A person from New York recently purchased the 54-acre property next door to the house I rent in Brookfield, Vermont. I contacted him and told him I’d keep an eye on the place, and to ask him whether I could pasture my sheep and/or cows on the fields that he now owns (originally part of the farm we rent). He answered that he would “like to let it grow back naturally.”
I have heard this often — including from the prior two owners of his piece; out-of-staters come and gone. It is not for me to tell New Yorkers what to do with their property, but there is a vast gulf in understanding of what “grow back naturally” means. And that gulf is a mirror of today’s world.
The wonderful Kentucky writer Wendell Berry has observed that true conservation of land arises from knowing stewardship, not “setting aside as wild.” The consequence of allowing Vermont’s agricultural landscape to return to wilderness is more than just the loss of views, or even the loss of economic revenue — it is the disappearance of true “culture,” of which so little remains. It is also a “trend” that increases pollution by shifting ever more food production to distant industrialized (fossil-fuel dependent) systems, to be trucked, flown or shipped ever greater distances to Vermont tables, in an increasing dependence on government and corporations to eat. This is the opposite of Vermont’s culture.
I revel in different cultures, and have always sought them out. I hitch-hiked across the nation for two months in 1982, after working the summer at Yellowstone National Park, and saw many American “cultures.” (In Yellowstone, the local employees had their own culture, and called visitors “Tour-ons”, a blend of tourist and moron, earned through tales of folly — grizzlies and bison are “locals” intolerant of stupidity, as are rivers and hotsprings.)
I worked a summer in Ogunquit, Maine; another in Casco, Maine: each had very different cultures; both had social lines between locals and outsiders. I have spent several years in Europe: cultures can vary greatly across England, let alone the borders with Wales, Scotland, or Ireland. And everywhere, and always, they have names for the non-locals. In Vermont, it is “flatlander.”
By “flatlander,” what is meant is not that outsiders (like the majority of those in Chittenden, or say, Putney) arrived from flat places afar, but that they are unfamiliar with the creed of frugality, agriculture and individualism that predominates in the hills around them and in the times before their arrival. Vermonters can sniff a flatlander from a glance — resulting in numerous (colorblind) microaggressions.
Vermonters have become outnumbered by the tourists, too many of whom don’t go home for the summer. Instead of respecting, or even revering, the vestiges of true local culture that Vermont offers, they exploit it for export, or rent it for profit, or sneer at it (and their neighbors and forebears) in derision. This is hardly the Vermont way: this is the way of the carpetbagger; the exploiter; the “Boomer.” Split it up, flip it, profit from it, rule over it. Oh, and then with all the farms and locals gone, let it “grow back naturally.”
The stain of suburban sprawl on Vermont may be hailed as the price of progress, but it is paid at the expense of genuine historic culture — now under open attack. Those (such as “New Yorker” Xusana Davis, Imported Racial Equity Director) who invoke the Abenaki as a political weapon are likely the most distant from comprehension about where their food comes from, or what it is to live off the land. They are grotesquely ignorant of Vermont’s history, and that we natives have been passing that awareness of our connection to our landscape on to our children, for generations. (Perhaps Vermonters have a bit of the Amish strain in their culture).
Writer Wendell Berry has warned us all — New Yorker and Vermonter alike — of the threat of our growing ignorance of that connection to soil and community:
The American Indian … knew how to live in the country without making violence the invariable mode of his relation to it; in fact, from the ecologist’s or the conservationist’s point of view, he did it no violence. This is because he had, in place of what we would call education, a fully integrated culture, the content of which was a highly complex sense of his dependence on the earth. The same, I believe, was generally true of the peasants of certain old agricultural societies, particularly in the Orient. They belonged by an intricate awareness to the earth they lived on and by, which meant that they respected it, which meant that they practiced strict economies in the use of it. (The Long-Legged House, 1965)
Land prices in Vermont are skyrocketing as out-of-staters speculate on Vermont’s land commodity. New construction of absurdly ostentatious homes abounds in the midst of COVID, just to torment the locals whose children can kiss home ownership good-bye in the Green Mountains. Those EV cars and solar panels will be disposed of in a mountainous Vermont landfill, along with an infinite amount of junk du jour. The locals will be banned from trapping, or hunting, or otherwise preserving knowledge of how to eat off the land rather than out of a can. Farm animals will be restricted — they’re loud and smelly, and they may run in the road.
Yes, the line between the locals and the invaders is clearer than ever in Vermont. It is so tragic to watch the State mega-bureaucracy economically devour itself and us along with it, through an endless cancer of self-enrichment. For instance, Vermont has lost another 80 dairy farms during COVID: the government’s plan is to hire 33 new state employees to boost agriculture, at a cost to exceed $23 million annually. This will drive taxes higher, making farm profitability yet more unviable, in a cycle that has been happening for 100 years.
Tragically, much like the world’s irrevocable loss of some 93% of heirloom vegetable varieties, that knowledge of stewardship — how to make hay, or milk a cow, or slaughter a sheep — is evaporating forever. And one of the rare pockets where some vestige of that culture remains is here in Vermont:
Few local autonomies remain anywhere in the world today, perhaps least of all in the wealthy countries. And of those wealthy countries, my home country of Britain is among the sorriest of the lot, lacking the historical continuity of small-scale agrarianism that clings on in pockets in the Americas, and lacking the local food cultures and peasant traditions that cling on in parts of Europe.” (A Small Farm Future, Chris Smaje)
Vermont’s remnant of truly “agricultural” culture is a rare and precious gift to be preserved — don’t we wish we had knowledge of the now-lost Abenaki tribes? Instead, the race-baiters and profiteers from New York, Chicago, and all points flat, have descended on these Green Mountains to recast our history as one of white supremacism instead of hard-working resilience; backwards and ignorant instead of “educated”; ugly instead of beautiful; white-privileged rather than proudly poor. We have been visited by eugenicists before, who held similar views of the locals.
Wendell Berry dubbed globalization “the greatest weapon of mass destruction in human history,” not just because of what it does to economies, but because it is a destroyer of culture. The new Progressive ideology infecting Vermont is religiously determined to destroy and pervert Vermont’s history and culture, and replace it with…. “diversity.” In the name of multiculturalism, Vermont’s wonderful culture and legacy are being destroyed.
As Ryszard Legutko, the professor who was barred from speaking at Middlebury College in 2019, writes in his book The Demon in Democracy:
Multiculturalism … is nothing more than a program to build a society in which there exist not many cultures, but many political identities attached to many real or, more often, imagined collectives. … It has little to do with a defense of the rich fabric of societies and their historically constituted communities, but should be rather seen as a program of politicization of certain groups that could radically change the fabric of society. … Multiculturalism is not about culture, but about politics. (p.95)
If unique cultures are to be dissolved in the name of a political ideology, the current “social justice war” on Vermont’s culture is stronger than carborane superacids. This ideology says Vermonters are racists, and their “system” of life and subsistence farming has always been based on “colonizing,” oppressing, and destroying. But colonizing and destroying is what this newfangled, race-based ideology is doing right before our eyes, in grand totalitarian fashion.
By destroying traditional social habits of the people, by dissolving their natural collective consciousness into individual constituents, by licensing the opinions of the most foolish, by substituting instruction for education, by encouraging cleverness rather than wisdom, the upstart rather than the qualified, by fostering a notion of getting on to which the alternative is a hopeless apathy, Liberalism can prepare the way for that which is its own negation: the artificial, mechanised or brutalised control which is a desperate remedy for its chaos. (Christianity and Culture)
Food prices are already escalating under inflation, compounded by long-distance shipping. How can a Vermonter explain to a Flatlander, that when the currency collapses, the land he “let grow back naturally” will be a symbol of our collective folly, rather than his family’s life-saving food source?
“Let them eat cake.” That’s what (Great-Depression-remembering) Vermonters will say. Let the pompous, government-dependent, farmer-scorning, arrogant Uber-eaters order take-out dinners in styrofoam boxes on their cell phones, while standing in their sequestered-carbon forests. That’s an unsustainable modern disconnect, and it has no remedy for its own chaos.
John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield, and the former pastor of the First Congregational Church of Westfield. © Copyright True North Reports 2021. All rights reserved.