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Can we build a hackerspace for rural innovation?

Over the past year we've become obsessed with innovation. We've been working with some of the most interesting people and projects around the world and we feel like we're on the cusp of something truly groundbreaking. When a lot of people think about innovation, they think Silicon Valley, they think internet start-ups, they think incubator spaces, co-work centres, maker labs and hackerspaces.

Why can't we create a similar innovation centre in rural Canada? Why can't we apply the processes of start-up innovation to farming, forestry, homesteading and alternative building in order to create a hackerspace of our own?

The idea was born in Pemba, Tanzania, where Community Forests International has been working with rural communities to develop new ways to grow food, plant trees, generate clean electricity and improve cooking. In order to house these new technologies, the organization built a Rural Innovation Campus as a place where rural Tanzanians could come and share their skills, learn new techniques and grow a movement together.

The team at Community Forests International liked the idea so much they decided to bring it home.

 

Whaelghinbran Farm

Whaelghinbran Farm is located outside of Sussex, New Brunswick. Community Forests International first heard about the farm after returning from Tanzania. We'd been looking for examples of people that had managed to live and work on a property while restoring it in the process and everyone kept saying you've got to meet Clark and Sue at Whaelghinbran Farm. We went, we saw and we fell in love with both the people and the place. In their 35 years of owning the property Clark and Sue had managed to restore a forest, speeding up forest growth by 30 years. They'd farmed acres of certified organic vegetables. To us at CFI, Clark and Sue were like grandpa and grandma sustainability. Don't just take our word for it though. Check out this podcast from Clark and Sue, sharing their process and wisdom at Whaelghinbran Farm

We learned from Clark and Sue. We spent hours and hour learning about what they'd done on the property. Clark and Sue were in their 70's and when they told us they could no longer farm, that they needed to find someone to take over their legacy we jumped at the chance. Following a house and barn fire in the 1980's Clark and Sue were in a situation where they couldn't just give us the farm, they needed to sell the property in order to cover debt. Although our annual budget at the time was only around $10,000 we agreed to raise the $270,000 needed to take over the farm, cover past debts and let Clark and Sue retire. On May 31st, 2012 we did just that. We purchased Whaelghinbran Farm and set the stage for a Rural Innovation Campus of our own.

 

A New Opportunity

The Rural Innovation Campus - Canada will provide Maritime entrepreneurs and innovators with the land, tools, knowledge and network necessary to meet new opportunities. Ten years ago an organization like Community Forests International couldn’t have existed. New communication platforms have allowed us to learn about new technologies and share information as never before. We don’t know what the next ten years will bring, but we want to be a part of it. More importantly, we don’t want to do it alone. As rural communities experience an outmigration of skilled workers and an aging population, a Rural Innovation Campus will act as a home base for budding entrepreneurs and innovators that want to stay in the region.

 

The Beginning

We’ve already started. To date, the organization has hosted over 450 individuals at workshops such as horse logging, permaculture and timber framing. In 2012, five farm apprentices and a farm manager lived on site and farmed 6 acres of certified organic farmland. Even the funds raised to purchase the farm demonstrate innovation – carbon stored on site was valued and sold to responsible partners in order to offset carbon dioxide emissions. Community Forests International intends to build a small backwoods cabin at the farm, which was designed through a crowd-sourced architecture competition that saw over 50 entries from around the world. Stay posted, this is just the beginning.

Winning cabin in CFI's "Can a building blur the lines between humans and nature?" design competition