We know that folks who attend Radically Rural LOVE their communities. That’s why the prize for our event app game last year was a visit from the RR team to the winner’s hometown so that we could feature them and share what’s working.
Last week, the Radically Rural team visited winner Jackie Swaby, Executive Director and Curator for the Arts Council for Wyoming County. We learned all about what makes Perry, NY and Wyoming County special and what models and solutions they have implemented that are worth sharing. Jackie moved the the US from Jamaica in 1986. She has been in Wyoming County for 30 years and therefore has both the advantages of fresh innovative eyes, while also having the long term experience of community investment.
Jackie is pictured here with Aahana’s Naturals, an amazing rural food business she learned about at last year’s summit during PitchFork Challenge. She told us that she placed her order for the product right after Sonal was pitching, and now she keeps it on hand all the time because it’s so easy, healthy, and delicious.
Jackie so thoughtfully put our agenda together and specifically chose organizations and individuals who were actively supporting the arts, but not direct arts organizations. It was a fun thread to follow during our trip and a great example of the kinds of relationships and cross collaboration that make every community more vibrant and innovative.
If you run into Jackie at the summit, ask her about all things active outdoors–biking, hiking, skiing, even snowboarding!
What’s Working in Wyoming County
Table Rock Farm
This local dairy farm was founded in 1915 and has been passed down through four generations. Today, the farm produces over 35 million pounds of cow milk annually and employs 25 full and part-time employees.
Megan, who runs the family farm today, knows each of her employees. As we toured the facility, she pointed out each person we saw working and spoke of them proudly, whether they were milking cows, cleaning pens, or transporting milk to be made into cheese. Part of the welcoming working environment is the benefits that employees receive, including education stipends and comprehensive retirement packages.
The farm also has sustainability practices in place to reduce their emissions and energy usage. Raw milk is cooled by cold water pipes rather than additional energy. The farm also recycles their cow manure into fertilizer for the crops they grow into cow feed. Additional manure is covered to reduce methane emissions.
Megan also shared the ways her farmers provide the highest level of comfort for their cows. From water beds to grooming brushes to extensive cleaning, the cows are well taken care of.
They participate in studies with Cornell Cooperative Extension regularly as a part of their commitment to innovation and invest a lot in education for their broader community, including regular social media posts about their practices.
Kim Mathis showed us around her homestead, five acres of land filled with sheep, flowers, and produce. Her family started raising sheep after her daughter got involved with 4-H. Once they have their sheep sheared, they skirt the fleece and sell most of it as is. The family keeps some fleece for themselves, cleaning, spinning, and knitting it into handmade wool products. This small-scale farming adventure is a great accessible model for the average family. Kim told us that she is personally committed to “more people growing more things.” As we walked around the gardens she had generously postponed harvesting so that we could pick raspberries, cucumbers, and herbs. She even dug up some of her DELICIOUS garlic for us. Julianna is drying it out to plan in her own garden in the fall and will be sure to report back to Kim at harvest time next year!
Arts Council for Wyoming County
Executive Director, Jackie Swaby, showed us around the ACWC gallery located on Main Street in Perry, NY. In addition to the main street space full of local artists’ works, ACWC also shares art throughout the county with Satellite Galleries in spaces like the Wyoming County Business Center and East Hill Creamery. They also participate in local events like the Chalk Art Festival and collaborate with farmers on projects like Wooly Wonders, a “sheep to shawl” exhibition.
Letchworth State Park
Voted Best Attraction in NY State in 2017, Letchworth State Park is a gathering place for locals and tourists alike. There are an abundance of hiking and biking trails as well as historical information available at the park. One of the newest features is the Autism Nature Trail (ANT), which was shared at Radically Rural 2022 in the Land & Community Track’s session on inclusive outdoor recreation. Jackie’s connection to the ANT staff is what brought her to RR.
One replicable model we came across in downtown Perry was this poster infrastructure advertising community festivals, summer events, intramural sports, and local nature trails. If your town is looking for a way to share local events and opportunities, hanging some metal brackets like these is an easy option!
Chalk Art Festival
Remember Megan from Table Rock Farm? She is also one of the masterminds of this annual community event. It’s a great example of the versatility of rural folks and how cross sector collaboration can produce some of the most inspiring results. The chalk art festival combines Main Street, Arts & Culture, and Land & Community aspects by bringing artists, vendors, and farmers together for a display of chalk art, community gathering, and the weekly farmer’s market. We were walking downtown on Friday evening and asked a book store shop keeper who was closing up, “Will you be open tomorrow?” and he said, “Of course, it’s the best day of the year!”
Wyoming County Business Center
The Business Center is home to the Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce & Tourism, Cornell Cooperative Extension programming, the local Industrial Development Agency, Small Business Development Center, Business Education Center, Quality Milk Production Services, and more. The building serves as a one-stop-shop for local entrepreneurs and farmers. This model of bringing everyone into the same physical space creates access and density for both the clients and employees of county offices and similar organizations.
Some other great businesses we interacted with were: