Going mobile: rural opportunities

Going mobile: rural opportunities

Mobile third spaces are among the “trends you need to know to be relevant” in 2017, according to the ad agency sparks & honey.

Why should rural people give any thought to forecasting by urbanites? These ideas offer food for thought about rural opportunities. Many entrepreneurs in rural areas are already acting on these trends.

Food trucks are so 2016. There are many more business opportunities that can be located in an old VW bus, panel van or Airstream trailer. Shopping and leisure activities appear to be the focus when the vehicle isn’t just selling food.

Mobile Cigar Lounge

Mobile Cigar Lounge Co. / mobilecigarlounge.com

From a mobile knitting yarn boutique in California to a mobile cigar lounge in central Texas (“have cigars, will travel”), if you think of a business, you can probably put wheels under it. The American Mobile Retail Association offers tips to creating a new business in a vehicle.

In Norfolk County, Canada, there are many food trucks. But there are also two new mobile businesses that focus on promoting leisure. Red Apple Rides is a vehicle packed with bicycles ready to connect your group with amazing experiences. Ride the Bine is more than a tour bus. It is operated by two women with deep connections to local terroir, food and wine.

Sparks & honey predicts many more mobile third spaces will open.

“Third spaces like cafes – places that are neither home or office – provide us with opportunities for socializing and learning,” says the ad agency. “Expect to see growing numbers of mobile third spaces emerge.”

Some examples of new mobile third spaces include an art gallery in a car in Portland, Oregon. A spin class housed on a bus in the U.K. is currently still conceptual, but over 24,000 people have registered to use it when it launches.

For a mobile business to stay viable in a rural area, it is advisable to avoid wacky offerings. Instead, put a spin on an experience that is authentic to the region, one that will appeal to many demographics.

You can read more about the sparks & honey A-Z Culture Glossary here.

© 2017 Clark Hoskin

Artist residence program boosts county’s culture

Artist residence program boosts county’s culture

Small but mighty Yates County in upstate New York has many inspirational stories for rural advocates. In this case, art lovers and culture mavens can learn from Sunny Point – a property and a program coordinated by the local arts centre.

Sunny Point, located on Keuka Lake south of Penn Yan, is owned by the Arts Centre of Yates County. During our Finger Lakes study tour last spring, we met Kris Pearson, Executive Director, and Sandy Murrin, Board President, who explained that the property was bequeathed to ACYC by Dr. Annie Smith of Toronto, a former cottager on the lake.

The Host Residency program allows artists to host their own students for a week at a time. The Artist in Residence program is open to professional visual, literary and performance artists. The ten-day residency is an award made by ACYC twice per year. Residence and studio space are provided at no cost to the artist, but travel and meals are not included.

Sunny Point ACYC

The Red Barn at Sunny Point

When we visited, the “red barn” was undergoing interior renovation to expand the space for workshops. The “white cottage” provides accommodation for up to eight people, is offered as an Artist Retreat on an as-available basis, and includes linens and full kitchen. There is a rental charge and a non-refundable deposit. The boathouse will be used as a seasonal ceramics studio. By summer 2016, Sunny Point had hosted many classes.

ACYC’s artist-in-residence program encourages artists to come to the area, which adds depth to the cultural tourism product on offer in this community. Sunny Point also provides an additional revenue stream for the Arts Centre, which hopefully will help the program sustain itself.

Farm-to-bistro college program

Farm-to-bistro college program

Tompkins Cortland Community College or “TC3” has a Farm to Bistro program that gives students hands-on experience in every aspect of the food-production system.

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-10-32-45-pmIn Ithaca (pop. 30,000), the College owns and operates TC3 Farm which supplies fresh produce to Coltivare Restaurant, a 17,000 square-foot culinary center including a full- service restaurant, amphitheater, wine cellar and event space.

Coltivare is located on the ground level of a parking garage in downtown Ithaca.

A group of Canadians learned about this innovative initiative in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, while gathering ideas and insights to consider using in their similar region of Southwest Ontario, Norfolk County.

TC3 Curriculum includes Culinary Arts, Sustainable Farming and Food Systems, Wine Marketing and Hotel and Restaurant Management. In the near future, the farm will be run using only renewable energy.

Read the full story on page 27 of the Finger Lakes Study Tour 2016 Report.

Town’s sincere commitment to downtown excellence

Town’s sincere commitment to downtown excellence

When looking for examples of towns that get the concept of delivering a quality experience, look no further than Corning, New York.

A group of Canadians on a business study tour last spring learned about the town’s sincere commitment to excellence, and their determination to collaborate.

Key observations in Corning was the philosophy that “Collaboration is everything – there is no them, there is only us”.  That’s what Coleen Fabrizi, Executive Director of the Gaffer District, told the group, adding that tapping into local business resources is crucial.

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-10-22-09-pmKeeping the downtown vibrant means putting the resources behind it, including 11 staff, with merchandising designers among them. The majority of funding for the Gaffer District comes from private-sector corporate investment, primarily from the city’s largest employer.

The town hosts the world headquarters of Corning, Inc., which employs 5,100 workers in the region and 35,000 worldwide. Annual sales for Corning, Inc. are approximately $10 billion. The company no longer makes cookware and now specializes in advanced optics and glass applications for aerospace, defence, pharmaceutical and consumer applications.

The town is also home to the Corning Museum of Glass, which employs 130 staff and recently completed a $64-million expansion. There were 460,000 museum visitors in 2015 providing $4.1 million in admission revenue. More than 60,000 visitors participate annually in Make Your Own Glass Experiences at the museum, generating another $1.5 million in revenue.

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-10-21-59-pmThe Gaffer District of Corning is the operating name of the “Corning Intown District Management Corporation, Inc.”, a downtown business improvement area in the City of Corning, New York (population 6,500).

“Developing more networks within the community is important,” observed one of the participants. “Upselling our community rather than downplaying what we have to offer, because things will change with time.”

The Canadians were touring the Finger Lakes region of New York State, gathering ideas and insights to consider using in their similar region of Southwest Ontario, Norfolk County.

Read the entire story starting on page 22 of the Finger Lakes Study Tour 2016 Report.

Developing local bonds at GreenStar

Developing local bonds at GreenStar

When a group of Canadians visited Greenstar Coop in Ithaca, New York, they observed how a commitment to selling local food can be lucrative.

GreenStar is a member-owned, community consumer cooperative with over 11,000 members in a city of 30,000. Joe Romano, Director of Marketing, showed the Canadians around and provided background about the organization and its activities.

Local LabelGreenStar celebrates fresh, whole foods, sustainable living and the transformative power of a strong local economy. Sales in 2015 were approximately $19.5 million.

GreenStar carries more than 4,100 local products (within 100 miles) and 3,300 regional products (within 300 miles), resulting in over $4.9 million reinvested into the local economy, and over $1.7 million reinvested into the regional economy.

The Canadians were touring the Finger Lakes region of New York State, gathering ideas and insights to consider using in their similar region of Southwest Ontario, Norfolk County.

Greenstar“[It’s] amazing that they can compete with the larger scale grocers and it works! Grassroots and that deep local feel that everyone craves,” said one of the participants.

Supporting local builds strong relationships with vendors and customers. Even stronger bonds are created when member-volunteers earn discounts by working in the store.

In 2015, GreenStar had 81 full-time employees and 53 part-time employees. GreenStar provides opportunities for its members to act as “SuperWorkers” or in-store volunteers. By committing to work 2 hours weekly at designate times for a 4 month minimum, the SuperWorker receives a 15.5% discount in addition to the 2% standard member discount on most purchases.

In 2015, 480 member-owners (and their share partners) saved $187,455 through their participation in the Member Labor Program, an average savings of $391 per member-worker.

“Co-op Markets at their best … saw so many members filling shelves,” said another participant. “Although expensive, found the concept fascinating.”

For the full story on GreenStar, start reading on page 19 of the Finger Lakes 2016 Study Tour Report.

Downtown insights in Penn Yan, New York

Downtown insights in Penn Yan, New York

A walking tour last spring of Penn Yan, New York, yielded some interesting insights of downtown revitalization for a group of Canadians from Norfolk County.

Among the key observations: second-floor apartments can be converted into higher revenue overnight tourist accommodation.

Steve Griffin of the Finger Lakes Economic Development Center led the walking tour of Penn Yan (pop. 5,200). His organization is the sole economic development agency responsible for Yates County (pop. 25,000).

Penn Yan downtown Clark HoskinOur first stop was Chris Wright’s second-floor apartments, which he renovated with assistance from the town’s façade improvement program. The 800-square-foot two-bedroom apartment is now advertised as tourist accommodation. Chris can now rent the space out for $300 per night to tourists, as opposed to $400 per month to low-income tenants.

One tour participant would later write that the key take-away for them was “how important it is to have lived-in downtowns.”

Next stop was Birkett Landing, a project by developer Chris Iversen. The former historic industrial building has been gutted and renovated into a mixed-use development containing 13 residential market-rate apartments and about 4,600 square feet of commercial space.

To read the full article, download the Finger Lakes Study Tour PDF and go to page 9.

More about the Finger Lakes Study Tour 2016

5 learning moments on the Finger Lakes Study Tour

In the Finger Lakes Study Tour Report, you can read all ten learning moments. To keep this read short, let’s concentrate on the first five. The next five are listed in my August 25 post.

FLX Group shot

This friendly group of Canadians spent two days together learning about businesses and communities in Upstate NY in April 2016

Here are just a few of the ideas and concepts the group from Norfolk County and Ontario’s Southwest learned during the Finger Lakes Study Tour in April 2016:

  1. Enabling Neighbourhood projects: The city of Geneva operates a “center for neighbourhood initiatives” that encourages and supports projects and volunteers that revitalize all parts of the city. Musical porch parties and concerts in the cemetery engage residents and get them communicating and working together.
  2. Upselling second-floor apartments: Chris Wright in Penn Yan upgraded his second-floor apartment in the downtown core and listed it as overnight tourist accommodation on Air BnB. He’s now earning $300 a night for an apartment that used to take in $500 a month.
  3. Story-telling for Business: Telling your story is the most important thing you can do when you are operating a business whose target market is consumers. Ports of New York in Ithaca is a small business but offers a powerful, memorable experience because the owner narrates his family’s story so well.
  4. Social Enterprise: Social enterprises can address community needs by raising money from tourists and consumers. Milly’s Pantry in Penn Yan and the GreenStar Coop in Ithaca are great examples of non-profit organizations that rely on income from one stream of business to subsidize the costs of a social need in the community.
  5. Collaboration and Community Mindfulness: Collaboration is everything – there is no “them”, there is only “us”. It was clear in most communities – Corning being a good model – that work got done when people rowed in the same direction, especially if a major corporate sponsor is on board. There was acknowledgment that all players in the community have a role. When everyone respects one another, a lot gets accomplished. As one participant put it: “I love that every place we went was community minded.” This kind of collaboration enabled the ‘Race for Space’ program in Geneva, where entrepreneurs competed for a discounted downtown storefront lease.

The goal of the study tour was to learn from people at similar businesses in communities similar to those in Norfolk County and other parts of Ontario. A report prepared by Norfolk County staff, based on a survey of those who attended the tour, summarizes the learning moments that participants experienced in the Finger Lakes. The report has detailed information about each stop along the way, including key observations and learning moments.


Another insightful Finger Lakes tour

“Back by popular demand…”

It’s such a cliché, but in the case of the Finger Lakes Study Tour, it is so true.

Finger Lakes_96

It was my pleasure and honour to guide the tour, both years, with our driver Harvey (right). He got us there and back safely – even through freezing rain and grumpy border guards. Photo: Tracy Haskett

With help from Southwest Ontario Tourism and Norfolk County, I had the great pleasure and honour to guide 40+ business and community leaders through the Finger Lakes in March 2015. It was a great success. The tour concept won the award for Cross Border Cooperation and Regionalism from the Economic Developer’s Council of Ontario.

Participants enjoyed it and learned so much – they asked me to organize another tour. So, Finger Lakes Study Tour II happened in April 2016.

So, again this year, I wrote up a summary report about what we learned, based on a survey of participants. Over the course of a few blog posts, I’ll break the report down into manageable chunks.

Or – feel free to download the entire report at norfolkbusiness.ca.

In my next post, I’ll tell you about the 10 “learning moments” we experienced: enabling neighbourhood projects, upselling second-floor apartments, story-telling for business, social enterprise, and so on.

You can also read about last year’s Finger Lakes tour starting at Finger Lakes 2015 – Post #1

But first, special thanks to the many people who made the Finger Lakes Study Tour in April 2016 a success:

  • Andrew Tompkins, Finger Lakes Boating Museum
  • Brandon Kane and Joe Romano, GreenStar Cooperative Market
  • Chef Richard Larman
  • Chris Iversen, Birkett Landing
  • Chris Wright, Penn Yan
  • Christine Peacock and staff, Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel
  • Coleen Fabrizi, Corning’s Gaffer District
  • Debra Loehnert and staff, Three Birds Restaurant
  • Frédéric Bouché, Ports of New York
  • Harvey the Driver, Attridge Transportation Inc.
  • Jeremy Coffey and staff, Hermann Wiemer Vineyards
  • Joanne Wolnik and Jen Moore, Southwest Ontario Tourism Corp.
  • Joe Myer, Myer Farm Distillers
  • John Johnson, The Technology Farm
  • Karen Taft, Amanda Vinson and staff, New York State Wine & Culinary Centre
  • Katharine Korona and staff, Three Brothers Winery
  • Kris Pearson and Sandy Murrin, Arts Centre Yates County
  • Lauren Lowman and staff, Coltivare
  • Lorin Hostetler, Shtayburne Farm
  • Patrick Gaffney and John Jensen, Greater Hammondsport Chamber of Commerce
  • Phyllisa DeSarno, JoAnn Cornish and Annie Sherman, City of Ithaca
  • Sage Gerling, City of Geneva
  • Steve Griffin, Finger Lakes Economic Development Center
  • Suzan Richards, Susan Wolff, George and Carolyn Schaeffer, Milly’s Pantry
  • Trevor Davis and staff, Rooster Fish Brewery
  • Zach and Laura Cutlip, Winewagen Tours
  • Plus … Gail Bouw, Fritz Enzlin, Tracy Haskett for their photos in the report



There’s a novel in everybody

Over two years ago, I challenged myself to write a novel. I’d been thinking about it for a while, and was enamored with the idea that I could create a story with a plot, characters and setting.

Clark Hoskin writing

Clark Hoskin

Always a wannabe-creative type, I was stuck in that head space: reading a lot, enjoying certain writers and finding out how they wrote their stories. Then I’d buy Writer’s Digest magazine from time to time and surf on websites about writing. That’s when I found a podcast called Writing Excuses.

  • Writing Excuses: “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry and we’re not that smart.”


Listening to Writing Excuses while working out at the gym motivated me to move beyond thinking about writing, and to actually start writing. The podcast is aimed at aspiring writers who are always finding excuses to avoid writing. By offering up fifteen minutes of motivational chatter, you feel a certain guilt about not turning on the laptop.

It was on Writing Excuses that I learned about NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month, the annual worldwide grassroots effort that encourages people to write a novel in 30 days. So, I registered (no cost) and started writing. The month of November passed and I didn’t achieve the 50,000-word goal. Not even close. I tried again the next year, this time with a story outline prepared over the summer. The second time around, I achieved my goal. It felt good. Well … I almost achieved it. I wrote over 50,000 words, but it definitely was not a novel. Even so, I was hooked on fleshing out the new world I had created.


While participating in NaNoWriMo and listening to Writing Excuses, I learned one basic thing about writing a book. Success is only possible if you follow the AIC Method. Many amateur writers complain about this demanding procedure. It’s torture, they insist. Others believe in the AIC Method theoretically, including me, but have difficulty putting it into action. All professional novelists absolutely insist that AIC is the only way to go. It’s a simple, universal rule that must be followed. Just sit your Ass In Chair and write.

You know what. AIC works. And it works with just about any kind of chair. Personally, I prefer something slightly uncomfortable: kitchen chair or lawn chair. It only works with your ass, though… no one else’s.


Atmosphere, ambience, whatever you want to call it, is important for writing. If you’re going to sit on your ass for so long, it should be located in a supportive environment. I did most of my writing on the back deck in hot weather, which helped me a lot, given the setting of the novel. Also, I need focus… no noise. I think my brain has concentration issues. But I also like people to be around – but just not disturbing me. It’s a hard balance, because you may feel bad if you’re squirreled away from the rest of the world.


Some writers can just sit down and write a story from beginning to end. I can’t do that. I needed an outline — a beginning, middle and end. I wanted to incorporate my community into the novel … but the thought scared me, too. In the end, the basic premise for the novel came from a vacation. While on a dive trip on a Caribbean island, I thought, maybe a bunch of friends get caught up in a murder and end up risking life and limb.

Writing cards Clark Hoskin

Recipe cards and a small photo album helped keep track of plot and characters

So began the bulk of the process that took two years … figuring out the plot, creating a world half way between reality and fiction, developing a wide range of interesting characters, laying out the story on a calendar, researching everything from firearms to paper weights. It was fun — and distracting when I had writer’s block — to brainstorm about what kind of a car the love interest drove (an old Toyota Delica) or the drink my murder victim preferred (an Old Fashioned).

At this point, it also helped to tell a couple people what I was doing. “I’m working on a novel,” is all I’d say. I didn’t provide any more detail – none. As long as I knew they knew I was writing something, I couldn’t hide behind the secrecy of telling no one of my plans.

First Draft

Eventually, the basic first draft of the story appeared on my laptop — all 220,000 words of it. The complexity of the thing was overwhelming, and I had to insert headings within chapters to keep track of the twists and turns of the story. Then, reluctantly but proudly, I asked three people close to me to give it a read. A few weeks later, we gathered in a friend’s basement rec room and my “Alpha Readers” told me what they thought. For the most part, it was positive – which you should expect from family and friends – because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.

Around that time, I read Wired for Story by Lisa Cron, a self-help book for aspiring authors that is pretty dismissive about asking friends to read your work. I disagree. My readers were very frank about which characters stood out, what plot points were lost to them, and what they thought about my protagonist, and so much more. Their criticisms were very helpful, despite being shrouded in bubble wrap.

Second Draft

Narked novel cover Tracy Haskett

Draft novel cover by Tracy Haskett

I recorded the suggestions of my readers and tried my best to tackle those issues head on. Meanwhile, from a technical perspective, I explored a few rabbit holes that were important to ensure the story was as believable as possible. A family vacation to the setting of my novel helped facilitate this. Ahead of the trip, I reached out to several people on the island, and a few responded. I set up appointments, and they generously met face-to-face and answered my questions. Then, through winter and spring, I hunkered down and cleaned up the second draft. Characters got melded together, names changed, and writing was tightened up. Setting goals was important (“I’ll have it done by Easter”; “I’ll have it done by Father’s Day”; “It will be done by Canada Day”…) and eventually I triumphed. Encouragement from those you love is very, very helpful, too. (Thanks Tracy for pushing me to keep at it, and for designing the cool book cover!)

The Way Forward

So, what now? My second draft is back in the hands of my readers, and I await their feedback. Others have expressed interest in reading the novel but, sorry, no. My goal now is to get it published, and then the others can buy it! I’ve decided against self-publishing so the search for an agent has begun. Yesterday, I sent out my first query, including bio, synopsis, and first ten pages of the novel. I expect a rejection eventually, but will keep shopping it around. In the meantime, I’ll continue to tinker with it, fix typos, and incorporate any feedback I receive. I’ve already started thinking what the next story will be.

Your Novel

So, what is your story? Over the past two years, I’ve spoken to many people who have the desire to write a novel. Everyone has a story to tell. It’s up to you to decide what it is. And then … get your ass in a chair and write.

Clark Hoskin







Simple things my Dad taught me

Simple things my Dad taught me

When I was a kid, my Dad would take me on his service calls to fix farm equipment. Walter Hoskin was a Badger dealer. In the 1970s, Badger Northland was a Wisconsin manufacturer that built silo unloaders, barn cleaners, forage boxes, bunk feeders, manure spreaders … and other “farm materials handling equipment” for farmers in the U.S. and Canada.

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 10.03.46 PM

Badger Northland logo

The Rolodex on my Dad’s service counter in the implement shed was thick with names and phone numbers of farmers across Haldimand and Norfolk counties. Those were the days when one hundred acres of clay soil could almost support a farm family. Back then, agriculture was a way of life for hundreds of families along dusty concession roads. Practically every kid at my elementary school grew up on a farm. Today, maybe six or eight cards would hang sadly from that Rolodex, given the farm amalgamations that have happened over the last two generations.

Selling the equipment meant repairing it, too. Cattle had to be fed, no matter the day of the week or the weather conditions. If the mechanical unloader inside the 100-foot silo broke down on a cold Christmas Eve, my Dad was called in to fix it, because without it, a dairy herd would go hungry.

Badger Silo Unloader

Badger silo unloader

The black rotary-dial phone on the wall at home would ring, and a farmer would ask my Dad to come out. He would push the tool box onto the back of his Ford 350 stake truck, along with a few metal parts, and we would drive to the Sowden dairy barn or the Breedyk beef feedlot. It was always cold and damp, and the wind would whip through the cracks in the buildings. Machinery broke down more in winter.

Little did I know I was learning things as I stood there in the barn, my feet freezing in my work boots.

Dad would climb up the dirty silo chute with the end of a rope, then I would attach a trouble light and a power cord to the other end and he would pull them up. Then, he sent the rope back down for the tool box, then the five-gallon pail full of parts, nuts and bolts.

Sometimes, I would climb up too. Usually, I would stay at the bottom of the chute and listen for instructions. He would fix the machine, then he would tell me to turn on the silo unloader for a few seconds to make sure it worked.

Funny how I didn’t argue with him, or question his judgement, or refuse to take direction. I trusted he knew what he was doing. I was a weird kid.

When the repairs were complete, tools went back in the 350. The electrical cord became a tangled mess at the bottom of the chute, and I had to roll it up and get it out of my Dad’s way before he climbed back down.

My Dad Walt Hoskin

My Dad

One of the things he taught me on those cold, dusty outings was how to roll up a cord. That may sound boring and mundane, but I am so glad I listened to him and learned.

At high school in Hagersville, I played trumpet in the band. The guys and I had to help set up equipment for concerts. Knowing how to roll a cord came in very handy.

At York University, where I studied film production, we worked in groups to produce short film projects. Lighting and sound equipment on film sets need cords and cables, so I could easily roll them up when we were done.

After my daughters were born and we were living in an old house, I needed to fix stuff around the place. You guessed it – more cords to roll up.

Years pass. I don’t play the trumpet any more. I didn’t become a film director. And we now live in a modern home that doesn’t require as much repair.

And now, in my day job as an economic developer and tourism promoter, trade shows and exhibits are part of the regular routine. That kind of work requires – that’s right – the ability to coil an extension cord properly. The last cord I rolled was at Eat & Drink Norfolk last month. It made me think of my Dad.

There are days when I wish for simpler times, when I just waited for instructions and did what I was told. When playing First Trumpet and being Band President was really cool. When I aspired to live in Hollywood and make movies.

Life moves on and becomes more complicated. Luckily, my Dad taught me the value of working hard, of enduring uncomfortable situations, of listening to instructions, of trusting people, and looking on the bright side.

And, yes, he taught me how to roll up a cord, so it would be ready for the next guy to use. Luckily, I didn’t resist taking his advice. I just learned how to do it. I didn’t try to design a better way, or criticize his old habits. I guess I had sense enough just to take his wisdom at face value, because it would make my life a lot easier.

Thanks, Dad.

© 2017 Clark Hoskin

Video: How to coil and extension cord (Source: YouTube This Old House)

Video: What is a silo unloader? (Source: YouTube FarmerSchneck)