SNW Intern Patrick Kennedy on #HeatLocal opportunities for rural communites

Posted by Renee Magyar on January 15, 2013

Patrick reflects on his experience helping to facilitate biomass workshops and using social media to expand the conversation.


I recently had the pleasure of facilitating and attending a set of biomass workshops that we hosted in La Grande and Sisters, OR. Stakeholders from all over the community came to learn about, share examples of, and network  over local biomass projects.  Attendees included county commissioners, timber landowners, foresters, mill owners and employees, school district superintendents, boiler maintenance supervisors and nonprofit leadership and employees. 

During the workshops, I posted to SNW's Twitter and Facebook accounts using the hash tag #HeatLocal as part of our collaborative digital media campaign to advocate for rural energy solutions. Social media has allowed the seamless propagation of information and further provides remote rural communities with access to stay up-to-date on opportunities and innovations.  The workshops brought many varied stakeholders together to learn and share knowledge about biomass and economic development opportunities.

Instagram photo of biomass heating fuel options
Instagram photo of biomass heating fuel options

At each workshop, a two-way dialogue and learning  took place; everyone had a voice and many business as well as social  connections were made.  I was truly amazed by the diversity in the room  and the amount of informative material covered.  For those that could not join in person, all the presentations with contact information have now been made available. And, the conversation can continue on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram by using the #HeatLocal in your posts. One lesson that we learned regarding using social media to leverage an event has to do with the venue, in this case, the high school in Sisters. When we arrived at the venue we quickly learned that all social media sites had been blocked on the high school's network. Luckily we had a couple bars of service on our mobile phones and were able to post over the cellular network. Lesson learned, check access at the venue!

Since my internship with Sustainable Northwest began in early September, I have been engaging with the work carried out by the staff on a daily basis.  The internship experience at Sustainable Northwest has given me a valuable hands-on experience that lets me choose what goals I want to pursue, meaning I do not have to occupy my time with coffee-making errands (unless of course that is what you are truly passionate about). While I do love coffee, I am passionate about is sustainability, renewable energy, and producing tangible results on the ground for those who need it most.

Being from a small rural community highly dependent on tourism, I know first-hand what happens when a secluded town slowly loses its ability to maintain itself.  Because of the very small population and isolation from larger industrial or economic hubs, people slip into cycles of unemployment and poverty.  Often, help does not come fast enough and when it does, many folks from the country do not welcome assistance due to pride or lack of trust. SNW strives to connect typically under served and neglected rural communities with economic markets while simultaneously conserving the natural landscape for future generations.

Renewable energy and economic growth solutions are available for many communities in the Northwest in the form of biomass. The Forest Service and timber operations have struggled to find a workable system that can remove the excess small-diameter trees without incurring financial losses - until now. The utilization of biomass furnaces and boilers can efficiently overcome this challenge.  If residential and commercial boilers are implemented on a community-based scale, forest health will greatly increase, consumers will have access to an inexpensive, local, and renewable fuel source, employment opportunities will be available, and rural communities will begin to thrive once more.

Please join the conversation on your favorite social media platform by using the #HeatLocal hash tag and help us promote these incredible opportunities for rural people.

Patrick Kennedy is a Policy Intern at Sustainable Northwest and can often be found tweeting for @sustainnw