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Community Explorer

Rusted Compass began when I was at a place in my life looking for somewhere to call home. I had Greener Grass Syndrome and always felt disappointed with the disconnect I felt in my own community. I made the decision that I wanted to cultivate and improve the community that I am already living in, and as I began to find new ways to connect with those in my community it developed into a fascinating journey of learning. I hope to create a map of my discoveries to inspire others in their own local area. Ask not what your community can do for you, ask what you can do for your community!


      WWOOF – Organic Farm Volunteering

      Have you heard about WWOOF? If not, you’re missing out! WWOOF is a website dedicated to connecting volunteers to organic farms in their area. You can visit their website at

      When I first heard about this quirky idea, I had to try it for myself! When you sign up, WWOOF requires a small annual fee (mine was about $50), and you are given a profile and instant access to thousands of organic farms. I immediately found several in my local area, and contacted the owners to volunteer for a day.


      Why volunteer this way, you may ask?

      What better way to connect to the source of our food production than to gain the knowledge and experience of organic farming and help out a farmer! I love to see the many different permaculture, aquaponics, alternative energy, and other off-grid projects that people are working on their own land. It’s exciting to learn about how it all works and to be a part of it.

      Many people use WWOOF as a “voluntourism” opportunity, which it is perfect for. If you haven’t heard of voluntourism, it’s when people that want to travel and have a place to stay use volunteer opportunities to provide such. Keep in mind many WWOOF hosts are opening their home to you, and it’s important to uphold a good work ethic and mannerisms when you are a guest there. When it comes to helping, often it’s better for everyone involved if you stay for more than just a single day. Some of the hosts offer an extra bed to sleep in, or simply some land to camp on while you’re volunteering for them. If you set everything up right, you could travel the country by organizing your stays with several WWOOF hosts along your travel path.


      What was my experience WWOOFing?

      My experience was fantastic. My host and I coordinated the weekend that I would volunteer on their ranch. The ranch was located near Santa Fe, NM. When I arrived they were still awaiting their materials to arrive, but this allowed me to get a tour of the property and learn everything about the family that owned this ranch and their goal to create a permaculture environment. They showed me the windmill, grey water system, solar panels, and soil reclamation projects. I got to see first-hand what these projects actually look like. I also learned some valuable masonry skills helping them to build the aquaponics water cistern that would one day provide a source of fresh fish and produce.

      Here are a few pictures I took of this Aquaponics system early-stages project:

      IMG_2216 IMG_2217 IMG_2218

      Apart from the common volunteering platforms, WWOOF is a fantastic way to volunteer through travel, build foundational skills, and give back to local organic farmers. I couldn’t recommend it more as a way to serve your community.

      Try it out and share your experience with us!


      Local Honey

      What is Local, Raw honey?

      Raw honey is honey that is unheated, unprocessed, and unfiltered. The frames of honeycomb are removed from the hive, capped with a heated knife, and spun in a centrifuge which extracts the honey. Honey that has passed through a screen to remove the large particles of honeycomb is considered “unfiltered” if the screen is large enough to allow all particles, including the pollen, through. Unfortunately many of the centrally-distributed grocer store honeys are heated and clarified, destroying the natural and beneficial properties of the honey.

      Local beekeepers can provide unheated and unfiltered honey that retains the unique pollen flavors and properties to your area. There are many more varieties to choose from as well. From mesquite, desert flower, and orange blossom in Arizona, to Chamisa Honey in New Mexico and Clover Honey in Colorado. You can become a honey connoisseur and try all of the different natural varieties. Best of all, honey stores indefinitely in your pantry.


      Beekeeper’s open hive in Albuquerque, NM

      I had a fantastic experience helping a local beekeeper in Albuquerque, NM retrieve honey from his hives. This is a great volunteer opportunity and learning experience – check with your local beekeepers to see if they need help. It’s a great opportunity. I learned how to smoke the bees to make them retreat into the hive, retrieve the frames of honey, cap the tops with a heated knife, and spin them in a centrifuge to extract the honey from the honeycomb. The beekeeper even gave me a free jar when we finished!

      Where can you find raw, local honey?


      Valley Honey Co bought at Schnepf Farms – Queen Creek, AZ

      Many places! In the last few years grocery stores have caught on to the local-sourced honey demands of customers. But if you can’t find raw honey in your grocery store, check your local Craigslist listings, marketplaces, health food events, and farms. You may have to travel outside of the city limits a bit.


      Arizona Desert Honey bought from Desert Sage Herbs – Chandler, AZ


      I have found beekeeper honey sale listing on Craigslist, signs on the side of the road, Farms such as Schnepf Farms in Queen Creek, AZ, herb shops, and my local health food stores.

      Real honey should be thicker, often can be darker (depending on the type), and should containing pollen from the local flowers and plants. It should also crystalize when left over time. Eating raw honey that is local and contains the pollen of local plants provides you with the local pollen nutrients, health benefits, and is said to help people with allergies when used consistently.

      Raw honey has many natural benefits including promoting good digestion, antiviral/antibacterial properties, antibiotic properties, antioxidants, skin treatment, immune system, and allergies!

      Keep plenty of jars in your kitchen to substitute sugar in your baking and drink mixes. Since it never goes bad, you can stock up and store it indefinitely.

      The history of honey can be traced back to at least 8,000 years ago, through rock paintings found in caves! In Ancient Egypt, honey was used not only for sweetening dishes, but as an embalming for the dead. It was a prized ingredient in ancient Rome, China, and Mesoamerica. The Bible refers to honey in many passages throughout Genesis, Exodus, Samuel, and Matthew. Proverbs 16:24 compares pleasant words with honey: “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

      So now you know the difference when you purchase honey locally. Honey is truly a substance of value, especially when we can find it right from the source. Find the beekeepers in your own community and let us know what kinds of honey they offer!


      Local Coffee

      We’re talking here about shifting buying habits from large-chain businesses to those that are more locally owned. So in making these consumer changes, what better daily habit to focus on than your coffee consumption?

      I don’t know about you, but I love coffee. The aroma, the flavors, the different ways to drink it… Appreciating good coffee is more than just the expected pep it gives you. And if you’ve found yourself graduating from the big-name brands that disappoint and leave much to be desired, then read on my friend.

      The Beans

      Large coffee chains and distributors can be focused on profit margins and numbers. This can lead to cutting corners in the quality of their product when they decide whether to meticulously select the best coffee beans, or beans that are good enough. Over-roasting is also a common technique for covering up the lack of quality and sacrificing freshness for shelf life. There is a learned culture of “darker is better” despite many coffee experts disagreeing.

      Locally-roasted coffee means you can better know the source and quality controls where it’s harvested, and the coffee is roasted to the shop’s particular standards. This allows for choosing beans that have integrity and haven’t been overprocessed to cover up lacking substance.

      Arabica and Robusta

      Arabica coffee is a type of higher-quality coffee grown in high altitudes. Much like the altitude and growing region matters for wine grapes, it also matters for coffee. Arabica coffee tastes better, and is the choice type for great coffee.

      Robusta coffee is grown in lower altitudes. It often has more caffeine, but is a lower quality and flavor. Robusta coffee is the alternative choice for lower-end coffee that focuses on delivering caffeine more than coffee flavor.

      The problem is many coffee manufacturers blend arabica and robusta coffee to cut down on costs. Once again, profits are placed ahead of quality. If quality matters to you, awareness and being selective about where you buy your coffee is a great first step to choosing quality over quantity.

      Reasons to buy coffee locally.


      • Quality


      From the harvesting, to the roasting, to the artisan crafting of the barista, quality is often the focus of your local coffee shop that wants to build a customer base and set themselves apart from the competition. With locally-roasted beans, the shop knows the true source of the coffee from harvest and can have it roasted to their specifications, which may include a lighter roast than you’ll find in stores. Lighter roasts retain the natural properties of coffee.


      • Inviting


      Smaller shops often have less of a disconnect between the owners and workers, and makes for happier employees. The care and friendliness is often truly genuine rather than policy. If spending time in a shop where you feel welcomed is important, this may be a crucial reason to buy local.


      • Helping the Local Economy


      A dollar is like a voting ballot. You have a choice where to spend it, and who you are supporting when you spend it. By supporting a local business you help to make your community grow economically instead of making the big companies even bigger.


      • A Chain of Support


      When you buy that locally-roasted cup, you’re also supporting the roasters and the meticulous coffee growers that harvest using high standards. And you’re supporting local entrepreneurs that work hard to make their business grow.

      My Local Coffee Search Experiment

      At some point in my coffee-drinking journey I found myself unimpressed by the national chain that I would always frequent. Sure, it had the comfort of consistency and the convenience of locations on almost every block, but there was just something missing. The experience was very rushed and the people in line seemed to be getting their addiction fix more than enjoying the environment itself. Sure, there were couches and tables to kick back and relax on and Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car trying to set the mood, but it didn’t invite me to stay for a while.

      So I set off on my journey to find a local coffee shop instead. I had heard that their coffee was better, the environment more inviting, and their baristas more interesting but I had to find out for myself.

      For several weeks I made a very simple change. It didn’t require dramatic overhaul, but simply an intentional change in where I bought my coffee. My coffee drinking was going local. I searched in a business directory and found a shop just a few blocks from home and work that I must have driven past a dozen times and never noticed. On my lunch break at work the next day I checked it out.

      The first thing I noticed was the decorations of local artists’ works, event fliers, and even classic bicycles on the walls. The couches and booths looked inviting, and I could hear the soft chatter of locals enjoying food and coffee. The barista greeted me like an old friend and was excited to tell me about their lunch and coffee specials. I ordered a latte and a panini sandwich, sat down, and read a magazine as I waited. This place didn’t feel at all like the national chain I always went to. It was warm, friendly, and I wanted to kick back and stay a while. The employees seemed passionate about their creations and were genuinely welcoming.

      My food and latte came out, and I was stunned. The panini wasn’t just a sandwhich thrown together, this was carefully made with fresh flavorful ingredients! I immediately fell in love as I took a bite, and knew that I would have to share this discovery with my friends and family. The latte was fantastic and much more unique and flavorful than the no-expectations coffee that I had grown accustomed to.

      That was only the first time I visited this local coffee shop, but I have returned almost weekly ever since. My project of trying to get my coffee local became preferring to get my coffee local. I have slowly come to realize just what exactly makes local coffee better than the rest.



      In recent years I have noticed more and more marketplaces gaining popularity in the United States. As travelers know, marketplaces around the world are nothing new. In countries such as Turkey, China, Singapore, and Argentina they are everywhere. In contrast to retail store outlets and chains, marketplaces provide a platform for local entrepreneurs whether they are just starting out to test out their business or seasoned marketers. They are a place where people in the community shop face-to-face with personal interaction and support the local economy.


      boothnolanDuring the summer of 2014, my wife and I started an information booth for essential oils at a local marketplace in Rio Rancho, NM. It was the first time renting a booth, and we learned so much from our experience, met wonderful and interesting people, and truly had a sense of connection with the community. Not only did we meet the locals that came out to shop and enjoy the food, music, and shopping experience, we also networked and met all of the other wonderful vendors as well. The owners Marc and Phyllis create this wonderful atmosphere at Idalia Road Marketplace. It’s a marketplace with character and personality!



      You can find their website at or check them out in Rio Rancho, NM!



      Idalia Road has vendors that offer foods, produce, clothing, services, artist creations, hand-made items, personal products, and more! There is live music, special event weekends, and local fundraising charity and non-profit fundraising campaigns. It’s truly one of the most unique marketplaces.



      durango marketplace

      Durango, CO marketplace.

      No two marketplaces are alike. Some are growers’ markets with fresh local produce, many call themselves “swap meets,” others are art shows for local artists’ works. No matter what the specific purpose, they all bring people out of their homes and congregate together to buy and trade, away from the retail outlet store environments. With the rise of more marketplaces across the U.S., it’s exciting to see a place where the economy is so directly engaged at the local level, and an opportunity for individuals to seek out their own business when the job market is shaky at best.



      MesaMrktSign  With all of the strip malls and retail outlets, I thought the Phoenix area surely didn’t have a marketplace of its own. But I was wrong when I visited the area in April. I found this Marketplace in Mesa, AZ and let me tell you it is HUGE.

       I spent a good hour walking along the endless stretch of booths as far as the eye can see. There were so many unique items to see and purchase here. There was also a snack bar and live music when I visited.



      Do you visit a local marketplace where you live? What do they offer, and how have they added value to your community. Share you thoughts with us! Also, I will be doing an interview with Marc and Phyllis of Idalia Road Marketplace for our upcoming RustedCompass Podcast. So please check that out in the near future.



      What is a Hackerspace?

      I recently toured a few hackerspaces and co-working spaces in the Southwest area to find out what they offer.

      A hackerspace, also known as a makerspace, is a place where people can come together to make things, work on projects, get inspired, get help, and help others. There are tools, workbenches, people, and resources available. Most hackerspaces rely on donations. Some are 100% free. Others have a monthly membership fee but offer nights and events that are open to the community.

      You’ll find a community of people passionate about DIY, tinkering, inventing, entrepreneurship, and more. Everyone can collaborate and share, making it a rich environment for creativity. As I toured these hackerspaces I found personal inspiration as I surveyed the displays, people overcoming challenges together, and people in the community working together in a unique way that I’ve never previously witnessed.

      Find a Hackerspace
      Chances are there is a hackerspace near you. The wiki is a great resource to locate the hackerspace closest to you.

      Unique Environments

      Every hackerspace environment is different. I found that Heatsync Labs in Mesa, AZ has a smaller but closely-knit facility. There are some highly technical electronic and innovative projects happening, from soldering circuit boards to testing Linux and motion-control software. The members at Heatsync bring their advanced talents together for hands-on learning and innovation. It’s a great place to learn some very impressive skills. Not only can you learn as you observe and work together with others, but they offer classes that you can join in for in-depth learning.

      The coworking space in Chandler, AZ known as GangPlank offers similar resources but a different environment. The rooms and facilities here are much larger with the seating workspaces in the main room, conference rooms in the back, and wide openareas that promote more free discussion and is less sectioned off. Gangplank has more of a vast community with no membership, yet it breeds a welcoming environment for everyone that walks in. Entrepreneurs and innovators from all sectors can walk through this open-door environment and collaborate together. The projects in this space consist of more startups, non-profit organizations, and web pioneers. Gangplank’s history has defined their mission and their manifesto which you can read about on their website.

      Heatsync Labs

      As you stroll along downtown Mesa, you’ll find Heatsync nestled in with restaurants and stores. They’ve put together a brilliant display of projects in the front window to show the creative talents of their members.
      140 W Main Street
      Mesa, AZ many nights throughout the week, there are designated hours during which the facilities are open to non-members. For all other hours, members can access Heatsync with their member key.After grabbing a slice of pizza across the street at Queens Pizza in downtown Mesa, I visited their hackerspace during their open hours to take a quick tour. I took a video tour of the facilities to give you a feel for what it’s like walking through.

      Heatsync Video Tour

      GangPlank Collaboration Space

      Gangplank is at the heart of downtown Chandler, and stands as a hub for community growth and innovation.
      260 S Arizona Ave
      Chandler, AZ 85225Gangplank’s history is very interesting, and has moved forward rapidly from where they started just over the last several years.They were founded on the purpose of reaching out to the community outside of their walls and within to breed innovation, ideas, and businesses. They aim to foster an entrepreneur spirit, and it shows! Everyone is welcome, and you’ll quickly discover yourself making friends to work with and bounce ideas off of. Part of Gangplank’s manifesto is “friendship over formality.” Gangplank is 100% free, and its forward motion is hinged upon the initiative by volunteers eagerly helping each other to learn and grow. It’s amazing to see that when you give people an environment with this belief and attitude, it will drive itself forward to accomplishment. Reminds me of a movie quote that said “If you build it, they will come.”

      Gangplank Video Tour

      Quelab Hackerspace


      Quelab is Albuquerque’s Makerspace and Hackerspace. They just celebrated their grand opening in Spring 2014, for their new 7,000 square foot facility! Quelab is a place for projects and community collaboration. There are classes, events, and equipment available to use. Members can access Quelab at anytime. If you’re new and want to check it out, they have hacknights on Sundays and Tuesdays for $5 (see their website for accurate & updated details). Newcomers are welcome on hacknight. Quelab’s equipment includes 3-d printing, laser cutter, lathe, milling, serger, milling, sewing, electronics, woodworking, metalworking, and much more!

      So what are you waiting for? Gather up your project and head on over to your local hackerspace to find out how a community working on their projects together can create amazing things!

      Posts on this page
      • WWOOF - Organic Farm Volunteering
      • Local Honey
      • Local Coffee
      • Marketplaces
      • Hackerspaces
      Posts on this page
      • WWOOF - Organic Farm Volunteering
      • Local Honey
      • Local Coffee
      • Marketplaces
      • Hackerspaces