Living Economically: Taking care of the land – Shelburne Farms shines

Laurie Caswell Burke

Laurie Caswell Burke

By Laurie Caswell Burke

Shelburne Farms’ 1,400-acre working landscape is an amazing and expansive classroom. I’ve loved the Farms as I’ve gotten to know it over the past 30 years. Recently, I have been developing a deeper appreciation for their remarkable work around land stewardship: sustainable forestry, renewable energy, and water quality.

When we talk about working landscapes, crop and livestock agriculture often comes to mind. But forests are vital too. As you prepare yourself for winter, consider getting out into the Farms’ 400-acre forests for programs like “Tracking and Trailing a Vermont Carnivore,” “Owl Prowl,” or “Lenses on the Land by Moonlight.” You can even be a Forester for a Day. A collaboration between Shelburne Craft School and the Farms, “Forest to Furniture” offers a weekend opportunity to build a rustic table or bench out of a slab of wood from a tree grown on the Farms. Check out for information on all programs.

N-2-ECO-VertCome late winter, it’s sugaring season at Shelburne Farms! Newly installed pipelines will improve production. In 2013, the Farm enjoyed a record year, producing 200 gallons of syrup for the restaurant at the Inn and the Welcome Center & Farm Store. For 30 years, Bruce Beeken and Jeff Parsons ( have been designing and making furniture in their woodshop in the Farm Barn. Committed to sustainable forestry, they utilize wood from the Farms’ sustainably-managed forests and other local sources.

Shelburne Farms’ professional development program offers teachers an opportunity to explore place-based learning and education for sustainability. Teachers across the northeast, for example, have joined the Farms’ year-long programs that use outdoor classrooms, like forests, to make the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards more meaningful to their students. Twelve years ago, Shelburne Farms was a partner in starting the program “A Forest in Every Classroom” in Vermont, and it is now a national program.

At left, solar panels on the Farm Barn. Above, a Forest for Every Classroom professional development workshop at Shelburne Farms. Photos by Vera Chang

At left, solar panels on the Farm Barn. Above, a Forest for Every Classroom professional development workshop at Shelburne Farms. Photos by Vera Chang

Renewable energy at the Farms continues to flourish. Between the Green Mountain Power’s 230-plus solar panels at the farm (not to mention the solar panels on the Farm Barn roof) as well as the farm’s renewable wood sources, Shelburne Farms generates one-third of its own energy. The Farms partnered with the Vermont Energy Action Network, informing the public of true energy costs and more sustainable choices.

A commitment to water quality remains priority for the Farms, meeting or exceeding the Vermont Department of Agriculture’s Best Management Practices for water quality. Educational field trips at Shelburne Farms stress the importance of clean water. Published by Shelburne Farms, “This Lake Alive” is an interdisciplinary handbook for teaching and learning about the Lake Champlain Basin. The Watershed for Every Classroom Program and Lake Champlain Basin Program are worth exploring.

Marshall Webb shares, “Our mission is to cultivate a conservation ethic for a sustainable future, and the chief way we do that is by connecting people to good stewardship of natural resources. It’s really very simple; if we take good care of the Earth and of each other, succeeding generations can have a good life on this planet forever. Shelburne Farms is working to achieve that goal.”  As Shelburne residents, we are also stewards of this land. And as citizens, we’re responsible for caring for the planet.

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

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