Information, Inspiration, and Ideas for a Sustainable Rural Future

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The North American Rural Futures Institute

Regional Economics Category-specific Content

Grassroots and Groundwork: Reducing Poverty and Rebuilding Communities Conference

NARFI Future Thinker Leah NoelLeah Noel, NARFI Executive Assistant, recently attended Grassroots and Groundwork: Reducing Poverty and Rebuilding Communities Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota. On behalf of NARFI, Leah joined a group from north central Montana, from the Community Ventures Coalition, a newly funded NWAF agenda for poverty reduction.

Seeking Common Ground...

There is a widely held perception that Rural Electric Cooperatives (REC) are generally not interested in pursuing renewable energy. On closer look, this does not appear to be true. Click here for the rest of the story.

Rural Electric Cooperatives and Wind Power

There is a widely held perception that Rural Electric Cooperatives (REC) are generally not interested in pursuing renewable energy. On closer look, this does not appear to be true, although the general population and some wind power activitists would likely disagree.

To have an accurate picture of the variables involved in developing alternative energy in Montana, NARFI is taking a closer look at the Montana rural electric cooperatives and their positions regarding green power through a research aagenda "Interconnection of Small Customer Generation Facilities: A Study of Montana Rural Electric Cooperatives."

The three main goals of this research are:

  1. To accurately determine what the issues are that co-operatives face regarding wind power projects seeking to hook into their systems
  2. To assess the similarities and differences between Montana's RECs in renewable energy project policies and application/approval processes
  3. To compare Montana co-ops with RECs in other states on the same issues

The research is a four phase plan aimed at opening a constructive, non-adversarial dialog between the electric co-ops and wind activists/developers in Montana.

Phase One - acquiring demographic data for all Montana cooperatives and the distributed generation interconnection policies they have adopted, determining if and how these policies differ from each other.

Phase Two - reviewing the application and approval processes for alternative energy projects co-op by co-op, to find similarities and to determine differences among all 26 electric co-ops and then between co-ops and investor owned utilities.

Phase Three - gathering existing research that examines cooperatives in the United States particularly studying the impacts, benefits and lessons learned for those utilizing wind energy.

Phase Four - analyzing the information obtained in phases 1-3, to determine how wind energy may or may not fit into Montana's rural electric cooperative market.

NARFI is maintaining a neutral position in this research, seeking to get issues on the table on both sides, so common ground can be uncovered.

The data contained in Phase One of this study was collected through direct contact with each of the twenty-six Montana co-ops through in-depth telephone interviews and extensive email communication. Information was also obtained directly and via email from the Montana Electric Cooperative Association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and their research branch, the Cooperative Research Network, NorthWestern Energy, Montana Dakota Utilities, Bonneville Power Authority, and the Western Area Power Administration.

Phase One is complete. Click here to access a pdf file of the Phase One findings. As each phase is complete, results will be posted here.

For more information contact Leah Noel by e-mail or telephone at 406-265-6354.

22.8 Million in Grants for Renewable Energy

$22.8 Million in Grants for Renewable Energy - Farm Bill 2004 Funding Announced. Applications must be postmarked no later than July 19, 2004. click here and also here for more information.

Farm Bill 2004 Grants Info

Energy/Energy Efficiency Grants

On Wednesday, May 5th, the availability of approximately $23 million in competitive Renewable Energy/Energy Efficiency grant funds for FY2004 was announced. This program will assist agricultural producers and rural small businesses create their own energy or improve the energy efficiency of existing facilities.

Grants in the amount of $2,500 - $500,000 can be made for Renewable energy projects and grants in the amount of $2,500 - $250,000 can be made for Energy Efficiency projects. The maximum grant of 25% of the eligible project costs will be reimbursed to the grantees project.

All Montana applications should be submitted to the USDA-Rural Development State Office in Bozeman, MT to determine applicant eligibility, product eligibility, activity eligibility and other eligibility requirements.

All applications must be postmarked no later than July 19, 2004. Potential applicants should contact the State Office so that they may be provided with National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) requirements, forms, resources and guidance.

All projects will have a technical review completed by the National Energy Resource Laboratory (NREL). Once they applications pass the eligibility review and technical review they will be sent to the National Office by August 16, 2004 with anticipated funding date set for September 3, 2004.

The Notice of Funds Availability (NOFA) inviting applications is available on line. The application deadline is July 19, 2004. Click here for the guidelines.

Some of the changes from last year include:

  • Lower minimum grant levels. The $2,500 minimum grant level means that projects that cost only $10,000 are eligible for grants (based on a 25% maximum grant level). This improvement will open the door to many more energy efficiency projects.
  • 3rd party in-kind contributions can be counted toward the 75% match requirement.
  • New technical requirements based on specific renewable energy technologies.
  • Feasibility studies are only required for renewable energy grant requests exceeding $50,000.
  • Professional energy audits are only required for energy efficiency projects larger than $50,000
  • Special consideration will be given for smaller agricultural producers.(under $1 million in gross receipts)
  • .

All interested applicants should read the NOFA carefully. Then, please direct your questions to your state Program Director

For Montana contact John D. Guthmiller, Program Director, Business Cooperative Programs, USDA-Rural Development, 900 Technology Blvd, Suite B, P.O. Box 850, Bozeman, MT 59771, (406) 585-2540.

Please visit the USDA-Rural Development web site -- click here -- for further program information.

No market? Develop your own...

Four years ago, a group of farmers in northern Minnesota were having trouble accessing markets for their organic grain crops. So they bought a processing and storage facility in their own backyard. Read their story!

Woolie Boolie...

Thanks to John and Susan Merrell of Gateway Farm Alpacas for their commitment to sustainable agriculture and their passion for alpacas. The following information is just a tiny piece from the wealth of information you can find on their excellent website:

...the term sustainable agriculture means an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term:

  • satisfy human food and fiber needs
  • enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends
  • make the most efficient use of non-renewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls
  • sustain the economic viability of farm operations
  • enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole

Alpacas are uniquely positioned as a livestock species to further the goals of the sustainable agriculture movement. Alpacas are easy on the environment. Positive traits include:

  • A desirable end product commanding relatively high prices
  • Communal dung piles facilitate manure management
  • Padded feet minimize damage to the land
  • Hardy constitution minimizes the need for chemical or medical management
  • Efficient digestive systems reduce pressure on pastures and allow a wide range of suitable forage types

Alpaca, a natural elegance, a renewable luxury, a sustainable lifestyle...

If you are looking to add to your farm, ranch or rural life portfolio of economic strategies. Check out the alpaca business. Here are some of the

Special thanks to Pam of Pam's Lambs in Chinook Montana for coming in to the NARFI office to ask us to help her find out about alpacas as a business.

No silver bullets...

We have come to believe that "out there somewhere" is the silver bullet that will fix whatever ails us. If only we can only find it, then our farm, school, town, region, economy -- future -- will be saved. Truth is, there ARE no silver bullets; there never have been. But that does not mean there isn't a here to read more.

What if we don't win the lottery...

In the best "I'm going to win the lottery" mind set, we have come to believe that "out there somewhere" is the silver bullet that will fix whatever ails us. If we can only find it and bring it home, then our farm, school, town, region, economy -- future -- will be saved.

The chance of winning the lottery is 1 in 14 million, yet desperate folks spend scarce dollars on the extreme, rare, slim chance that the answer to all their problems will come from choosing the right set of numbers.

In rural communities, no matter how many times we try to avoid the roller coaster thrill of "wow, this is IT" that plunges into an "oh well, that wasn't IT," we keep looking for the one right thing that will turn the tide of our town's depopulation, bring in high paying jobs, keep the schools open, and attract our children to come back home.

No matter how much we say it's not true, we still seem to think that "THE ANSWER" is out there and it's some magic, one great thing.

Truth is, there ARE no silver bullets; there never have been.

We need to stop looking for THE answer to rural community survival. We need to hike up our own bootstraps, take a lesson from what others are doing, do some "no idea is crazy" creative brainstorming, and come up with a menu of things that we'll work on together to help our families, farms and communities to thrive.

The key to survival in the 21st century is to develop a portfolio of economic strategies, none of which is a silver bullet, but together and in combination, they can help us to survive.

There are ideas all around us -- but none is an all saving "silver bullet." Yet each provides some great points from which to start your own portfolio of individual, family, farm, and community opportunities. Here are few ideas to get your creative juices flowing. Put on your Thinking Caps -- your Idea Incubators-- and start imagining the WHAT IFs for your own sustainable future:

Enchanted Highway - Regent, North Dakota - As the organizers of these works of art are not ashamed to admit, the main purpose behind the Enchanted Highway is to promote tourism to the area. Gary Greff is a metallurgist from Regent, and as the driving force behind the creation of this series of sculptures he hopes that increased tourism will bring people and their money to help save the impoverished town of Regent and the surrounding communities. Read more

Buy Fresh and Local - When you buy local food, you vote with your food dollar. This ensures that the family farms in your community will continue to thrive and that future generations will have access to nourishing, flavorful, abundant and local food. Look for the label, taste the difference! Read more

The Savvy Traveler - How are you going to keep

Baby carrot business grows up

If rural life gives you tons of lemons, you get creative or you don't survive!

When a water shortage stunted his carrot crop in 1995, Paul Wipf, head gardener for the Riverview Hutterite Colony south of Chester, Montana, came up with an incredible solution to a six ton "too short" carrots problem. Eight years later, the only problem, said Wipf, is that his booming baby carrot business has outgrown the colony's labor force.

To solve the labor shortage and to expand the potential for baby carrots in Montana, Wipf has teamed up with economic developers to propose a large-scale carrot-processing cooperative in northcentral Montana. The plant would create more than 40 jobs and return processing profits to farmers instead of shipping the raw carrots out of state. Read more.

This is an excellent example of how creatively approaching a potential economic disaster can produce an innovative economic opportunity. By keeping up with trends in trade publications, Wipf had the germ of the idea already planted when necessity demanded a creative solution to a devastating problem.

This case also underscores the rising importance of networks and ties in rural places. The Hutterite Colony alone could not meet the expanding demand of the baby carrot market. However, by collaborating with Bear Paw Development Corporation, and local farmers outside the Colony, the baby carrot business can truly take off in north central Montana.

The future for rural places will demand, more and more, that rural citizens keep abreast of emerging trends which can affect their livelihoods and that they put aside past boundaries and biases to develop new opportunities together.

Sustainable Dining -- Network Style

You are what you eat! And for a small network of Montana farmers and chefs, what you eat is good for all of us. The Story of a Steak in Food and Wine magazine follows the trail from the "hippie cows" of Big Sky Natural Beef, the organic beets and carrots of Gallatin Valley Botanical, and the organic fingerling potatoes of Gaia Gardens to The Savory Olive restaurant in Bozeman where "every dish is made from sustainably produced ingredients." Together, organic/sustainable ranchers/farmers with support from the Chefs Collaborative -- a 10 year old group created to promote sustainable cuisine -- are changing the future, one food network at a time. It's Sustainability in Action. Special thanks to NARFI friend and outstanding photographer Steve Helmbrecht for the heads up on this article.

Nanocorps in Micropolis: Small Is Good in the Network Economy

Micropolitan Montana... Small Is Good!The U.S. Census Bureau sees the Network Society and its Network Economy coming. Learn more in Nanocorps in Micropolis: Small Is Good in the Network Economy, our latest article describing the collaborative NARFI and Sohodojo research agenda, and our evolving collaboration with The Richard Florida Creativity Group.
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