Taneum Fotheringill: A passion for building community, relationships

Taneum Fotheringill joins the Rural Assembly as the Associate Director of Community. Taneum takes pride in being a connector and looks forward to developing positive relationships with Rural Assembly communities across the country. Her work is informed by a lifelong interest in civics and the belief that everyone’s voice matters. 

What drew you to the Rural Assembly and rural issues?

 

A few years ago I attended one of the first Rural Assembly Everywhere events, and I came away from those few precious hours feeling so energized. When an organization is able to combine real issues with art, music, culture, and powerful stories, it’s special. I knew then that the work of the Rural Assembly was something that I wanted to become more involved with. 

My main focus over the years has been civics. I’m especially interested in how individuals and communities feel heard, prioritized, and welcomed in the United States. For a long time that looked like a focus on voting, turnout, and engagement – then, when I was at Citizen University, I started really thinking about how communities were drawn together to solve problems and create relationships. I’ve also always worked a lot with young people. So often I hear a narrative around youth being the future. Don’t get me wrong, they absolutely are – however, that has to be the beginning of the conversation. Adults must step up and use their expertise to help young folks grow and help them feel that they are not only empowered but also prepared to contribute to our collective flourishing.

So what does that mean from a rural perspective? It all boils down to the same core: for all of us to feel heard, understood, and valued. Rural is so often reduced to stereotyped assumptions when in reality it is dynamic and expansive. I feel so lucky to bring my passion for building community, advocating for issues, and caring for rural people and places all together in this role.  

Tell us more about your connection to rural places.

My family has a long rural history – one that I have not always felt connected to as I grew up in the suburbs of Seattle. But there’s nothing like a story to open the door for a kid from the suburbs to feel connected to rural living:

Living in our collective family memory are stories about uncles and cousins infamously letting branches fly back after them on a trail ride. 

Note to self: pick a strategic spot in the horse lineup.

There were times that Great Grandma Darline saved our camp from rattlesnakes. 

Note to self: don’t get on Great Grandma’s bad side. 

And how about Grandpa Neal’s dad driving a horse-drawn sleigh through rural Wisconsin winters to deliver mail to neighbors and check on folks? 

Note to self: bring a jacket and extra socks. 

As I’ve experienced more of the world, these hand-me-down memories have become nearer and dearer. Folks in rural places across the country who I’ve gotten to know have demonstrated how much we need our neighbors and the beauty in choosing each other. I know now that rural is a place filled with belonging and heart – even for a kid from the suburbs.

Man with two horses for the USPS in Wisconsin the 1930s

Taneum’s great grandpa, Elmer, worked for the US Postal Service in rural Wisconsin in the 1930s.

What will you be doing as Associate Director of Community?

I’m a people person through and through. There’s no better way to match my interests with my work than being an Associate Director of Community. I mean come on! It’s a dream.

This is a new role for the Rural Assembly, and I am so eager to dig into building relationships with those who already are connected to the work and those who we don’t yet know. I can spend hours on the phone with someone exploring our mutual interests, exchanging observations on life where we each are, and dreaming up ideas for the future. (Yes, hours. But for everyone’s sake, I keep it to an hour or less!) I’ll be working to make sure our partners and friends can always connect with us and that we can be proactive about maintaining those relationships. 

In my former work managing a national civics program, it was clear that participants in rural places were ahead of the game when it came to connecting people and knowing what particular work needed doing. I observed that folks in cities often had to search deeply to define a clear purpose and a distinct community, but in rural places that came more readily. I used to talk with people about what in their community brings them joy. From my rural friends, I’d hear gorgeous stories about people, places, and purpose. Lifting up these types of stories makes a real difference and that’s the work I’m eager to dig into.

What are you doing these days that brings you joy?

I knit up a storm. When I was little, my grandma taught me how to knit. I did it on and off through high school and college but really got back into it after I graduated. I haven’t stopped since. Michelle Obama, one of our most famous icons in the knitting community, said, “I like creating something out of nothing.” She also speaks out about knitting as a meditative practice, which is a huge part of why I love it. When I make my own clothes or knit a gift for someone else – if they’re lucky! – it connects me to a deeper sense of craft that my ancestors have tapped into for centuries. 

I also love to snuggle up with a good book. One of my favorite books, which I recently listened to as an audiobook, is Brandi Carlile’s Broken Horses. Brandi Carlile is a Washingtonian like me and she did an incredible job of narrating her own story in this memoir while weaving music into the bones of the book in such a foundational way. She has used her platform for such good in this world and I really admire her. 

I’m also really loving the Only Murders in the Building series with Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez. Intergenerational relationships are so central to how I live my life and seeing the three of them goofing around on screen really cracks me up and brings me such deep satisfaction. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing so many generous older people who treat me as a friend rather than some distant young person. I’ve also spent about a decade working with teenagers in a program called Youth Legislature with the Y. Being in relationship with people outside my immediate age group is something that I simply love. And, of course, it’s a natural source of comedy. 

What’s one of your favorite places to be?

Cle Elum, WA., on the banks of the Yakima River. I’ve spent much of my life in the woods along the river and in that area. I’m actually named for Taneum Creek which isn’t too far away from there. I gravitate toward my namesake and the surroundings and I’ve developed such a gratitude for that place. 

Sitting on the river banks I might see salmon, eagles flying over, elk, river otters or beavers, and my favorite family of Merganser ducks. I like to cozy up to the wood stove in the winter with a healthy dose of hot chocolate mix swirled into my morning coffee. I really couldn’t ask for more than that. 

Subscribe to the Rural Assembly newsletters to hear more from Taneum’s work building community across rural places. 

Want to get in touch with Taneum? Send her a message through the form below.

Everywhere Workshops

Extend your Everywhere experience by registering for one or more of three workshops hosted with partners Aug. 6- 8th, the week following our mainstage programming on Aug. 1. 

Read More »

Rural Food Traditions: German breads

Welcome to Rural Food Traditions, a podcast series of Rural Remix. We’re starting where many meals across diverse food traditions begin: with bread. Food is a uniter; and across culinary traditions, bread is a common thread. In this episode, On this episode talk with Lois Keller about German breads.

Read More »

Rural Food Traditions: Biscuits

Welcome to Rural Food Traditions, a podcast series of Rural Remix. We’re starting where many meals across diverse food traditions begin: with bread. Food is a uniter; and across culinary traditions, bread is a common thread. In this episode, On this episode we are learning all about the art of making biscuits! Appalachian leader Margo Miller speaks about how a middle school competition led to a lifelong passion for biscuits and how she is returning to her roots through crafting and baking.

Read More »
Tina in blue shirt holding cornbread

Rural Food Traditions: Cornbread

Welcome to Rural Food Traditions, a podcast series of Rural Remix. We’re starting where many meals across diverse food traditions begin: with bread. Food is a uniter; and across culinary traditions, bread is a common thread. Tina Mozelle Braziel is a poet and author living in rural Alabama. In this episode she shares her secrets to cornbread, what life is like in the glass cabin she built with her husband, and some of her poetry.

Read More »
white bread load partially sliced on green cutting board

Rural Food Traditions: White Bread

Welcome to Rural Food Traditions, a podcast series of Rural Remix. We’re starting where many meals across diverse food traditions begin: with bread. Food is a uniter; and across culinary traditions, bread is a common thread. On this episode, host Teresa Collins talks about white bread with Minnesota home baker Cheryl Whitesitt.

Read More »

Rural Food Traditions: Sourdough

Welcome to Rural Food Traditions, a podcast series of Rural Remix. We’re starting where many meals across diverse food traditions begin: with bread. Food is a uniter; and across culinary traditions, bread is a common thread. On this episode, host Teresa Collins talks with Eliza Blue about sourdough bread.

Read More »