Almost to the minute, it has been ten years since the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship opened here on Roxbury Street. And while it is hard to believe, next year Hannah Grimes Marketplace will celebrate 20 years.
In his book The Third Plate, Dan Barber argues that sustainability isn’t achieved until the culture supports it. It made me think of my own farm, which is the home of Hannah Grimes who was born in 1776 and begin living at Buckminster Farm in 1806.
For 25 years I have carefully restored pastures, gardens, sheep, chickens and a house that had been empty or in seasonal use for the better part of a century. It has felt like sustainable living to me as I restore soil and grow much of my own food, heat with local wood, live as lightly on this earth as I can, and surround myself with a small group of friends who enjoy the same.
What The Third Plate points out to me, is how tenuous that “sustainability” is. The culture allowed this beautiful, productive home and land to fall into disuse after being loved and nurtured. It became clear to me that it is sustainable only as long as I am able and willing to pursue this lifestyle. The next owner may have different plans entirely for this beautiful patch of New England. So is that sustainable living? Or is it just a quaint drop in the bucket? It may be a drop in the bucket.
The optimist in me sees the bucket filling — the drops adding up. In 1997 when Hannah Grimes Marketplace opened, there was no buy local movement. Now local products abound in the region — with new producers arriving each day to markets eager to accept them. Hannah Grimes from its inception has been about community building using the vehicle of smart, creative and motivated business owners. The past 10-20 years has shown a sustained and strong trend in this region to support local business. I think it is safe to say that this is becoming part of our culture, hopefully that can continue to grow.
Concerning, however, is that most of our larger companies are no longer locally owned and many of them are facing challenges that make it difficult for them to grow here. That area of our economy, a really vital area that provides good paying jobs and numerous jobs, also needs a culture in this region that makes them sustainable. The owners that started and grew those companies are gone, changing the ecosystem dramatically. Manufacturing jobs have dropped over 20% in the past 10 years — taking average wages for the region down with it. In addition, the start rate for new businesses has plummeted here — an average of 12% a year for the past five years.
As we look back, we are heartened to see the move toward creating a stronger link between a thriving local economy and a vibrant community. As we look forward, we are inspired by the opportunities to continue and expand that work. In 2016 we plan to purchase a building at 310 Marlboro Street and add a focus on businesses with the potential for high job growth. The next decade promises to be another exciting one.
Dan Barber offers a good challenge to us all to think about how deep our “sustainability” runs and to think about ways we can truly build that into the culture so our efforts and our community are not at risk. I look forward to working with each and every one of you to cultivate a culture that outlives us all — a culture that sustains a thriving local economy and vibrant community in our region for generations to come.
Mary Ann Kristiansen
Executive Director, Hannah Grimes Center