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Bitterroot Roundtable

Hamilton community members Kris Bayer and Laura Garber are organizing a Bitterroot Community Roundtable with a new conversation model for open and organic discussions.

A Bitterroot Community Roundtable discussion is using a new format called the Open Space model to create a unique opportunity for people in the community to talk on Saturday, Jan. 27.

Laura Garber, owner of Homestead Organics Farm, said the discussion will begin with “Nurturing Our Bitterroot.”

“We will talk about the many great things going on in our community and ways we can connect to improve what we have,” Garber said. “Specifically we’ll discuss our food, society, and culture.”

The Open Space technology conference model is facilitator Kris Bayer’s specialty. She attended a meeting in Portland called “The Art of Hosting” and has led discussions with this method at the Jeanette Rankin Peace center in Missoula and for four years at the Socrates Café in the Bitterroot Public Library.

“It is about bringing people together to have conversations that matter,” Bayer said. “The group that shows up creates the agenda.”

Bayer explained that the Bitterroot Community Roundtable does not provide keynote speakers, a set agenda, or predetermined topics of conversation.

“It is about bringing people together and letting them decide what they want to talk about, what they need from one another, how they want to connect, and what conversations they want to talk about,” Bayer said.

The Open Space Technology method was started by Harrison Owen in the 1980s because he found that at conferences, people liked the coffee breaks the most because that was when most of the connecting and learning occurred.

“It is spontaneous conversation of what matters to you,” Bayer said. “Let it be organic and be based on the people that show up.”

Opening remarks will come from diverse speakers who will give five-minute "enthusiasm talks" including Garber; Karen Daniels, a kindergarten teacher; Aleah Jordan, a Hamilton High School graduate and current college student who completed the Youth Farm Internship at Homestead Organics Farm; and Harold Shinsato, an experienced facilitator.

“These are ideas from a diverse group of people that will broaden our perspective to get the conversations started,” Bayer said. “They are there to seed ideas and plant and broaden the theme.”

Bayer explained that the Open Space process has five principles to make the conference a success. Those include the belief that "whoever shows up are the right people, whatever happens is the only thing that could have, whenever it starts is the right time, when it’s over it’s over, and wherever it happens it happens."

Another key to success with this format is called the “Law of Mobility.”

“The ‘Law of Mobility’ or the ‘Law of Two Feet’ says you have two feet to go somewhere else,” Bayer said. “If you’re not contributing in one of the conversations or not being contributed to, then get up and go to another discussion group. It is permission to get out of the meeting what you need.”

Garber said the Bitterroot Community Roundtable discussion has a common starting point.

“The gathering theme is ‘Nurturing Our Bitterroot – What if we envision our food, society and culture thriving and growing?’ Garber said. “It means we all come to the table with that question in mind and then conversations will spring out of that.”

In fact, 40 different conversations can occur because the host site has 10 rooms and there are four discussion times.

“If you have something you want to talk about, you go in the middle and say ‘I want to talk about EBT and how are we helping those people’ and you would write it on a piece of paper and hang it on the wall where there is a matrix of places in the buildings to meet and times.”

Then at the appointed time and place, everyone interested in talking about the topic meets for a discussion. Multiple conversations will happen in different places in the building at the same time.

“When I have attended conferences like this before, maybe I want to talk about food stamps but you want to talk about WIC. So maybe we talk about people that need food assistance,” Garber said. “We combine our topics and that gathers more excitement about the general topic and provides more ideas than what I thought of.”

At the end of the day, participants will receive proceedings - notes from the conversations – that each self-appointed group secretary has written.

“This is so when we, as a community, want to move forward there is some base,” Garber said. “Maybe in a couple more months we host another one that refines ideas for people. It is a way to come back to the table in a really open way that is not one person’s idea or agenda. The caveat is that people have to participate. ”

Bayer said the meeting event is about self-organization, self-responsibility, and co-creating the future that the community wants.

“If we don’t do anything nothing happens,” she said. “This needs to lead to action.”

Garber added that one key is to come with an open mind.

“This model is a way for people who otherwise wouldn’t be in conversation with each other to talk,” she said. “We see this a lot at the farmer’s market where two very different people who wouldn’t normally ever connect are both standing talking about salad mix and connect about it.

"This is a way to provide that same kind of space where we can connect even though we don’t know each other but know we both like salad mix.”

Garber said the new ideas generated can become important in the community and lead to solutions.

There is no size limit.

“If 20 people come it will be perfect, if 80 people show up it will be perfect or if 200 people show up it will be perfect,” Garber said. “This is the first round of a new way that the Bitterroot can work together. This is a new way to find solutions that work for everyone.”

To register for the Bitterroot Community Roundtable, go to the website and search “Bitterroot” or contact Garber at 363-6627 (leave a message).

The Bitterroot Open Space Community Roundtable is a free event co-sponsored by Cultivating Connections (the non-profit educational program of Homestead Organics Farm) and by the Center for Spiritual Living.

Registration is recommended to ensure enough food for the continental breakfast and lunch provided by Homestead Organics Farm. The Bitterroot Open Space Community Round table will be held 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 27, at the First Christian Church, 328 Fairgrounds Road, across from Hamilton High School.