Natural Environment

Seeing Green: The Intersection of the Economy, Ecology and Character

Vermont has just exploded into summer. The weekly farmer’s markets are in full swing and summertime concerts, fairs, parades and art walks are just starting. It’s an exciting time and one that brings with it the opportunity to grow and reap the harvest together.

It’s a great time of year to be in Vermont: summer has arrived and it’s taken its sweet time to get here so we appreciate it all the more. In a mostly rural state, many communities have pinned their abilities to grow and thrive on the constancy of the cycle of seasons. A successful harvest or a big snowfall is not only beautiful to behold—they’re economic indicators as well, and the collective identity of the people who live here depend on that.

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The Road to Resilience

Photos: www.mansfieldheliflight.com/flood/
Irene Damage - http://www.mansfieldheliflight.com/flood/On August 28, 2011, US Route 100 leading into the mountain town of Rochester, Vermont simply ended. And so did every other road leading in and out of town. That was the day Tropical Storm Irene washed away roads and bridges and homes throughout the region, leaving 13 towns cut off from the outside world. It was hours before anyone managed to get in or out of Rochester, and even then only by ATV and on foot. It was days before most people could communicate with anyone outside of town. It was weeks before power was restored and roads were passable to anyone other than emergency crews.

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FUN: The Key to Community Participation

Our atmosphere’s getting all gunky.
And climate change makes us feel funky.
But we’ll change our fate!
Play Vermontivate!
And celebrate with Chunky Monkey!

Even if you don’t have a clue what Vermontivate! is, there’s a good bet that an initiative that plasters this limerick on their homepage has got to be fun.

Read on and you discover that Vermontivate! is a community energy game—an interactive way to get people to conserve energy. Players compete to earn points for their town. Change an old tungsten bulb to a compact fluorescent, collect points. Start composting, more points. Reduce your household consumption of paper products by half...total pointfest. Install solar panels and you’ve hit the point equivalent of the carnival strong man bell. Basically, do anything you can think of to lessen your dependence on fossil fuels to compete for the grand prize: a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream party hosted in a local gathering place.

Why play Vermontivate!? The website makes it clear: “(W)e believe that by having fun and building community, we stand a good chance of helping each other reduce the impacts of our energy consumption AND bring hope and infinite possibility to the beautiful land of Vermont. And the world.”

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Celebrating the Re-opening of Doors

shickshinny_blogpic_400x300.jpgSara Grier is External Relations Manager for ShickshinnyForward.

Natural disasters bring a level of destruction to communities that is difficult to understand for those who have never experienced it.

While the physical ruination of shops, schools, homes and businesses takes an enormous toll, it is often the devastation of the emotional “soul” of a community that makes re-building such an uphill effort.

For the cities and towns along the Susquehanna River, the flood of September 2011 surpassed anything experienced in over 100 years. Shickshinny, PA, population 800, was one of the hardest hit communities. Since the flood, the town has not only drained basements and repaired roads; it has taken this opportunity to make itself “home” once again.

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Community Character 201: A Lesson from Italy

roman-bakery_ropepost_300x400.jpgWhen I go traveling to another country, I always take a book that helps me get in the right mindset. Oftentimes I choose fiction that takes place in that particular country. But this time as I packed for Italy, I made room in my suitcase for a fabulous collection of Paul Bowles collected writings entitled Travels.

While none of this book takes place in Italy, focusing more on Tangiers, where he lived for most of his life, and Morocco, in which he traveled extensively, it’s a book about exploring foreign lands. Bowles regales the reader with hilarious tales of near disasters, describes wonderful characters he meets along the way, and reflects on what it means to be traveling in a country other than one’s own.

In a re-published piece entitled “Windows on the Past” written in 1957 about his travels in Europe, Bowles argues that Americans travel to Europe to regain their connections to the past. We get lost, he claims, in the vast American melting pot, in a society always transforming and remaking itself, focused more on techniques and gadgets than something deeper and more meaningful. So we go to Europe seeking something else, something he labels “culture”.

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Clear Skies and Dry Trails

nosnow_300x238.jpgNow that it’s almost March, and officially “late winter,” it’s becoming nearly impossible to ignore the elephant in the room. Despite the storm this weekend that dumped more than two feet in the mountains, this winter has skiers and snow-sport enthusiasts of all sorts scratching their heads. January 2012 was the 3rd least snowy in the NOAA’s national 117-year record, and the 4th warmest.

Taking advantage of this weekend’s storm, I headed to the mountains. After a long ski through the first powder of the year, I ended at a small Inn and cross-country ski center where I had a chance to see first hand how the lack of snow is affecting the state’s winter economy.

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The Power of the Individual

aucmen_300x169.jpgSeveral weeks ago, Middlebury College opened the Center for Social Entrepreneurship, a new program encouraging students to take an active role in their education while accomplishing good at the same time. For its inaugural symposium, the Center brought a number of people to speak and teach.

I had the good fortune to attend two of the talks. The first was by Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka-Innovators for the Public. Bill focused on the need to develop systems that can adapt quickly and effectively, vital in our rapidly changing world. He argued that traditionally structured systems need to give way to teams and teams-of-teams as a way to unleash individual creativity and remain nimble and responsive to challenges and opportunities. He also shared a few inspiring examples of work by Ashoka Fellows.

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Making Do

iceharvest2_300x168.jpgOn the last weekend in January, a small crowd of onlookers gathers at the edge of Brookfield Pond in central Vermont for what is – these days – a most unusual spectacle. An odd contraption of wooden beams and iron hardware stands on a patch of ice surrounded by rusted old saws and oversized tongs. A local historian narrates as two men move to the center of the ice and begin sawing. After a few minutes they use a strange fork to pry loose a block more than a foot thick. An ingenious lever system easily lifts this 300-pound block of ice off the water and lands it safely on the surface, frozen before it hits the ground.

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