Social Enterprise Gets to Incubatin’

Providence is, it seems, becoming an incubator for incubators. The success of organizations like BetaSpring, and the dire economic awareness that floats over much of the city, are leading to an embrace of the start-up. Long recognized, yet often little respected, as a primary driver of new jobs and financial recovery, the “start-up” now has more potential support than ever before.

External Relations Director Caroline J. Mailloux, excited about plans for the Greenhouse space
External Relations Director Caroline J. Mailloux, excited about plans for the Greenhouse space

You may already know about the fairly long-standing Design Center downtown, which cultivates relationships between and workspace for design professionals, freelancers and start-ups. There’s also BetaSpring, which takes an active investor/mentor role in the destinies of the start-up ventures it shepherds from its Chestnut St. location. There’s Digital City, filling its role from within AS220’s Merchantile Block as a collaborative space for cutting edge and bleeding edge digital artists and producers. There’s the Hatch, right next to PPAC, with modernist meeting spaces, hosted hackathons and a variety of start-ups. Next door is Johnson & Wales’ entrepreneurial innovation center.

The newest start-up niche to find a specialized home is the social enterprise. While social enterprise ventures may be for-  or non-profit, they’re characterized by a dedication to making the world a better place in some meaningful way, and generating enough income to keep doing so. You can expect a lot of green and healthy ventures to spring forth from this new location, fittingly called the Social Enterprise Greenhouse. Their first “Build Out Benefit” took place last week, amid ring-tosses, food, drinks and other games. They are raising money to build out and repair this prime space at one corner of Davol Square, where, in RI terms, Chestnut’s Salon used to be. The organization started a few years ago and has built a broad base of involvement, evidenced by the crowd of supporters who turned out for the July 17 event. Learn more about the roughly 150 ventures the Greenhouse has helped so far, and about the upcoming incubation space at segreenhouse.org.

Growing Awareness: The Story of Seeds

How a RI Whole Foods Market and an independent director are shedding light on the seed crisis

Open Sesame Poster

by Despina Durand

The upcoming July screenings of Open Sesame: The Story of Seeds are the end result of a serendipitous ambition sparked by the film itself. Bonnie Combs, Marketing team leader at the University Heights Whole Foods Market, saw the film when it screened at the Cable Car Cinema & Cafe this past April after a friend of hers in the bakery at Whole Foods told her about how she had contributed to the Kickstarter that funded the film.

Open Sesame is a documentary that looks at the struggle between seed farmers and big agri businesses, such as Monsanto, over who has the rights to seeds. Seeds, the film argues, are the source of all life, and the basis of civilization. Without them, none of the things that we have today would exist. The move to patent seeds has gravely endangered biodiversity and farming.

Open Sesame director Sean Kaminsky, based out of Brooklyn, did not intend to make a full length film about seeds. The project started as an idea for a short film when he realized that the things he had been reading about seed patenting had a lot in common with the conversations happening around proprietary formats in digital media. (Proprietary formats are processes of encoding files that mean that they can be only opened with a specific program. For example, .doc, .ppt, and other Microsoft file formats.)

“I felt like they were turning seeds more into information than food,” Kaminsky explained.

But he discovered as he set off to his interviews that it was a very emotional topic. Sophia Maravell of the Brickyard Education Farm, one of his subjects, told him that 95% of the vegetable biodiversity has disappeared in the last 100 years. Each interviewee prompted him to speak with another on the subject, snowballing the project to a new level.

“It crept up on me.”

Combs originally approached the RISD Metcalf auditorium to screen the film, but while she awaited a response, she learned that the Cranston Public Library had started a seed library of their own, and they quickly agreed to host a screening of Open Sesame. Combs still wanted a screening in Providence, and ultimately Metcalf got back to her with an affirmative.

Kaminsky will be at the screening at the William Hall Library in Cranston, on July 30, to talk with the audience about the film. The following day representatives from the Seed Savers Exchange will lead a workshop on saving and sharing seeds.

“What I felt was that I wanted to leave people feeling inspired and hopeful, rather than in a place of anger and sadness,” Kaminsky explained of Open Sesame’s contrast with the trend of food documentaries to leave viewers drained or frustrated by the actions and indifference of big business. Kaminsky’s hope is that the film will inspire people to engage in learning more about seeds, advocating for them, and even saving them.

And from the way Combs has reacted, it seems he has already succeeded. Combs described how the film left her wanting to bring people together to educate them about seeds. And she has already thrown herself head first into the issue; she is going on a retreat to Decorah, Iowa for a summer conference hosted by the Seed Savers Exchange.

“It takes so much to make a film– you want to believe it will make a difference, and to know that it impacted someone so much. It’s been really inspiring,” Kaminsky said of Combs.

But Kaminsky does not want to tell people how they should engage with what they learn, and realizes that not everyone will in the same way.

“If there is only one thing you can do, plant a seed,” he said. The experience of planting a seed is powerful, he explained. Putting it into the earth and watching it grow connects us to our ancestors who created civilization through the millions of seeds they planted and cultivated.

Combs’ journey has mirrored Kaminsky’s. From that first screening, she has tapped into the local seed saving culture. She learned that the person who requested that first screening of the film at the Cable Car was Bill Braun who runs the Ivory Silo Seed Project in Westport. He will be one of the speakers at the Providence screening of Open Sesame. The issue has swept her up. She wants to make it a priority for people to know about the importance of seeds. And she has high hopes.

“Bringing people together with an interest in a topic is the greatest thing. It’s so rewarding,” Combs said.

Open Sesame: the Story of Seeds will be screening July 24 at 7pm at Metcalf Auditorium. And July 30 at 6pm at William Hall Library. The seed saving workshop will be July 31 at 6:30pm. For more on the film visit  www.opensesamemovie.com.

Thar Be Dragons

The Providence pop-up scene can be hard to track down – the very nature of a pop-up is that is temporary, almost ephemeral. Pop-up galleries in Providence can be like unexpected springs discovered on a backwoods hike – something you come across when you part some foliage, without realizing what you’ll be stumbling upon.

One such recent pop-up is the exhibition by local artist, Steel Yard patron and co-founder Nick Bauta. The show, occupying otherwise vacant space on Westminster St. in downtown Providence, includes some beautifully crafted furniture and an action-packed tapestry diorama that might have belonged in Joss Whedon’s version of Game of Thrones (if such a thing existed). But the focus of the show is Dragons.

Particularly, a set of interactive dragons of various sizes that are constructed from an interesting combination of materials, including metal, plastic, rubber, feathers and bone.dragons

The creatures are meant to be played with – larger ones, almost person-sized, greet visitors at the door and respond to people stepping on foot pedals by rising to full height, feinting an attack or opening their mouths. Further into the exhibit, poseable dragons around two feet in length remind the visitor of really cool action figures that didn’t (and still don’t ) quite exist in the toy store. But maybe could, in an alternate reality.

“You can’t make art that’s about rejuvenation – about taking action to overcome the destruction of our eco system, and not expect people to interact with it. That’s the litmus test – participation,” says Bauta, encouraging visitors to touch and move the dragons.

The skulls used for many of the creatures were obtained by mail-order, while the metal sculpting happened at the Steel Yard.

The creatures are representations from a larger fantasy-adventure fabric, a cautionary tale about taking care of the environment – before extraterrestrial dragons descend to feast on an ecologically damaged Earth. (The dragons, of course, are metaphorical. But they also have names and a conversation with the artist hints at complex, hidden backstories which promise more work to come).

By the time you read this, it’s likely this gallery (called “Beheaded”) will have popped back down – its half-life was limited, and this visitor found it in our downtown jungle too far into its run. But keep an eye out – there were definitely dragons in this heart of the city; and if we’re lucky, perhaps they’ll come back.

Lace Up Your Hiking Boots This Fall

Tis the season to explore the hidden gems of Southern New England trails and wild life refuges

That crisp chill in the night air can only mean one thing: fall is on its way! Yes, there will be pie. But there will also be leaves! Of many colors! And manic last ditch attempts to get outdoors before the snow comes and turns us all into shut-ins! Oh, but those darn leaf peepers have booked up every hotel room from the Berkshires to Burlington. That’s all right – you don’t have to drive all the way to Vermont to hike through the woods and enjoy the changing colors. In fact, you don’t even have to leave Rhode Island!

GreatStairsProvidence’s Neutaconkanut Hill is my favorite spot for an outdoor stroll close to home, and despite being a mere 10-minute drive from downtown, it remains one of the area’s best kept secrets. In its heyday, Neutaconkanut was a popular spot for both summer and winter recreation, complete with ski slopes and a band stand. Sadly, as Providence gradually fell into decline, so did the park, until it was largely forgotten about.  A few years ago local residents banded together and formed the Neutaconkanut Hill Conservancy, with the aim of restoring the park to its former glory.

The conservancy has done an outstanding job of constructing an expansive-feeling trail network, making the park feel much larger than its 88 acres. A lot of effort has been made to give the trails an up and down feel, despite the hill’s modest elevation, and they wind around through the woods so that you never feel as if you are in an urban park.  When you go, simply head up either of the red trails, and make a loop or figure eight out of the blue and orange trails. The two massive sets of stone stairs built by the WPA in the 1930s that run through the middle of the park will give you a workout – consider yourself warned.  At 296 feet, the top of the hill is the highest point in the city; pack a picnic lunch and enjoy the view.

Another option close to the city is the Audubon society’s 200 acre Caratunk Wildlife Refuge, just across the state line in Seekonk. Caratunk also feels like it’s much farther from civilization than it is. The meandering trail network takes you through a variety of terrain, including a meadow, a bog and a pine forest. Parts of the yellow and blue trails can get pretty muddy at certain times of the year, especially near the bog, and the blue trail crosses over itself several times, which can be a little confusing for the unfamiliar. Bring sturdy shoes and definitely download a map from the Audubon’s site before you go. You’re pretty much guaranteed to see wildlife here; on my recent visits I’ve encountered muskrats, wild turkeys, several different songbirds and deer.

[Our Motif intern team visited Caratunk this summer. See their adventures in this video]

All of the Audubon refuges are worth checking out, but my personal favorite is Fisherville Brook in Exeter. While there’s not much elevation change, a nice variety of scenery keeps things interesting, and the 5 miles of looping trails let me tailor my hike to be as long or as short as I want. If you only have a small amount of time, follow the blue trail through the pine forest, past the meadow and around the pond, and then follow either of the orange trails back. The trails here are always well maintained and their undemanding nature makes this a great spot for junior hikers.

If you don’t mind donning a safety orange vest during hunting season, the state management areas, especially Arcadia, have extensive trail networks. Ken Weber’s excellent book, Weekend Walks in Rhode Island, outlines several of them. Mt. Tom and Long Pond and Ell Pond are among the most popular, and both offer great views, especially in the fall.

There are dozens of great spots to hike around the state, but if you want something resembling serious elevation, you have no choice but to head north. If New Hampshire’s well-travelled Mt. Monadnock is a bit too far of a drive, Mt. Wachusett is your best bet. Yes, you can hike WaWa instead of skiing it! An observation platform at the peak will reward your effort with excellent views of the Boston skyline, Mt. Monadnock, and the Berkshires. If you time it right, you will be treated to a rolling carpet of reds, yellows and greens. Hike straight up to the summit and down again via the .9 mile Mountain House trail in one to two hours, or make a small loop hike out of the Mountain House, Bicentennial, and Pine Hill Trails. Whichever route you take up to the summit, don’t forget your hiking shoes! While Wachusett is no Mt. Washington, the trails up to the summit are rocky, steep and slippery in places.

If you’re itching for a longer hike, bring a map and make a day out of it by building your own looped route from the 17 miles of marked trails. I prefer to stick to the southern half of the mountain as it’s away from the ski area and it feels less developed. There are also another 11 miles of trails worth exploring at the nearby Mass Audubon Wachusett Meadow Sanctuary. On the way home, cap off your perfect fall day with a stop at Worcester’s Armsby Abbey for a well-earned post-hike beer.

Audubon trail maps are available for download on their website:  www.asri.org

A map of Neutaconkanut hill is available for download at the conservancy’s website:  www.nhill.org

Trail maps of Arcadia, and Long and Ell Ponds are published by Great Swamp Press: www.greatswamppress.com

Maps of Wachusett are available on site at the ranger station or for download at www.mass.gov/eea/docs/dcr/parks/trails/wachusett.pdf

Passport to Nature


By Erin Kayata

There are three things you need when exploring the Audubon Caratunk Wildlife Refuge: bug spray, sunscreen, and a creative sense of direction. As part of the Rhode Island Audubon Society’s Passport to the Trails program, Motif hit the trail in order to find a hidden symbol. Whether it was the directions or a poor interpretation of them, it took several wrong turns, dead end loops, and a diversion from the directions to finally find the destination.

    The Rhode Island Audubon’s Society Passport to the Trails is a fun way for nature lovers to try something new. By downloading a passport from the RI Audubon Society’s website, visitors will receive maps and directions to a symbol hidden in the trail. If you can find the symbol in six out of ten Rhode Island Audubon Society Wildlife Refuges, you’ll receive a special prize.

With this nature comes an abundance of wildlife and plants. Unfortunately this also means mosquitoes. However, the payoff comes in the form of seeing butterflies and bees landing on wildflowers, or if you’re lucky, catching a white tailed deer bounding through a meadow.

 For more information on Passport to the Trails, go to : http://www.asri.org/newsflash/passport.html.

Sweet On Honey: The Lives Of Kept Bees

What’s the latest buzz on the newest local hobby? Beekeeping. Just ask Chuck Wood, co-owner of the newly opened Wood’s Beekeeping Supply and Academy in Lincoln. “It is the number one fad in this world right now – rooftop hives. It’s huge,” says Wood. A beekeeper since the 70’s and past president of the Rhode Island Beekeeper’s Association (RIBA), Wood’s passion is clear. “[Beekeeping] became the best thing I ever did.”

Right now, the life of a bee is a quiet one. “They don’t hibernate. They eat their honey and that’s how they get warm,” says Wood, noting that bees can handle the winter just fine if there’s enough food. “Right now, they are starting to have babies in their hive, even in this cold weather, and they’re using the honey up.” In the middle to the end of February, he may supplement his bees with granulated sugar because when the weather dips below 50 degrees, they can’t take syrup down. He’ll also feed the hive with a pollen substitute to encourage the growth of the baby bees.bee keeping rhode island

It’s the perfect time to jump into the world of beekeeping. The RIBA provides beginner level instruction and sessions have just started. “We get packaged bees in for new beekeepers in April every year,” notes Wood. “Now is the time to start thinking of it. Time flies, so you do want to do it ahead.” Wood himself will lead advanced level courses and public demonstrations starting in April. He will also offer a hive tending service for a monthly fee, for those who would like the bees, but not, perhaps, the bee stings.

Woods says all you need is a little outdoor space, less than the size of a small table. “It’s incredible how many people have rooftop hives,” he says. From backyards to rooftops to small balconies, it seems bees can be kept almost anywhere. “And people who have hives in cities usually make more honey then we do out in the country, don’t know why,” says Woods, “And I’m even talking NYC. They do wonderful there. Way up on rooftops. Lots of restaurants have them up there so they can get the honey.” Even with one hive, Woods says you can get between 40 and 100 pounds of honey per season.

Intrigued? To find out more, contact RIBA at ribeekeeper.org or check out Wood’s Beekeeping Supply and Academy at woodsbees.com.