A transcript of the conversation, lightly edited for clarity, is provided here.
Philip Jankoski: Ok. You’re the interview master so I’ll let you begin. I’ve read a lot of your interviews and you like to ask questions, so, here I am.
Jack Forinash: Alright. Well I guess I imagine it’s questions back and forth. And Mary can help steer and prompt something if she knows what could be a better conversation.
Mary Welcome: Don’t forget to say your names and the date.
JF: Jack Forinash, f as in “Frank,” o-r-i, n as in “Nancy,” a-s-h. The date is…
PJ: the 11th.
JF: ...the 11th of May, 2025.
PJ: 2017. [laughs]
JF: 2017, sorry.
PJ: Wow, 2025. I wonder where I’ll be. I started thinking about me in 2025. Um, Philip Jankoski, j-a-n-k-o-s-k-i.
JF: You don’t have to do letters? You don’t have to do like letter…?
PJ: Um, no. I don’t.
JF: People hear it well?
PJ: They hear it. I usually have to repeat it a couple times. But, um, yeah, glad to be here.
JF: My first question I guess is to have you describe where we are now.
PJ: We are in our flagship building that is 5700-square-foot tilt-up concrete, mid-century building constructed in 1950 by the Atlantic Richfield Oil Company. And we’re sitting in a little room off of our main entrance that right now is configured as a living room and a meeting space and a lounge. And we’ve got a vibrant blue couch that was donated by a friend. It has traveled through a lot of these rooms and different buildings in Blue Sky and now finds its way here to this lounge. The walls are covered with a natural plaster and it’s a very peaceful space and a good space for doing something like this, so, here we are.
JF: Cool. Well, probably a question I get often, so I’m going to ask it to you. What, or maybe more so who, was the inspiration that led to you doing this work?
PJ: That’s an easy answer. I wouldn’t be doing this work if it wasn’t for the founder, philanthropist and social-entrepreneur, Gene Zannon. And I think it was just his vision and his willingness to take risk and go against a lot of the wishes of other people who were skeptical and more risk-averse. Gene is a visionary who saw there was enormous potential with this property and this community to make a difference. Over the course of about 20 years, or more, he applied his readings and thinkings to the possibilities and figured out what were some strategies for creating something that could scale and a generate impact for not only this community but share models other communities. So, I gravitate towards people who think big but who also act on their values. And so I was moved by that, you know, that ability for Gene to commit such tremendous time to a single idea. The resources and funding wasn’t necessarily the biggest thing that I was impressed with. But just the time, at his age, in his 70’s to commit himself to such a long project that he probably will not see the end of, whatever that means. So, I think that the bold approach to this project was very compelling for me.
JF: And how did you meet him?
PJ: I met Gene just by responding to this posting by the foundation. So I was, you know, looking for a job back in the Santa Barbara area. I went to school at UC Santa Barbara. So I was looking for a job back in this area. I found this posting which I found very interesting and intriguing. And I responded and was hired at a very young age.
Audible disruption from recording equipment
PJ: What was that?
MW: Never happened before.
PJ: I interviewed for the job, I was, I had just turned 24. So I interviewed for the job and got the job. Quickly was thrown into the fire of working with a 70-year-old man and his 20-year vision, so yeah…
JF: And your first job was a project manager you said?
PJ: Yeah it was really working with him as a trustee of the foundation and getting direction from him in terms of managing the development of this space engaging the policymakers and grantmakers and attending functions and meetings, doing research on this project. I was really taking some lead from him but I was really working independently a lot of the time. And searching for ways for how I could collaborate and work with someone 40 years my senior. So I guess the first position title that I had was “Assistant to the Trustee” or something like that; it was really kind of just an extension of him.
JF: We talked a little bit about this last night, I think, but why do you find it important to work on a local level. Why in a town of a 1,000 is where you’re choosing to work?
PJ: Yeah. I love this question. Because I think it’s a challenge for people our age, our generation, to seek out projects and places where they can have an impact and where they can create community and create something that can manifest their values. And I think the only way to do that is, the only way to really achieve success that can be tangible and you can see on a short-time horizon is on a local level, on a community of this size. Because, let’s take that number for example, 1,000 people, you can meet everyone in the community pretty quickly. There’s some barriers to meeting everybody. But you can meet a majority of people that make up this community and certainly the leaders of this community. And I find that was really interesting to try to apply my global perspective, or my worldview, or my paradigm of how things should be done and look at how we can gain traction on the local level because nationally a lot of these issues feel like they are out of reach for everyone, especially young people just getting started. That it just seems overwhelming. If you can just bring it down to earth and bring it down to a community this size there’s a lot of things that can happen.
JF: Who is the most notorious person in town?
JF: I was going to say “interesting” but that is an eroded word.
JF: You can change that word to whatever you want.
MW: Who’s the most?
JF: Who’s the most in town?
PJ: Well, I think that… That’s a good question. In a community like this, I will say there is a lot of chatter about, you know, the differences between the “have’s” and the “have not’s” in the sense of even we’re lumped into that equation of “Who are the Blue Sky people? What are they doing? Why do they have all this land? What is their real motivation?” I find that is also true with the growers. You know, “who are they? What are they doing?” There’s mistrust, there’s skepticism about those people in positions of influence or power in these rural communities, these small communities, those that have resources and land and funding and those that don’t. And if I were to boil it down to a few people, I could say that some of the managers, and folks that run the farms on the smaller scale like around town. I have my own short list of people. There is, for example, U.S. Wilson, who just moved on from being the manager of the service district, the water district here in town, at the age of like 83. And Water is the number one issue in this community. And so, someone that is managing the town water I think is a very notorious person. Because they’re sending you bills for more than you want to pay. And rhings are always going wrong with the system, the wells are breaking down, and there’s mistrust about the quality of the water. So I would say those that are managing the services are the most notorious. And then secondary, those who manage the land and those that are in positions of power are always looked at with a skeptical eye. So yeah…
JF: So what is, for Blue Sky Center, what’s the toughest thing that it’s facing in the next couple years. Maybe not right now, but what’s on the horizon that’s going to be tough?
PJ: Yeah, I think that in a perfect situation if I’m going to be optimistic, my optimistic self, I would think being able to adapt, grow, and be able to receive the high-level partnerships and collaborations that we know we can get. It’s having the organizational structure and leadership and like the robustness that comes with that to really receive the amount of in-kind and financial partnerships, publicity, you know, scrutiny comes with that. So being able to withstand that. I think it’s a high-class problem but being successful and coming into an organization’s own comes with a lot of challenges. And so I’m hoping that we’re able to rise to that and realize the vision much faster than originally we might have intended. So, yeah I think that’s our biggest challenge. If I were to be pessimistic about it, and I’m not a pessimistic person, but it’s just not having the capacity to do all these different things for the community and really not prioritizing our identity and our purpose and instead be fragmented over all these different initiatives that don’t get focused enough as they should. So those two things are weighing on my mind, like the focus, focusing our attention, on a few things and doing them really well, and having the organizational capacity to be able to receive this work and partnerships so we can be able to continue.
JF: So what are those 2-3 things that you want to do well?
PJ: One of them is curbing food insecurity in this community. I think that our resources in this community and this valley are agricultural. And so, that’s within the wheelhouse of this community to address. And I think on paper everything is right there: the money, the talent, the resources. What’s needed is the community will and then our execution and our partnerships, our ability to be the anchor institution pulling it together. The next one is developing some sort of semblance of the local economy. And that can likely be achieved through the residency programs, and tourism, and hospitality, things that we can do with the space. Because I think that creates all sorts of little opportunities for folks to create microbusinesses, and to become entrepreneurs, and to work for us part time. And I think the third item that I’d like to, I think that we should focus on is housing, as it is the focus of Epicenter, I think it’s really needing a laser point here in the community. Because it really is the biggest limitation for solving the economic question. Because we can’t have a local economy without housing and we can’t have housing without an economy.
Louie, Philip’s dog, barks.
PJ: Right, right Louie? I know. I agree
PJ: So, yeah those three things: housing, as in shelter; food; and jobs.
MW: [laughs] No big deal!
PJ: [laughs] I think those three things we can like sort of tie together some sort of cohesive thread or strategy behind those three things; that would be a good focus to kind of define quality of life I think.
JF: So we’ve been talking for a couple years…
PJ: Wow, has it been that long?
JF: I think almost two years.
PJ: Yeah, we haven’t had our anniversary yet. Pop the bubbly red wine.
JF: Briefly, what led you to us? What has been the takeaway, a takeaway or a couple takeaways, of your seeing from just watching Epicenter and asking questions.
PJ: Yeah. I wish I could remember the Google search that I, like, landed me at Epicenter. Maybe it was me out of frustration feeling like I was alone in the world working in a community of a 1,000 people and I searched something like “community of 1,000 people, making it happen, doing it, things are going on, positive, positivity.” I don’t know what algorithm landed me at Epicenter but it was probably, I think it was out of my frustration of not finding anything that was, that fit, and maybe, it clicked for me. I was looking at all these other models of people doing things in rural communities, like the Stone Pine Center in New York. But that was very high-level food and agricultural education and farming and had a lot of resources and everything. I didn’t see the boots-on-the-ground strategy that I saw in my head of how it was going to work. And I think what led me to Epicenter was further honing in on my research and how I could find case studies and examples of people and organizations doing that work.
When I found the website, and I’m just like, immediately the visuals and the presentation, I think it had me and I was like “this is it” and I’m not alone in this work. And we’re not alone in these communities. And what we’re grappling with is not, you know, these, of course they’re site-specific and endemic to the communities but there’s a pattern in reading and talking to you Jack. So I was drawn by the presentation of the work, the level of immersion that I saw with the Epicenter, and, you know, there was one big banner that is still on your website that floats through, “collaboration is key.” I saw that and at the time, and still, we’re grappling with a lack of collaboration and a lack of a will to work together. I see myself as a bridge builder. And I find that very refreshing. We tend to do things in silos and we tend to not want to collaborate even as nonprofits because of various reasons, competition amongst grant makers and things like that. To me it spoke to what I needed to see at that time. And so, I was really fortunate in sending an email and hearing back from you, and you were very forthcoming with the story, resources, and information; and I think that was instrumental to us to making some critical decisions thereafter about what we should be doing, how we should be approaching the work, and helping us to pivot to more in line to the things you’ve learned in Green River. So, does that answer your question in a long-winded way?
JF: Yeah! I have one more about what you’re looking forward to for the Rural Summit.
PJ: We’ve always realized that we need to bring people together at this facility and reveal the vision, reveal the work that we’ve been doing. And cross all sectors, you can’t leave out anybody. You have got to make it multi-disciplinary and include everybody. And so, the idea of the Rural Summit came years ago, just thinking that at some point we need to bring all the players here, and we got to show them tangible results and some progress in terms of our work and not just ideas on paper or theoretical conversations which we’re having as we’re getting footing here. I think we’re at this point where it’s not all complete, it’s not all “Hey, ta-da, it’s done.” It’s a work in progress and we’ve chipped away and had some successes so I think now is the time to bring in those folks we’ve been talking to, with the hope of engendering and promoting collaboration. And I think the timing is really right too. We started planning this in mid-November, not soon after the election, looking at how polarized and how stagnated our communities have become, and looking at this model of a conference or as a gathering that was really promoting the strength that lies within all these different perspectives and organizations and people. And focusing on what we agree on and doing it in a very creative way. People walk away and say that was really different, that was really unique. And I get it and I want to be a part of it. We started putting this together and our hope for the summit - obviously we have a program and we have some structure behind it - but my hope is there are these organic synergies that forms among the people invited and that we can document and track the impact that we’ve made in months to come and we look back at the summit and can see that it was a catalyzing moment for bringing the types of people we are bringing together and seeing how those connections form into the types of partnerships that we’re looking for. And it’s simple as that. It’s just bringing people together, having a unique experience, having facilitation, and having structure, and spirited dialogue that leads towards some progress on our vision on those three areas: food, shelter, and economy.
JF: Yeah I think it’s important to have people there at the messy stage. Because it’s also not fully formed so people can place themselves in it. I think that’s where at Epicenter we had a lot of interest and growth when it’s not formed. And that’s what has led people to get involved and stay involved. Once it becomes rigid or, you know, I guess fully formed, once it’s that you become more of a cog than a shaper. That’s what I was saying to encourage Eric [Blythe] and even Julia [Warner, both at that time potential AmeriCorps VISTA applicants to Blue Sky Center] too, that this organization is young enough that you can help with what it becomes now and in 2 to 3 years, it’s going to be on a path, the ship is going to be more formed; you’re not going to be able to change it as easily.
PJ: Yeah, some questions for you on that front that just come to mind. Do you find it difficult for you know at this stage in Epicenter’s lifecycle to reinvent the organization and reinvent some strategies and some structure that you’ve created? Or do you feel like you’re still nimble enough that you can pivot and you can change some of your direction?
JF: Yeah I think to change anything for Epicenter is a, probably like, a short timeline would be a year from now. Because a lot of just the way it works out with like grants and the commitments and the measurable outcomes that you’ve promised are at least a year if not longer, and so you can’t just like stop something so easily. And when we’re talking about community programs or committees that we’ve worked with or started, you can’t leave them because someone was passionate about it, at least one person was passionate about it. They are going to feel that they got left or that we gave up on them. So it’s really hard to figure out how to pass on things and offer support but making sure we’re not being the only reason something is happening or a meeting happens. Yeah, it’s not so nimble I guess anymore.
PJ: Do you find yourself needing to manage expectorations amongst community members and those that receive services or engage in Epicenter and what do you believe those expectations are of the organization; do you think they are realistic?
JF: One of the tenants that I would talk about at any presentation if we’re talking about community development in small places is to make sure you do what you say you’re going to do.
It’s kind of a game even doing a site visit on a home. Someone is showing you all these problems and they’re like, “You can paint, right?” That’s probably easy. But they are also showing you there’s this mold problem. The cosmetic is what they’re having an emotional pressure about and a town pressure about. Sometimes we have to choose, to mitigate, to say “we need to solve this because it’s your health and there is a long-term burden on you. We understand that there is this taxation on your mental well-being if your house looks like it’s not nice.” We try to figure out, that out of the 10 problems in a home when we do a full home check, what are the ones that are most important to them - help them rate them - and what are the ones that we can afford and we have the capability and skillset to do. And also talking to them about, if we can do these things then you can pay it off, pay the loan back, then we can come back and do more.
I think I went off track on that. But it’s the same thing in town. sSomeone will come and say, “You know how to write grants; write this grant for us.” And you have to say, “Well, let me get to know you, get to know your organization” and do a stress test or something, like sending them an email to ask them for their bylaws and see if they can get that back to you within a day; if it’s a week later and you have had to check in on it that’s going to perpetuate throughout the process on helping them on something. So I think, it’s tough to be that resource. They know “those are the people that are available” to do this thing. We want to always make sure that we can be the doers in town. We do help manage volunteer groups, and if there’s a community clean-up, we can be the ones to do that. But it’s making sure that we’re not, I don’t know, letting people down is… It’s hard to know what people are expecting of you, just in general. And it’s hard to know in a community project if you’ve met that expectation.
In a house, we list out exactly what we’re doing, in writing and in drawing, and have them look at it, review it, and explain it to them verbally. Then they sign a piece a paper, saying “yes this is the scope of work,” and then we do the work, and then we review it again. Here was the scope of work. Did we do all these things? We go through it. We have them rate our performance and different metrics and provide feedback. But In the end, they are signing a piece of paper that says the work was done. And so, being able to encapsulate things is possible when it’s a tangible thing, when it is something like a home repair. But when it’s like we’re going to build trails in town to help promote tourism and it’s going to result in economic benefit, how do you measure if that dollar was because of the trail or that dollar was just because that was what was happening naturally?
BSC Staff: Pardon the interruption. We’re going to leave here in a few. Gene must have had the tractor delivered. It’s sitting over there with the mower and everything.
PJ: Let me uh, can I pause real quick?
Philip exits to help staff with an issue.
PJ: Sorry about that. Where were we? It’s a good chat. Ok, another question I have: We are working through the best lexicon and the best way to describe our work to the community that’s not disingenuous but is really rooted in clear and contextualized language that people can understand. And because we have such a large vision we often seem like we’re in the clouds. [Laughs] So how do you communicate your work to the community and how would an average community member in Green River describe the Epicenter, in your opinion?
JF: I guess I think about it in a way that we have a lot of different access points into a person. So, they might hear from their aunt that we do home repairs because we did a home repair for their aunt. So they’ll come to us and think that’s what we do and come in and maybe they’ll get that service, and they’ll have that perspective of what we do. But then they might have their teenager come home and one of our artists-in-residence is in the high school teaching them poetry or reading or something. And so, the teenager thinks that’s what we do. And then we might be at community meeting or a community event and we’re helping to run it, so that’s what we do. So I think we never try to overwhelm with all the things. We just like to work with individuals in whatever facet that we’re working in that they’re interested in. Maybe they’re really interested in trails, or if they’re a business owner and they want help improving their income or employment. I think we let people see us however they want to see us. Certainly, we always talk about how much more we could do communication-wise in the town. And the town is never really clear on it, on it all. And I don’t know how bad or good that is, especially because there’s some things that we do that are conflicting with their beliefs politically, or socially, economically.
We do these surveys in town and some people say “as soon as there’s a traffic light in town I’m moving. I want to keep it at exactly the same size.” Maybe that’s a retiree. But if we talk to a business owner, they clearly want it to be a little bit more. Not, you know, we always say, not Moab, not Price, the towns nearest by. But they want it to be a little more. Because that would be more opportunity or diversity of jobs. A lot of the issues of a small town is just in population base. There’s not going to be a second grocery store in town until there is 1,000 more people to support something like that. There’s not going to be pharmacy until that need is there. There’s not someone who can live and work as an electrician in town until there is enough work. That’s more of a population base issue. So we really see a population of 2,500 to 4,000 is something that supports a more well-rounded economy that’s not so dependent on people coming through, you know, in the hotels. And that being so seasonal that everyone is suffering through the coldest and darkest parts of the year.
Um. I forgot what the question was.
PJ: That’s ok, you answered the question.
JF: [to Mary] I mean you have more perspective on how the town sees us and how we do well or not do well in talking about it.
MW: I would agree with you. I think even in different towns how people see me it’s much easier if I just let them have whatever dimension makes sense to them. Because they can get excited about it and they can be comfortable with it. And I think that that’s what you guys have been good at, not trying to make everybody understand all the things you do because that would make you feel so separate from everyone.
JF: I’m just trying to be a person. That’s our goal, my drive, trying to be a citizen, a neighbor.
PJ: And have relationships with each community member.
MW: And if people have questions you’re very good about answering them and trying to explain, but I don’t feel like it’s ever been an issue to say “oh we’ve got to make sure everyone in town knows the things we do.” It’s like no, at least they know…
PJ: Just focus on the work…
MW: Focus on the work and focus on people reaching out on a personal level about what they have to share.
JF: But people know us well enough, and get to know us well enough that - I tell this story, actually when Armando [Rios, past Epicenter employee] first started is when this really started happening. We went to Subway at the edge of town, where there’s hundreds of people. And I hardly go to Subway, at the gas station. And the employees are just like, you know “what do you want,” making it, “what do you want,” making it. And then when it gets to me, Ruben behind the counter says, “Hi Jack!” He knows me and asks the questions that aren’t “hey, how’s it going,” but “I saw this was happening and what was that.” Armando on his first day was like “oh my gosh, this is a real thing that is happening.” Then in the grocery store people are stopping you, “hey what’s going on over there” or “I have this idea for you.” But that took three or four years of being there before people, you know… and people come up to me, I got this text from this lady, Kris. She asks, “where are you?” I respond, “I’m at the Frontier House working.” “I’m coming by,” she says. So she came by. And she just had this idea to light up the “G” on the hill. “How can we light up the G on the hill? They used to do it, you know, 20 years ago.” This is her idea. Lighting up the G is not within our mission and not within our whatever, but, I almost want to do it just because it’s a fun idea. Maybe an artist-in-residence would do it; I passed the idea to Maria, maybe a Fellow could be interested in it if they’re looking for projects or something. People just coming to you with their ideas and comfortable talking to you.
It takes a while, and you…
PJ: It’s cool.
JF: When I first was there, I’d say, “Hi, I’m Jack, I just graduated with a degree in architecture.” That’s how I knew myself. That’s the only thing I’d done in my life. And my boss at the time told me, after a couple times saying that, said “maybe you don’t say that.” And I was confused. She realized that was separating me instantly, because there’s this idea that I’m some expert from outside of town or I have this degree that…
PJ: …that you don’t have.
JF: Yeah, so I think, again not talking about the whole idea, or the whole expertise. Also the flipside is the city is trying to build this building, hiring an architect, and they don’t ask us to be at the meeting. How did we not communicate enough like what we do that they would value us? Or value our expertise. We’re still these young kids, outsiders in their mind. Conae [Black, city manager] at city hall says, “I need to stop calling us kids.” Yeah, you really do need to stop calling us kids, because it subverts. It’s not valuing us, not putting us on this level.
MW: Not valuing your experiences
PJ: With the amount of work you’ve put in and the successes you’ve achieved to date, where do you see Green River, or rural American towns more broadly, in 5 years, and in 10 years?
JF: Unfortunately many rural towns are dealing with a stagnant economy and grasping for anything. The way I think about it and the way that we’ve talked about it internally is that small towns will take any bedfellow that comes. For example, in Green River, out-of-towners get mad about this nuclear power plant being proposed for Green River. It would be the first nuclear power plant built from scratch since the 70’s. Green River is in the desert and a power plant needs a lot of water. This plant would employ 4,100 people during the construction that takes 6 to 7 years and 1,100 people for 60 years, so the company says. That clearly would be the largest employer, and with all the auxiliary things, the town would be easily be 10,000 people in just a matter of a couple years. But there is a lack of preparedness for that scale, there’s not enough infrastructural systems for that. I was on the planning commission for four years. The people that are building the plant, or trying to get it permitted, have no stake in it once it’s built or once it’s operating. So for any of their promises, there’s no reason they have to be held to those promises. And once they’re the largest employer, they become mayor, they become the councilmembers so they just change any rule or protection that we set up for them.
That’s one potential pathway. It’s dramatic change where probably Epicenter becomes obsolete or our programming becomes obsolete. In any town where there’s this growth, there’s still going to be this income class, a lower socioeconomic class that remains. It’s just going to be so outweighed by this whole new section that doesn’t exist right now. There’s also an option where it kind of stays the same in these towns. You kind of have to have 1,000 people in Green River if people continue to travel across the country and there’s, you know, a hundred miles to the next place. And in Green River it’s a constriction; you either have to go to Wyoming or below the Grand Canyon to get across the country so it’s kind of a bottleneck. The population could just stay there.
But probably more likely, of course, it’s somewhere between for most places; what we’ve been working on is trying to make it the in between one, not waiting for the boom and bust industry which has been the railroad and uranium mill and highway system. Highway 6 from Washington, DC, to Los Angeles goes right through there. It’s the Midland Highway. That was in 1913. Railroad before that, uranium after that, the uranium mill, the missile base, all those have come and gone. And now we’re waiting for the next one. Another option is a 50-employee oil refinery, Navajo oil coming up and rather than trucking it all the way to Salt Lake and continuing to make that one of the worst air situations in the country, partially refining it here, putting it on trains, and taking it up.
MW: I think something that remains unaddressed is the generational trauma of a boom and bust town. That’s what makes community collaboration so hard. If you have a town that’s constantly in that kind of relationship with industry. You know, and that’s all they know and they keep doing it that way. It’s like how do they even begin to heal that so they can do it differently?
JF: There’s these yard signs up in Salt Lake that say “Say no to Green River.” It’s bright yellow and has a nuclear symbol on it. The way it’s phrased is very weird. The counterpoint to that is if you offer 4,100 jobs and then 1,100 jobs for 60 years, you could be building a couch and then taking apart the couch then building the same couch and taking apart the couch. It doesn’t matter as long as it employs people, as long as it has…
MW: Yeah, I’ve heard people say, “What about a prison?” And everyone says, “Yeah, a prison, that’d be great.”
JF: It doesn’t matter.
MW: Yeah, it doesn’t matter.
JF: A solar power farm could come, but that’s not employing people. It’s employing for construction, a couple…
PJ: That’s what we’re seeing here.
JF: A couple, but not 1,100. It really could be anything. So, we’re trying to grow from an existing base. Like expand that restaurant and add this sort of thing to it. Or, there’s nowhere to be…
MW: And that’s why tourism is a focus of rural towns. Trails for example.
JF: In Green River though, there’s nowhere to get outfitted. You can’t rent a bike or an ATV or anything in town. That’s an opportunity. Trying to build what we have. Epicenter has really no say in if the power plant comes or not. The town, I forget what the percentage is, but something like 90% of the town would support a nuclear power plant. We’re not going to change that; we don’t want to change that, that’s not our purpose. Also we’d be ostracized through that whole process of trying to change that. If that’s what a town wants, then ok. But it’s really in Washington, if someone signs the piece of paper for the permit, or the 20,000 pieces of paper that has to happen. And if someone funds it, and if, if, all these if’s, that make it beyond us and a bit unlikely just in general. So we’re kind of not paying attention to it.
PJ: Your viewpoint is that it seems like a longshot.
JF: It’s definitely a long shot. But not anything that we can do to affect that until we’re, like, governor of Utah or until we’re the administrator at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. So that’s not who we can be.
PJ: So it seems like there’s three different scenarios for the future of Green River and we’ll have to wait to see which one pans out.
MW: Grab bag. [laughs]
PJ: Stay tuned.
JF: It’s probably the middle one. It’s always the middle.
PJ: Yeah, I think so. Yeah.
JF: A lot of small towns you wonder, should it exist anymore? Greensboro, Alabama, where I worked and lived before, the catfish plant closed. It’s something like 40% of the town’s employment. And it’s not on the interstate with derelict buildings downtown where more than half the storefronts are vacant. What towns do is become antique places or cookies places, because people are still going to Walmart. Sears in a downtown doesn’t exist anymore. JC Penney doesn’t exist anymore. People are just going to go to Walmart. If it’s 45 minutes away, it’s not a burden. Until it becomes a burden, that’s what people are going to do. Until the internet stops delivering exactly what you want to your doorstep, then you’re not going to make those sorts of businesses re-exist. And we were talking about produce too, what you’re talking about, until it’s the same price [for organic versus regular], people are going to buy the cheaper one.
JF: It’s because that decision is not affecting their life in the next three months.
PJ: Yeah. Do you think the advent of technology and the crowding of cities is going to create some sort of a repopulation in rural communities, allowing it to be easier to live in rural places, or do you think that’s a ways away? Do you still think people want to live in cities and our trend of urbanization is going to continue?
JF: First instinct is that yes, because people are self-selecting more and more. Through social media, through where they live. And even at the level of politics, gerrymandering to keep the same people together too. It seems people more and more are going to be positioning themselves around like-minded people and building a bigger and bigger distance between other groups of people. I guess I’m more of a pessimist.
PJ: Do you think the divisions that have sewn between us, or that have cropped up between, for example, rural and urban or liberal and conservative, these types of labels are enough to keep people separated and to keep people from stepping out of their echo chamber and living in a community that they don’t necessarily completely identify with? Do you see those walls as so robust that they can’t be torn down?
JF: I don’t know. It’s just so economic based.
PJ: Um hmm.
JF: In my perception of it I guess.
MW: Yeah but even that, I think of someone like Christopher [Henderson, a Green River craftsman and resident] who can live in Green River because the internet exists. Because he can do work remotely. I think there’s a little bit more choice about it finally.
PJ: I guess maybe let me rephrase. Do you think the motives that brought you to Green River and that brings me to Cuyama and brings Mary to Palouse, do you think those are real trends that have a lot of upside amongst our generation? Do you think that young people are more willing to relocate and cut their cost of living and maybe live in a place that’s…
JF: Oh no. The “cut the cost of living” part is the part that doesn’t exist, or doesn’t work. I think it takes a weird person, and it takes some sort of escape-from-something mentality. But also, also...
JF: Also… Everyone that comes to Green River is escaping something.
MW: Glossed right over that!
PJ: “Off the record.”
JF: But the biggest thing for me is that people can’t earn a bunch of money.
JF: Because you can never downsize. People don’t... Once they get entrenched in like a mortgage and kids and schools, the web is just too strong to break every one of those parts.
JF: But more and more the people that are right out of school, their first experience, their first job, or at least their second jobs if they get disillusioned in the city, you got to get them early. The same idea is in bringing it down to teaching kids earlier to think in different ways or value in different ways. You’re not going to change the 40-year-old that owns things, it’s just too complicated. But more and more if you can get people before they know any different they can realize they can live on $12,000 a year.
JF: But if they’re earning $65,000 at some ad firm in, you know, LA, they’re not going to work for $25,000. Or they’re going to like, you know miss… There has to be something really dramatic for them not to miss their life there and still tie themselves to there. So, I guess that’s what we were talking about the opportunities for people to have a dual life, a dual connection, where they can have that fulfillment or sort of whatever, but also if they’re close enough in proximity. And that can be a digital closeness or it could be physical, an hour’s drive away.
PJ: That’s something I’m employing in my psychological front cortex. Because I can get back to these more urbanized places that there’s a lot of things that I’d enjoy about, you know, right over the mountain range here that it’s hard for me to completely lose touch with. When I first talked to you, I was just wondering how you were doing with being a young person in this community and butting up against all these issues, and then feeling like maybe there was no escape, and you felt trapped or you felt cornered in this community, and you felt just like, I think that feeling may over time create resentment or create these adverse reactions that you want to avoid. And so, having that ability to pick up and go somewhere different, to refresh, I think, is really needed.
JF: Yeah, I mean, that’s what this is for me…
JF: …and that’s why I sought these opportunities. For a long time, you can just be there. For a long time, I said I’ll just be here all the time and I’ll just work here all the time. Because there is enough to do. But more and more as I’ve matured there it needs to stay relevant and fresh in a bigger perspective. There was this meeting we had and this woman that runs an organization in Moab. She just said, “well the reason we did this is because I was worried I was getting bored.” She just said it so matter-of-fact-ly. Normally that would be a vulnerable statement, and her board or her peers could be like “she’s lost interest here.” No, I have got to make sure it stays relevant to me because if not, then it will go away or it will become status quo, or be boring. So, I think it becomes…
BSC Staff: Philip!
JF: Go ahead.
Philip interrupted by staff briefly.
MW: [laughs] [to Philip] Wild life!
JF: So, I think, visually in my mind, people when they come to a place want to be in that place. And they want to work there and that’s how do you use new people as the new fresh, get-things-done sort of people; they want to see their impact. As time goes on it just seems natural that it kind of shapes differently, becomes more orbital, and near it, still surrounding it, still about this in the center; the new people need to be here. But they need to grow to also build their experience in that sort of way. But I don’t think anyone can just stay there forever.
PJ: Um hmm.
JF: Not me, some people maybe…
JF: Some people could be at a certain job for 60 years or…
MW: Those people usually also have a partner and a family; they are balancing it with other things.
JF: Yeah they’re working Monday through Friday so they can be home on the weekends. But the people that are about “work is life,” lifework sort of thing. It’s like I can’t; I’m not done at 5 and I’m not done on the weekend.
PJ: No. And I think that there’s also, I think you’re missing the biggest point, there are some people that are thinking endlessly about our places on this planet, and how do we navigate through all this messiness that we were born into. And how do we leave, when we leave, a better community and a better place, and how do we have the richness and the experiences in life that make life worth living. And so, to get out on the edges and to get out further into the orbit is to take the lessons you’ve learned from being in that sense of place and so attached to the singular issues and finding more patterns and finding more connections and fulfillment and looking at that on a macro level, and philosophical and even metaphysical level, how do you see yourself. And not everyone has the capacity nor wants to think that. And I think certain people yearn to think that and know that they probably won’t ever figure out exactly why but there’s this tendency to, want to apply your intellect and your ideas and your human curiosity and creativity to solve for problems. And those people will never be satisfied in the center. This is such a logical procession. And it’s needed too, to cut out the staleness. And lastly I think that turnover in an organization, and a certain level of turnover, is really good. And you need to have those people who are stable in there for a long amount of time to impart the knowledge and there needs to be a constant freshness. Otherwise there’s this baggage and there’s all these issues that come up that can be avoided if people just have a logical next step or reassess why they are doing something. And, you know, it’s interesting, to promote the idea of self-satisfaction, and I’ve reached something that I’m satisfied with and I’d like to do this now and move on. And to promote that I think is a really cool thing. Even if you lose really talented people, you want to go see their work make an impact somewhere else that will make that person satisfied.
JF: Thanks for talking to me.
PJ: Yeah, pleasure.
MW: Yeah, surprising
PJ: Should we take a picture up against the wall here?
MW: Your phone is actually going to be one that takes the better photo. Got one of them real phones.
PJ: How’s my hair?
MW: Your hair looks great. Tough boys. One, two, three. You guys are so cute.
JF: Did you squat a little bit?
PJ: The “sorority squat”? I don’t want to make you feel short.
MW: I don’t know how to use this phone. [laughs] It froze.
PJ: It’s a good one.
MW: Yeah, it’s a good one. I mean you’ve got a few good ones. It’s not the only one I took.
PJ: Ok, here you go.
MW: Ok we’ll try again. You guys are just so candid and nice. One, two, three. Oh! Now it’s off.
MW: Bad luck with phones.
PJ: Oh my gosh.
MW: Uh oh.
PJ: We probably have a few.
MW: There’s a good one on there for sure.
PJ: Ready, break!
MW: Good job guys. Peas in a pod right here.
MW: Get back to work!