21 Sep

I’m finally writing from Chicago, returned to a whirlwind homecoming. People keep asking me how the trip went, likely expecting complete enthusiasm from me – but I can’t give it. To be honest, it was a hard trip, not something I’d jump to do again. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun, or that I’m not totally excited to have biked all those 750 miles – and above all, the Yogurt Pedaler project is not over.

The most pivotal conclusion I’ve reached about this trip was that the method wasn’t the right one to succeed in accomplishing my goals for the project. People I met were nearly always much more impressed by my bike trip than they were with making yogurt…and making things was the point, not going on a long bike ride. That doesn’t mean people weren’t touched by the yogurt – plenty of people have said I inspired them to try themselves – but the biking part of the project turned out to be somewhat of a distraction at times.

I also ran into plenty of problems being an outsider – which, in retrospect, should have been a pretty obvious expectation. New arrivals to a community are never immediately embraced into the neighborhood networks; transient street vendors are rarely trusted at first, and it takes time to build social and economic networks. There was no way I was going to expose and encourage local agricultural resources and communities when I wasn’t a part of them myself. I would repeatedly meet people, tell them about my project, and we’d chat for a few minutes before they would say, “oh, so you know about so-and-so’s dairy farm, then, just 20 miles west of here?” And of course, I didn’t. These small family farms don’t advertise online, they depend on word-of-mouth and a dedicated clientele at a local farmers market to sell their products.

Also, 20 miles west may not be far in a car, but that’s backtracking a whole day on a bike, and visiting even a handful more farms along this route would involve weaving through the countryside for countless more days or weeks.

This isn’t to say the project failed, by any means. The farms and people I did meet were enthusiastic, inquisitive, and encouraging. I am possibly even more dedicated to the mission of the Yogurt Pedaler to inspire people to make things and understand where their food comes from, and I still think yogurt is a fun, magical, and informative gateway to these sorts of explorations. But I want to rethink my methods – and this is where you readers can help me!

What were your greatest takeaways from this project? What should I definitely hold onto?
Were you inspired to make your own yogurt? How did it go? Share your incubation methods – success stories and messy failures!
How can I reconstruct this website to keep the project alive as a resource, not just as a journal of a bike trip that is over for now?
Where do you think this project should go? How can I evolve the project to reach more people, more effectively?

(If you’d rather not comment here, email me with comments.)

3 Responses to “Homecoming”

  1. Aaron Zueck October 27, 2010 at 4:22 pm #

    Hey! Just found about your trip and love it! Check out our site (http://bikeloc.org, or http://facebook.com/bikeloc) – we did a parallel journey this summer. Would be happy to chat about lessons learned.

  2. Gerri Christian February 2, 2011 at 12:03 pm #

    I love the focus on yogurt-making and widening horizons for local milk-producers! What about connecting those local people with those who can use/market their products as in restaurants, natural foods stores, local nutritionists, etc.? It can seem overwhelming, but a simple database can be enough of a resource for a beginning. Plus basic education on yogurt making and the live-culture issues- have you thought of doing appearances at markets and fairs perhaps? If you come to West Michigan, we have or can find you a place to stay. (as parents of three young women!)

    • easteighth February 5, 2011 at 10:40 am #

      Gerri – The database is a fantastic idea! I’d love to think about that a bit more. I made “appearances” at markets along my route, but now that it’s winter and I’m pretty stable here in Chicago, public appearances have slowed. I hope to develop some sort of sustainable “workshop” that I can take to markets, fairs, and schools for next season.
      Out of curiosity, how did you find your way to the Yogurt Pedaler? Are you a local food producer, yogurt maker, or just a fan?

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