How We Engaged the Community in Our Homestead

Reader Contribution by Anneli Carter-Sundqvist
1 / 2
2 / 2

When I first came to Maine in 2008, much of my time was spent connecting our local community to the Hostel and our homestead. We opened at a time when there weren’t at all that many young people on the island, and very few that had started their own businesses. The engagement and support we received turned out to be transformative, and made it what it is today. I’ve always envisioned the Hostel as a result of many people’s influence and just as homesteading is a vibrant, dynamic and life affirming lifestyle with many different life forms all playing a role for the outcome, the Hostel is in a sense also it’s own being, created each day by those staying with us.

In the early days, engaging the community was a way to make sure that everyone was on board with what we were doing. To settle and reside in a small community comes with responsibilities – others were here before us, we should be attentive to and adhere to local conducts and make an effort to integrate, without giving up who we are. A business, even a small one like ours, will impact the community and especially in our case, the quiet neighborhood dirt road and its residents. We use this road as an artery to our business, with increased traffic and guests that sometimes wander across our neighbors’ land, in search for the shoreline. These neighbors, if we’re lucky, are people that we will share many decades with and it was, and still is, very important to have their trust and confidence that what they notice from our business is un-invasive, and positive.

At that time, not many people knew what Dennis was up to back here – a guy living alone in the woods with piles of lumber and stones stacked around the yard who said he was going to open a hostel. A Hostel? Isn’t that what they have in Europe, where people on bicycles stay?

One of the ways I reached out to the community that first year was open invitations to stop by and take a look at what we did. I made posters by hand, with crayons and by cutting and pasting images from printed material we had. Even though we had suggested days each week for visits, anyone could come pretty much at anytime and we showed them the buildings and the grounds. And many came – our neighbors showed up and returned with their relatives, the relatives came back with their friends. People we only barely knew started to come by on a regular basis, some summer people made it an annual tradition to check in on us and our progress and tourists stopped for photos and garden tours. Many of our most loyal and generous supporters came from a generation that had indeed traveled in Europe back in the ’70s before there were many hostels in America and for them, we evoke memories, nostalgia and an experience they wanted others to have too. And our mission, to spread the gospel about sustainable living and positive environmental impact, was without doubt recognized as something good. This stream of visitors had its drawbacks – the constant distractions – but at that point it created an upward spiral of incredible engagement, an engagement that was manifested in many ways. We were given every piece of furniture we needed for the Hostel, often wooden, high quality, and even hand made furniture we wouldn’t even have known where to look for. All the plates, kitchen ware, bed linens, towels and even paintings were donated to us along with homesteading tools and equipment.

Local newspapers wrote about us and other businesses and organizations mentioned us in their newsletters – all to get the word out there. We sent out a letter of appeal and received many generous monetary donations that enabled us to keep up the pace with building the house and we came in contact with the blacksmith Ian Walker, who volunteered to hand craft much of the hardware for the building. We got to use shop space to plane lumber and build windows and a sewing machine to make curtains. We still receive many offers on hostel and garden appropriate things people are looking to pass on and every once in a while, an unsolicited cash donation lands in our mailbox.

As the years passed, it was like the Hostel grew up. That first summer when we called out to friends and the community to be a part of this we set something in motion – an almost magnetic surge, refueled over and over by the flow of new people that got engaged in our project. And even though the support from the island community still is unwavering, we have gone from being a young-spirited novelty to a financially capable and established business. The support and shared effort kindled what became the essence of the Hostel – that it too is dynamic and vibrant and now, it’s our guests that determines what the Hostel will be, each and every day through the summer, by who they are, how they interact and what they make of their time here. It’s like the Hostel grew wings and Dennis and I merely feather the nest and let the guests decide where to fly.

And even if it’s hard to believe today, as the next snowstorm rolls up the coast of Maine, we’re only a few months away from opening. It’s exhilarating to think about all the people out there, preparing to come our way this summer and to know that there will be room for them too, to only stay with us, but to actually be a part of creating the Hostel.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 

Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368