Folkways at 1 Million Cups

by Joe Burgum

Last week I had the privilege of presenting at Fargo’s 1 Million Cups event about the work that my partner Simone and I lead through our company Folkways. The opportunity to talk about our community-building projects, and the beliefs that have inspired them, allowed us to initiate meaningful conversations about creating the community we want to live in with fellow Fargoans.

For those who were unable to attend the event, I wanted to extend the conversation to you by sharing the essence of the presentation in blog format. Please add your own thoughts and ideas to the comments, or by messaging me directly. 

One of the biggest challenges facing our business community today involves attracting the thousands of people needed to fill vacant jobs. We’re starting to ask ourselves: 

How do we draw people into our community?
How do we retain those talented people who are already living here?

I believe that the work we are doing at Folkways can help answer these questions. 


What is Folkways? 

In the beginning of 2015, a few friends and I began considering what factors contribute to making a community a great place to live. Our curiosity led to hours of research and hundreds of interviews with Fargoans. This research led to a handful of community building projects, which ultimately became housed under the banner of our community-building team called Folkways. Our work, though nuanced and varied, essentially boils down to this:

Our mission is to nurture our region’s culture creators.

For our work as community builders, we define culture as the “sum of all the conversation and actions that take place within a community.”

What this definition of culture means is that absolutely everyone has the ability to affect the culture around them because, inevitably, people will talk about and act within the places they call home.

We find that there are, however, some individuals who may have a higher impact on influencing culture around them – and they may not be who you think.

More than politicians and business leaders, it’s the baristas, bartenders, musicians, and small-business owners who are keepers of a community’s culture through their everyday, public-facing conversations and actions. 

Think about our friends at Twenty Below Coffee and how many people they have the opportunity to interact with on a daily or weekly basis. It’s well into the hundreds. Through these simple and everyday interactions – even ones had at a cash register – compelling culture is created. 

It is in the cafes, restaurants, and public and communal spaces where culture is most felt. 

For this reason, we work alongside these individuals – baristas, bartenders, small-business owners – as we go about tending to culture and creating spaces for it to flourish. 


Why does culture matter to business?

If you are considering taking a job as a nurse in Fargo or Rochester, what's the tipping point for choosing Fargo? Why move here instead of Portland, Bozeman, or Minneapolis? 

We believe that, in the 21st century, a vibrant culture is a talent magnet.

Vibrant culture – complete with arts, great food, diverse neighborhoods, walkable urban areas, and opportunities to shape the place you live – draws people in. But then how do people decide to stay? 

We believe when a vibrant culture is nurtured by people who actively create the places they live and work, a sense of belonging within the community is inevitable. This sense of belonging is the glue that keeps people rooted and growing.  

We all need to belong – it is a fundamental part of our being human. If we don’t feel like we are a part of something, or are unable to see ourselves within the whole, why stay?

Most of our work at Folkways is simply about drawing people more deeply into the places where they live and work. 

We focus on three key areas: 

  1. The people that create culture. 
  2. The places where culture happens.
  3. The policies that affect these people and places.


We’ve been involved in a variety of community building projects over the last two years. Maybe you’re familiar with some of the items below. If not, please click on their respective links for more information about how they’ve impacted Fargo. 


House concerts hosted by Folkways Social Club - After interviewing 50+ musicians around Fargo, we continued to hear about a need for more places for people to play – especially places that are all-ages. So, we took action and started hosting concerts.

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Sudden Park - During the week of June 20th, 2016, the Folkways team organized a week-long brainstorm and prototyping activity. Based on Folkways’ experience in Human Centered Design, the team used a five-day framework emulating Google Venture’s Sprint process. After hours of interviews, ideas, and hard work, we decided to create the Sudden Park – a pop-up urban park designed to activate an empty parking lot and create a space for the neighborhood to gather.


Alley Fair - Alley Fair embodies the spirit of the urban Midwest by bringing together neighbors while entirely revamping a sequestered downtown space. The event evokes a connection between participants and their community by urging them to rethink and reinvent the way we approach urban landscapes.


Roberts Alley Mural - This mural project is one commissioned under the Roberts Alley Restoration Initiative, which promotes and creates growth in walkability, business, and access to public art in the alleyway.


Uber - We worked closely with Fargo citizens and Uber in a grassroots effort to bring ride-sharing to our community. Uber in North Dakota ensures that there’s a safe option for a night out on the town, and provides an additional form of transportation.


Walk Fargo - In effort to motivate citizens to get out and walk their city more, we introduced new signage along Fargo’s Broadway Ave. After a week of being posted, three news stories, countless Facebook likes, and a buzz on the streets, the City of Fargo has begun to find ways of making signage of this kind a more permanent feature. 


Christmas Market - A European-style Christmas market complete with food, crafts, music, and activities. Located in the heart of downtown, the Christkindlmarkt was a community celebration of holiday cheer and the winter season.


Red River Market - A place for local growers, sowers and makers to connect with customers. This year alone we had over 45,000 guests come to the Red River Market. Each week, I’d meet someone who was new to our community and hear them say, “I loved my farmers’ market back home, so glad that Fargo has one.”


Liquor laws - Working to reform Fargo’s liquor laws. The system as it now stands is a cultural and economic bottleneck that obstructs economic growth and, at times, runs counter to the public’s well-being. Additionally, the lack of a music venue liquor license has a direct and measurable effect on Fargo’s music scene.


Log the Mobile Sauna - A demonstration of how we can improve our quality of life during winter and make it a season to look forward to experiencing.

We are excited to be producing some new events and gatherings in the coming months, so stay tuned. Right now, we’re having a lot of conversations about:

  • hosting more events in the heart of winter to give us reason to celebrate the season
  • creating a canoe parade along the Red River, one of our greatest natural assets 
  • increasing advocacy for public spaces, such as parklets, outdoor dining and bike lanes  

If you’d like to be kept informed on these projects as they develop, please join our newsletter by subscribing here. We welcome your thoughts and ideas!


Why do these projects matter? 

All of these projects come back to Folkways’ core mission of nurturing our region's culture creators and our conviction that a compelling culture instills a sense of belonging. These projects are expressions of who we are, what we care about, and how we want to create the community we live in. 

What sets one place apart from another are its unique, authentic and local experiences. People are no longer simply looking for a good job. They are looking for a great place to live, work, raise families and belong to something greater than themselves.

The greater Fargo community is a special place. We have unprecedented resources and a will to make positive change. I firmly believe that we can make Fargo the greatest place on earth to live. I hope that you share this dream, too. If you do, let’s get coffee.


Posted on October 26, 2016 .