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Person standing in waders in water holds oysters in their gloved handsheir

Photo courtesy Rappahannock Oyster Co.

As early as 1920, Chesapeake Bay’s seemingly limitless oyster population had been diminished by up to one-third, both by overharvesting and by habitat destruction caused by siltation and dredging. By 2001, the harmful effects of pollution and disease had taken their toll, and the bay’s native Virginica oysters dwindled to less than 1% of their historic numbers. The bay had all but collapsed.

It was under these conditions that cousins Ryan and Travis Croxton decided to revitalize their family’s historic oyster farm, Rappahannock Oyster Co. Founded in 1899 by their great-grandfather, James Croxton, on Virginia’s Rappahannock River, the company wasn’t much more than mud by the time the cousins took over the leases in 2001. But in that rich tideland, the cousins saw an opportunity to salvage a family legacy and renew their community.

Two men wearing boots, khakis/jeans, and t-shirts sit with their legs dangling off a dock with a wooden building in the background
Cousins Travis (left) and Ryan Croxton have transformed their great-grandfather’s oyster farm, Rappahannock Oyster Co., into a model of sustainability that is practicing food production methods that are healthier for the consumer, the Chesapeake Bay they call home and the native oyster they are 100% committed to preserving. / Photo courtesy Rappahannock Oyster Co.

Because they were starting from the mud up, the cousins were able to develop sustainable new methods that not only produce the highest-quality shellfish but also contribute to the health of the bay and repopulation of its aquatic life.

“Aquacultured oysters are a win-win for everybody—the farmer, the waters, the consumer that gets a better product,” said Travis Croxton, whose off-bottom method of growing oysters in wire cages not only protects the oysters but also allows them to reproduce naturally—a vital factor in restoring native oyster populations. And because oysters feed on excess nutrients in the water, their presence also helps keep the bay clean, as well as helping native grasses and other sea creatures to proliferate.

Infographic with text and numbers
The number of oysters harvested in the Chesapeake Bay has grown wildly in the last two decades.

Perhaps the most satisfying thing for the cousins has been the ability to provide an opportunity to work, grow, and live in what has been a depressed rural economy. “Too often, rural communities such as ours lose promising talent as people look elsewhere due to lack of opportunity,” said Croxton. “We’re proud that our employees have a reason to stay.”

Man in blue t-shirt, baseball cap, gloves, and overalls stands in front of baskets of oysters in a workroom as another man looks on
Photo courtesy Rappahannock Oyster Co.

By 2004, Rappahannock had developed a thriving wholesale business. Now with their tasting room, Merroir, four stand-alone oyster bars from Washington, DC, to Los Angeles, California, and a restaurant, Rappahannock, in Richmond, Virginia, the cousins are able to share their oysters and their dedication to “good people doing great things.”

When we checked in during spring 2020, owner Travis Croxton didn’t deny that it had been tough for Rappahannock Oyster since the COVID-19 pandemic had hit. He and cousin Ryan Croxton had to furlough hundreds of employees at their oyster company and restaurants. But, as Travis Croxton said, “You have to perform a hard pivot and await what the future may hold.” Rappahannock quickly set up an employee relief fund for those in need and shifted their restaurants to solely curbside pickup/takeout. On the oyster company side, they had to make additional hard pivots, focusing mostly on internet sales (which Travis Croxton said have greatly increased) and designing completely new business models, which included working with vineyards and breweries to sell 25-count bags of their oysters on consignment on weekends. 

Black-and-white photo of a man wearing shorts, a short-sleeved button down shirt, and a hat walks across a beach made of oyster shells
In 1899, James Croxton, great-grandfather of Travis and Ryan Croxton, laid claim to two acres of Rappahannock River bottom for the purpose of growing oysters. / Photo courtesy Rappahannock Oyster Co.

Despite these challenges, by trying to sustain nature, not tame it, the Croxtons have carried on their great-grandfather’s legacy, this time on a foundation of sustainability.


This post is adapted from “Sustainability at Stake,” an article written by Linda Engelsiepen for the June–December 2020 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

entrepreneurship, nature, environmentalism, agriculture, farming, food, by Linda Engelsiepen, The Henry Ford Magazine

African American woman with thick natural hair, wearing black leather jacket, white t-shirt, and jeans, walks with piles of dirt and train cars in the background
Pashon Murray of Detroit Dirt believes communities should be composting and managing their own waste streams. / Photo by c’mon team


Pashon Murray could be called a next-generation Rachel Carson—fearless, outspoken, and willing to take on the big boys. Murray saw that food waste had become an epidemic—a 2020 estimate in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics valued food waste by U.S. consumers at $240 billion a year—and that was a driving factor in developing Detroit Dirt, her full-circle composting company.

Detroit Dirt’s mission is to push forward a low-carbon economy by way of organic waste diversion. Murray designed a closed-loop system that treats waste as a resource, saving 50 to 70 tons of renewable waste annually from entering landfills and instead turning it into fertile compost.

African American woman leans over pile of dirt with a shovel and pulls roots with her hands
Photo by c’mon team

Murray asks: “Why truck food waste 30 miles outside the city? Composting is a natural process. All communities should be composting and managing their waste streams.”

Murray started simply with a pilot program that composted food waste from General Motors and Blue Cross Blue Shield offices in Detroit. Now her company works with a wide selection of restaurants, coffee shops, and corporations that look to Murray to help them manage their waste streams more efficiently.

Detroit Dirt’s composting site near downtown Detroit is producing rich, healthy soil for local farms, backyard gardeners, and community gardens, and before the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for Murray’s delicious dirt grew daily.

Man in red shirt and baseball cap works at table filled with cardboard boxes lined with plastic bags
Detroit Dirt has a composting site that is transforming renewable waste from local restaurants, coffee shops, and corporations into rich, healthy soil. It’s packaged and available for purchase, starting at $15 for a five-pound bag. / Photo by c’mon team

A one-woman force with a dedicated team of collaborators—including the Detroit Zoological Society, which provides the herbivore waste critical to her compost—Murray has helped to change the carbon footprint of Detroit by revitalizing neighborhoods and finding solutions for everyday waste.

“Our health and the health of the planet depend on the soil,” said Murray. “If we’re not investing in soil, then the consequences are detrimental to the ecosystem. Globally, we can make byproducts with food waste. It’s a resource, not a waste.”

Infographic with text and numbers
Statistics on municipal solid waste in America.

When we checked in with Detroit Dirt during late spring 2020, production of their rich compost had slowed significantly as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. Obviously, the waste stream from local businesses hadn’t been flowing in typical fashion since everything went on lockdown. For Pashon Murray, these challenging times gave her opportunity for reflection, brainstorming, and collaboration. She looked for ways to work more closely with local officials, food distributors, urban farmers, other composters, food banks, and more to develop better crisis management models for recovering and repurposing food surplus. “I believe this pandemic is going to help us in the future, shining a light on the voids and giving a heightened focus to our broken food system,” said Murray. “We all have to look at our own footprints and waste streams to understand why there is an abundance for some and some don’t have enough—and start painting a picture of why a viable waste material management model is so important.”

Woman leans over orange paint bucket filled with plastic bags and organic material, in front of a pile with more bags of material
Photo by c’mon team

Murray has shown that with a small shift in perspective, you can empower and influence people to take big steps toward protecting and enriching their environment so that we can all thrive.


This post is adapted from “Sustainability at Stake,” an article written by Linda Engelsiepen for the June–December 2020 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

COVID 19 impact, entrepreneurship, environmentalism, by Linda Engelsiepen, The Henry Ford Magazine, Michigan, Detroit, African American history, women's history

Great Lakes Brewing Co. has been around for more than 30 years, brewing award-winning craft beer in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood. Its founders, brothers Daniel and Patrick Conway, focused on sustainability from the start by renovating the 19th-century buildings that house their brewery and brewpub.

By the early 2000s, they’d also decided they wanted to do more for their community, the environment, and the health and well-being of their workers. “We view business as a force for good in our communities,” said Daniel Conway. “Our role is essentially one of stewardship.”

Man in baseball cap and green t-shirt holds up grabber and trash bag while standing on concrete steps with trees and grass on either side
A Brewing Good community clean-up effort by Great Lakes Brewing Co. / Photo courtesy Great Lakes Brewing Co.

The brothers have developed a triple bottom line business model that addresses profit, people, and planet, with initiatives that include water stewardship, renewable and clean energy, and inclusive economic growth.

An early adopter in the local food movement, the company established its own farm, Pint Size Farm, in collaboration with Hale Farm and Village in 2008 to supply its brewpub, and in 2010 co-founded Ohio City Farm, one of the largest urban farms in the United States (learn more about these two farms here). The solar panels on their brewery offset 13 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually—a widget on their website shows how much beer is brewed using solar energy. And by inviting employees to become owners through an employee stock program, the company allows everyone a stake in its sustainability.

Several people work on a farm plot with a city skyline in the background
Ohio City Farm, co-founded by Great Lakes Brewing Co. / Photo courtesy Great Lakes Brewing Co.

Great Lakes’ Brewing Good giving program also commits a percentage of company sales back to the community through initiatives that preserve history, advocate environmentalism, and focus on critical needs in the local area. The company’s nonprofit Burning River Foundation, which annually hosts the Great Lakes Burning River Fest, strives to maintain and celebrate the vitality of the region’s freshwater resources. “Burning River,” also the name of a Great Lakes Brewing Co. pale ale, references a particular incident: the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969, in which an oil slick on the heavily polluted river caught fire and caused damage in the six figures. The incident sparked further outrage and interest in environmentalism, driving significant policy changes for the Cleveland area and beyond.

While the COVID-19 pandemic forced Great Lakes Brewing Co. to close its brewpub temporarily, beer continued to be brewed and to flow through the local distribution footprint and to-go service. Beers such as the 107 IPA and Siren Shores Passion Fruit Saison, the first employee team recipe ever created on Great Lakes Brewing’s Small Batch Pilot System, debuted in spring 2020. Social media channels continued to keep the community in the know on what Great Lakes was up to, from its Hop College going online and posting video tutorials and sessions on Facebook, to owner Daniel Conway’s heartfelt request to join him in supporting the Race for Relief fundraiser benefiting the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Cleveland hunger centers.

Infographic with text and numbers
Statistics on Great Lakes Brewing Co.’s sustainability efforts as of mid-2020.

The Conway brothers have long had an understanding of how each part of their business ecosystem feeds into the next. By continuing to innovate new strategies of sustainability, they’ve led by example and helped to revive both an industry and their community.


This post is adapted from “Sustainability at Stake,” an article written by Linda Engelsiepen for the June–December 2020 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

entrepreneurship, COVID 19 impact, farming, food, by Linda Engelsiepen, The Henry Ford Magazine, environmentalism, beverages

Woman and man stand calf-deep in water, peering down, with beach/rocks visible behind them

Trained scientist Rachel Carson and wildlife artist Bob Hines conduct research off the Atlantic coast in the early 1950s. The two formed an extraordinary partnership, which brought awareness of nature and conservation to the forefront. / Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / public domain

We live in an era where environmental sustainability, social responsibility, and renewable resources are keywords for how to live our lives and operate our businesses.

But it wasn’t always this way. In the early 1960s, writer and biologist Rachel Carson was one of the lone voices sounding the alarm that the rapid, destructive changes we were making to our own environment were having disastrous consequences.

With her groundbreaking 1962 book Silent Spring, which exposed the damage caused by indiscriminate use of pesticides manufactured by powerful chemical companies, Carson showed that she was a scientist motivated by a sense of responsibility to serve the best interests of the wider community. Carson’s eloquence reminded us that we are all part of a delicately balanced ecosystem, and by destroying any piece of it, we risk destroying the whole system. It would become unsustainable.

Black-and-white photo of woman holding book in front of bookshelves
Rachel Carson holding a copy of Silent Spring in June 1963. / THF147928, detail

Thanks to Carson’s passion and perseverance, a movement of ecological awareness was born. Her work is credited with giving birth to the modern-day environmental movement. Other direct results were the banning of the pesticide DDT and the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In an era of “living better through chemicals,” Rachel Carson was a changemaker who brought our awareness to the effects we had on our environment. But she also knew that we could be part of the solution. One way people carry on her legacy today is by acting as citizen scientists.

While Rachel Carson was a trained scientist and biologist working toward the greater good, a citizen scientist is a nonscientist who works with the scientific community to affect positive change. By paying attention to our environment and taking an interest in the science behind sustainability, we all can make a difference. Here are some ways you can become involved yourself.

Image of two-story house with graphic circle, half peach and half blue, with white lines behind it

At Home

It was a friend of Rachel Carson who raised an alarm about bird die-offs in her backyard and prompted Carson to write Silent Spring—proof that big change can start small. Here are a couple of ideas worth considering in your sustainability quest at home.

  • Join the annual Great Backyard Bird Count at birdcount.org. The count is a great way to get kids involved with nature.
  • Use your smartphone to help scientists gather data on animal populations. You can count Costa Rican wildcats at Instant Wild (instantwild.zsl.org) or share observations on your local wildlife at iNaturalist.org.


Image of tomato with graphic circle, half peach and half blue, with white lines behind it

In Your Community

Look for opportunities for neighborhood involvement—you’ll stay socially connected and help your community at the same time.

  • Use resources like greenamerica.org to find and support businesses and brands that are striving toward sustainability.
  • Start a community garden. It’s a great way to shift away from packaged, processed foods and to get to know your neighbors. National Garden Clubs (gardenclub.org) helps coordinate the interests and activities of state and local garden clubs in the U.S. and abroad.
  • Participate in crowdsourced data gathering like noisetube.net, which measures noise pollution, or createlab.org, which trains artificial intelligence to identify smoke emissions.


Image of recycling triangle symbol with graphic circle, half peach and half blue, with white lines behind it

In Your Workplace

If you are motivated to make a difference, become an advocate for sustainability and social change within your company. Going green is a differentiator that gives businesses a leg up on recruiting and marketing.

  • Recycle office waste, implement inventory controls (which prevent unnecessary purchases and wasteful spending), or research tax credits for becoming energy efficient at energy.gov, the website of the U.S. Department of Energy.
  • Let your company’s unused computing power contribute to scientific research projects at scienceunited.org.


You can find even more inspiration to take action by browsing our website for artifacts related to Rachel Carson, artifacts related to environmentalism, and blog posts related to environmentalism.


This post is adapted from “Sustainability at Stake,” an article written by Linda Engelsiepen for the June–December 2020 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

nature, environmentalism, The Henry Ford Magazine, by Linda Engelsiepen, home life, women's history

Red wooden building among other buildings by a pond
Tripp Sawmill in Greenfield Village. / THF1880

Visit the Liberty Craftworks district in Greenfield Village, and a red structure stands out at the far end of the pond. That’s the Tripp Sawmill, which once operated in Tipton, Michigan, in the mid-1800s, under the ownership of Rev. Henry Tripp and his family.

“It’s an interesting example of a logical, sequential, flowing process,” Marc Greuther, vice president of historical resources and chief curator at The Henry Ford, said of the sawmill. “It’s not a stretch to think of the building as a kind of machine, if you will, a single-purpose machine that is quite refined.”

Black-and-white photo of man working next to very large tree trunk mounted on a machine in a wooden building
A Man Working in the Tripp Sawmill in Greenfield Village, June 15, 1936. / THF277109

The sawmill was built and run solely by the Tripp family, tailored to the needs of the surrounding community. Tipton, an early American startup of sorts, was not necessarily looking for a large-scale logging operation in its midst. Instead, it needed a self-contained, functioning sawmill that could cut and process lumber from the area’s felled trees. It most likely operated only during the winter months, when residents could easily move felled trees from their properties across the frozen ground. “The Tripps were quite adept at figuring out how to start a business and find a niche,” said Greuther. “They were venturesome, entrepreneurial, and had that can-do attitude.”

Black-and-white photo of a wooden building with a sloped roof
The Tripp Sawmill on its original site in Tipton, Michigan. / THF243590

While many such sawmills in the United States at the time were water-powered, especially those started in newly founded communities, the Tripp Sawmill was powered by steam from the outset—finely tuned and aligned to the resources within its vicinity. A well, for example, was on-site. The mill collected and used rainwater. Its boiler was fueled with waste wood and sawdust from the mill’s operation. “The mill exemplifies a judicious use of resources and technology and human personnel and output all working together,” said Greuther.

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by Jennifer LaForce, The Henry Ford Magazine, Michigan, manufacturing, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village

Everyday objects are more than just things. Ultimately, they are about people—and about community. As humans, we need a sense of belonging—it’s what connects us to each other and to the larger world.

While our individual strengths are important, they are even stronger when joined within a common goal and purpose. Ordinary objects—like a bucket, hardware display, piano, blouse, and computer—might attract little notice. Yet they reflect larger stories of community that engage, unite, and inspire.

Everyday objects. Rich stories.

Fire Bucket, 1803


Tall, narrow, black leather bucket with a handle, with writing and decoration on side
THF166604

Community was once defined by geographic location and close patterns of human interaction—and, as this 1803 fire bucket shows, often involved collective action. In the event of a fire, people formed a bucket brigade to come to each other’s aid.

L. Miller & Son Store Display of Snips, Planes, Plumb Bobs, and Measuring Tools, 1923–1928


Display case containing a variety of tools hung against a green background
THF150965

Tools and hardware from Louis Miller’s Chicago store provide a lens into an Eastern European immigrant community of the 1920s. To make it easier for customers who did not speak English, Miller showcased his store’s stock in an extensive wall display. His customers simply pointed to the item they wished to buy.

Piano, Used at Club Harlem, Detroit, Michigan, 1934


Beige upright piano and piano bench
THF166445

This unassuming little piano belies its jazzy past at Club Harlem in Detroit’s Paradise Valley. Racial discrimination had sequestered the city’s Black population into a tight-knit, vibrant community where Black-owned businesses dotted the streets. Paradise Valley—with its clubs, theaters, and dance halls—became Detroit’s major entertainment spot in the 1930s and 1940s.

Blouse, Made for Farm or Factory Workers During WWII, circa 1943


Short-sleeved blue button-down shirt
THF173334

This unpretentious work blouse reveals a powerful World War II story of community. As men left to join the military, women heeded the call to “do the job he left behind,” working in factories to produce planes, jeeps, and tanks. They helped win the war.

Google Pixel Slate, 2018–2019


Tablet computer with keyboard and monitor propped up on stand
THF185319

Computers and the internet have offered new—and increasingly complex—layers of virtual community. No longer bound by physical proximity, communities form online and cover the globe.


Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford. This post was adapted from an article first published in the January–May 2021 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

The Henry Ford Magazine, by Jeanine Head Miller

Arch-shaped red clock with small face in center
Arch Alarm Clock, Designed by Michael Graves, 1999 / THF179673


In 2019, The Henry Ford acquired Michael Graves Design’s extensive product design archive as part of its permanent collection—more than 2,500 objects in total. The Michael Graves Design archive consists of finished products, models, prototypes, and production samples representing partnerships with Alessi, Target, Stryker, Disney, Steuben, Swid Powell, Sunar, Lenox, Dansk, Duravit, and Dornbracht, among others.

“In its entirety, the Michael Graves Design product archive tells a 39-year history of art, culture, and commerce, along with countless stories about the power of design,” said Patricia Mooradian, president and CEO of The Henry Ford. “We are honored that the team chose The Henry Ford as the location to house this collection that shows that everyday products can be designed with both purpose and playfulness.”

Dome-shaped silver teakettle with blue handle on one side and spout on other side topped with a red whistle
This coach's whistle teakettle was designed by Michael Graves for Target in 1999. / THF179699

Graves’ first designs for Target debuted in 1999. The collaboration eventually brought over 2,000 products to market across 20 categories, including kitchen electrics, gadgets, cleaning supplies, home décor, and storage and organization. This groundbreaking 15-year partnership with Target transformed mass-merchandising strategies, elevated consumers’ expectations for design, and made Target a design destination.

In addition to high-end client relationships, Michael Graves Design’s revolutionary approach to common home products, known as “Art of the Everyday Object,” solidified it as a pioneer in the contemporary design industry.

Semi-opaque white plastic toilet brush and holder with blue sticker on receptacle and blue handle on brush
Toilet brush designed by Michael Graves. / THF179683

“Michael Graves and his designers performed a kind of design alchemy, transforming often humble things—thousands of them—into objects of delight, humor, and elegance,” said Marc Greuther, vice president, historical resources and chief curator at The Henry Ford. “He showed that seeming near-opposites, such as practicality, whimsy, affordability, decoration, and modernity, could actually coexist—and move swiftly off the shelves of everyday retailers.”

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home life, shopping, design, The Henry Ford Magazine, by Jennifer LaForce, Henry Ford Museum

Page with large printed text "I WILL LISTEN AND TAKE ACTION"

Protest Poster, "I Will Listen and Take Action," 2020 / THF610765

In every issue of The Henry Ford Magazine, staff from The Henry Ford suggest books, podcasts, apps, television shows, and websites that have caught their eye (or ear). For the January–May 2021 issue, the selections reflected the issue’s theme of “connecting with community,” with our staff interpreting this theme through the lenses of social activism, social justice and injustice, and diversity. Check out our picks below.

No! My First Book of Protest by Julie Merberg and illustrated by Molly Egan


Book cover with black starry background and hands holding a sign, rattle, pacifier, and sippy cup; also contains text

I remember sitting on my mom’s lap reading my childhood favorite, Dr. Seuss’ Yertle the Turtle. Today, I appreciate how books for the youngest readers distill complex stories into compelling images and clear, action-oriented ideas.

My latest read is No! My First Book of Protest. Little ones will enjoy saying “No, No!” with each activist. They will learn that a “No!” followed up with collective action can change the world.

Many social innovators featured on these pages have a home in our collections, programs, and exhibits, including Frederick Douglass, Alice Paul, and Rosa Parks. Judith Heumann, a disability rights activist, is someone I knew less about and was glad to discover. Greta Thunberg has influenced some of our recent collecting, including signs made by students for the climate marches of 2019–2020.

I hope all of us take this book’s message to heart: “Great people made big changes when they said ‘No, No!’ Someday you can protest too (when you’ve had time to grow).”

--Cynthia Jones, Director, Museum Experiences & Engagement

Make Change: How to Fight Injustice, Dismantle Systemic Oppression, and Own Our Future by Shaun King and Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi


Book standing up on two identical books; contains blue and black text on an orange-and-pink graphic background

The COVID-19 quarantine has allowed me to spend time with family and revisit some of my favorite stress-relieving hobbies, like guitar and Chinese martial arts. But the current political climate has stirred my inner community activist.

Friends recommended the following books to me: Shaun King’s Make Change along with Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You. Both reads are very timely and offer insights to solutions and alternatives during this wake-up call for racial and social reform in America.

--Brent Embry, Senior Graphic Designer

black-ish, ABC-TV

This American TV sitcom series chronicles the complexities of raising an upper-middle-class Black family in Los Angeles’ white suburbia. While rooted in comedy, the show addresses hard-hitting cultural and social topics that Black Americans face on a daily basis. It is presented in a way that doesn’t lose its significance and provides multiple vantage points on Black culture.

I find the show to be very timely and poignant during a time when an overconsumption of political news can be discouraging.

--Anita Davis, Program Manager, Corporate Professional Development

Driving the Green Book, Macmillan Podcasts

Image with text and hazy car headlights seen through darkness and rain

The Negro Motorist Green Book has been at the forefront of the cultural psyche for the last three years, but the Macmillan podcast, Driving the Green Book, brilliantly journeys into its roots, from the Underground Railroad to firsthand accounts of racism today, by highlighting Black female entrepreneurship, civic pioneers, and communities, both physical and social.

--Sophia Kloc, Historical Resources Administrator

Community Deconstructed: Recommendations from Our Library


Grow your knowledge about community making, the power of an organized voice, and the role of farming, past and present with these book suggestions from our library collection. For help with access, contact the Research Center.

Farmers’ Markets of the Heartland by Janine MacLachlan

Making Local Food Work: The Challenges and Opportunities of Today’s Small Farmers by Brandi Janssen

The Claims of Kinfolk: African American Property and Community in the Nineteenth-Century South by Dylan C. Penningroth

Thinking Small: The United States and the Lure of Community Development by Daniel Immerwahr

Historical Roots of the Urban Crisis: African Americans in the Industrial City, 1900-1950 edited by Henry Louis Taylor Jr. and Walter Hill

The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace by M. Scott Peck

My Community: Then and Now by Lynn Bryan

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky

Preserving the Family Farm: Women, Community, and the Foundations of Agribusiness in the Midwest, 1900-1940 by Mary Neth

Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest by Zeynep Tufekci

Frontier Settlement and Market Revolution: The Holland Land Purchase by Charles E. Brooks


This post was adapted from an article first published in the January–May 2021 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

African American history, popular culture, TV, The Henry Ford Magazine, books

Man in black t-shirt, jeans, baseball cap, and backpack stands in a plaza with a few other people and red building behind him
Mick Ebeling, founder of Not Impossible Labs, home of Music: Not Impossible. / Photo courtesy Not Impossible Labs


Film producer Mick Ebeling founded Not Impossible Labs to be a tech incubator with the mission of righting wrongs with innovation. Since then, his credo to “create technology for the sake of humanity” has resulted in developments like an invention allowing people who are paralyzed to communicate using only their eye movements and 3D-printed arms for Sudanese children who’ve lost limbs to war. So when Ebeling witnessed a concert for deaf listeners—where the music was turned up loud enough for the crowd to feel the vibrations—around the same time as a friend lost his sense of smell in a skateboarding accident, he had a revelation. “He didn’t fall on his nose—he fell on his head,” Ebeling said. “That means you don’t smell with your nose. You smell with your brain, which means you don’t hear with your ears, you do that with your brain too. So what if we went around and kind of subverted the classic way that people hear and we just took a new pathway to the brain?”

Thus was born the Music: Not Impossible project. Ebeling enlisted Daniel Belquer, a Brazilian music composer and technologist, to be the “mad scientist” shepherding the endeavor. Belquer was obsessed with vibration and tickled by the observation that skin could act as a substitute for the eardrum. “In terms of frequency range, the skin is much more limited than the ears,” said Belquer, “but the skin is better at perceiving texture.”

Belquer and Ebeling worked with engineers at Bresslergroup, Cinco Design, and Avnet, in close collaboration with members of the deaf community, to create the current version of a wearable device consisting of a “vibrotactile” vest, wrist straps, and ankle straps. The harness features 24 actuators linked to different instruments and sounds that distribute vibrations all over the body. The system is totally customizable and could, for example, have the drums vibrate the ankles, guitars stimulate the wrists, basslines rumble along the base of the spine, vocals tickle the chest, and so on.

Gif showing four total images of backpack-like device that attaches around the body
Mick Ebeling and Daniel Belquer worked with leading engineers and members of the deaf community to create the current version of their wearable device, which consists of a “vibrotactile” vest, wrist straps, and ankle straps. / Photos by Cinco Design

“What we’re doing is transforming the audio into small packets of information that convey frequency amplitude in the range that our device can recognize,” Belquer said. “And then we send this through the air to the technology of the device. The wearables receive that information and drive the actuators across the skin, so you get a haptic [a term describing the perception of objects by touch] translation of the sound as it was in its source.”

As the team tested prototypes and held demo events, they also discovered the device has benefits for hearing listeners as well as deaf ones. “We can totally provide an experience that is both auditory and haptic,” said Belquer. “So with the vibration and the music, you hear it and you feel it and you get gestalt. This combined experience is more powerful than the individual parts. It’s like nothing you’ve ever felt.”

Room filled with blue light and people with their hands in the air; one close to camera wears a device strapped to his arm
Photo courtesy Not Impossible Labs

The project won silver in the Social Impact Design category at the 2020 Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA), which are hosted at The Henry Ford. Here’s what Marc Greuther, vice president at The Henry Ford and an IDEA juror, had to say about the project: “I like to think of design as an essentially friction-reducing discipline, reducing chafing in the functional, aesthetic, or durability realms—of design building bridges, shortening the route between user and a known destination promised by a tool’s outcome, whether it’s a really good cup of coffee, a comfortable office chair, or an intuitive e-commerce interface. Music: Not Impossible grabbed my attention for going an order of magnitude further—for bridging unconnectable worlds, making sound and music accessible to the deaf. In his design checklist, Bill Stumpf said good design should ‘advance the arts of living and working.’ Music: Not Impossible fulfills that goal by creating an opening into a vast landscape—not by reducing friction but by removing a wall.”

“In the beginning, people would say this might be something like Morse code or Braille, that you have to go through an educational process in order to understand,” said Belquer. “But as an artist, I was always against a learning curve. You might not know or like a specific kind of music or style, but you can relate to what the emotional message of the content is. You don’t need to be trained in order to have the experience and be impacted by it.”

African American man faces the camera with his mouth open, while a group of people behind him face the opposite direction
Photo courtesy Not Impossible Labs

What may be most remarkable about the project is that it creates a shared experience among people who might not have had one otherwise. From what the Music: Not Impossible team has witnessed so far, wearing the device can be just as intense and euphoric for folks who can hear as those who can’t. “We’ve had maybe 3,000 demo participants at this point,” said Belquer, “and there’s this face we always see: Their eyes open wide and their mouth and jaw drops as they have this ‘wow!’ moment.”


Mike Rubin is a writer living in Brooklyn, and Jennifer LaForce is Editorial Director at Octane and Editor of The Henry Ford Magazine. This post was adapted from “Where Can Sound Take Us?,” an article in the June–December 2021 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

design, inventors, by Jennifer LaForce, by Mike Rubin, music, The Henry Ford Magazine

Woman in black-and-white printed outfit sits in field with hand to her ear
Lavender Suarez. / Photo by Jenn Morse

Lavender Suarez has made music as an experimental improviser for over a dozen years as C. Lavender and studied the philosophy of “deep listening” with composer Pauline Oliveros, which helped her understand the greater impact of sound in our daily lives. But it was seeing fellow artists and friends experience burnout from touring and stress that inspired her to launch her own sound healing practice in 2014.

“Many artists are uninsured, and I wanted to help them recognize the importance of acknowledging and tending to their health,” she said. “It felt like a natural progression to go into sound healing after many years of being a musician and studying psychology and art therapy in college.”

Suarez defines sound healing as “the therapeutic application of sound frequencies to the body and mind of a person with the intention of bringing them into a state of harmony and health.” Suarez received her certification as a sound healer from Jonathan Goldman, the leader of the Sound Healers Association. She recently published the book Transcendent Waves: How Listening Shapes Our Creative Lives (2020, Anthology Editions), which showcases how listening can help us tap into our creative practices. She also has presented sound healing workshops at institutions like New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art and Washington, D.C.’s Hirshhorn Museum.

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healthcare, by Mike Rubin, The Henry Ford Magazine, women's history, music