Growing Community

A Farmer's take on Growing Community

What is “placemaking“? How are local festivals, streetscaping, bike paths, (etc…) actually an in integral component to ‘placemaking‘ initiatives to ensure a healthy local economy and builds your community? What makes these community events so important and why do we put them on every year? Should this money be going elsewhere if we’re concerned about keeping our community strong and supporting local businesses?

There is incredible momentum taking place in cities all over the world. Even cities which were previously given a negative stigma like Detroit, Michigan are seeing rapid growth, rising property values… and even the streets are looking different. On a nice weekend, you see joggers in the streets, are installations, walking (or Segway) tours of the downtown and foodies are swooning for the culinary creations popping up at emerging hotspots.

What’s happening in these cities? What turns a city/town into a community? Is there a single catalyst or is it all left to chance?

It’s time to widen the conversation and get everyone in on the action. We rely on our city councils, municipalities, BIAs and neighbourhood associations to keep setting the place and helping to facilitate the conversation. But we need EVERYONE to get into the action! We all need to become Place-Makers; collaborative creators in our hometowns.

This blog will look at ideas and strategies to get placemaking happening where you live and work to start Growing (your) Community!

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I grew up on a farm in rural Ontario helping my parents work in the fields & caring for the animals in the barns. I also worked with my father in his other job as an electrical contractor. By the time I was a teenager, I was pretty sure I was going to become an electrician like my father and my brother. I started my apprenticeship early in my teenage years learning skills to build homes for families. I considered my building homes an important part of creating a place for a family to live, grow & build memories. With each new house built, I watched neighborhoods grow (literally) in what used to be open farmers’ fields.

I still consider myself a contractor today, though the trade may have changed from electrical to ELECTRIFYING entertainment! I also consider the work I do today just as important to building a community as creating the physical buildings that inhabit it. I may no longer be building the individual homes that make up the neighborhood, but I am still actively contributing to constructing the fabric of a community…

Watching those homes sprout up in open fields, I couldn’t help but think how similar it was to how we grew crops on our farms. If there was a Farmers’ Almanac for Growing Community with  tips to get you started – and what to expect in the road ahead – we think it would look like this:

 

  • Patience –The hard work you do today may not show its effect right away just as a seed needs to take root & sprout beneath the soil. If you pull back the layer of soil over top of your work you’d see the changes taking root in your community. But all growth takes time, diligence & care. Don’t judge your success on short term gains; stay focused on working towards your long-term goals.
  • Work Together – Farmers know to lend a hand to their neighbor during busy or lean times, no matter how much is on their own plate. There will be a time when you will rely on one another and building strong relationships is essential to the success of any community.
  • Plan for Future Growth—A farmer knows what s/he’ll plan far beyond the next growing season. They don’t have the luxury of knowing what the markets will do to maximize their earning potential on their crop. To ensure the long-term health of their farm and future growth potential, they need to plan on rotating crops (alternating what they grow each year) to ensure the ground isn’t drained of the same vital minerals year after year. This would leave the soil barren. The priority for any farmer is always focused in continued growth and leaving a healthy farm for them to pass down to their children.
    Short Term growth is tempting, but as caretakers of the land a farmer must ensure the soil will continue to provide healthy crops for decades to come.
  • Share Your Knowledge—Growing relationships are as important as any seed you put in the ground. Healthy communities are not competition based. Communities growing & succeeding around us do not threaten our health. If your fellow farmers are doing well, it’s creating a healthy/sustainable market.

    “You gotta be a Game-Player to be a Game Changer”
                                         -Kyle Sipkens, Stilt Guys

    When you’re doing well, sharing your knowledge to foster these relationships as the reciprocal benefit of sharing successes, best practices and creating collaborative opportunities (either by pooling resources on specific projects or to grow beyond what you could achieve on your own). A healthy field is the culmination of thousands of healthy plants growing tall and strong. Not a small number of plants stealing all the water and sunlight causing the plants around it to wilt. A field with few strong plants would leave itself vulnerable to water/wind erosion from sparse rooting, dry cracked soil from insufficient shade cover/plants to collect morning dew and the ground wouldn’t be fertilized for the next round of crops by having ample minerals returned by the stalks of the last crop.
    Similarly, a healthy community with an area of sparse growth/urban decay causes a fall out/drop on property value, perceived safety, business opportunity (economy) and livability. Healthy regions are collectively healthy communities.

  • Enjoy the Harvest—Don’t get caught in an endless cycle of growing without stopping to celebrate your milestones of growth. Seasons come and go… there will always be more work to do in the morning. Every farmer knows to stop and celebrate the harvest with his friends, family and neighbors. All the late nights, hours toiling in the sun and tight calls getting work in before the rain fall.Celebrating how much you’ve grown and how much stronger your relationships with your neighbors have grown are vital to continuing to grow your healthy community. The times you celebrated together will be what stay in your memory far more than all the individual hours of work.


We attended the National BIA Conference in London, ON recently gathering BIA represenatives from around the country to discuss ideas on Constructing Our Future. The passion & energy these BIA members carry into discovering & starting new initiatives into their blueprint for growing their community is incredible! As passionate, driven members of our communities, we can work together with these dedicated decision makers and game-changers to put real ideas into action. (Your ideas!)

To be continued….

In the next blog, we’ll explore “Why We Gather” to discuss Festivals and Community Events as foundational/integral parts of the Growing Community puzzle.

 

Written by Kyle Sipkens

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