- Isaac Green Diebboll speaks to participants of the Good Work Institute’s Sullivan County tour on July 14, 2016.
Matthew Stinchcomb left his digitally-driven job at Etsy to focus on local work, forming Good Work Institute in 2015. Now, it and other Hudson Valley organizations are forging a path of careers in community.
In January 2018, Amazon announced 20 finalists for its second corporate headquarters competition, focusing primarily on larger cities in and around the East Coast. New York City and Newark are among the candidates to land the $5 billion construction job that would bring 50,000 tech workers, meaning more infrastructure, schools, and residential projects. The Hudson Valley is not a finalist.
But if you ask Matthew Stinchcomb, that's perfectly fine.
"We need to shift away from that thinking, that an Amazon corporate headquarters is good for your community," says Stinchcomb, the executive director of the Good Work Institute. To him, we should instead be thinking about how to invest in our communities as they are right now. "Given our current ecological crisis and our financial crisis—in the sense that we have a completely unsustainable financial system—what's really going to matter is community and trust. So how are we going to cultivate that in place?"
Because of the Good Work Institute and a growing number of organizations across the Hudson Valley, the region is in a good position to lead in a new kind of way of doing work. That work is no longer 9 to 5 and separate from the home and it's no longer primarily concerned about how much money is on the table, but with more what impact it will have on our communities, both hyper-locally and regionally.
The Power of Place
If you ask local visionaries, the Hudson Valley's economic landscape is and has always been closely tied to its physical character. The region was originally considered attractive for Dutch settlers because the Hudson River offered a route for fur trading. When the British gained control of the region, they took advantage of the region's abundant farmland. Plus, the region's proximity to Manhattan means being a part of one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world and taking advantage of that market.
As an example, a 2013 report by Scenic Hudson on the Hudson Valley's food production found that the region's farms serve 90 percent of GrowNYC Greenmarkets. A cultural demand for fresh food has placed more emphasis on farm-grown produce and locally raised meats; in turn, the Hudson Valley remains the primary source for these products. A 2015 New York State report on the Hudson Valley's significant industries reported a 27.1-percent increase in food manufacturing jobs from 2009-14 and projected a 23.1-percent hike in those jobs from 2012 to 2022.
These new jobs are being created because the Hudson Valley's physical character allows for this growth. We're not talking about bringing in another industry previously foreign to the region; instead, we're embracing what we already have.
Hawthorne Valley Association is a testament to this philosophy. Incorporated in 1971, the Harlemville-based nonprofit has let its 900 acres of farmland lead its strategies. Produce from the land feeds children at its Waldorf school, while those students experience the farm as a classroom setting. The farm also serves the association's CSA program, farm camps, farm store, and markets in New York City.
In 1999 Hawthorne Valley began production of kraut, taking cabbage grown on the farm and turning into fermented goods sold at local markets. It created the for-profit subsidiary Whitethorne LLC and, with $1.56 million in loans from RSF Social Finance, in 2017 began constructing a larger production facility in Hudson.
The kraut expansion shows Hawthorne Valley has found ways to grow without compromising its original mission of preserving local agriculture through education and production. Executive Director Martin Ping says while Hawthorne Valley itself may not be a model, the philosophy behind the organization's mission—do what you can with what you have—seems to be prevailing.
"I would consciously shy away from "model," because it's not something that you can take up and place somewhere else because everything is place and people centric," says Ping. "But as far as maybe something that is illustrating a pattern that you can replicate, I do see it showing up in different ways, different parts of society and economy. And I think that it's natural that it would, because we've gone through this really interesting period of our time"
That "really interesting period" concerns the advent of technology, and along with it, the temptation to access pocket technologies and retreat into distraction, away from real human connections. According to Ping and other regional leaders invested in localism, this shift to community-focused work offers an opportunity to forge relationships with our neighbors.