Experimentation in Adams, MA

May 8, 2018

By: Leni Fried and Mike Augspurger, The Old Stone Mill

The Old Stone Mill Center Of Arts and Creative Engineering in Adams MA, was founded by Leni Fried and Mike Augspurger. Their mission is to create public space for use by the creative community, including a center for re-use of materials diverted from the waste stream; art spaces and a machine shop with equipment and tools available to those who cannot afford to fully outfit their own studios; and to provide space for community members to come together to learn and experiment in arts and technology. There is a strong creative culture and strong embrace of environmental and energy concerns in the Berkshire County region, but it is often out of reach to everyday people. The Old Stone Mill Center will be a place for anyone to gain access to materials and means to participate more fully in creative and innovative endeavors.

The question "why we started this project" assumes we are starting now. We are only continuing our work as a life-long artist, and engineer. We have always been passionate about bikes, art, making stuff, innovation and energy/environmental conservation. We have been “saving” bicycles from the local landfill for twenty years and the mill allows us to scale up to the next level. We purchased it 2 1/2 years ago as a legacy to Leni's parents who were inquisitive, open minded and valued education well into their nineties. We have always admired structures like libraries, things that are not money or profit based. The books circulate and it is the rare example of shared ‘ownership’. We want the mill to be a place to share the responsibility of cleaning up, it’s a ‘Zero Waste Maker Space.’ The Bagshare Project which Leni founded in 2007 is an example of a model that is based on passionate volunteerism for a bigger cause, a cleaner planet.  Environmental stewardship can’t be done alone. 


Heating experiments

“To make the mill as efficient as possible, we have dedicated a 300 sq ft insulated space to use for a heating experiment and working with partners in Vermont, Agrilab to explore our options. We also made a solar heater and put it in one of the windows. Today was cloudy with small punctures of sun, but at one point I put my hand over the hole on the top and hot air (80 degrees came out and it is only in the 30’s outside!”) Our building is 28,000 sq feet on 4 levels with 150 windows, and the walls are 36” thick. There are countless old, empty mill buildings like ours in New England and how to best use them (especially in the winter) is not clear. We are committed to avoiding the use of fossil fuel wherever possible. We are doing our heating experiments as a community project. We ask the question: Can we heat even a small portion of the space with renewable energy experiments as a team? For now we will be open only in the warmer months. If any of our experiments work, it will allow us to be open in the colder months. To assume that we would heat the whole building with fossil fuel is to assume that we are not in an emergency situation regarding our ability to live on the planet. In the face of catastrophic climate change we need to show it is an emergency.  Economic ideas should only be allowed to expand when the environmental impact is considered to be part of the cost.


Bags of bags

Our Bagshare project  has really been going strong. In a semi-rural community like ours there’s lots of farm waste such as irrigation drip tape that is used for watering crops, a narrow black plastic that is landfilled by the mile each season. We use it for handles for our sturdy reusable bags made from animal feed bags and barley malt bags. Check out this video of how we process them in community workshops. In 2017 The Adams Bagshare Challenge was to make 8,400 bags one for every person in Adams. Many local community groups completed pledges of 120 bags each making a grand total of 3,940 bags made entirely from material that would have been landfilled. Diverse groups came together to take on the work. The bank, the grocery store employees, the Girl Scouts the youth center as well as the entire selectboard of the town of Adams all helped ‘clean up! The bags are still being donated to townspeople at Town Hall and local food pantries. We plan on sharing the technology of our bag making with other pop up maker spaces in local towns.”


All Sewn up

The Industrial sewing center is framed in. Local engineers are sourcing machines for us and recently they found a rare Singer sewing machine from 1915 that is all leather belts and can even sew through saddle leather. Three sewing centers that are now occupying previously empty buildings which were lent to us for free, and filled with donated sewing machines and fabric. Sewing is a life skill and every town should have a community sewing center for clothing/shoe construction and repair. One aspect we’ve truly enjoyed about The Bagshare Project over the last ten years is that I’ve made many new women friends. Sewing machines are a rare example of a machine that women are taught to use from a young age. There are many women out there who are experts at using them but their expertise has not been shared or celebrated. Many of these women have only had access to ‘home machines.’ We will allow them to expand their skill base and teach others to use industrial machines. The sewing center at the mill will house machines that are walking foot machines, cover stitch machines, sergers and even machines that could make and repair shoes.  There will also be an area of the sewing center that will house older vintage machines set up with their attachments so we can go back in time and use the ruffler, hemmer or multi slot binder. A good sewing machine can sew through a motorcycle tire and make it into the sole of a shoe. It can also, with the right attachment, automatically apply elastic on the edge of underwear, almost impossible to do by hand. 

Recycling is a word that allows us to think we have done all we can. When we put plastic in the right blue bin we can go on with our lives with a good conscience. But the terms are Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. The word recycle is the very last one. When we reuse we reduce our consumption. We are in an era of resource scarcity.  We need to act like that by changing our behavior. Reusing and resource conservation is important in Adams, and everywhere. One of the joys of the bagshare project is that there is a job for everyone of any age. We are all needed and not separated by age groups. We have jobs as diverse as turning barley bags inside, out to machining a new part for a valuable old sewing machine. Adults and younger people help each other and everyone benefits when we see that as a group we have diverted 10,000 lbs of linens and 8,400 barley bags from the landfill.

The sorting of materials, the remaking of the them is a healing act whenever and wherever we embrace it together as a community. We celebrate remaking together.