-up dollars with large non-profits and their even larger fund-raising machines in a stressed economy. The stressed economy makes the project both more important and harder to fund at the same time. According to a Guideposts white paper I just received, non-profits are down 25% while at the same time I see more and more emphasis on fund raising activities in articles, drives and job postings.

My strong points will be that this plan is unique in how it fits together. It should work to relieve economic and other social woes. It works with people not for them. It will become self-supporting so that charitable funding would decrease over time while the project would be permanent. These are all strong advantages. It would be extraordinary if the sun were to rise on a real world benefit, just as it sets on a virtual world distraction.

Who wants to help me with building a co-op using what ever works? If you don’t know the right person, why don’t you pass this along and see if any of your friends do?