Binding people of diverse viewpoints poses a challenge in turbulent and polarizing climates, but podcasters Josh Fattal and Rosie Foraker are hoping a modern solution can help solve this age-old problem.
The hosts of the Encounter Cottage Grove podcast have been digging their fingers into the soil of small-town concerns for a couple months now, while attempting to place the community in a broader national and sometimes global context.
“It’s the idea that each person is a mystery unto themselves and we are encountering each other,” said Fattal. “And part of the podcast is exploring each other. But it’s also exploring each other and having the town encounter itself in a sense.”
Foraker also sees the podcast as a timely project allowing the hosts to give a platform to various local perspectives on larger issues in society.
“It might be a good time to just connect to how the current times are affecting our community,” she said. “It’s good to hear each other’s voices and not just the social media forum.”
Through exploring the town’s diverse voices, the hosts aspire to bring a sense of connectedness to the public conversation.
“We want to have conversations that bridge viewpoints and identities, so that we can hear each other,” said Fattal.
Foraker and Fattal first came to Cottage Grove separately about 15 years ago and both spent time at the sustainable living center Aprovecho.
Foraker began and raised a family here while Fattal found himself the subject of international attention in 2009 when he and two friends were taken into custody by Iranian border guards while hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan near the Iranian border.
Though released in 2011, Fattal spent more time away in New York City before feeling the draw of small-town community and returning to Cottage Grove.
“This just feels like home,” he said.
For both hosts, the desire to embrace and explore their community is a driving force for the podcast.
Fattal was partially inspired by the term “enquentros,” which he learned to mean a deep, respectful sharing of the “otherness of others” and “to really encounter each other in the full sense of the word,” he said. “The idea of encountering Cottage Grove also is that there are really interesting people here. And people have stories to tell.
“We want to hear stories that we can critically engage in what they mean for some of the big ideas that our society is dealing with right now. And so we’re kind of encountering Cottage Grove but also trying to put it in this bigger light and perspective of seeing itself in a national and even a global framework.”
The podcast was started partly in response to the tumult and uncertainty which boiled up as the novel coronavirus spread throughout the world this year. Encounter Cottage Grove was birthed to the podcast-sphere in April, smack in the middle of the global pandemic.
“The first podcasts we did were with people who were trying to help,” said Foraker. “In part, hearing the stories of how COVID-19 was affecting Cottage Grove and also connecting with how to help or get involved.”
Despite a statewide lockdown and the enforcement of social distancing measures, the podcasters felt the time was ripe to find new pathways of human connection.
“People are really isolated,” said Fattal of the public health crisis. “And they’re supposed to be isolated. But how can people get connected to each other — to community, to resources if you need them?”
The podcasters have answered that question with a focus on the changing landscape through the eyes of different movers and shakers in the community.
Now having produced 13 episodes, the podcast weaves through conversations, commentary and interviews spanning topics including agriculture, media, law enforcement, birthwork and health.
As an exploratory project, the hosts are excited for what’s to come. For now, the podcast has no advertising, which the podcasters feel gives them discretionary license.
“In a world that is so heavily directed by money, to be totally free of that is, I think, a gift to the community,” said Fattal. “So we’re trying to get at what is some of the fabric of our society. And we have a lot more ground to cover.”
Foraker, too, sees the project as just beginning to feel its way through a larger landscape of possibility.
“There’s so much potential for so many different kinds of conversation and we’re doing it as a volunteer thing, so we don’t have to answer to anyone,” she said. “We can have conversation and go wherever we want with it. And that can go to interesting places.”
Those places include the past, present and future. As Fattal is just months away from achieving a Ph.D. in U.S. history, he hopes to find ways to layer explorations with historical context.
Foraker thinks often about what life after the pandemic might look like and hopes to bring visionary conversations to the podcast.
“So there’s also this reimagining of what the world could look like post-COVID,” she said. “Some interviews I hope to do are bringing some of those ideas to the table as we move more toward sustainability, because obviously there are things we need to change about society in order to live rightly with the Earth, as well as some of the systemic inequalities going on.”
Through such conversations, the hosts also hope to open doors for local adaptation.
“There’s a chance to evolve as a town and I feel like Cottage Grove has so much talent and so many passionate, educated, awesome people that want to see that kind of evolution,” Foraker said. “That’s our intention, is to bring the community together to hear from different perspectives, try to gain more understanding and make people think about things.”
Encounter Cottage Grove can be accessed at its website at anchor.fm/cg-encounter or with smartphone apps such as Spotify, iTunes or Stitcher.
The hosts are always looking for collaborators and volunteers may find out how to help by emailing [email protected].
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