Connecting through community: The Cooperage
The Cooperage Project on Main Street in Honesdale, PA may be physically housed in the historic shell of a 19th-century wooden cask and barrel factory, but it is much more than a building. Like an origami star, it is a concept unfolding in many directions at once from the compressed heart of a shared vision.
In the months since its grand opening on June 2, 2012, The Cooperage has become the scene where people of the region come together, most notably for workshops, music concerts and for produce, meats, cheese and baked goods sold by local growers at the farmers’ market, which runs on Wednesdays through October, and thereafter on Saturdays.
While in the throes of renovating the structure, building owners Pennell Whitney and Edward Cremo observed that local growers and their customers at the weekly farmers’ market were interacting on a number of levels beyond buying and selling. Whitney and Cremo were bombarded by ideas from people on how to use their space for the good of the local community. With this kind of input, they were inspired by the notion that people’s shared interests and concerns might flower in the sort of venue they were creating. The mission statement created by the Board of Directors of The Cooperage Project amplifies those early dreams: “The mission of The Cooperage Project is to offer a range of instructive and entertaining activities that will engage, challenge, and enlighten. Through a variety of programs, we will inspire people of all ages to both embrace diversity and celebrate shared experience in order to create a deeper sense of community.”
“We thought it would start slowly and have a chance to sort of grow slowly,” said Whitney of the first few months of operation. “But it didn’t happen that way. It went, whooaaa!” The Cooperage plans to offer programs through the winter months. “I do think that winter is a time when people are looking for things to do,” she said. “I want to enjoy being here together and have lots of what we need without having to drive so far to do it.”
The nonprofit’s board helps to shape The Cooperage’s presence in the community. “We are a very active board,” said Whitney. “It’s such fun.” The board meets every two weeks to go over the event schedule, offer ideas and solutions, provide situational protocols and much more. The owners stress the extraordinary commitment of the board. “They go above and beyond,” said Cremo, noting that board members can be found volunteering at every event.
If anyone can be called the “point person,” it’s project coordinator Doni Hoffman. “Doni has assumed the role of being the face of The Cooperage,” said Cremo. “She’s very well organized,” and her duties include coordinating the Farmers’ Market, updating the website, developing programming and overseeing the events.
Recurring events at The Cooperage include concerts by a diverse group of musicians presented by The Coop @ The Cooperage, RiverFolk and by The Cooperage Project. There are open mics for both acoustic and electric music hosted by John Rocklin and Peter Florance, respectively. Beginning in October, The Bodhi Tree Art School and Studio is offering classes at The Cooperage for adults and children. A recent, well attended lecture by Dr. Rudolph Ballentine paves the way for future lecturers, authors and poets to take the stage.
The stage itself has received many compliments from audience and performers alike for its acoustic qualities. “I feel privileged to be presenting acoustical music in such an accommodating space,” said fiddler Coleman Smith of The Bog Swing Group. Stage lighting provided by Graeme McDonnell, a local resident and professional stage designer, sets the mood for the night’s music. Future planned upgrades for the stage area include stage curtains and a larger green room for the performers. WJFF Public Radio (90.5 FM) also plans to install mics on the stage to broadcast performances live from The Cooperage.
Family-friendly activities are also offered, such as monthly contra dances, and Family Game Night where folks are invited to get to know one another by playing board games.
Workshops and partnerships
Space in the 7,000-square-foot building is taken up on the first floor by a performance stage, a large open space and a catering kitchen that is used for meals during the farmers market and at some concerts. Upstairs is another open space used for meetings, and an office that houses the broadcasting home of WJFF’s new satellite studio. On one wall of the open space sits a desk and chair that comprise the headquarters for Sustainable Energy Education and Development Support (SEEDS), a non-profit organization committed to developing renewable energy and sustainable lifestyles.
Providing space for organizations like SEEDS is one way The Cooperage Project demonstrates its commitment to helping local nonprofits and promoting green technology. “We want to partner with other nonprofits and do things together,” said Whitney. They look forward to continuing to work with community organizations such as public schools, senior centers and arts organizations.
Among the community-based activities offered at The Cooperage by organizations such as Transition Honesdale, the Delaware Highlands Mushroom Society and Wayne County PASA are instructional workshops. Past workshops have included the art of butter making, how to make a light bulb food drier, a holistic management workshop, a shiitake mushroom inoculation workshop and creating handmade holiday gifts. For future classes and workshops, consult the website.
‘A lot of kindness’
The expenses involved in the day-to-day operations of The Cooperage are projected to be covered by donations from individuals and organizations. So far, they have been. “We’re going to take a good, long look at the end of six months,” said Cremo. “We do not want to move in the direction of making it more difficult for small organizations, and for the kids in town who want to come in and play their music.” At each free-to-the-public event stands a donation barrel.
One of the ways to make a significant difference in the continuance and comfort of The Cooperage is to join The Cooperage Project Chair Drive. Each donation of $100 buys a “sleek, light and stackable” chair to replace the heavy, mix-and-match wooden chairs in current use. In addition, enthusiastic volunteers have been essential in researching necessary information and locating quality materials at low or no cost. “We have been beneficiaries of a lot of kindness,” Cremo said.