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The Valley Reporter
P.O. Box 119
Waitsfield, VT 05673

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Thinking forward: A Vermont tradition

About two weeks ago, I found myself in Burlington with about 600 other Vermonters for a conference organized by the Council on the Future of Vermont. Some of you were there. The huge room at UVM's Davis Center had standing room only -- an amazing turnout of folks who were moved to come together to share and hear thoughts and to help design our collective future.

The conference was the culmination of nearly two years of work by the Council on Rural Development, gathering the opinions of nearly 4,000 Vermonters and 300 statewide organizations about what we stand for as a state, what values we have in common and hold most dear, and what we see as priorities for our long-term future. This is not the first time such a study has happened. Vermont has a tradition of civic dialogue that stretches back to the state's very beginnings. And it has made a difference. Vermont now stands out nationally in its citizens' level of engagement in public life, beautiful working landscape, clean environment, and its innovations in agriculture to name just a few.

What struck me most about the conference, as I listened to speakers, chatted with participants, and sat around in smaller discussion groups, was how significant it felt that we have the same sort of forum for public dialog and engagement right here in the Mad River Valley. Our Valley also has a long tradition of thinking forward and working together to create a better future. We're fortunate to have a Valley-wide planning district and a strong identity with place here. A truly effective "thinking forward" process means having people in the circle who represent all the faces of The Valley -- young and old, new residents and those who have been here for generations, transient and settled, Republican and Democrat, those who depend on the land for a living and those who enjoy it for recreation, those with children and those without, those with financial stability and those who consistently have to make ends meet.

Two years ago, that sort of open dialog among folks in The Valley got started at Knoll Farm and immediately led to the creation of the Valley Futures Network, turning ideas to concrete action in a number of ways -- the preservation of the Kingsbury Farm, the Walk and Roll festival, Valley Moves, and other initiatives.

Getting together to talk to people, some of whom you don't know, is not everyone's cup of tea. And not everyone can take a day off work or away from kids. Everyone is different. In our work at Whole Communities, where diverse people from around the country gather, that is one thing, perhaps above all else, that we have learned. And it has become our main goal to do what we can to make everyone feel comfortable and included. This summer there are at least two ways to join the conversation about the future of our Valley: at an overnight gathering that Whole Communities will host and guide at Knoll Farm on July 10 and 11; and at the Story Potluck on July 11, a dinner picnic and chance for folks to listen and tell stories about past hard times and how this Valley and its people sustained them. We hope to see many of you there.

Helen Whybrow is the co-owner of the Knoll Farm in Fayston.


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