Sustainability students head to Vermont, the birthplace of the conservation movement

By Janel Shoun on 7/26/2011



What if you could travel to a land of visionary leaders, enjoy majestic views of a great inland lake, walk across the fingerprints of an ancient glacier etched on the rocks of a deep gorge and eat fresh cheese and Chunky Monkey ice cream – all in one week?
Graduate and undergraduate students from the Institute for Sustainable Practice (ISP) experienced all that and more during the “Roots of Sustainability” tour of Vermont July 9-14.
“Sustainable practice is a diverse and growing field that our students need to appreciate and experience in real application,” said Dodd Galbreath, executive director of the ISP. “The people of Vermont live with a quality of life unrealized in most of our nation. To sustain the lives they love and enjoy, they spend and invest locally. All future sustainability professionals need to know that these concepts are real, successful and are achieved through intentional investment and effort.”
Although students can select from more than eight academic concentrations – from creation care to green business operation, sustainability majors in any area benefitted from the trip to Vermont, where earth stewardship has become more than a crusade – it has become a daily way of life for many Vermonters.
“Vermont residents – they just get it. It’s second nature to them,” said Hayley King, a Nashville student earning her master’s in sustainable practice with a concentration in green building. “I had never been to Vermont before and wanted to expand my cultural knowledge. I learned what it is like to be around people who have already won the battle that I’m constantly fighting; they appreciate everything they have.”
Among those who modeled daily sustainable living and business operation were the residents at the Cobb Hill community, a cohousing establishment and cooperative of artisan cheesemakers located on a 260-acre farmstead. The community operates Cobb Hill Cheese and Cedar Mountain Farm (a community supported agriculture venture), and includes other agricultural enterprises such as maple sugaring, raising sheep and pigs, harvesting eggs and beekeeping.
Other places visited during the trip included the famed Ben and Jerry’s ice cream company, well-known for their environmental leanings and their funky ice cream flavor names; the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, a non-profit organization dedicated to rehabilitating avian wildlife and education; and Shelburne Farms, a 1,400-acre farm, historic site and environmental education center built by Dr. William Seward and his wife, Lila Vanderbilt Webb, the granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt. The ISP group participated on a guided tour of the farm led by Marshall Webb, a descendent in the famous family.
Cobb Hill Community
Vermont State Capitol
Land management and creation care were highlighted with a group devotional at the bottom of the beautiful Quechee Gorge and a visit to Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, created in 1992 as the only national park to tell the story of conservation history and the evolution of land stewardship in America.
The park is located on the boyhood home of George Perkins Marsh, one of America's first conservationists, and later the home of Frederick Billings, a conservationist, a pioneer in reforestation and scientific farm management and a railroad builder, who extended the principles of land management first introduced by Marsh. Today the park seeks to put the idea of conservation stewardship into a modern context, interpreting the ways humans can balance natural resource conservation with the requirements of our twenty-first century world.
“I wanted to see how sustainability can really work as part of the community as opposed to operating in addition to community,” said Jay Saar, an undergraduate sustainable practice major from Bellevue, Tenn. “My most memorable part of the trip was seeing how the people at each location weren't so much wanting to scream about the benefits of sustainable living, but had ingrained it in their lives, and wanted to explain calmly with the hope that the ideal would stay with us.”
Other stops included the Vermont capitol building; the Vermont Historical Society Museum; The Intervale Farm, a nationally recognized center for sustainable agriculture; the New England Culinary Institute; and the Vermont Environmental Law Program. The group also traveled outside Vermont to see Walden Pond, the legendary home of Henry David Thoreau, located in Concord, Massachusetts.
The 23 students who participated in the ISP travel experience also completed assigned book readings and coursework tailored to their sustainability majors. Students served as guides on the trip by providing a pre-researched overview of each activity’s significance and chronicling the day in photos.
The sustainability master’s programs require attendance on this trip or an international trip relevant to the specific course of study. Graduate students can choose to focus on green building and development, sustainable food systems, clean energy technology and climate change, faith-based creation care, green business performance and more. Undergraduate students can choose one of three majors: sustainable practice, environmental management and technology or conservation and sustainable ecology.
“Sustainability managers and leaders are becoming much like information technology officers are in the business world today: companies and organizations of all sizes are gradually depending on new practitioners and leadership. The Vermont experience shows how crucial awareness of the fundamental culture of sustainability is to society or a corporation,” said Galbreath.
“In the long run my goal is to try to gain a seamless integration of sustainable practices into American life,” said Saar, “and the way that Vermonters have accepted many of the principles is a great model.”
The view of Lake Champlain from Shelburne Farms.
Vermont Environmental Law Program: Law school done the Vermont way.