I just got back from two fascinating days at the first ever Slow Living Summit in Brattleboro, VT. Designed to bring together a variety of people from business, education, government and non-profit organizations from New England and beyond, the Summit was an intensive exploration of ways to build healthy, thriving local economies while encouraging, mentoring and supporting a new generation of activists, entrepreneurs and engaged citizens. It was also scheduled as part of the lead up to the 10th annual Strolling of the Heifers, a parade focused on highlighting our agricultural heritage and featuring scores of heifers ambling up the town’s historic Main Street, along with many, many farmers, future farmers, cows, bulls, horses, goats, poultry, floats, tractors, bands, clowns, and much more. We were able to set up our Yestermorrow kiosk at the Live Green Expo which is held in conjunction with the parade.
I was intrigued by the idea of the Slow Living Summit partly because of my recent interest in Slow Food and Slow Money, recent initiatives to organize community based renewable energy projects, and the overall concept of how through our everyday actions and purchasing decisions we can help support a local economy rooted in sustainability. The Summit brought together participants from all over New England interested in exploring these themes, through five tracks: Food and Agriculture, Energy and Resources, Economy/Business/Finances/Entrepreneurship, Education for Sustainability, and Quality of Life. In addition, we heard from keynote speakers Chuck Ross, the Vermont Secretary of Agriculture, Gary Hirschberg from Stonyfield Farm, Christine Bushway from the Organic Trade Association and Bill McKibben from 350.org.
Over the course of the 2-day Summit, I met a whole host of interesting folks. One was Leah Cook, whose story and family business, Crown of Maine, was really inspiring. Starting out as a small family potato farm in northern Maine, their business has grown to distribute a wide variety of locally grown products from 150+ Maine farms to stores, restaurants, and buying clubs across the state. Another was Jesse Laflamme, who runs Pete and Gerry's organic egg farm in NH and who talked about how the egg farming industry is consolidated in an amazingly small number of (mega) farms in this country, and why buying organic eggs makes a difference. I also heard from Andrew Meyer from Vermont Soy and Vermont Natural Coatings talking about some of the many changes and innovations happening in Hardwick, VT around the creation of an integrated local food system. It's particularly inspiring to me to see so many young people involved in farming, entrepreneurship, and new ways of thinking about how to support local economies. In many ways these are the same sorts of people who are drawn to what we're doing at Yestermorrow, whether they want to know how to create a piece furniture, a farm, a landscape or a house. It's nice to know there are other folks out there working on these many related issues, and that there's a new forum for discussion of these topics.
To read summaries of many of the panels and keynotes from the Summit, check out the Slow Living Summit blog at http://slowlivingsummit.wordpress.com/.
-Kate Stephenson, Executive Director