Archives for March 2016

Warren Wilson College: a System of Diverse Enterprises

A Warren Wilson College trail in the sunRural System envisions a systems approach to land management, generating stable profits from leased lands over the long-term. Over 150 Groups, or small companies, would work together to optimize profits within constraints. Similarly, Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, North Carolina, has over 100 work crews tasked with keeping the college running smoothly. The work program is part of what cuts costs for students attending this small, private liberal arts college.

As an alumna of Warren Wilson I immediately saw the commonalities in values and vision between Rural System and Warren Wilson College. Recently, I wrote a post for Smart College Visit sharing just what makes Warren Wilson so unique.

A small college of just over 1,000 students, Warren Wilson College boasts a Triad program of academics for the mind, work for the hands, and service for the heart.

In addition to my consistently ambitious 18 credit hour academic work load, I was employed by the college, 15 hours per week, in one of over 100 different work crews. Warren Wilson is a working farm producing high-quality, grass-fed beef, and possesses acres of carefully managed forest. I was assigned in the beginning to Campus Support, the construction crew, before choosing in my second year to help found the Fine Woodworking Crew with a personal focus on musical instruments. Other crews on campus include Library Crew, Blacksmith, Heavy Duty (the janitorial squad), Electric, Paint, Garden, Gladfelter (the cafeteria), Writing Center, Forestry, The Peal (the school magazine), and all the various crews specific to helping academic departments. In essence, Warren Wilson College is kept operational through the daily hard work of its students. We were taught that all types of work have value in keeping a community of people functional. We also learned to respect one another in our different roles, rather than to assume academic superiority over people like janitors. I personally knew students who joyed in being on Plumbing Crew, for example, relishing the obvious value of being able to clear a pipe.

Rural System includes Groups for many of the same functions. The crucial difference that sets Rural System apart, even from Warren Wilson, is that Rural System Groups would be managed based on the output from a prescriptive software program called VNodal. VNodal, informed by continuously updated data organized spatially, would determine what groups would be best suited to operate on the different Rural System leased properties. VNodal would also determine optimal management actions for each Group based on Rural System’s objectives to improve land quality and ecological health, property aesthetics, and profits in the long-term. The diversity of small business enterprises, working together, would achieve economies of scale otherwise unreachable for small rural businesses.

Personally, I would like to thank both Warren Wilson College and Dr. Robert Giles, founder of Rural System, for teaching me that values such as community, aesthetics, and ecological stability are compatible with responsible natural resource management and profit. I know I will continue to be inspired by their examples of entrepreneurship tempered by humanitarian and environmental values.