Today’s Vermont: Diversity and Resilience
Sometimes politicians get pilloried for making statements that are true.
This happened to Governor Phil Scott not long after he first took office when he said that climate change could be an economic boon for Vermont. Understandably, folks were upset at the implication that climate change is anything but a horrifying existential threat, but in a narrow sense our race car driving Republican governor was right on the money.
Vermont has a cold climate, plenty of fresh water, relatively healthy soil, intact communities with strong civic institutions, organic farms, and good jobs that are hard to fill. There are massive coastal cities just to our south, a few hours down the interstate highways. Canada is accessible if things get really bad.
People are going to want to move here, and although by the time climate change really kicks into gear we’ll have outgrown our insanely myopic focus on economic growth, we might as well get ready to welcome some new neighbors.
For now, though, Governor Scott and his administration are working overtime to recruit people to move to Vermont. The Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing, ably led by the talented former travel writer Wendy Knight, is launching an advertising campaign to show that people of all identities and backgrounds are welcome here. This sort of representation matters, especially in a state whose residents are over 90% white, and I hope many people of color do decide that Vermont is worthy of a look.
The bigger and more persistent challenge, of course, is to root out the racism that persists in Vermont, and to intentionally cultivate a more just and inclusive culture and society. I believe that storytelling is one way to advance this goal.
Nina Griffin, founder and editor of State 14, shared her own family’s immigrant story in a heartfelt post titled Dance, Medicine, Love, and War, which includes her memory of feeling like the unwanted “other” when driving a car with New Jersey plates on Vermont roads and seeing “Don’t Jersey Vermont” bumper stickers.
Emily Bernard, a professor of English at the University of Vermont, recently published a book titled Black is the Body, a brave collection of personal essays about the experience of being a black woman in America.
Events like the annual Jeh Kulu Dance & Drum Festival provide opportunities for cultural exchange, as described with a thoughtful note about white privilege and cultural appropriation by State 14 contributor Kimberly Hannah Caterino in her article Jeh Kulu Honors Black Lives at Vermont's Dance and Drum Festival.
Pine Island Community Farm, in Colchester, is a non-profit neighborhood farm where New Americans from the Burlington area can grow culturally significant food. There are four Open Houses scheduled at Pine Island Community Farm this summer, including tours on May 29th and June 22nd. Registration is required.
Then again, maybe highlighting Vermont’s fraught relationship with race and racism is the wrong approach. In the latest episode of the excellent Brave Little State podcast - What Draws So Many Poets and Writers to Vermont - the poet Major Jackson, who is African-American, noted that he’s finds it troubling when white people in Vermont constantly bring up race, a concept he describes as “something invented by white people to keep and conquer others”.
As I type up this edition of Today’s Vermont, I find myself reflecting on Mr. Jackson’s point. Might white folks like me get too hung up on race sometimes, and annoy people of color who find it exhausting to navigate a landscape where they are constantly singled out because of the color of their skin?
So it seems. But as levels of atmospheric carbon accelerate past heights that the human race has never experienced before, all Vermonters will need to tap into our reserves of resilience. Diversity, in all its forms, is an essential characteristic of resilient ecosystems and communities. Hopefully we can encourage this diversity with some measure of grace, and to my way of thinking the State’s inclusive marketing effort is a step in the right direction.
So, with apologies to readers who were expecting nothing more than seasonal observations and peppy AirBnB reviews in this column, let’s return to climate change. At this point, my sense is that surprisingly few people are reevaluating their future plans in light of the looming climate emergency. Many of those who are considering a life change seem to imagine an extreme sort of prepper scenario - buying land deep in the boreal forest, dropping off-grid, and subsisting on cans of beans and smoked venison. While that escapist fantasy might be the right path for some, I think it’s much more logical to invest in solid homes and small farms that are firmly rooted within communities.
Loyal readers of this column know that I have my eye on affordable housing in Vermont towns outside of Chittenden County. In downtown Newport, for example, you’ll find 73 Bayview Street a three-unit apartment building that seems well-maintained, is walking distance from the shores of Lake Memphremagog, and could be yours for less than $130,000.
If you’re more into the idea of a self-sufficient homestead and can consider a higher price range for real estate, check out two farm-houses being sold by luminaries in Vermont’s tight-knit food system.
Caitlin and Jason Elberson of Sobremesa, who were profiled in a State 14 story titled Fermenting a Future, are selling their idyllic homestead at 195 Johnson Road in Marshfield. The property includes a commercial kitchen and extensive perennial plantings. Don’t fret - they plan to continue making their delicious krauts and kim chi in another location, and you can follow the Sobremesa Instagram feed for updates and inspiration.
Over in the Connecticut River Valley town of Bradford, a farm owned by food journalist Hannah Palmer Egan is up for sale. The photos of the gardens and the barn at 5500 South Road are just as drool-inducing as Hannah’s coverage of the Vermont restaurant scene, and the asking price of $269,000 for nearly 3,000 square feet of living space, a large barn, and 11 acres of pasture and gardens seems like a good value.
Now we’re ready for a peppy AirBnB review. Thanks for sticking with me! This month’s highlight is a brand new AirBnB located on a gorgeous backroad here in the Northeast Kingdom. Ann’s Schoolhouse is a carefully restored one-room schoolhouse originally built in 1901, and managed by the Urie family. The Uries also run Stillmeadow Gardens, a collection of greenhouses on their family farm in Craftsbury, where I buy flower baskets and vegetable starts each spring.
With so much uncertainty and disruption in the world, it’s reassuring to spend time at places like Stillmeadow Gardens, to drive the backroads and take note of the passing seasons. Many people find a sort of refuge in Vermont, and although no place on Earth is entirely immune to the ills of our society, I like to imagine people crossing the stateline, looking out over the hills, and feeling a sense of calm, and a measure of hope.
What are your thoughts about how climate change will impact Vermont? Have you stayed in a lovely Vermont bed and breakfast that deserves a write up? Do you have thoughts about how Vermont grapples with issues of race and racism? Join the conversation by using the hashtag #todaysvermont on social media. I’ll be back next month with a new edition of Today’s Vermont. Thanks, as always, for reading.