Why Tenderfoot?

What’s in a name?  Allow us to explain!  Choosing a name for our non-profit was not something we took lightly.  In fact, laboring over it set us back weeks in progress toward getting formally established.  These weeks were punctuated by Lindsey walking through the house singing Muppet Classic Theater’s Gotta Get That Name (a rather persistent childhood memory due to its catchy, repetitive refrain; watch at your own risk).  In addition to frequent singterruptions, this decision-making process led to some quality time with good people and good food: We brainstormed over locally roasted coffee and farm-fresh eggs at our favorite coffee shop.  We exchanged ideas over sushi and pad thai with friends who are also starting a non-profit.  We discussed over packed lunches with our Accountability Crew (colleagues from the job Lindsey quit to give this endeavor her full-time energy), and we deliberated over trail food while on our first serious training hike.  These hours of conversation were structured around a few criteria.  First, we knew we were going to call this a lab because we wanted something that suggested active learning in an experiential setting.  Next, we we were pretty sure we were going to include the term Fair Trade Learning because that’s the kind of entity we want to be: one that respects and uplifts the communities we’re involved in, both economically and ecologically.  (Watch for a future blog post to further de-mystify Fair Trade Learning).  So, we had arrived at “____________ Fair Trade Learning Lab”.  That’s already sort of wordy, so we knew we wanted just a single word to go in that blank.  The agony of finding one simple, perfect word!

So, how to narrow the choices?  We considered something that spoke to the Appalachian region, the area we call home and where we intend our non-profit to serve.  Naturally, apples came to mind.  According to the Appalachian Regional Commission, this region is the most biologically diverse foodshed in North America, and apple varieties constitute roughly a third of that biodiversity.  Of course, the fact that Lindsey’s hometown also holds an annual Johnny Appleseed Festival made it seem like we were on the right track with this apple thing.  So, we considered the word apple in various languages.  In Spanish, it’s manzana.  Too intimidating and perhaps frustrating for people who care to pronounce things correctly. What about ‘Zana?  No, we’re getting too far away from anything that will have meaning for the average Ohioan.  How about the word apple in the language of a regional Native American tribe?  That idea led to several entertaining hours deep inside a research rabbit hole, but the outcomes were all rejected for the same reasons we rejected the Spanish versions.  What about specific apple varieties, like Gala?  We fell in love with that for a few days because planning the gala opening of Mount Union’s Giese Center for the Performing Arts is the job that brought Travis back to Alliance, OH and reunited us.  However, Galas are a mainstream apple that you can buy in most grocery stores year-round because they’re grown in all the chemically-dependent ways we rail against.  Plus, how do you pronounce Gala?  Gay-luh? Gal-uh?

The apple thread wasn’t working, but we liked this direction of something natural and edible that’s native to our area.  Pawpaw? Um…nope.  Travis suggested Buckeye, and for a while we ran with it:  “We can make and give out buckeyes for Christmas!  And our logo can have rounded mountains in the color scheme of buckeyes!”  Despite these great reasons (insert laughing/winking emoji), Lindsey remained resistant because her primary association with the word was Buckeye Beverage, a liquor store adjacent to the diner where she grew up.  Checking the word buckeye in the Ohio business database for name availability was the nail in the coffin for this idea:  There were 8,572 other enterprises in Ohio with the word buckeye in their title.  Call us hipsters, but we didn’t want to be on that train.

We started thinking that the edible/natural/regional criteria was a dead end.  If not that, then what?  We debated answers to that question while finishing a hike on a section of the North Country Trail, which is marked by blue blazes.  For anyone unfamiliar with the hiking world, as we were not that long ago, blazes are paint marks on trees and landmarks that help you follow the trail, and often, trails become known by the color of their blazes.  The Appalachian Trail, for example, has white blazes.  As we hiked along that day, we romanticized the idea of each of our students blazing their own trail, choosing their own color by the end of their time with us, and having some sort of ceremony where they explain the various blazes that marked their most significant learning along the way.  So….Blazes Fair Trade Learning Lab?  Wait, should we pick a color that aligns with what we’re all about?  Yes!  Green Blazes Fair Trade Learning Lab!

…Perhaps you’re much faster than us and have already realized why we decided we needed to curb our enthusiasm for that idea.  Being sustainability-minded folk, the color green was a natural choice, but being sustainability-minded folk, we figure we’re already going to have to battle being dismissed as hippies.  Putting the word blazes in our name would make that battle hard enough, but green blazes?  We now find it hilarious that we arrived at that idea in all innocence, with enough excitement that we tried to rationalize it even after realizing the subtext that Green Blazes would carry.

So, still no name.  Gotta get that name, gotta get that name, gotta get that name.  We’d love to tell you that landing on Tenderfoot was a really dramatic moment after the hours and hours of agonizing.  Rather, it was fairly simple and low-key, like many of our moments together:  We’re in the car, driving toward a destination that neither of us now remember, and talking about our recent decision to quit our jobs to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.  We had committed to such a drastic move in service of the goal of launching this non-profit.  We could treat the hike as a fundraiser, collecting per-mile pledges, and in the process of hiking, we’d get better at the self-reliant, low-impact lifestyle we plan to teach.  So, driving along, one of us suggests that perhaps our name should somehow overtly tie the hike and the non-profit together.  Travis casually says, “What about Tenderfoot?”  YES.  We love it for both its literal and folkloric connotations.  It captures both how our feet will undoubtedly feel for 6 months and the notion that this place we’re creating is welcoming to the proverbial tenderfoot, the inexperienced.

Having become too excited too quickly at other ideas, we approached our new favorite name with caution.  We Googled it to see what comes up first.  No strip clubs or other nefarious associations, excellent.  We went to the library and found books on the subject to determine whether or not it carried any connotations we had not considered.  (Our apologies to the young man whose studying was interrupted by our dramatic reading of one of those books.  We thought we were alone.)  We ran the name by our Accountability Crew, and tested it out with friends and family.  The only hesitation we encountered was the idea that a tenderfoot is someone who doesn’t know anything, and that this has carried a negative connotation in folklore.  We’ve decided that this is a reason to embrace it rather than shy from it– let’s embrace the idea that not knowing something is an opportunity rather than a shortcoming.  This has to be our attitude if we want people to be vulnerable enough to experiment, try new things, and both fail and succeed with us.  Never cooked before?  Awesome, you’re going to feel so accomplished when you successfully get your first dinner on the table.  Never collected eggs before?  You might hate it, but you’ll have a great story to tell if that rooster takes an interest in you.  Never mowed the grass before?  Let Travis show you.  He loves it, and that just might be infectious.  Never started a non-profit before…?!  You get the picture.  We’re all learning here.  Let’s embrace our Tenderfoot status and amaze ourselves with just how much we can grow.

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