The group a3 has been described as a think tank and features 3 individuals at a time discussing what is important in our bio-region and in the life of our times.
Curtiss Reed, Jr.
3 members of the group meet from time to time and their conversation is audio recorded, then a transcript is made and published.
A3 meeting: Lawrence Williams, Melinda Bussino, Jerry Goldberg (Phil Innes at end). Recorded on March 4, 2011, folder b.2, 63 minutes. 8,352 words.
Phil: I thought of a couple of ways of doing this this time; the previous two times the a3 group met, there were just two people who could be here, so I became the third, but here we have three of you and I thought, Great! I can shaddup! Or try to.
Phil: So let me make the briefest of introductions to the reader who will be reading the transcript, and then if you wish, since we didn’t set any pre-agenda, I will propose one which Jerry liked from a previous editorial, from the Chamber’s perspective, which had to do with regional identity. If this is okay with you I will do this, then go over there and try and shut up for…
Phil …quite a long time.
Lawrence: That is going to be an interesting thing to watch.
Melinda,: Yes it is!
Phil: Okay, then. Melinda Bussino, who mispronounces her own name
Phil: — what a terrible start! — and we know who you are but readers may not know that for 23 years you have managed the Drop In center and more recently the emergency overflow shelter in Brattleboro.
Phil: Then here is Lawrence Williams who is almost a pioneer…
Phil: … in accredited distance learning education for all high school students, no one did it before you, and your organization is based here in Brattleboro, administering programs to students all over the world in US High School curriculum.
Lawrence: K through 12.
Phil: K-12. I like to be wrong quite a lot, which gets people talking and bonding together over all my misstatements.
Phil: And Jerry Goldberg who everyone thinks they know already, but who used to work with Walter Kronkite in NY City and then somehow came up here and ran all the communications up at World Learning Institute, as it is now, and you are currently the head-honcho — a term I believe your prefer — at …
Phil: … the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce.
Jerry: Chamber of Horrors.
Phil: Author the term The One and Only Brattleboro, and as I say, I didn’t invite everyone with a pre-conceived agenda, and none of you suggested one, except that Jerry and I previously conspired on a previous occasion to become interested in this topic, which I have written down here: we were talking about a bio-regional identity of which Brattleboro is a hub-town to at least 50,000, and perhaps if you are very liberal in describing our bio-region, some 250,000 people in terms of influencing local affairs.
Phil: My question is if we think this is a true statement of affairs, and if so, how shall we identify what is important in this scope of influence in our bio-region and how we should plan to manage that? This topic could cover the welfare of all the people in the region, people currently under some stress, our education aspect, and not unlinked to education, good jobs where our kids might chose to stay here instead of going away and never coming back, since this would be to sacrifice their interests, and their market worth in terms of salary. If you would like to talk about that or alternatively Melinda’s frogs in a tank…
Phil … Jerry, you missed the frogs. But I do think this is pertinent to our times…
Lawrence: We could start with that and see where it goes.
Melinda: I think certainly we could talk about jobs. Bickfords has just closed and 20 more people are unemployed this month. These are not the best jobs which will attract people to our community, but these are the people that my agency get as starter jobs. Many of the women who are studying for things take jobs at places like Bickfords, and Dunkin Donuts to see themselves through.
Lawrence: The kind of jobs where if they lose them they will end up on your doorstep, if they lose those jobs…
Melinda: If they lose those jobs they will definitely end up on our doorstep if they are from this area. And many of those people who are working minimum wage service sector jobs are using our services for food even if they are not using the overflow shelter. We had a huge bubble come in last fall to the free clothing room looking for school clothes for their kids. Christmas toys too — all those things that people can’t afford on a minimum wage job.
Lawrence: Jerry, from the Chamber’s perspective, how are you helping with jobs? I know you work closely with the BDCC and BaBB.
Jerry: Speaking of the Chamber’s perspective is always a tricky thing for me to go into. The Chamber is a membership organization with 600 members, each of whom has different reasons for being in the community, or what they want from the chamber, what their successes and failures are, in what sectors and segments of the community they reside, it is a very organic and disparate group — so, whenever anyone wants to know what the Chamber’s perspective is on anything I’d like to find a man or a woman who can answer that question...
Jerry: … and still have their tires filled with air at the end of the day when they want to go home.
Jerry: But certainly from global or conventional wisdom, if you will, we are working as closely as we can with organizations like BDCC, Babb, and the North End Business Association, and the West Brattleboro Association, and the Canal Street Group, in doing what we can to provide what we can from the Chamber’s ability to do something, at least the idea that Brattleboro is a viable community. We don’t deal with how many stores are available, how much the cost of square footage is, or take on those nitty-gritty hands-on issues, we don’t do that. The Chamber is just me and Greg Lesch. When we talk about the Chamber that’s who we are. What we do is devote our energies to presenting Brattleboro as a community that people would be attracted in investing in, in coming to to live in, in moving here in and starting their business, in moving their business, along these lines. That is the global answer to your question.
Lawrence: Do you have any figures about Brattleboro and employment compared to the rest of the region?
Jerry: I don’t have those figures in my head, but we do have that data available. We do know that Brattleboro is not growing, but also not sinking as fast as it could. It’s interesting if you read Pal Borofski’s letter today in the paper, excuse me for laughing, about the plastic bag crisis. He does cite that 1990 this place was a disaster in terms of open storefronts and huge tracks of real-estate available, nobody doing anything about it. Over the years now we hardly have any available spaces. I was just down in New York City last week for a quick pop-in and I was struck by the amount of open storefronts there were in the city of New York, which never used to be the case. At least if you compare Brattleboro to New York we ain’t doing so bad.
Melinda: I was thinking as Jerry was talking that Main Street doesn’t have a lot of empty storefronts. Given what the economy has been these past two and a half years — I grew up in this town, went to school here and everything else, and you know the population fifty years ago was what it is now, Bratlleboro hasn’t grown or shrunk significantly. It’s had its ups and down in the economy and empty downtown storefronts, now we have more outlying areas with empty buildings.
Jerry: One of the things which I am unsure if you folks are aware of, but the Chamber took a line in the last couple of years which has to do with jobs; we can’t do much more to attract industry to this town that is already being done. There are all sorts of reasons why businesses don’t come here and the Chamber cannot fight those forces — there are statewide issues, taxation issues, you have heard it all. Vermonters have difficulties. However, what the Chamber felt it could take on was how to use our ability to educate, if you will, the young people in this community as to their lives, thinking that people who are drawn tot he Chamber are people who have created something. Whether they created their business or created their job, this is a hire-able commodity. But people who come to the chamber are pretty creative people, and so it gets to the point that a lot of kids who grow up in this community really are lost. I find that, and I am a big city person, and I don’t know the status of education all around the country, but my experience of being in Brattleboro all these years is that I am often shocked with the level of education these kids have being sent out into the world. And they haven’t got a shot. Not a shot here in town and not a shot to get out of town. They are like the walking-wounded, and they end up, as you know…
Melinda: Probably close to twenty years ago I was at a work-force investment board meeting in Bellows Falls, and somebody from one of the big industries in Brattleboro said — if I could get a kid from high-school either Brattleboro or Bellows Falls who could read a micrometer, I could hire them! — and it was at that level. The kids who had gone through advanced classes had already left town, and the other kids had no interest or had learning disabilities.
Melinda: Well, in 1980 one hundred people were interviewed by a professor from Philadelphia and he did a report; there are one or two statistics I remember; one was that 56 out of a 100 had nobody to turn to in time of crisis — and this was one of the reasons for homelessness. But 47 of those same people had a diagnosed learning disability that hadn’t been addressed. And with the economy now we have seen more people who are just plain … the Morningside Shelter has families where both parents are working and they still can’t save enough money to get out of the shelter and pay rent. Well, the housing-wage for a two bedroom apartment now is $17.71 an hour in Windham county. And minimum wage times two for 80 hours a week is $16.30. Not even making it for a family working two full jobs. Then you have to add child-care into that.
Jerry: It’s staggering.
Phil: Excuse me for breaking in, but Lawrence is a very modest man, unlike you two!
Phil: But they are a nevertheless knowledgeable duo, and they are both saying education is it, Lawrence, at least in potential. And there is something different between your students and regular students isn’t there? Though I let you say yourself if they are better or worse!
Lawrence: I think their parents are willing to take a risk, that’s what it boils down to. When we first started back in ’75, back in the alternative education time coming out of this period when lots of alternative things were starting up. At that time there were about 10,000 home-schoolers in the whole country, and John Holt was writing a lot about how this was inspiring people. There was no movement as such — people were just saying “I can’t do this anymore’ since their children were just being swept under the carpet, or not getting an education that was really benefitting them. So, their parents said ‘enough, I am not going to do this anymore, I’m taking them out.’ That is the point, mid seventies, when we started, when we came in, and started providing curriculum for parents since a lot of them didn’t really know what their kids needed to learn, and my background was in that; trained as a Waldorf teacher and taught in a Waldorf school for a while. I had an appreciation not only for academics, but for music and art, and how it all fits together to help kids be whole human beings. We started providing that and over the years it has been interesting to see how the demographic was first counter-cultural, but as we got into the eighties we started seeing mainstream families getting into it for the reasons that mainstream education wasn’t working any longer. The schools were so entangled in their own bureaucratic stuff, and not able to do anything about it. It has been interesting to see the different cycles that education goes through; the period when conglomeration was what it was all about; close down all the small schools and bus all the kids to the big schools; then you start having a whole slew of other problems. Now, in the past 5 or 10 years they have been saying maybe big schools are not where it’s at, so let’s shut down all the big schools and have some smaller schools. They are pumping millions of bucks into NY City to try to create some smaller schools. They just seem to lurch from one kind of so-called solution to another but it never really does it.
Lawrence: But I do feel that Vermont, in some ways that I have seen, that are tied to the community, that serve the community, these are some of the best schools that I have seen anywhere, especially even very very small like Clara Oldsby out in Westminster West…
Melinda: My kids both went there from 1st to 4th grade and what a training it was that served them!
Lawrence: Because there is personal accountability and heart, whatever it may be that she brought to it. You knew that by the time your kids got through her class they would know what they were doing. She was going to make sure they didn’t get out of there unless they did.
Melinda: Governor Shumlin has made this famous now by telling his own story about her and his dyslexia.
Jerry: I didn’t know that.
Melinda: O yeah - it was actually when she was teaching at the Putney Grammar School before she went to Westminster West, and he went up and sat on her lawn or in her kitchen and finally he learned to read. In his inauguration speech he was talking about what Clara had done for him.
Lawrence: Actually Peter [Shumlin] was very instrumental in getting us to Vermont, talk about job creation! We were at that time down in Virginia and were looking around to move up to this area, because we had a need to be accredited. In Virginia they wouldn’t hear of it, because they said you are not a real school — you don’t have bells and classrooms — and we started looking where else in the country we could go and New England was much more open, and had such a rich educational heritage. We looked at New Hampshire, then Maine and Vermont, Massachusetts, and the more we came back to Vermont we found that something we all find so fascinating about it. We found our way to Putney since I had heard about Putney years ago when I was working at a private school in California, and heard about Putney School, then by some stroke ran into Peter and Deb Shumlin, and started talking with them about the Putney Tavern which at that time they were renovating, and started to get a sense that this was not only a remarkable area, but town, and from the moment we came here we felt they really felt about us as human beings, and if what we were doing was going to fit into there — and it turned out that Peter and Nancy Chard jumped in, since there were no laws in Vermont to cover distance learning schools — so they said we shall have to do something about that. They jumped in and spearheaded that and we helped to write the laws for that. It’s small enough you can really get to know your governor, your senators and all of that.
Jerry: It is interesting that you talk about governors; I’ve know governor Douglas for a number of years from the chamber, and spent personal time with government people, and the governor himself, and one of the standards that he was carrying for maybe all the 8 years of his office was de-centralizing the schools — and for budgetary reasons you could make that case. And you have to say, yes governor, I see where you are coming from, and you can’t argue with the economics of it. But again, what you were talking about which was so interesting to me is the difficulties for kids in rural environments. There is this disconnect once school is over to continue to do learning; maybe they have the family that is willing to support them to stay after school, to take part in extra-curricular activities, to continue their learning, and get transportation from there to go home at the end of a cold winter’s day, or to go to a ballet class if their parents can afford them to do that, but too often things come to a grinding halt, and too many of our students are left abandoned, without the ability after sitting in the classroom, then going home to be alone without ability to teach themselves or with parents who do not have the ability to continue teaching them. It is really a stunning problem here in rural communities.
Melinda: What makes the economic division even worse; there are those kids’ parents who can afford the ballet classes or whatever and who can do the transportation, and those kids who don’t have any resources whatever.
Jerry: So we have a stunning disparity here — made even worse by having a huge school where so many students have to be back…
Lawrence: ...which disconnects them from their community…
Jerry: … from their own community with each other, and they have to go home to a house down a dirt-road and they won’t see another kid until the following morning. I came from a city environment and we never stopped being with other kids. We were with people all the time, home was just a place where you went to have dinner and stayed in for the rest of the evening, but during the day we were constantly zizzing like that, with each other and our teachers, and that doesn’t happen here.
Melinda: Another thing I think is happening is the technology, especially with cell-phones, which are texting or doing facebook, and even if you don’t have a computer and are at school. I see that in kids which are low-income but somehow manage to get their hands on a trackphone and text. They are making electronic contact with their peers, but there is no face to face stuff, and that is another whole layer of danger.
Jerry: Yes, absolutely.
Lawrence: That is a big thought because that is just mushrooming by leaps and bounds and there is a definite disconnect there that is happening. Anecdotes all the time of kids texting at the dinner table, and there is no real communication going on, just a distance connection. But it’s interesting with our school is that one thing the kids have said, which I find shocking, is that they have more of an individual connection at a distance with their teachers than they experienced at public school. Because our teachers have a one-on-one experience with the student in that moment.
Jerry: That’s true, because how many students sit in a classroom and are never the ones to raise their hands because they are shy, and girls have always had a specific problem with that, and studies have shown participation levels…
Melinda: … in math and science particularly,
Jerry: Even just by nature, that is not the way they are made up. So I think it’s true that technology can bring a teacher and a student directly together more than it can do in the classroom. But I think there is also a student to student thing — there is a book out now about a woman growing up and raising her daughters, and how she believes in home-schooling, and really getting her kids to sit with the book and learn! And that is what is going to get them there, and that is what her mother did for her, thought the issue is raised about their ability to speak to their peers. Their ability to teach others, that sort of thing, to participate as a social animal. Isn’t that as important as learning the math?
Melinda: And like learning to do things like play on a team.
Jerry: Yes, exactly.
Melinda: Respond to non-verbal cues from peers.
Lawrence: That is one of the great things Vermont has done, if not the first to do so; they were one of the first states to allow home-schoolers to participate in school sports teams and things like theater, band, things that required more of a group. Now there is a great cooperation between home-schoolers and public schools. As opposed to, you’ve made your choice and now live with it.
Phil: Not to direct your conversation, just a time-awareness, its 11;45 and I would like to say a couple of things to enable people to wrap up — I never said shut up!
Phil: My question would be: is there anything that you would each conclude from this conversation is worth further research, where would you like things to go from here, since it seems that you identify education as so important to both social stability and also maintaining good solid businesses and well paying jobs. And from a previous conversation with Lawrence I asked if I went to a regular high-school, could I take one of your Oak Meadow courses too, is that legal, and can I get academic credit for it, and the answer was yes! Maybe all high school is not good, or all home schooling not good, but is there a blend?
Phil: I am leading you, I lied.
[laughter] [and even more laughter]
Phil: What has come up here that is really important to notice? Is there something that has come up here which seems important to you, or is worth further notice. Jerry, did you want to speak first?
Jerry: I was gasping for breath! But the thought that has come up — I think getting back to the original, that this region has, and across the river as well, is a wealth, a treasure of adult people of substance who can make an enormous contribution beyond that which they are making. There is also something different in the spirit or the nature of what makes Vermont a little bit different, people’s willingness and seeking for opportunities to contribute. We don’t contribute as much with money as other parts of the country, but we do contribute generously with our time. Certainly with our expertise, and I wish there were a way to get more mentoring — really solid municipally funded — to make sure that everybody who lives in this community who has something to teach a kid can have the opportunity to do so. I am getting a little old, but I would be happy to throw myself into that as well. I have a lot of stuff to talk about to young people; I don’t really know how to do it except throwing myself on the mercy of the school system and saying any time you need a hand…’ But I think that conversation should be had, so that you [Melinda] go out of business.
Melinda: Yes and you are so right about the number of people in this community who are talented and I feel sad when I do. I’m an obituary reader and often say, O! I didn’t know he had died! If I had known I would have reached out and said, tell me where you lived and what you did. And that happens all the time, and if people have an opportunity to give of their life experience — just to connect with kids growing up who have an interest in something that nobody in their peer group or their parents peer group knows anything about — to be able to reach out that way.
Jerry: It’s almost like we should have an experience fair, an annual fair so everyone who has experience in whatever their field, whether they are retired or whatever, are invited together with the young people in this community to come forward and to talk.
Melinda: I like that.
Lawrence: There is with the time-trade organization that is going on, you are starting to create a database of skills, and I can see that if it continues to grow, and I hope it does, you are going to have something you can actually tap into and say — OK we are going to want somebody knowledgeable about this, let’s look and see what’s in the database. I know that from the program we use, we try to connect kids to the community and mentors in the community, because for example, World War Two, instead of just facts we ask then to find three people in your community who were there, who were involved in some way and do an interview with them. If possible, get them together and get them talking. Now it’s tough because there are fewer and fewer of them that are still alive. But there are things that you can do like that to connect in with living human beings. It’s not just abstract material. And this stays with them and I think that is part of what education is, connecting kids into the community. That is where their roots are and in terms of jobs, the more we can get to stay here and use their skills in the community.
Jerry: The idea of using the word jobs, which we always use, someone said recently about the livable wage syndrome — if only we can get livable wage jobs! Who wants a freakin’ livable wage job?! Is all you want for yourself something that is ‘livable?’ We always seem to talk about if only we could get to that point — but I want to talk about a substantial wage, so you can do what you want to do in this life. Not be hampered by the fact that you live in a community that can’t offer you that. If you can’t get yourself out of this community then, as I said earlier, your life is consigned to be one of mediocrity and paucity. I think we cannot allow that to continue.
Melinda: And in our schools 52% of our children are eligible for free lunches. We better be doing something soon.
Jerry: One of the projects or our rotary club every year is to provide lunches for students who go to the Westgate. When school is not in session at Christmas or at Easter, they don’t get a lunch! So we took that on as a project to make sure they have something to EAT!
Lawrence: It’s interesting that it doesn’t have to do with the size of the community, or the phrase you used, a wage beyond, a substantive wage. I know that in our situation we have had people who have moved here to work with us because we are not dependent on the local economy, the local situation, because we reach out around the world. Technology allows us to do that, to live a very localvore kind of existence right here, yet connect more broadly and bring in income from the outside. More and more people are going to want that kind of situation where their personal lives are very comfortable, they are in a small community, and with all the richness that Brattleboro has, and not limited to minimum wage jobs.
Jerry: One thing I would like to throw into the mix, which is deserving and I think they deserve a pat on the back, is the College of Vermont, CCV, does a great job with people at the level that we are talking about, and a little older, especially for women who have had children, and now the kids are okay, but now want to get out there and do something, they are doing a wonderful job…
Lawrence: … especially during this recession. People are saying, okay, if I’m not going to get a job I’m going back to school.
Melinda: Again, they have a lot of courses in town and also a lot of on-line courses, which suits an employee who can do his on-line course at mid-night and doesn’t have to leave work to go to school.
Phil: Even the police department do on-line training these days. They can get twice as many people through courses if they do them on-line. Anyway, we can make conclusions here as long as we like, but it seems as though there is another idea here about the richness of this community, the friendliness and the real caring, which is however, not managed and represented as well as it might be. Who’s job is it? Someone calls the Chamber and it’s Jerry job to represent business life, other people’s jobs represent social services, so where is there any concinnity here, any ‘logic among the elements’? Even though this feeling we all have is our greatest asset — if you want to come and spend the rest of your life, bring your children, your company here — is this good community feeling more central than any other single element we spoke of? Because there is no Minister in Charge of Culture!
Melinda: We need one.
Phil: Everyone here has a role, and does substantial things for the region, but if you did want to relocate with your company and family, you would have to check around all sorts of places — and we want people to come here.
Jerry: At the Chamber most of our calls are not about business, we get calls about everything, every social service agency, where the public bathroom is, the Chamber is the first line of defense. People know the word Chamber and they know you can get information, doesn’t matter about what. We struggle sometimes when we get these calls, if we tell them what’s available, is it really all true? Is it really as we say it is, and as a sales person which I have always been, one of my fears is always, gee whiz, did I just do that person I just spoke with a favor, or did I just do the company I work for, Brattleboro… am I working for them or for the person?
Lawrence: Did I stray into a deceptive stride.
Jerry: Deceptive stride, exactly. I don’t want to say ‘you gotta come here, I gotta tell ya, it’s the greatest place in the world,’ because it is not the greatest place in the world. There are a lot of good things we know about, but it took me 15 years how different, how wonderful and how idiosyncratic the place is.
Phil: Back to my Minister of Culture and Absolute Truth.
Jerry: The school system for example has a lot to be desired.
Phil: And we are not better than average America in some essential respects; Paul Capcara of Morningside Shelter thought my statistic right, 75% of Americans now live week-to-week on their wages.
Phil: When I came to the States in ’84 it was about 50%, and in the mid ‘90s, 65% did.
Jerry: Wow, Phil.
Phil: Melinda says that people who used to drop by the Drop In center at Christmas …
Melinda: And make donations, are now coming by saying that they need help.
Phil: To take us all the way back to this sense of bio-region, there seems to be a lack of management of what we have here, and instead be averaged in with San Diego and East LA, and the great state of Kansas. We are not like those places; we are a bunch of small towns in hilly country, and a company of 100 people is big here. So where is there any management which is not just one-town management? It is not present. I don’t think we are event the same as northern Vermont…
Melinda: Certainly very different. Northeastern Vermont and Northwestern Vermont and the Champlain Valley is certainly very different.
Lawrence: Rutland too.
Melinda: We are unique. South eastern Vermont and surrounds are unique, including New Hampshire just across the river, and Western Massachusetts. Maybe we do need a Minister of Culture or something like that.Look also at the situation of selling something here and have it be defective; I was looking at what happened to the visiting nurses in Whitingham, who had one patient in the previous year who felt she wasn’t treated right, and the town turned down all their funding. We have to remember that we are not perfect and are going to have experiences like that fellow did in Bellows Falls at the barber shop, so we are not perfect, and Jerry can’t advertise us as perfect, but better than most.
Jerry: That’s what we do. I go to meetings around the state of the 38 Chambers, and when we go around the table with new people in my position, new hires, and introduce ourselves — whenever I mention Brattleboro, it is the only community that get’s a response.
Jerry: I’d rather get laughs than silence.
Phil: Hey Jerry! How come you are wearing clothes?
Jerry: There is always something they have to say about Brattleboro, and about no other community, and just starting from that position I feel like I have a good product here.
Lawrence: And you are not the only one to recognize it. On these lists, we are consistently high up. There is something here that is unique, that is One and Only, and how do we harness that?
Phil: Not an oversold product, I think we are under-selling.
Jerry: I think we are underselling. It has a lot to do with economics as well, and we as a Chamber do what we can, but things cost money. It’s not that the Good Lord says, Brattleboro, I love you! And I think he does love us but wants us to fend for ourselves a little bit, and have the money to be as effective as we can, on a lot of levels. I tell you quite frankly, if someone told me they had a hundred dollars and asked me what I should do with this, I would send them to Melinda Bussino. If people come here and look around because Jerry says this is a wonderful town, and they walk down Canal Street, they might think, wait, what is going on here, this doesn’t seem like the town for me.
Phil: Fortunately there is not enough time for me to introduce to you my new ideas about bio-regional taxes…
Lawrence: To hire a minister of culture…
Phil: … sure, and other things connective after-school programs, and vocation ones appropriate here, of school I would need a master at designing education programs including their delivery, in order to create some good jobs, where kids would want to come here, and in retaining our own. And for them to be able to afford to stay here and do it, especially in ‘green jobs’ which they want, and as you say Melinda, alleviate the situation that has gone from bad to crisis.
Melinda: The poor will always be with us, and that is fine, not good, but it is always going to happen — another thing about alternatives for schools is that kids can take college courses while they are in high-school. They can take your [Lawrence’s] courses and all sorts of others, which is great.
Jerry: I must raise my hand about that. I hear that and know that that is true, but I’d rther they spent a little more time back in high-school getting an education than rushing forward and taking college courses without they prepare to get out of the high-school. We are making our kids feel good by taking college courses, but are they really getting an education, instead of what really should happen organically later on for them, and that scares me.
Melinda: I don’t know kids who are doing it, but know there are kids who come to school who are taking courses at Dartmouth, and are already focussed on all sorts of things which other kids aren’t because these are such independent thinkers.
Lawrence: I think in general most kids don’t opt to take college courses unless they have decided on a career and are ready.
Jerry: But the idea to just give them that opportunity and dangle that carrot out in front of them — then they are getting out of college lippidy spit, and they are not prepared. The foundation, the time that needs to be spent cooking the muffin is not there.
Phil: And social skills! Here is my resume! But without looking anyone in the eye…
Melinda: Text it to ya!
Lawrence: I put it right there on paper, why do you want to talk?
Melinda: I think people really should take time off between high school and college.
Jerry: I think so too.
Melinda: Parents are so… you’ve got to go to college.
Phil: Get out of here! Nicely.
Lawrence: That’s why I changed majors, 5 times….
Jerry: We would all have felt better for that.
Melinda: And got better grades.
Phil: We don’t need no Peace Corps, we need a Bio-regional Corps! I have had conversations with, or some say interviews, with 50 people now, and they think everyone else know what they do. And I sometimes ask if folks have read a bunch of other conversations, noooo. And in terms of knowing what others do, they have nothing to say, they certainly can’t read this material elsewhere. Really, no idea of the weave and the weft of what any other job is. So maybe apprenticeships and internships are good ways of looking at jobs, to get a sense if you would like them before studying for 4 years.
Melinda: I am meeting the next two weeks with 9 or 10 CCV students, in a diversity and ethnicity class, and they are going to come and interview me about what I do and about what we do. And most of them are probably moms who have been on welfare who are trying to get an education, and now thinking about human services as a possibility. If they want a sustainable income they will have to look someplace else, but it really does give folks a hands-on opportunity. We have one intern now from SIT, and she is from Tibet, trying to figure out how to translate into Tibetan economy something like she sees here.
Phil: Did you say from SIT? I know her.
Jerry: I have to split off because I have another meeting.
Lawrence: You said that at the beginning of the meeting…
Melinda: … and you are already 5 minutes late.
Phil: I’ve been waiting to point that out too…
Jerry: Will he never leave.
Phil: I have ben trying to get rid of Jerry permanently by sending him material about the delights of Cornwall…
Jerry: But honest, you sent me something recently which wasn’t so good.
Phil: And it gets really cold there, as low as 30 degrees.
Jerry Goldberg exits stage left.
Phil: Melinda, you’ve done one of these 3-way conversations before, and they are hard to anticipate.
Melinda: I wasn’t anticipating what it would be. Different people so a different discussion so I didn’t think in advance of it it might or might not…
Lawrence: The bio-regional thing is fascinating but I have a hard time wrapping my head around it, because when I think bio-region you are thinking of such diverse little communities, they each have their sense of themselves, this provincial thing that happens. It is hard here in Brattleboro trying to get a sense of working that way.
Phil: Sure. But does it make more sense to think of Brattleboro and Greenfield and Shelburne Falls and Wilmington and Chesterfield, or Brattleboro and Burlington? Which are more similar? Down here we have small valley towns, places which started up to run a mill, now changed and which re-invented; all similar incomes, weather. To get away from for example the political side of things which asks you to be immediately divisive, such as the secessionist movement in the state, and they may even win in fifty years, but right now there are people already acting as if we are a bio-region, and they don’t need to fight anyone to do so. Down at the co-op suppliers from Massachusetts are equally welcome and sometimes closer to us than Vermont growers.
Lawrence: I think the difference is that there you are dealing with agriculture, the land itself, and bio-region is by nature a land-term, and culturally I think there is a lot more flow with that. Political entities is where it starts getting sticky.
Phil: Absolutely. And why I didn’t talk about Vermont or just Windham county, who actually cares if there carrots come from Northfield, localvore count the distance not political boundaries. And culture, yes, it is an established area of similar culture.
Melinda: Compared with Northfield and California, yes.
Phil: Maybe even compared to Manchester Vermont? But culture sits right on top of agriculture — and maybe there is nothing more to say about the culture which we can identify but not manage. The alternative in preparing for a future is to consider a cultural base for it, or ‘the States’, like the rest of the country — can we empower ourselves for something good to happen, which can then we shared with others.
Melinda: Or something bad happens there which is shared with us.
Phil: Yes. It does give an element of insulation to us, so we are not averaged in with city-culture, which is the dominant form of influence. For all the wealth of people’s individual skills and collective sense, waiting for politicians to do things in this or other states seems rather passive. People seem to have come here not just for the landscape but to actually progress the agenda beyond the average. No longer hippies, but hip to something, and now manage their own businesses. I am not suggesting new things, but recognition of what already is. Jerry has left but he is a business promoter for the Brattleboro area, and he likes to stress the area or regional part of that himself. But there is no book on the area which is not political, ie, just about Vermont, no cultural book. There are leaflets on everything and you put them into a package, as separate statements.
Melinda: There is the Chamber directory which references wider things.
Phil: Yes, I’m thinking of something like that but more so.
Lawrence: Melinda, do you meet with other agencies bio-regionally?
Melinda: Yes, State-wide and Bio-regionally. There is a whole coalition of shelters.
Lawrence: Other than meeting and sharing ideas is there any kind of cooperation?
Melinda: Particularly between us and Morningside Shelter, and to a certain extent with HCRS in sharing grants — sharing the duties of a grant so that they do this and we do that. Everybody reports together to the funding source. We are doing more of it. Paul Capcara at Morningside Shelter really gets that, so does the second in command at HCRS. We can either collaborate and cooperate or compete against each other.
Phil: Much as I feel for the bio-region, how much stronger any joint approach if acknowledged by three states. Your business too transcends state-lines, and even international lines.
Lawrence: It does. When I start thinking about how to work with other schools in New Hampshire, Massachusetts or whatever, it starts getting very sticky because you have got different educational codes. We have students who do that, but they do it on their own, take the credit and go back to the school. But from my experience in the past when you start dealing with individual superintendents, and try to get it solidified at that level, it gets pretty sticky.
Phil: I’m talking about a revolution which already happened, it’s already here, the whole ethos and you must excuse me for consciously speculating on it’s worth by trying to characterize what it is, and further it. The things you have both experienced as heads of your organizations are broadly available to everyone — and for all of us, it is not political in the usual big national sense. Not liberal or democrat, not that that compasses the whole political spectrum, that’s just Washington’s scope — it’s conservative in the way that people can use their own money how they like without being told by their state what they can do, and it’s liberal democratic since the consumer choses every time they spend a dollar to spend it in products from their region. Localvores will even pay a premium for that choice.
Melinda: Only in Vermont can they tell MacDonalds a multi-national corporation, you will give people real maple syrup with their maple oatmeal if you want to sell it in Vermont. New Hampshire doesn’t say that and there are a lot of other states who produce maple syrup.
Phil: Recently something from my native Cornwall; about half the land as Vermont but same population, was the protection of the Cornish pasty
Phil: The European Union gave it legal protection as the 48th protected food in Europe, like Champagne, and Gruyere and other local foods. You can sell pasties, but a Cornish pasty has to be made in Cornwall and with specified ingredients. One great thing we have going here, especially in Vermont, is our foodstuffs. None better in the states. Vermont is like a brand which says ‘quality’, and we don’t want it reduced via imitations, since that loses jobs and income.
Melinda: The State Department in Montpelier has done a really good job of branding Vermont products.
Phil: Yes. Though only 3% of Vermont’s revenue is from agriculture, and employs about 6% of people. Tourism is about 9% revenue. The combination of the two is interesting and again, somewhat under-managed — I don’t know, I just want to be a minister of something.
Melinda: This is what it’s all working up to, now we know!
Phil: Taxing! Being in charge of local taxes would be great! And the uniform!
Lawrence: It’s fascinating to me this idea of bio-regions, and it comes from agriculture, but then how everything can come from that. Is that really what is needed. It makes sense on an agricultural level, and in a sense on a cultural level, but I am wondering if it makes sense in other ways?
Phil: Well, we either do it ourselves knowing the place, or we become averaged by those who don’t. Carolyn Partridge called me from the State House in Montpelier last week and said she loved what I am doing promoting all this localvore stuff, and listing people now. So I said keep us informed, since otherwise we don’t know what you are doing up there. No one is going to read a three-foot thick bill. I said just send me a summary paragraph now and then. We both like the farm-to-plate movement, but I recognize at the end that she doesn’t have time to talk with locals here, and actually encouraged me in getting them to talk with each other.
Lawrence: We are stuck in old forms that have been around for so long, political entities that only identify with Brattleboro or Keene, or Hinsdale, so just the idea of looking at it from a bio-regional sense is a whole shift in itself.
Phil: It is, as Melinda says, similar agencies and places could cooperate or compete. Underall I think it evolves democracy. People are closer to decision making sources, and it’s not a left or right thing, it’s a here thing. Here, not Detroit. You know what a liberal’s car looks like, right? There are 18 stickers on the back, if there are only 10 stickers, they are hedging. And much of it is save the earth oriented, but what earth? What about this earth here? Just because something is 2 feet over the southern border in Massachusetts, do we care any less? How shall we be responsible for our region if we don’t acknowledge that extra 2 feet or 30 miles? Are we expecting others to do it better than we can? I can read what is happening in Washington DC all the time, but never read about such as yourselves here, and which is more important to here?
Melinda: You are the second person to say to me this week, you are not getting enough out. There is a balance between getting it out by blowing your horn, and doing it in a meaningful way — we have to wrap up the overflow shelter in 3 or 4 weeks, so it will be a good time as we go into the next month to do something about that.
Phil: This means local media better respect the same thing, otherwise your regional voice will get drowned out by the horn blowers in DC and their great noise machines. At least we should recognize ourselves in this way.
And here the conversation continued awhile off the recording, which itself had covered much ground and on novel subjects, warts and all.