Vermont is one of the few states that hasn’t fully given into urbanization. This is something that makes Vermont unique, and it is something The Vermont Land Trust works to keep. The Vermont Land Trust has been working since 1977 to preserve “over 700 working farms, hundreds of thousands of acres of productive forestland, and numerous parcels of community land.” Elise Annes, part of The Vermont Land Trust, shares how Vermont is leading the way in preserving America’s lands and keeping local farming alive.
Rebekah: What is the primary goal of the Vermont Land Trust?
Elise: The Vermont Land Trust is a conservation organization. We use a variety of tools, one of the main ones being conservation easement. We try to protect Vermont’s open space, many farms, forest land, and community open space. Our work is to protect those places for people today and the next generation. We try to connect people to land who might not be able to ordinarily.
Rebekah: How do you connect people to the land?
Elise: When land is on the market, that has a community or public use value, and it might be going to private ownership, we step in and look for alternative options. For instance, if there’s a farm that goes on the market, we purchase that land, raise the money necessary to conserve it. When the conservation easement reduces the price, we sell it to a qualified farmer. In other cases we put together the financing, public and private, to purchase land and transfer it to a town or to the state to keep it open and available for the community uses. We also hold events and programs that get people out on the conserved land.
Rebekah: Do you feel that Vermont is a unique place for farms and wildlife? Why?
Elise: I think that a lot of places have their unique environment and ecology. Vermont is certainly unique because it is a more rural state, and we’ve kept more land open for people to live on and work on. We’ve been more deliberate perhaps than a lot of other places. Our culture and heritage is in part based on our relationship and connection to our land and there’s still a lot of people who want to make a living off the land. It’s also unique because we have mountains, and many rivers and lakes and unfragmented forests so there are more species than somewhere that’s more urban or suburban. Every place has their own mixture of land uses but personally, I love Vermont.
Rebekah: Do you see a long-term effect that the land trust can have on the culture of Vermont? Are you seeing that now?
Elise: Absolutely. We’ve protected about 9% of the state, and the farms we’ve worked with are still in production. We’re trying to protect the environment and the relationship between people and land. Conservation is one of those things you can really measure, because we can see what’s there, how we’ve protected it for specific uses, and we have a sense of how it could have gone to other uses. There are many examples of that in the United States where we have not been deliberate and protected important places.
Rebekah: Do you feel a need to preserve the history of Vermont by keeping historical land and farms alive?
Elise: Part of what we’re trying to protect is the heritage of our state. If we didn’t have farmers that didn’t want to use the land, it’d be a different story. We look at how we’ve used the land in the past and how people want to use the land in the future, and preserve the land in ways that will benefit the future, while still respecting the past.
Rebekah: Do you know of any other programs/organizations that help keep farms small, local, and affordable?
Elise: There are some other organizations that are similar in other states, like in Montana or Wyoming where they are working hard to keep land available for ranchers.
Rebekah: Many farmers are having to choose different occupations. How do you think this veer away from nature-centered occupations affects our culture?
Elise: I think that certainly the research shows that we’ve become a more urban and suburban society and that means there’s less of a sense of where our food comes from. As we use more technology, and choose other perhaps more lucrative professions, we spend less time working the land as loggers, foresters, naturalists, farmers, etc. We also spend time less time on hobbies such as gardening, recreating, and contemplating nature if we are a more urban or suburban culture. This means that we lose that connection to the land and landscape. In Vermont I really hope we don’t reach that point, but I guess some of those trends are true here too. This is part of why we do the work we do at the Vermont Land Trust, to counter that trend.
Rebekah: What is your vision for the Vermont Trust?
Elise: I think our vision for the future is to continue to steward the places we’ve already protected. To continue to create opportunities for accessing land in many different ways and continue the connection and relationship with the land. We’d like to continue to have Vermont be a place where people from all different backgrounds can connect with the land. We want to continue to protect natural communities, keep forests from becoming fragmented and keep farms operating for farmers and the local food that they produce.