Local Highlight: The Old Stone Mill Center for Arts and Creative Engineering

What do we do with the things that we no longer find useful? Around Massachusetts you can see so many old factory buildings, most of which are falling into disuse because their intended function has moved on and ongoing maintenance is overwhelming. And yet they stay, as memorials to our industrial past. But there is so much possibility left in those old bones, they are still beautiful structures with plenty to offer, if you look at them right.

In Adams, just half an hour from the Creamery, there is one such beautiful memorial which has been given a new lease on life. Leni Fried and Mike Augspurger have built the Old Stone Mill Center for Arts and Creative Engineering in the picturesque old marble mill building. When they started their project there were no interior walls, just huge open spaces and a single outlet per floor. But their vision was grand, they saw rooms filled with industry once more, and their overarching goals are intrinsically tied into the resurrection of that stunning edifice.

Just like our old mill buildings and factories, there are so many resources that we think of as used up, as trash, or simply not worth the upkeep. But what if that rusty old bed frame could become something new, like a hand cart that can move 160 lbs of water on a single bike wheel? What if that could easily be packed up and sent to folks in need? Specifically, this is no hypothetical, to folks in the Congo and Ghana. Places and people looking for solutions, who are going to bring these new creations over in their shipping container to test out the prototypes. Creative engineering has led to some truly ingenious ways to use what otherwise would be looked at as trash.

Leni calls it an upcycling depot, they have metal bins outside the building for accepting donations of clothing, books, and other immediately usable items. While inside they take on all sorts of resources, which otherwise have no place to be stored, from industrial amounts of linen (fifteen tons annually) to perfectly useful conference tables and chairs, otherwise destined for the dump. Mike has taken hundreds of old bikes no one can use and melded them into new creative expressions of both fun and art. The custom bikes take periodic trips out to a local youth center, and Leni and Mike have a blast with the kids.

There is a sense of incredible abundance at the center, with so many resources right at your fingertips. And the resources to utilize them. The MIll has a sewing room on the first floor. It’s full of old sergers and single cast sewing machines, relics of the past which still work harder than their newer plastic counterparts. These machines are all donated, likely they would already be in a landfill if they weren’t put back to good use at the Old Mill. Leni uses this as base of operation for the Bag Share effort, a program of which the Creamery was the very first adopter. They take everything from old curtains and household textiles to grain bags (designed to hold over 50lbs) and retrofit them as sturdy and fashionable grocery bags.

Mike has a full metal shop where they work on bikes and projects like the carts. Here metal can be shaped into art and molded into new objects for whatever need or desire might find you. From new tools to sculptures, the Center has the tools to make it happen. On the second floor there is a fantastic printshop, where Leni teaches the fundamentals of printmaking and explores the breadth of creativity with a passion that easily inspires. They’ve got multiple presses and plenty of space to ink plates on the glass surfaces.

The entirety of the third floor is dedicated to play: they have set up bike ramps, multiple swings, and have left much of the room open to explore. It’s an incredible space that immediately takes your breath away. A place like this is important to test out the new creative bikes and have a place to let your mind release its tight grip on ideas, to let go, so that you can return to your project with a new perspective. Fun and play are incredible tools for our minds, and are key elements of the human experience.

But that doesn’t detract from the very real work of upcycling which is the heart of this Center. The idea is cradle to grave, taking responsibility over our impact on this world. Both for the people and the environment.

Take the Bag Share effort: instead of single use plastic or paper bags, which cost money and resources to produce, a group of volunteers can make hundreds of bags from materials that would go to waste and they produce a much higher quality bag. It can hold more, it’s more durable, and can be returned to the store for others to use or simply wait for your next trip for groceries. The benefits of responsibly tackling this issue far outweigh the convenience. You can already find these bags in our Co-op, and keep an eye out for upcoming improvements.

The upcycling center is a place for solutions and industrial answers to industrial problems, it’s not a thrift store or simply some drop off location. The real work being done there is tackling these bigger issues of what to do with our old factories, our industrial “waste”, and ultimately our future.

Both Leni and Mike offer classes out of the Mill Center, and you can find out so much more on their website. Everything from upcycling to art processes is there to share with all who find an interest. Stop by their Old Stone Mill Center, take a class or offer a hand to sew bags. Take in the beauty of the marble Mill’s transformation, and consider the bountiful resources at your fingertips, once you know what to look for you’ll see the possibilities everywhere.

At the Creamery you can find tie dyed aprons, proceeds go to support the mill, as well as Leni’s mono prints and cards.