LAKE PLACID - How do we build a stronger local community? That was the topic of a student-run effort on Thursday night in the Olympic Center conference room.
The panel discussion, called "Community Building: Localizing the Adirondack Economy" focused on local economic development, local sustainability and food production in Adirondack communities.
It's the culmination of a lot of hard work done by students at Clarkson University's Adirondack Semester program. The program itself is designed to give students a more hands-on experience, learning about the politics, economics and issues affecting the North Country. Students have been working on the project for two weeks.
Adam Hainer of Juniper Hill Farms, left, Rene Goodnow of Wholeshare, Dan Mason of Adirondack North Country Association, DJ Colbert of Cornerstone Services, Anna Buser of Adirondack Cooperative Economy and Kate Fish of Adirondack North Country Association discuss community issues Thursday in the Olympic Center conference room.
(Enterprise photo — Matthew Turner)
"This program is excellent," said Clarkson University student Ian Vitek. "It's completely changed the way I view the college experience. You can really dive into stuff."
The freshman was discussing what he learned with members of the public prior to the panel discussion kicking off. Vitek helped secure speakers for local food production topic.
"I basically set up some food (related) questions for the panel," Vitek said. "We also sort of out reached to get the word out."
Vitek said the structure of the class first focused on philosophy, then political science, biology and finally economics. Over that time, students went on field trips to different places to experience the topic they were learning about.
Zoe Spindelman, sophomore, spoke about the project and thanked her fellow students for putting the discussion together.
"The panel discussion is meant to be a very casual but valuable experience for everyone," Spindelman said. "It's certainly been a crazy week planning this event. My peers have worked to contact speakers, advertise, create programs and flyers, and create questions for discussion all on top of projects we had to do for our other courses."
The discussion was moderated by student Colin Dowd, who introduced the speakers.
Six local experts in their field were at the discussion: Kate Fish of Adirondack North Country Association, Anna Buser of Adirondack Cooperative Economy, Rene Goodnow of Wholeshare, Adam Hainer of Juniper Hill Farms, Dan Mason of Adirondack North Country Association, and DJ Colbert of Cornerstone Services.
Dowd asked the panel about how local people can change their economy for the better.
Buser said communities in the Adirondacks are not spending enough money locally. That percentage of local-spending was around 10 percent, she said.
"If we keep this money locally we would be helping each other more," Buser said.
Fish agreed people need to spend more money locally, saying the individual has the biggest influence on their local community.
"The book store right across the street sells e-books for example," Fish said. "They'll get the profit rather than it going to a large multi-national (corporation). That keeps money circulating and keeps us in good shape."
Buser also said local communities should consider creating their own community. Her group Adirondack Cooperative Economy helped develop the Adirondack Buck in Warrensburg, which she hopes will expand eventually to the entire Adirondacks. The currency is perfectly legal at the local level, she explained.
The group later discussed what makes a local community sustainable.
"Doing things in a way today that is not going to impact future generations," Fish said.
Colbert said that could be achieved if people live within their means.
"Start there and hopefully it will rub off on the rest of the country," Colbert said.
Mason said businesses paying a living wage is the mark of a sustainable community.
Hainer, of Juniper Hill Farms, said he is faced with remaining sustainable everyday as a local farmer.
"We hire kids who barely break minimum wage and they do it for the love of farming," Hainer said. "We bust our hump every day to produce that food."
Hainer said he would like to pay a higher wage, but it's not possible with the current cost of foods.
"It's hard to pay someone that (minimum wage)," Hainer said. "We can not find a local work force to work in our fields."
The discussion ended around 8 p.m. Susan Wright, assistant professor at Clarkson University, supervised the project and was proud of her students Thursday night.
"This is there first comprehensive project that integrates the community," Wright said. "I think they're doing a good job."