Radically Rural — fueled by local food, accompanied by live music, and hosted against the backdrop of early New England autumn — is back again, driven by a spirited passion for improving life in rural communities across the country.
The summit, now in its third year, is a combined effort of the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship and The Keene Sentinel and will take place Sept. 22 and 23.
“Keene turns out to be a perfect place for us to stage this because it’s an area that has an entrepreneurial spirit, [and] it’s an area that startups through the Hannah Grimes Center do extraordinarily well,” said Terrence Williams, The Sentinel’s president and chief operating officer.
In a new hybrid format, attendees can join in-person sessions or tune in virtually both days of the event to learn from dozens of speakers with experience across seven categories: arts and culture, clean energy, community journalism, entrepreneurship, land and community, Main Street and — new this year — health care.
“The speakers we’re bringing in and their expertise and the variety of speakers we have coming in — there truly is something for everyone,” said Julianna Dodson, director of Radically Rural. “Every time I read through the session descriptions I’m like, ‘I want to go to everything.’ “
Each of the seven tracks offers three sessions, punctuated with time for mingling, eating and “mini mixers,” which include an art viewing at New Leaf Gallery on Roxbury Street, a hula-hoop jam and a walking tour of Keene’s Walldogs murals.
This year’s keynote speaker is Sarah Rocker, a researcher at Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development at Penn State. Rocker holds a doctorate in rural sociology and a master’s in public administration, and her work focuses on domestic food systems.
Last year’s summit, which was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, attracted more the 500 attendees from 43 states.
As of Thursday, about 300 people had registered for this year’s summit.
“It’s a bit of an experiment doing a hybrid event. I’m sure we’ll learn a lot of lessons,” Williams said.
He added that he expects more than 100 people to attend CONNECT, a networking event that brings together attendees and community leaders.
The Pitchfork Challenge, a summit staple, is the culmination of a business-pitching competition meant to encourage startup and entrepreneurial endeavors in rural areas. After a summer of coaching and two earlier rounds of eliminations, the finalists will pitch their ideas in the Sept. 22 session. The winners of the competition will be announced at CONNECT and awarded $10,000.
The summit will wrap up with The Livability Slam, which Williams described as “an idea exchange in video form.”
Individuals, businesses and organizations can submit a video that illustrates how they’ve innovatively addressed a problem in their rural communities. Last year was the first Livability Slam, and submissions ranged from music therapy in Maine to turning plastic waste into infrastructure in New Mexico.
Radically Rural is powerful in that it allows small communities to share and discuss solutions to common problems, Dodson said, “instead of everyone in their own little pockets of America recreating the wheel over and over again.”
“It’s an exchange of both tangible and intangible resources,” she said.
People interested in learning more about the event or purchasing tickets can go to RadicallyRural.org.