Life in Vermont is best lived locally. This is no secret, but it’s still an important principle to remember and appreciate from time to time.
Happiness and peace of mind increase when you know and trust your neighbors. These relationships are especially helpful when the power goes out during a winter storm, but knowing neighbors is helpful throughout the year. Now, during Vermont’s harvest season, an added bonus comes from knowing whose blueberries are ripest, and who grows the most delicious summer squash.
I love visiting with my neighbors, and I also love how living local affords me the opportunity to pay close attention to seasonal rhythms, and observe the flow of weather over the Green Mountains. Sometimes a single summer day in Vermont can hold a week’s worth of magic, mystery, and consequence, especially if you’re attending a wedding overlooking Lake Champlain, or if you need to get the hay into the barn before a real whoop-de-banger of a thunderstorm.
For me, the single best way to cultivate the joys of a local lifestyle and get to know my neighbors is to get on a bike.
Riding a bike nourishes both body and mind, and the pace of cycling offers a nice balance of mobility and ease that’s perfectly suited for the landscape and culture of Vermont. I love biking to the general store for morning coffee, pedaling over to the public library for a weekly discussion of short fiction from The New Yorker magazine, or strapping my fishing gear to the bike rack and setting off for the upper reaches of the river, where the brook trout live.
After decades of riding my beloved Brompton folding bicycle, I recently became infatuated with electric bicycles, and upgraded to an electric folding bike from North Star Sports in Burlington that qualified for a $200 rebate from Green Mountain Power. My new ebike, a Tern, is a practical alternative to a second car for my family, and I love how easy it is to pedal uphill after zipping down to Craftsbury Village for my morning coffee.
No matter where you live, I highly recommend giving an electric bike a try this year. Lamoille Valley Bike Tours offers ebike tours and rentals between Morrisville and Johnson. Local Motion can set you up for a ride on the Burlington Bike Path, and the non-profit also maintains a traveling e-bike library that offers Vermonters free (yes, free) rentals from their bodacious fleet of ebikes. Electric bikes are a particularly good fit for people who wouldn’t be able to ride a regular pedal bike, or who are a little lazy and out of shape (like me).
For visitors, a classic Vermont guided bike tour might be an ideal option, while folks who prefer self-guided bikepacking adventures could try the Green Mountain Gravel Growler, a route scouted and popularized by Logan Watts and Joe Cruz, a Williams College professor who took me on some epic mountain bike rides in the Berkshires when I was an undergraduate. Other bikepacking routes in Vermont are mapped out at the excellent Vermont Bikepackers website.
There’s no doubt that riding bikes in Vermont is a great way to slow down and connect with neighbors, and an even better way to become attuned to Vermont’s seasons. Even winter riding is possible with a pair of studded tires and a slightly masochistic streak.
However, the fun of getting around by bike is only half the reason to give it a try, because cycling - and embracing other local transportation options - is also one of the simplest and most effective ways for Vermonters to save money and cut carbon emissions.
For years, public transportation in Vermont has been woefully inadequate, and people have been obliged to drive and maintain cars. Reliance on cars has led to an untenable situation in which nearly half of all carbon emissions in Vermont come from transportation.
In terms of personal finance, cars have a big impact too. Knowing a great mechanic helps, and I cherish my relationship with the outstanding professionals at the Craftsbury Garage, but it was no fun to pay the $400 bill for repairs to our aging Honda Civic this afternoon. Anyone who has taken on a long commute in Vermont knows that putting on the miles can quickly bust a tight budget. Interestingly, the current Chair of the Vermont House Transportation Committee, Curt McCormack, doesn’t own a car - and perhaps his role in the legislature is a promising sign of things to come. Cutting back on driving truly offers Vermonters a win-win.
Although I’m clearly a fan of switching out cars for other forms of transportation, the lowest hanging fruit for most Vermonters who want to save money and energy can be attained via home weatherization projects.
My family and I recently bought a house in Richmond, Vermont, and when this edition of Today’s Vermont is published we’ll have officially moved to Chittenden County. One of the first things we did as Richmond homeowners was to schedule a free home energy audit with Vermont Gas. Jeremy King, the deeply knowledgeable gentleman who performed our audit, shared practical and specific advice about how to save energy in our new home, and will soon follow up with an introduction to a project manager so that we can button up before winter. Other friends have had great luck saving money and conserving fuel by heating (and cooling) with a solar panel / heat pump combo.
Efficiency Vermont, Vermont Gas, and Burlington Electric are all Vermont utilities that offer free energy audits, along with generous rebates for weatherization work in Vermont homes. This year, Vermonters can get 50% off weatherization projects (up to $4,000) via Efficiency Vermont. Many other attractive offers are available, especially for folks with low or moderate incomes. While doing a bit of research, I learned that my family will even qualify for free weatherization improvements via the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity.
Heating with firewood remains a great option for many Vermonters. If you’re going to rely on a wood stove, knowing how to put up your own wood or having the number of a reliable firewood vendor is key. Front Porch Forum, Vermont’s homegrown and hyperlocal social network, is a great way to find firewood. Front Porch Forum is now the subject of an award-winning documentary film titled The Story of Vermont’s Quiet Digital Revolution - another reminder that even in the digital realm, simple local solutions and neighborly connections can offer tremendous value.
The Montpelier buzz posits that access to high-speed internet connectivity is essential for all Vermonters these days. I know too many Vermonters who are content to never go online to make that argument myself, but there’s no doubt that many of us need fast and reliable internet connections. Even farmers are finding that a social media strategy can be just as valuable as a thoughtful nutrient management plan.
Instagram seems to be where a lot of grassroots marketing pays off these days. I recently put together a post titled 14 Vermont Farmers To Follow On Instagram, which was a lot of fun to research. Funnily enough, while I was scrolling through the feeds of farmers, my friend Melissa Pasanen, an expert Vermont food journalist, was compiling her own list of Vermont Instagrammers for Seven Days - For the Food-Obsessed - 10 Chef/Restaurant Instagrams to Follow. Melissa’s picks are truly drool worthy.
Vermont’s many country fairs are the analog option for viewing picture-perfect produce, and late summer is the season for fairs in Vermont. State14 contributor Liz Shroeder Courtney recently wrote a fine piece about entering garden vegetables in the Lamoille County Fair (and came away with blue ribbons for her beets, dill, sage, and purple snow peas).
If I could attend only one Vermont fair this year, I would choose the Tunbridge World’s Fair, scheduled for September 12th - 15th. Last January the Tunbridge Fairgrounds - part of the Tunbridge Village National Register Historic District - saw some of the worst flooding since the fair was first held along the First Branch of the White River back in 1875. I hope the fairgrounds have recovered since then.
Attending fairs always inspires me to grow more vegetables, raise some livestock, and up my homesteading game. If you’re similarly inspired, here are some intriguing agricultural properties in northern Vermont that offer amazing value, and might be worthy of a look.
This farm for sale in Barton, Vermont, has always intrigued me because of its terrific location, near Lake Willoughby, and the faded rainbow painted on the side of the barn. The barn, plus 171 acres of land and a dilapidated farmhouse, could be yours for $244,900.
Alternatively, this farm for sale in Newport, Vermont, has 60 acres, a barn, a spring fed pond, and a farmhouse with a new roof - all for $205,000.
Rather than own your own Vermont farm, you could find a place to live next to conserved agricultural land that won’t be developed. Bluffside Farm, also in Newport, is one such property, with plenty of affordable neighborhood homes nearby. Soon, Bluffside Farm will boast a recreational path that links up with a bike path in Canada, so you could even set out on your ebike for an international day trip on two wheels.
Do you have a favorite bike trail in Vermont? Any tips on winter riding? Join the conversation and share your favorite Vermont biking spots and resources on social media, using the hashtag #TodaysVermont. As always, thanks for reading.