Living Economically: Shelburne Farms – cultivating an ethic of sustainability

Laurie Caswell BurkeBy Laurie Caswell Burke

Visitors of Shelburne Farms are greeted by a breathtaking expanse of fields, pastures, grazing animals, and grand buildings. Travelers from across the globe come here for the magnificence of its campus grounds, a taste of its award-winning farmstead cheese, and a stay at its internationally-recognized inn and restaurant. Shelburne Farms is much more than its impressive products and surroundings. It is an organization with so many layers, one could deepen their relationship with the farm for a lifetime.

Vera Chang, public relations and marketing director at the Farms, reflects: “[The Shelburne Farms] 1,400-acre campus serves as an outdoor classroom and agritourism destination for thousands each year. Beyond the Farms’ exterior … there is something even more vibrant: the nonprofit’s primary mission and work advancing education for sustainability.”

In late September, the Education for Sustainable Summit hosted 90 educators from across the nation to exchange ideas on classroom education, focusing on the integration of inquiry with action. Shelburne Farms’ year-round education for sustainability helps empower teachers and students as agents of educational and societal change.

“Education for sustainability is about connecting students to the world and breathing life into curriculum,” said Shelburne Farms Director of Professional Development Jen Cirillo. “The educators that came to Shelburne Farms for the Education for Sustainability Summit are part of a network working to bridge disciplines, schools, and communities.”

Participants gather at the Inn at Shelburne Farms for a Farm-Based Education Forum held Oct. 22 and 23. Attendees discussed creating new agritourism opportunities through marketing. Workshop panelists included representatives from Liberty Hill Farm and members of the Farm to Plate Agritourism Task Force, Vermont Farm Tours, and VT Farm to Plate.

Participants gather at the Inn at Shelburne Farms for a Farm-Based Education Forum held Oct. 22 and 23. Attendees discussed creating new agritourism opportunities through marketing. Workshop panelists included representatives from Liberty Hill Farm and members of the Farm to Plate Agritourism Task Force, Vermont Farm Tours, and VT Farm to Plate.

Last week, over 140 farmers, educators, agricultural service providers, and tourism enterprises gathered for two days of statewide farm tours and skill-building workshops at Shelburne Farms. The Farm-Based Education Forum, entitled “Agritourism, Education, and Economics on Your Farm,” was a success. Accompanied by a delicious, farm-fresh meal prepared by the chefs at the Inn at Shelburne Farms, a Forum highlight was the announcement of an $88,500 agritourism grant awarded to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, with Shelburne Farms as a key partner.

“We’re excited to work with a team of partners throughout the state to pioneer innovative approaches to consumer education around healthy food systems and share agritourism strategies,” said Shelburne Farms Vice President and Director of Programs Megan Camp. “An equitable and ecologically- and economically-viable food system goes hand-in-hand with the big ideas of sustainability.”

These are only two of the gatherings at Shelburne Farms that focus on education for sustainability. Living in Shelburne, there are many reasons to get involved and various ways to support the Farms’ mission to cultivate positive change. It is, of course, a place to enjoy a leisurely walk, attend summer camp and the many public programs, and visit the animals at the Children’s Farmyard. Perhaps less visible, but nonetheless important, is Shelburne Farms’ part in a woven network of programs and partnerships working to transform education. As community members, we are all stewards of Shelburne Farms’ nonprofit work, as well our world and the generations to come.

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This article is the first in a three-part series about Shelburne Farms.

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