Athens' Own

Jul 162013

“I can do anything, with a good cup of coffee” – by Alyse Carter

While you are enjoying your cup of coffee, I’d like to take a minute to ask you to reflect on the state of the world.

If you stop and really think about it, you might get a little depressed. We are constantly hearing how bad things are. Disease, violence, weather, economics, civil rights…. I don’t blame you if you’d rather just quietly sit and enjoy your coffee, and be satisfied with the conclusion that in this peaceful and serene moment, there isn’t anything you can do about any of that stuff. Of course you care, but what can you do? There’s so much media, politics, and debate, it’s easier to just tune it all out and enjoy your coffee.

Well, I have some news that might surprise you: You are making a difference right now. You’re drinking Dawn Chorus Coffee. You might be surprised to learn just how much those tasty coffee beans do.

Take another sip. It’s delicious, isn’t it? Robust, flavorful, earthy. I’m no coffee expert, but I know a great cup of coffee when I taste one. And this is truly a great cup of coffee, in more ways than one.

Let me introduce you to a man named Constantine, who is a coffee enthusiast. He is the definition of a coffee afficionado. He has been having a cup or three of Dawn Chorus Coffee every morning since he first created it. But unlike you or me, he rarely sits down and enjoys it. He is too busy trying to make his coffee do more than just taste good. Let’s start with the beans:

Dawn chorus coffee beans are fair trade, organic, and shade-grown. This particular coffee is also certified by the “Cafe Femenino” organization, which ensures living-wage jobs and works to create education and better living conditions for women in coffee countries. Pretty awesome, right? Next, the production:
The coffee is custom-roasted by a local coffee roaster. Why wouldn’t Constantine roast it himself? Because by working with someone who already has a coffee roasting production system, he can help develop sustainable economic growth. Instead of competing with this neighbor, he reached out to them and worked out an arrangement where he can pay them to roast his coffee to his specifications. This means more profit for the other roaster, and a lower footprint for the combined operation. He chooses to package his coffee in bags that are made of compostable paper, and boxes and equipment used in the production process are upcycled or re-purposed, rather than purchased new, whenever possible. The coffee is only sold at locally owned stores, or stores that work to embrace local economies and put money back into the community. He writes his story, explains his plans, and talks to any and everyone about his products, and the reasons why it’s worth it to pay a bit more for Dawn Chorus Coffee. Speaking of money, let’s move on to the profit:

Your hard-earned cash, which you gave up for this cup of coffee, returns money to the coffee countries to support better environmental and social practices. It increases profit at partner businesses and restaurants. It allows Constantine to train and hire employees for his company. These employees will have an enjoyable living-wage job, meanwhile being able to make their small efforts go even further. They won’t just package coffee, they will create communications, network with local businesses, develop educational re-skilling programs, work on other collaborative projects that benefit the community, and learn many, many new things. If they ever leave Athens, they will take their knowledge of how to enact the most positive change from the smallest opportunity, and teach others. They are the smart, community-minded citizens of Athens, thanks to your cup of coffee. And coffee is only one product that Constantine sells. And Constantine’s products are only some of the many that Athens’ Own distributes…

So while the coffee itself has its own benefits, the action of getting it into your hands has even more.

One person with a vision and an idea can have a huge effect on not just this community, but the world. Small actions can be one significant step towards big solutions. It starts when we stop talking about a problem, and start doing something about it, even if that something is as simple as enjoying a nice cup of coffee.

Jul 152013


Meeting at Fed Hock High School – 7/15/13

In attendance:

-Bill Elasky

-Cliff Bonner

-Constantine Faller

-Alyse Carter

-Miles McFadden


CF: To start, a little bit of background with Bill- through the window of business, we are working on building resilience. The solutions lie in places that are not part of our current educational stream. If we are taking interns from all these places (OU, hocking, etc), there are opportunities for us to create some educational models.

Some of the subsequent discussions have moved into evaluation, how to determine what and how students learn. If we’re working with students at OU, with someone who has already been through the education model, that creates its own problems. We say that as a business, you are not ready to work for us. That is usually shocking to students- I got this degree, you’re saying I’m not good enough?

We actually had a student write a piece on the shortcomings of education for one of her first projects.

Bill and I have talked about the care program, so we have the opportunity to get to these students early.

CB: So what type of shortcomings are you talking about?

CF: Research

AC: Writing, resumes, what I would call “common sense” skills.

CF: Alyse talked to a journalism professor who was shocked to hear that we had a complaint about one of her students’ writing. Critical thinking is another one. Social Skills.

CB: What exactly does your business do?

CF: (Explanation of AO, with help from Alyse)

CB: So are you a non-profit?

CF: No, we are purposely a for-profit. I chose it so that I could use that megaphone, that window of opportunity to get my message across. Like Bill said, we are doing a different kind of business.

How can I help the future generations to be better able to handle what is coming in the future? I’m not a doomsdayer, I’m a realist. What do I have in my toolkit that I can give to these kids? How can I use logic to help people see from point A to point B? Yes, this is Athens’ Own, and me, but the goal is that any community can build from the model and make their own marketing network and bring it to their community.

CB: So what were you thinking? What are your ideas?

CF: In the sense of pathways of decision making, I asked Bill if he was interested in an overall project in which the first slice, a micro-project, is a part of. For example, if building resilience is too nebulous, one slice of building resilience is local food security. One slice of that is local farms, what can we grow, how can we grow more locally. So, strengthening local agriculture. It is also a way to help me apply my training as a chef to help make this happen. If in any way the project is related to healthy community, somewhere further down the line is the Red Bird Ranch, a slice as a starting point is healthy soils. I’m not saying it might be the best one for these students coming in, but if you have a study of a healthy soil food web, how can that be broken into something the kids can do for one quarter, how long is the project?

CB: Were you thinking with the CARE?

BE: What I would like to see, is if we can get some CARE kids, something that would involve all three of us, the school system, AO, CARE. If you’ve got contacts with local food producers here, it makes sense to involve them also. It makes sense to start with something concrete that gets us all working together. I know you want to move beyond something short term, but coming up with something concrete would be a good way to get people thinking and working together, as long as there is an understanding that this is just the first step, trying to get some successful experiences under our belt. My involvement at this point would be a semester, but I wouldn’t want to stop with that. I like the idea of a partnership with a business, especially one who is trying to be as progressive as the district. I think our goal is similar. Perhaps one of the goals for Fed Hock is to start stepping out into the community and have a bigger impact on what’s happening in the community, beyond just sports and entertainment, but something that helps bring the community together. I think in doing that both the OU and Fed Hock students would feel inspired to be a part of that.

Students turn in sub standard work because they’ve never done anything REAL. They turn in the paper and skip off, whatever grade they get is fine. They want to do something real, something that inspires them.

BE: (Explanation of foxfire project in Georgia). The kids loved it, they were doing something that MATTERED. If it was a good issue, it was because the kids put into it what needed to be done. If they didn’t feel it, they would put out something that was substandard, but they didn’t do that, they had a personal stake in what they are doing. That’s what we want in our educational system, that’s what kids will get excited about, it doesn’t matter if they are in college, or a freshman here, etc. If you talk about social skills, it gives them reasons to work together and develop those social skills. All these things that you want, I think are things that we want, all these things are there, and it’s because of the partnership. What we need to do is figure out where we can begin to cooperate. You want to develop these skills, and you want to do it under your business models. So where is it that we start? How can we begin to cooperate so that we are helping our community become healthier, more self-sustaining, we’re helping kids become more involved in doing something that matters in the community. And how can my students assist?

CF: Is there anything in the educational models that illustrates the interconnectedness of life on this planet?

CB: Our science programs definitely touch on some of that…You can do things two ways- in a classroom or in some outside activity. Kids here have to have citizenship points to graduate. As little as going to a board meeting, but it gets more involved from there. Bill, you’ve usually worked with teachers in the CARE program.

BE: Yes, and there’s difficulty finding the time and space to make these things happen in the way that we as teachers want it to. I haven’t always been successful in getting our end of the needs spectrum met, some of that has to do with the curriculum, and the test. It might be good to do something out of school at first.

CF: What I was asking was a question of whether a project base could help them reinforce what they are learning. If they are going to take their square foot of dirt and farm it, do the water and air matter? The usefulness of giving them real-world application. And what are the hundred year effects, and if this could be a useful real-world thing, a starting point to help reinforce some of those science type things.

CB: That is definitely part of our science program here. There is a garden out back, our teacher has been doing that for years. The teachers are in tuned with environmental issues. So yeah I think that definitely would be a real world application. I don’t think it would connect with the agriculture department, I don’t think they get that kind of spin in that department. They don’t quite have that kind of slant on things. So that might not work as well there.

(Discussion of AO’s beef processing, locations, people, etc)

CF: There are job opportunities for someone who would like a local job- helping process meat, etc.

CB: So back to the question of where do we start. How do you get the kids, how to get them to buy in? It would be a little bit of a commitment outside of school. We are a big district, but we do run activity buses…so how do we get them to buy in and then get there?

BE: Could we do over lunch?

CB: Definitely. We had a nutrition group come in one time. Lunch is a great time. But teachers do have constraints on their time.

CF: In the sense of a resilience building company, these things we sell are just the fundraising efforts. To be halfway good at that, one needs to be flexible. I can say, you will learn. If you come in and say you want to learn and here’s what you have in your toolkit, coming up with projects is an easy thing for me. Listening to everyone’s needs, how can we help being a part of making them happen? These are things I currently have on my slate, but it certainly isn’t limited. I’d rather hear, what is your primary need, and how we can be a solution to that.

BE: A need I have is to show that education doesn’t have to be book-centered. It is best when it is set into something real. It doesn’t have to limit you, if you can integrate the whole thing, especially things like math that you tend to break down into little things. You can use math or science to accomplish many things. There’s no advantage to knowing something if it doesn’t have any use. We teach things that don’t have use because it doesn’t have any context. All those other things come because you are doing something real, because of the context you put it in. So that’s my goal. Many college students are going into education because they had such a meaningless experience, they want to do something to change it. So our need is to do something real.

AC: I assume you’re familiar with the term experiential education? That’s what you are talking about, right?

Be: Exactly.

CB: So how do we get this started?

BE: The beef thing, gives us a window to look at all these things, jobs, resources, businesses, etc.

CB: There’s so many levels to this. The middle school science class would be great for this. But there’s also these levels, like jobs, non-typical business models, sustainability, there’s so many levels.

AC: I think a good star would be to start with seeing the story

CB: I think that’s great, “what’s the issue?”

CF: My definition of food security is to be able to feed ourselves on an open timeline from sustainable local sources. As a scenario of a problem to solve, do we have the square footage, that’s tillable, to feed our current population? That reality of how much agriculture does it take for a family of four? Etc, etc

BE: even if you are’t going to look at this as a potential emergency situation, if you rely on local people, what does that do for the health of the community? If the money stays in the community?

CB: Well I’m thinking kids need a hook!

AC: Show them the food! Feed them a steak, show them a cow.

CB: I’d say every one of our students knows a farmer. The hook could be that, we are helping people we know. People know the Lackeys. Maybe its leanring more about the food.

BE: Going back to the 30 mile meal, how about the hook is, trying to construct a meal, one meal that is 30 mile meal. In the cafeteria.

CB: Whats a feasible number of kids? The middle school science teacher, he doesn’t have as many constraints. We want to make a more real middle school concept- inter-departmental cooperation. They can use their time for anything around the core classes.

BE: We could facilitate beyond just that too.

CF: There’s a lot of power in what a 7th grader can say….they’re old enough to speak with a mature voice. Without wagging a finger of negativity, going into a rotary that might be buying from GFS- giving a presentation on why they should buy food from the Lackeys. Get the kids to understand that the research might tell them that they might need to do things a different way. If it can potentially convince a rotary, then its one more body that is focusing on this: Make them say “when we eat at the country club, we are gonna eat 30 mile meal, that 8th grader convinced us to do something better for our future.”

CB: I think you’ve got your hook: your lunch prices are going to go up if you don’t find a way to buy local.

BE: 8th grade would be perfect.

CB: We have three teachers who I think would buy into this.

BE: So we have language, social studies, math, science. It’s a hook to get them out into the community and get involved.

CB: It’s got interdisciplinary written all over it. Do we just want to start with one class, you have a lot of kids…

BE: In effect what we are doing is giving these teachers a way to change how they teach. To put all the subjects together and to do something that is real. I think these deficiencies that you see, I think will become part of that. And at the end, the big thing is, we need to consciously look at how this 30 mile meal thing impact the community.

CF: One of the things we are trying to do is show kids and help them understand what they can do with their square foot. I think somewhere in there is where our solutions lie, from the ground up.

BE: Does this 30 mile meal thing start to get into where you want to go and what you want to do?

CF: Yes, I think it is a great hook.

CB: One of our challenges here has been to bridge our community-school gap. I think we’re starting to do that, but I think there’s ways that we can do better. I think this is perfect for that. I think the first step is to talk to the teachers and if they buy in and this goes well…we do have a lot of teachers who do project based things, we have practical assessments, the senior project. They know the idea, now how do I more engrain it into what they are doing in the classroom, and it takes outside people to come in and facilitate that. You (CF) help to bring that community connection.

CB: Well I can invite in that middle school team, would you like me to do that?

BE: I think a good next step would be to talk to these teachers, and see if they are interested. That gives us a place to start. I want my students to have some part in developing this, I dont’ want them to step into a project thats already full blown.

CB: Would the first teacher day, august 16th be too late to get together?

BE: I’d like to present the information to them sooner, let them think about it, talk about it. Then on the 16th come in and talk to them a little bit more. I don’t want to have it too finely developed. I’d like to give the students an option to come in and listen.

Conclusion: BE and CB will discuss with FH teachers, contact AC for more information later and to facilitate the OU student’s introduction to AO.

Jul 112013

As Miles, Constantine and I walked into the shared ACEnet kitchen this morning, like we do almost every morning, we halted suddenly, surprised by what lay in front of us. “What is this? Is this for anyone?” We remarked at the tray of four or five loaves of cinnamon sugar bread, left out on the counter in an enticing and inviting way. The bakers informed us that it was bread that was a bit old, didn’t sell well in the store front, and that would need a bit of “culinary expertise” to make it acceptable again. At that comment, I swear I saw a light bulb go off over Constantine’s head. From that moment on, today was Athens’ Own culinary school.

When we talk about resilience, we usually mention utilizing any and every opportunity you have, including making the most out of every situation. Many times, that includes a sense of mystery. We don’t ever know what will be put on the table in front of us today. We might wake up to a power outage, a surprise visit from a friend, a crate of spoiled eggs, or any number of positive or negative unforeseen events. A resilient team, as part of a resilient community can take whatever pops up and make the most positive results out of it. Today, on our table, in front of us, appeared some loaves of stale bread.

The team swung into immediate action – “Miles! Go get a knife, butter, a skillet and a turner!”, “Alyse, get out your camera!”, “Hey Crumbs, can we borrow some cinnamon sugar?”. Within a few short moments, Constantine was instructing Miles on the procedure of quickly and effectively buttering and grilling bread. “No, no, put the butter in the pan first, then slide the bread around to coat it. Those are thick slices so you need more butter.” Interspersed with suggestions of how to organize the cooking area, flip bread with a flick of the wrist, and what “golden brown” meant, the smell of lovely cinnamon began to fill the kitchen. Then appeared a nice silver tray, and the next class, how to attractively display these tasty morsels, had begun. “Tap the side of the sugar sifter, don’t shake it, gently, just like that, very nice…”. And before 8:30am, we were handing a tray of warm, gooey, fried cinnamon bread to the bakers to try. An odd silence fell on the kitchen, interspersed with chewing noises and nods of approval. But we’re not done yet! “Go get some eggs, we’re going to make French Toast next!”. And a relatively short amount of time later, I had learned what “lacing” syrup was, as I photographed Miles’ attempts to pour a stream of Athens’ Own maple syrup in a steady, zig-zag fashion across the toast. Personally, I preferred the grilled bread to the french toast, but they were both excellent.

As I struggled to get Miles to hold up his culinary creations and “SMILE!”, I documented the learning process as best I could with my camera, and marveled at how in only an hour, Miles (and myself!) had effectively learned how to up-cycle bread. Two delicious dishes created from something that was previously thought to be borderline inedible, which we saved from the trash can and used to feed an entire bakery crew a delicious breakfast! Not to mention the continuing education on sanitation, organization, and teamwork that happened simultaneously.

A Facebook post regaling our morning adventure, accompanied by a photo of Miles almost smiling was quickly uploaded, to inform the community about the spontaneous learning which happened today. Responses came in with excitement, asking if we would offer this new treat at the Farmer’s Market. And suddenly, we had another opportunity appear on the table. If we sold grilled cinnamon bread at the market, think of all other projects we might be able to put those profits toward, and what we might learn, or what else we might find in front of us along the way. Time to swing into action again! The resilience team is on the job!



Jul 082013

Today we set out for our meeting with a local education professional with this thought in mind: How we go about using the day in front of us to make the most learning out of every experience?


Constantine and Alyse met with BE, director of the CARE program, on Monday, July 8th, for a discussion about Education. The following is a summary/ transcription of the discussion, as taken by Alyse.



BE- So, why don’t we start with what ideas you have?

Constantine Faller- Well, we are all “teachers”, some more than others. What I can offer from an employers standpoint, and what Alyse’s first task was is a way to explore the gaps in the education system in modern society. Our business has a firsthand view of these shortcomings. I have tried to develop a worker readiness certification but have encounted problems in methodology, etc. One of the things I brought up this morning with Alyse is how to explain this in an education context. Also, I want to hear the kinds of things that you are currently involved in: your “square foot”. There’s faculty around you, some I guess you are closer to than others, that you might get into discussions with about “what if” types of scenarios, and I want to know what I can do as an employer to help be a guinea pig and help provide a place for these things to happen. How can I be of assistance helping us all get somewhere we can’t get by ourselves. So this meeting isn’t just about me, that’s part of our company’s vision, to see where our goals align and how we can work together.


BE: Let me tell you what I do- This program is called the CARE program, it started about 25 years ago.We were truthfully very upset with the college of education, decided we weren’t going to have these people in our classroom anymore, it was less than worthless. So some people came up with this program and they wanted us to be involved. The program has basically these purposes: 1. It gets education students in the classroom early and often – before they even start student teaching. 2. It is a progressive, democratic education. We believe that kids don’t turn 18 and automatically become good citizens. “How” you teach is more important than “what” you teach, it is school’s job to make kids ready to be good citizens. There is a lot of critical thinking, developing programs. We work with the students as collaborators and partners. I coordinate the program, I bring kids into it, do the adminstrative stuff. I work closely with Fed Hock because we are in a partnership as well. Several of our instrtuctors are also Fed Hock teachers. The goal right now is to develop long-term programs or projects that our studnets can work on with Fed Hock students and teachers where all three groups have input into what is going on. We did a project recently [where there was a chemical spill on a 6th grader’s farm, and the students worked together to investigate, clean up, and learn about the soil and water]. The students came up with the project and developed it themselves. We were able to incorporate math, social studies, science, and language all in a project that the students had created which was really great for them.

So with this opportunity, It sounds like you are looking for entreprenurial type things.


CF: In the sense that our company is building resilience it is in a sense entreprenurial, different than selling “widgets”, like most people do. In doing what I am trying to do- build solutions, build ways for communities to pull them selves up, as an engineer, instead of trying to say “this is what we need to do first” I am trying to identify the starting point. The best place to start with – is it education? Communications? So, trying to decide what is the most important element. This came up because an infinite number of people have asked me, when asking about what Athens’ Own does: “Can you give me that in writing?” So then, what skill do I not have that would help get them their answer, better than it is being communicated now? Which skills should be able to write something like that?


Bill: So it is ok that there aren’t projects fleshed out, that doesn’t bother me, there are other people i’d like to bring into the process.

CF: Great! It should be a democratic process, and we should talk about what can everyone bring to the table. So that is great. What are people’s skill sets? I know a lot about food, and engineering, so that’s what I personally can bring to the table. And that’s part of our strategy, identifying what is in everyone’s “toolkit” and how we can work together.


B: I like the idea of education contributing to a healthy community


(I missed some conversation- was eating delicious sausage and eggs!)


CF: We are trying to get across the idea of looking beyond the widgets, beyond the money, to what else is happening. Particularly in rural life- how does a community come together in order to sustain itself? One thing I thought about recently is how the linkage through church isn’t as strong in our society as it used to be in the past. However, there is still a link through schools. It used to be that churches were a central link in the community, with kitchens, gatherings, etc. Not so much anymore, but schools have the opportunity to be this type of link.

In terms of business, if I was just focusing on next quarter, I would just focus on widgets. If I am focusing on the next 100 years, I have to focus on more. It makes business sense to focus like that, it is cheaper in the long run, the cost to our future greatly outweighs the cost to me right now. It’s long-term cost savings.


BE: Sounds like we have a lot of overlap in what we want to do. The question is, where from here? I like short term projects that I can get kids involved with, but I like them to have long-term applications.


CF: How soon are you ready to hit the ground running with something?

BE: August, when the studnets come back. We have some students who are really capable and enthusiastic, and I want to throw them into something meaningful right away.


CF: How much would it entice you if it were a building block type of thing?

B: That’s an essential part of it, it’s potentially a good thing, although it needs to be something real.

CF: Not to overshadow what we are talking about, but I doubt this concept is confined to local. With this kind of progam, I would like to see it as a kind of model of our effort for other communities. How can students be an intimate part of changing their future?

  • Game idea- entreprenurial ideas for prizes, cash, charities, etc

BE: I think a project that is meaningful can have more inspiration than a cash prize.

CF: It has always been a goal of Athens’ Own to have the company be student-run eventually. There’s just so many possibilities. How do we come back to a kernel and start? With Fed Hock being an agricultural, rural setting, do you think having it food-oriented in some way would help people see that we are going to buid better community and this is how we are going to do it? Again, this is just throwing out ideas. We are certainly doing a lot with food, but what does food have to do with building resilience? Helping the RBR be a viable farm, building food security, etc.

BE: And the advantage would be you cast the net and bring some kids in, and get their families involved, they can see in their lives some application.

CF:There’s a lot that is viewable through the window: the inter-connected businesses, getting the product to cusomers, the social situations, the biology of the soil food web, etc. The linkages outward, not just the teachers, but the “trickle-down” tertiary effects…

BE: Yeah, the more people you bring in the stronger it is, the more ideas you have, the more you are able to come up with something.

CF: Without losing this point: the heart of this is education, not food.

BE: So it sounds like what we need to think about, is what are the initial building blocks, what kind of process type things, at least.

CF: I think prior to putting food on the table, I think I heard some of the conceptual building blocks of the program (CARE), I would be quite excited to just open it up to group discussion, including creating a forum…although people don’t need another forum to be a part of so maybe not… It would be nice to hear directional-type things that other people have, their own goals. How to weave as many pieces as possible together. Maximum positive effect.

BE: We want to give kids an education that matters, not just filling in bubbles on a standardized test. I think when kids have the kind of education we have been talking about, the standardized test takes care of itself. They have that and beyond.


BE: So would it make sense then to get together again with some more people, teachers, administrators, and try to come up with what are some of these building blocks, and what process can we use to get there, and what building blocks we can use over time. You’re wanting to change the educational system and I think this is the place to do it. The district is in a good place to do these things, to move in a this type of direction. I think you and I are in a good position to enable certain aspects of what they want to do. They see value in what we are talking about, we can become somehow a part of what they are doing, We don’t have to sell them on anything, we are already a forward-looking, progressive, democratic community.


CF: And I have an opportunity to field test the results.

How soon should we have a larger group meeting?


BE: Either the 16th or 15th of this month, or right after the first of the month in august


CF: So basically what we are talking about is,

How can food help edcuation?

Education is the foundation- how can all these other things help build towards education?

How can the sale of a steak help fill in these gaps we see?


BE:The beauty of it is, all you need is something that matters to the kids, something they care about, the education will happen on its own. Good teachers can see these opportunities for learning in what they are doing.



Set meeting for the 15th at 10, tentatively at the high school


Jul 072013

As is mentioned in various places on this website and in logs, one of the first steps we see to help start building resilience is to take a critical look at the situation in front of you. We have a particular document which we reference often, that we call the “current situation analysis”. This document is a long list of things which we see as the issues, problems, and realities that we are currently facing today.

One of these items concerns the quality of education and educational programs. As a company with an internship program which focuses on helping Ohio University students enhance and supplement their formal educations, we are constantly evaluating and monitoring the students who we meet. And we have noticed a problem, or a “situation” item if you will… the education system is falling short in too many places. We see gaps all the time, whether it be a student who has never had to effectively write a rationale for a project, a student who does not know how to thoroughly complete background research before applying to a job, or even just a student who has ilegible handwriting. As a company who is racing and fighting against time to build a stronger and more resilient future, we need those people who want to be a part of our efforts to be able to keep up with our ideas and our speed. We don’t really have the time to explain over and over what our company does because an intern didn’t read the “about us” section of the website before they applied. We don’t have the time to sit down and watch them write out numbers on an invoice, and we don’t have the time to help them learn such a basic skill as writing an essay. These are all things, among many others, that we think should have been learned at some point already. So what happened? Why are so many students graduating from college without some of these skills, which many businesses would consider basic qualifications?

This is our situation: We see a problem in the educational system. We need skillful, proficient, and intelligent students who are eager to learn and improve themselves. This is not to say that none of our past interns have been up to this standard, rather we have had the pleasure of working with many bright young minds. However, when one takes the average student population into account, I don’t think there would be much argument against the claim that the education system could do better.

If step one is to analyze the situation, what do we do next? Our plan is to connect with like-minded people, who share our observations, goals, and concerns, and try to develop a way to work together to do something about this problem. With that in mind, we will be meeting soon with teacher education professionals to discuss some of these issues and see what solutions we might be able to create.

More on this topic to come soon!

Jul 032013

I think it’s safe to say that at some point in your life, you have uttered the phrase: “I’m going to do something about this!” For the purposes of this explanation, what “this” is doesn’t particularly matter. It could be a cause one feels strongly about, a percieved injustice, something one loves so much they feel compelled to help, or maybe even something that makes a person so angry they finally have to stand up and say that sentence. Whatever the reason, and whatever the feeling which caused the statement, whether it was positive or negative, now there is an hanging question in your path: So what exactly are you going to do?

It seems to me that the people who are going to actually stand up and make this type of claim have basically two choices. The first choice, which I think most people would pick, is the path of direct action. This is where people grab their signs and join the protest crowd, where petitions are signed, where fundraisers are held, where invasive species control hikes are, and where people might pick up a turtle and help it cross the road. It is the type of work which gives any human being a feeling of intense satisfaction and a confidence that they did something great today, however large or small the result.

Now, I want to take a moment to pause and make one thing very clear: These people are wonderful. They are essential to our world’s survival, they are caring, loving, motivated people, and they do certainly make a difference in more ways than one.

However, this isn’t the path that Athens’ Own is on. It isn’t the path that Constantine chose, it isn’t the one I chose, or the one our interns will need to choose. As I said above, when faced with the daunting question of “What can I do to help this?”, we have two options. The first is to pick up turtles. The second is to build the systems, shape the plans, create the models, and build the solutions to the real causes of the problems. Athens’ Own does not necessarily want to be the ones picking up the turtles, we want to be at the head of the drafting table, leading the team to design and build a world that doesn’t need to save the turtles because we all live in a way that they are already and always safe. And honestly, we can’t do that if we are spending all our time standing in front of a building with a sign or pulling up garlic mustard.

It is incredibly difficult to put down the turtle, tell it “I’m sorry, but I promise I will save your grandchildren”, and leave it there. However some of us have to do to that if we want to see this real change happen. It is even more difficult to let go of specifics and launch yourself into the bigger picture and understand how by fixing a different, bigger problem, you can save the turtles without ever touching them. In a way, Athens’ Own is trying to help everyone save everything they love all at the same time. We are trying to fight the forest fire, not put out each individual leaf. That would be a race we could never win. But, by taking a step back, focusing our energy and weaving our collective efforts together into a greater plan for a more resilient future, we just might be able to show our grandchildren a real live turtle, and not just a picture and a story. And they might be proud of us, because we really did do “Something”.

In future writings, I’ll be attempting to explain just how Athens’ Own is creating this plan and the types of things that entails.

May 212013

My week Interning with Athens’ Own was unforgettable. My favorite memories were riding around the back roads in the truck with Constantine as we ran business errants, selling delicious, handcrafted foods at the bustling farmer’s market, and getting to visit the shared community workspace building where Constantine prepared his products for market. I had no idea that running a business could be so much fun. There were so many people we got to chat with throughout the day, and new ideas for the business were constantly being developed. There was so much potential for new things Athens Own could sell or do for the community that would both generate funds and serve a crucial role in someone else’s operations. I learned that creative thinkers go far in this environment, because they can see the potential in new business ideas, develop those ideas, and implement them.

Not only did I have a great time helping Constantine run the business, but I also learned how interconnected a business can be with its community. Rather than competing against other local businesses that are all selling the same products, Constantine’s business takes other business’ raw products, such as fresh hot peppers or savory beef, and turns them into value-added products for re-sale. Setting up at the market that Saturday, I felt proud to be part of an interactive enterprise who’s first priority wasn’t profits, and who’s items for sale were beautiful and irresistibly tasty. The shoppers at the market ate it up–literally.
Constantine’s business thrives off the success of other businesses and the prosperity of the people in his community. If that isn’t a better business model, I don’t know what is! Looking back on how much insight I gained while working with Athens’ Own, I would definitely recommend this internship to other college students.

May 202013

Last week, I had the great pleasure to work on staff at Boy Scout National Camping School. Along with two other staffers, I was responsible for teaching a class of sixteen participants how to run a safe and fun ropes course program. We taught everything from theories and concepts to safety procedures, standards, and paperwork. The participants in our class left the week with not only a certification card, but also a sense of accomplishment and readiness to lead their respective programs at their summer camps. As I watched them all go their separate ways, I couldn’t help but think back to my first time at summer camp.

There was one staffer who I remember in particular as being incredibly crazy and funny but also sincerely kind and patient. He had just been through the National Camping School ropes course class, and he is the one who first introduced me to the ropes course program at our camp. I still remember the exact moment during our session when I decided I wanted to work for him and “learn the ropes”, if you’ll pardon the bad pun. I went on to work at that camp for five more years, and I succeeded him as the ropes course director, which meant I got to go through the course at National Camping School myself. I developed a deep love of the program and the effects it can have on groups and individuals.

In my time as a director, I can remember so many staff and scouts who I helped. Some learned merit badges from me, some went on to be leaders at that same camp, their councils, and their communities, and some are still my best friends to this day. If you consider that all of those scouts were affected by me, and I was just one of the scouts affected by that staff member, and he was just one of the participants at his NCS session, that’s an almost unfathomable ripple effect. So, almost six years later to the day, as I watched the class I had just spent a week teaching and befriending reluctantly leave an incredible week to return to their camps, I thought about the ripple I had started, and I wondered in that moment just how many scouts I would have indirectly affected by the end of the summer. Scouts and staffers who I would never meet, but who would go on to do great things because I taught their teachers.


After a week and a realization like that, returning to my daily tasks at Athens’ Own brought on a strange reflection: That although I have a similar position here as a teacher and a leader, I don’t really feel that same ripple effect. It might be because I started near the top, and didn’t get to experience as much of the outer ripples, or maybe because I haven’t been here as long, or that it is much harder to imagine the effects I might have from here. I certainly don’t think there is any less potential here. In fact, I think there is more. I have the potential to help shape an educational system which could help countless students and communities. But right now, it seems like the way our program is set up, there are some problems, and it isn’t producing the results we want, and the ripples are getting lost somewhere.

With this reflection, as well as some other feedback from the team during my absence, Constantine and I have decided to take a step back, and to take a critical look at how we are teaching our interns. We need to find a new way to expand education and to improve how much and how well our interns learn and apply their knowledge. Starting from scratch again today, we are going to try to improve our plan to find and use the best possible resources to give them the best possible educational experience, and to help them develop their own passions, desire to learn, and their own infinite ripples.

May 072013
Hello all Athens’ Own interns, volunteers, and supporters. This will be my last log as an Athens’ Own intern. The reason for my departure rests in the hands of a few pressures, disappointments, and lack of personal accountability. Athens’ Own has opened my mind to a new lifestyle; we are confronted with truths so great in our lives and sustainability (listening to the natural systems) consumed me. I built much pressure on myself to understand every aspect of the the sustainability movement that, at times, left me no time to be a full-time Athens’ Own intern. I found myself cynical about our society making a necessary change with a business-as-usual mindset. Activism research and development took over from there. I’ve tried to, as always, connect my education and focus at this school to the efforts I can bring in my toolkit for these initiatives. Sad to say that not too many people care about university divestment, renewable energy, preservation, conservation, and all the great ideas to save our planet. We are, as a society, in a crisis of consciousness, but I have hope.
My tendency to overload my time for such passions was another pressure in the way. One too many classes and a schedule addition of two jobs to save money made matters worse. I am sorry for neglecting the mission of Athens’ Own and my duty as an intern. With the built up time and energy I have given to Athens’ Own in addition to my own lack of responsibility I felt disappointed as well. I wanted to be a great advertising tool for Athens’ Own. All I wanted was to help spread the idea, be the voice and liaison, and develop events and discussions about the overall mission. I always thought the mission involved bringing in the community to the life of Athens’ Own, but I felt like most of my time went to labor of bagging coffee and properly stacking boxes. I understand that this is not part of the checklist of Athens’ Own duties. There is a process of getting to the next level of this internship, but I felt I did enough personally to be confident in my abilities. I let my desire to create content shadow the detailed syllabus of internship duties and requirements.
I am disappointed for not being able to that chance and I am disappointed in myself for disregarding the team values. I truly wish everyone that comes in contact with Athens’ Own gains as much as I have during the past year. I don’t want to lose my connection to Athens’ Own. I love the Farmer’s Market and the Broadwell Hill Learning Center because those were times I felt more alive. I felt like I was a valuable piece to a perpetual motion of moments for sustainable change.
Mar 142013

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