Friday, August 17, 2012

Planning while doing: The Wendell Food-Farm TimeMap

1887 bird's-eye map showing northwest corner of Wendell
One of the things I've found blogs useful for is to push me to write about things I don't have time to work on in more depth.  That may sound sort of slipshod, but it's been a way for me to continue tying together various interests and bits of research in the midst of teaching and other work. Especially with the research that relates to energy use and climate change, this feels compelling enough to make some room for in the midst of a too-busy schedule, and important enough that doing it in even a small-scale and scattered way seems better than not doing it at all.

I'm pushing myself even a bit farther out on the limb this weekend by launching a little community history project in Wendell, Massachusetts, where I live (and which I wrote about in an earlier post).  I'm calling this the Wendell Food-Farm TimeMap, and it's designed to gather and consolidate more knowledge of the town's food and farming history, with an eye to informing some of the community discussions that have been going on here for many years about local resilience, self-sufficiency, and interdependence.

Tomorrow is Wendell Old Home Day, which is what I've been aiming toward as an official launch of this project.  (For those who don't know, Old Home Days are a New England tradition that emerged around the turn of the 20th century in depopulated, often rural places trying to mobilize sentimental connections--very often centering around farm life--among people who had left, with an eye to drawing needed resources back into the towns.  Now they're essentially just annual town fairs, where they still take place.)  My plan is a pretty loose one, and I thought I'd set it out here as a way to sort of document things as they go along.  One hope I have is that this might produce a useable template for people in other towns who might want to do similar projects, so I want to pay attention to what works and what doesn't.

Here's the plan:
  • I'm thinking of this as a three-summer project:  one summer to begin gathering data, one to build out from the initial materials and add to them with some additional research and perhaps interviewing, and a final summer to consolidate things in some form (probably a webby one) so it can be disseminated and perhaps added to in future years, if someone feels inspired to do that.
  • To a large extent, this project is about finding out what people already know about Wendell's food and farm history.  As much as anything else, I'm curious about that.  So particularly in the first phase, my main task is just to try to talk to as many people as possible, and to use whatever they tell me as a guide to the next stages of research.
  • I'm planning to do that by setting up at Old Home Day and perhaps other events in the fall with a number of big laminated historical maps of the town plus a timeline that follows the general history of agriculture in the northeast.  I'll ask people to add things to the maps and/or timeline, and will try to get contact information for people who want to share more of what they know and recollect.  In future phases, as data gets added, the timeline can be more Wendell-specific and I can figure out a way to collate and display what people have told me so far (probably an indexed listing of names, farms, and properties, as I'm anticipating that that's how most people are going to find their way in to this).
1871 Beers Atlas map showing same part of Wendell
And that's pretty much it for now.   It's a loose plan and I don't have a great deal of time to pursue it, so I'm trying to keep this as simple and feasible as possible (which may actually be a plus in terms of showing people elsewhere how it might be useful in their own towns).  I've set up a Facebook page for the project and may also use my own website as a temporary online venue for materials relating to this once they start accumulating.

I hope that they do, and that I don't lose my voice tomorrow (I've had a nasty cold for a week), and that I haven't over-reached too far in adding yet another thing to my plate.  Stay tuned to find out!

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