Felting, foraging and forestry

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Mid-Coast residents start a traditional-skills school

BOWDOINHAM — Hand-made donuts are stacked in glass jars on the counter. The kitchen serves up maple syrup from Poppa’s Sugar Shack right in town. And flower bulbs grown by a local woman are for sale.

The Town Landing restaurant is an ideal setting to interview the co-founders of a new traditional-skills school.

Local, hand-made products will be the focus of the Longbranch School, said co-founders John Favreau, of Topsham, and Nanette Giacoma and Peter Feeny, of Bowdoinham.

Their proposed curriculum encompasses topics from woodworking to traditional music, forestry to farming. Tentative classes include fundamentals of straw bale construction, designing and planting an herb garden, cooking with the seasons and making your own soap.

The school will be based in a small brick building just up the street from the Town Landing, in the center of Bowdoinham. Instructors will teach classes upstairs, or in a wood shop across the street, and will sell their goods in a retail shop on the first floor. Local farmers will also be able to sell their produce.

Favreau and Giacoma said they hope the abundance of craftspeople and farmers in the area will make the school successful.

“Like draws like,” Favreau said. “Bowdoinham is tiny, but it’s prevalent with these kinds of people.”

Giacoma said many town residents have already expressed support for the idea of making Bowdoinham into a center of traditional skills.

“There’s a lot of interest in this community for this school,” she said.

For the founders, learning traditional skills isn’t a novelty, it’s essential. A major motivation for starting the school was a concern that fuel prices will continue to rise, making it prohibitively expensive to ship products and food around the world.

“We’re going to have to rely more and more on our local farmers and on our local craftspeople for the food that we eat and the goods that we have. And so the school seemed to be a good way to bring those ideas together,” Favreau said.

The school will cater to a variety of students, not just those who are concerned about an impending spike in fuel prices. That includes people who are “concerned about their health or they’re concerned about global climate change, or they’re just concerned about local economies, or they just want to enrich themselves and become more self reliant,” Favreau said.

All three co-founders embody some aspect of the Longbranch School philosophy in their personal lives. In 2006, Favreau completed an efficient, solar-powered home in Topsham that taught him about principles of sustainable design. As owner of the Eveningstar theater, he brought many independent films and documentaries to Brunswick.

Giacoma, a former corporate executive, is now a consultant specializing in holistic business practices. She also offers transformative art workshops, where participants use meditation, art, and journaling for self-discovery.

Feeny, who is married to Giacoma, is an engineer at the oil company Conoco Phillips and an advocate for renewable energy.

The co-founders are actively recruiting instructors, who will receive half of the tuition of the courses they teach. They are hoping to renovate their buildings this summer, and begin classes in the fall.

All three have a lot of “skin in the game,” Favreau said. Giacoma and Feeny have purchased the buildings, but will continue with their other jobs while the school gets going. As director of operations, Favreau is throwing himself head first into the Longbranch School.

They’re taking a risk, but they believe the time is now to begin a traditional skills school.

“We’re on the cusp of a movement that is happening,” Giacoma said, citing the growth of farmers markets as evidence of an increased interest in local products.

“As a business person I had to try to identify where the growth areas were moving forward,” Favreau said. “We think there is already a big swell of this interest now, and we think it’s going to grow.”

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.

Sidebar Elements

Bowdoinham resident and potter Matt Ahlers is one of the Mid-Coast Maine craftsmen who may be teaching at the traditional-skills Longbranch School.