This article was written for The Hardwick Gazette of Hardwick, Vermont. An edited version was published in the paper on April 13, 2011. The headline read “Young Returners and Newcomers Drawn to Opportunities and Lifestyle.”
Kids who were raised in the small towns of Vermont have not always been able to pursue their goals and make a living in the state they call home. But to hear the stories of the young people who have recently returned or moved to the Northeast Kingdom is to realize that this is becoming a place for young people to do just that. The strength of the community here, and an increasing number of steady jobs, is not only drawing Vermonters back home, but also convincing young people from around the country to consider life in the Northeast Kingdom.
“Some are idealistic, some are cynical, and some are naïve,” says Craftsbury resident Tim Patterson of the young people who have moved to the Hardwick area in the last few years. “But all of them are ready to roll up their sleeves and work.” Patterson, 28, was raised in Craftsbury and lived in Connecticut, Colorado, and in Southeast Asia, before returning home in 2009 to work as the Director of Advancement at Sterling College.
Another Vermont native, Anna Schulz, moved to Craftsbury two years ago to work with local schools and institutions as an Americorps VISTA through VT Campus Compact. “I knew that I wanted to come back to Vermont,” says Schulz, 23, whose return followed her graduation from Harvard University. Schulz lives in a house with a dozen other people under 25. “We joke that we’ve lowered the mean age of Craftsbury by a few years,” she says. “But we are attracted to the community. The people here are generous, kind, hard-working, and humble.”
The community that drew Schulz and Patterson back home is strong enough to attract outsiders as well.
Born in the suburbs of Chicago, Vince Razionale lived in Boston and New York City before moving to Vermont this past January. Razionale, 25, lives in Hardwick with his wife, Katrina Vahedi, and works in Sales and Marketing for the Cellars at Jasper Hill. Vahedi, 29, is a native of California, lived in New York briefly, and is now working on a beekeeping project for Jasper Hill Farm. Razionale believes strongly in the mission of the Cellars, and both he and Vahedi were attracted to the sense of community among agricultural businesses in this area. The couple is expecting a baby in May, and their unborn child also played a large part in their move to the Northeast Kingdom. “The quality of health care here, and ease of acquiring it, couldn’t be more different from what we would have suffered through in New York,” Vahedi says. “Not to mention, this is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I love knowing that our kids will be able to call this kind of beauty ‘home.’”
While Razionale works in the Cellars, Ivy Pagliari milks the cows next door, in the barn at Jasper Hill Farm. Pagliari, 29, grew up in Ohio and was living in China when she first came to Vermont, six years ago. She needed to return to the states for a summer to renew her Chinese visa. “I wanted to work on a farm that summer, and it was already April” Pagliari remembers. “So I found a place where the growing season hadn’t started yet.” She worked on several farms before moving to Hardwick and starting work as a Milker at Jasper Hill Farm last Fall. “Eventually, I’d like to have a dairy of my own,” says Pagliari. “For now, this is a great place to work and learn and save money.”
Just down the road in Greensboro, Hill Farmstead Brewery recently hired Daniel Suarez, who moved from Brooklyn to Vermont in January with his girlfriend, Taylor Cocalis. Cocalis, 27, is self-employed as the Co-Founder of Good Food Jobs, an online search tool for food-related work opportunities. The nature of her website exposes Cocalis to the increasing number of jobs available in this area. “If I didn’t already have a job, I would be interested in so many of the opportunities available in Vermont,” says Cocalis. “Most of the time I have to hold myself back from the positions I see.”
As a young person myself, I moved to Craftsbury last November to work in the field and the washhouse at Pete’s Greens. I couldn’t help but want to live within an agricultural community that seemed so supportive of small, local businesses. The first time I came to Vermont, I met Blair Marvin and Andrew Heyn at Elmore Mountain Bread, Shaun Hill at Hill Farmstead Brewery, and Marisa Mauro at Ploughgate Creamery. Their success and collaboration in their own ventures made me want to live near them, learn from them, and maybe (one day) start a business of my own here. As Mauro puts it, “There’s so much collaboration between producers here. We can bounce ideas off each other, and help each other out when we need it. There’s no community, even in Vermont, quite like this one.”
The reality of young people moving to the Hardwick area hints at a shift in the trend of rural-urban migration. “Alternative agriculture and alternative energy are attracting young people to rural areas,” says High Mowing Seeds owner Tom Stearns. “Some young people are coming here to stay, and some are coming to gain skills to bring back to their home communities. Both are hopeful trends.” High Mowing Seeds has nearly forty employees, several of whom are young people who returned or moved to Vermont to work there. “Sterling College has brought in interesting people for decades, and many of them have stayed,” says Stearns. “Now there’s a new generation of young people. It’s not so much the educational institutions that are attracting them, but the businesses here.”
Elena Gustavson of the Center for an Agricultural Economy shares Stearns’ hopeful sentiments. “We want to attract people here whose experiences elsewhere will contribute to this place,” she says, “and at the same time prepare people growing up here to stay and grow into the sort of careers that are becoming available in this area.”
Considering the appeal of this community, the young people who have returned or moved here, and the work they have chosen to pursue, it is clear that this effort is well underway.