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"Local sustainability in the Battenkill Valley": focus of folklorist retreat in Washington County.

"Sustaining Culture: A Regional Conversation" was the topic for the historic Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation Folklorists Retreat in Saratoga Springs, May 22--25, 2012, in partnership with Folklorists in New England, the Folk Arts Program of New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York Folklore Society. Participants hailed from as far away as Washington, DC, up to northern New York State and east through the New England states.

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On Thursday, May 24, nearly 70 meeting attendees traveled out of Saratoga Springs, across the Hudson River to rural Washington County and to Hubbard Hall Projects, Inc., and the Cambridge Freight Yard in Cambridge, NY, where the focus shifted to "Local Sustainability in the Battenkill Valley," beginning with a panel chaired by Todd DeGarmo, founding director of Crandall Public Library's Folklife Center.

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First to speak was Benji "White, executive director of Hubbard Hall Projects, Inc., who provided a history of the Hall, built in 1878, and the only remaining opera house in Washington County and an overview of its current programs, projects, and partnerships as a community arts center.

Next, Christine Hoffer, tourism administrator for Washington County Tourism and proprietor of the Historic Rice Mansion Inn (built in 1903 for seed tycoon Jerome B. Rice), spoke of the efforts to provide authentic activities for visitors that build upon the region's many historical, natural, and cultural assets.

Sarah Ashton, founding board president of Cambridge Freight Yard Revitalization Project, spoke of this community initiative to revitalize the historic commercial heart of the village of Cambridge, facilitating business activity and expanding cultural and recreational assets.

Meg Southerland addressed the challenges of sustaining local agriculture as the owner of Gardenworks at MacClan Farms, a multi-generational U-pick blueberry and raspberry farm with specialty vegetable crops, seasonal evergreens, and a large selection of local artisan works in the retail barn.

Finally, Annette Nielsen, food writer, community leader, and sustainable farm advocate, told the group of the many layers of community involvement that has made the Salem Courthouse Community Garden successful [see her article in this issue, "Growing Community in the Courthouse Community Garden"].

Lunch brought the group outside to the Freight Yard and in close contact with the Quebecois Bread Oven where local caterer, Sue Quillio with Spoonful Catering, prepared pizza using regionally sourced flours and local dairy, meats, and seasonal vegetables. The bread oven was built in 2008 as part of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City. The project came together through the work of DeGarmo and Winnie Lambrecht, formerly working in folk arts at the Rhode Island State Council of the Arts.

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Lambrecht found artisan Jean Laberge from Montreal who was willing to build the community oven with help from community volunteers, and now the oven is used for a number of local events. While Lambrecht helped out on this project, her appreciation for the area and the cultural diversity that existed inspired her to advocate for the meeting's programs and for the group to gather in Cambridge and the Battenkill Valley for the folklorist conference.

After lunch, attendees had the opportunity to participate in one of four tours showcasing one of the region's highlights: Battenkill Valley Outdoors "Paddle and Covered Bridges;" "The Bounty of Washington County" (a tour of a few farms showcasing the region's stellar agrarian pursuits); "Arts Abound in Washington County" (an artist studio tour where many of the artists get inspiration from the bucolic hillsides); and "Walk on the Wild Side of Washington County" (a walk through the Battenkill State Forest). Though some got a dunking in the Batten Kill, and others got lost, all made it back to Saratoga Springs that evening for the rest of the conference.

Todd DeGarmo is the founding director of the The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls, NY, serving four upstate counties in the upper Hudson Valley and southern Adirondacks. He lives in the Battenkill Valley, a stone's throw from the Batten Kill in Washington County, near the Vermont border.
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Author:DeGarmo, Todd
Publication:Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore
Date:Mar 22, 2012
Words:673
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