Young People Moving to the Northeast Kingdom
Annie Myers, full-time farmhand, part-time reporter and all around rockstar, recently interviewed me for an article about young people moving to the Hardwick, VT area. It was a pretty comprehensive interview, and only a couple of lines made the Gazette, so I'm posting the whole shebang here. (FYI, Annie keeps a sweet blog - Thoughts on the Table.)
Craftsbury is a great place to call home.
Where are you from originally?
I'm a flatlander, born in Durham, Connecticut. My parents moved to Vermont in 1994, when I was eleven, and I started 7th grade at Craftsbury Academy. I loved fishing and hunting, so it wasn't too hard to make new friends at school.
When you came to Vermont, where were you moving from?
Well, central Connecticut, originally. My grandmother's family owned a farm there - Lyman Orchards, which is mostly golf courses now, and my grandfather ran a box factory. My parents loved Vermont, though, and when I was a baby they started a Christmas tree farm in Connecticut called Craftsbury Christmas Trees. They first bought land up on Eden Mountain, and we would camp out there in a big tipi every summer, planting Christmas trees. A few years later, they bought a house in Mill Village, and soon we were Vermonters.
Most recently, I moved home from Boulder, Colorado, where I was working for an educational travel company called Where There Be Dragons. Prior to Boulder I worked as a teacher, travel writer and guide for about 5 years, mostly in Southeast Asia. A year ago I was embedded as a journalist with a rebel army in northern Burma; 6 months ago I was on scavenger hunt around Damascus at 2 in the morning. It was an exciting life, but I felt the pull to come home and put down roots and devote myself to one place and one community. The most important thing I've learned in my travels is that the Northeast Kingdom is one of the best places anywhere to settle down.
How long have you lived here?
Two years ago, I bought 2 acres just west of the Common, in Craftsbury. That's when I knew I was coming home. It was last August when I found a good job in Craftsbury and moved home full time.
Who is your employer?
Sterling College. I actually saw the employment ad in the Hardwick Gazette, which I subscribed to while living out in Colorado.
What is your position with them?
Director of Advancement. When people ask me what the job entails, I like to say, Moving Forward. Basically, I need to get the word out about Sterling.
What attracted you to the position itself?
This is a big moment for Sterling, and for all of Vermont.
Bright young people from all around the world are way ahead of the curve when it comes to appreciating the concept of sustainability in an authentic and grounded way. They don't want be work in cubicles and live in boxes. They understand that there are real problems with our society, and they want to do their bit to fix those problems. Some of these young people are idealistic, some are cynical, some are naive, but all of them are ready to roll up their sleeves and work.
These young people are reading Ed Abbey and Khalil Gibran, and, believe it or not, they're reading Ben Hewitt, too. They are gaining new respect for hard work and the sort of practical values that are rooted in a deep sense of stewardship. Sterling is a college where they can live in a community with strong values and a healthy working landscape, and where they can study things like Permaculture, Wilderness Stewardship, and Ecology. And they study at a college that's right down the road from people like Pete Johnson and Steve Gorelick, who, whether they like it or not, are both leaders in the sustainability movement.
Sterling - and the whole Northeast Kingdom - has a chance to showcase a form of success that's much more meaningful and lasting than any short-term economic boom. It's going to take a lot of work and a lot of support to make it happen, and I want to help.
What aspects of the Northeast Kingdom attracted you?
Geez, where to begin? The seasons. My family. Concerts on the Common. Robert Linck's farmstand. The April Fool's Edition of the Gazette. Hardwick Men's Night at Mountain View. Barr Hill and blueberry pie. Deer and turkeys in the yard. Riteway. The Church on the Common. Claire's. The Outdoor Center. The accessibility of state government. Sonny Sweat's carvings of trout. Lake Willoughby. Duck Pond. I could go on.
What aspects of the Northeast Kingdom made you hesitate to move here?
I thought I would miss the excitement of traveling, and the energy of larger cities and towns, and I do. Winter is long and hard. The cost of living is high. In Thailand I once helped build a small adobe house for $300, start to finish. My house in Craftsbury has been more expensive. The cost of healthcare is ridiculous.
I did not look forward to needing a car to get around. America is hopelessly addicted to cheap energy, and I think the addiction is deeply unhealthy in a physical, spiritual, and economic sense.
Give me some highs and lows. What has surprised you about living in this place?
I'm surprised by the increasing gap between wealthy and poor in Vermont, which seems more pronounced than it was ten years ago, when I last lived here full time.
I'm surprised by how many incredible people live up here, and surprised by how hard it is to get to know each other sometimes. Everyone is busy, and focused on their own lives, their own battles.
How long do you expect to live here? Could you keep your current employment indefinitely?
I don't have any plans to leave. I'd be thrilled to have the same job 5, 10 or 20 years from now.
Besides your current job, are there other opportunities in the area that interest you? Don't laugh at that one. It's important.
Oh, sure! I would love to help connect Vermont with Asia in some fashion. I speak Japanese, and some Chinese, and have spent years working in Southeast Asia as well. Quebec has poured a ton of resources into marketing maple syrup in Japan, for example, and it's paying off for them, big-time. I'd love to do something like create a premium market for Vermont sugar-makers in Asia, or develop exchange programs between Sterling and colleges overseas.
This September I'll be leading a global field study program to Japan for Sterling, a program that's partially sponsored by the Freeman Foundation - it would be cool to have more of those opportunities.
Have you been able to meet people in the community here, outside of home and work? How? Has it been easy? Hard? Not a priority?
Hmm, sometimes easy, sometimes hard. People are friendly and approachable, but everyone is really busy. I've barely had a chance to see some of my best childhood friends, because we're all working so hard.
I think it will be easier to meet people in the summer and fall, when we're all outside in the fresh air.
Could you imagine yourself living here forever? Starting a business here?
Yes, yes, yes. Because this is home.