John Klar: Vermont’s tourist trap — the dangers of out-of-state wealth

Vermont’s economy and culture were both built on self-sufficiency by thousands of small farms (not on the backs of black slaves toiling in Green Mountain winters). Integral to those farms was an idea central to modern financial investing: diversification. In investing, the idea is that by diversifying one’s portfolio, if one class of asset declines, others that grow in value can offset those losses. By farming not just milk, but many other products “in season,” Vermont’s family farms diversified wisely — logs, maple syrup, meats, vegetables, cedar oil, and value-added products such as cheese and butter, provided alternative sources of sustenance and income. If one crop failed, or the market collapsed, other goods were available to offset that shortfall.

John Klar

Twenty-first century Vermont has abandoned that wisdom. Manufacturing jobs have not endured in Vermont — it doesn’t make much sense to truck in the materials to fabricate products to be trucked out again, and Vermont’s geography has always stymied such investments. Dairy farms have declined steadily: only a relative handful of mostly large dairies remain. Lost with them is the diversity of livestock once available in Vermont.

Tourism has grown as a staple of Vermont’s economy, but this is dangerous folly. For one thing, Vermont’s tourism has been built on the agriculture that tourism is destroying. This is not to say that there is not growth for farms in agritourism, but that if the farms disappear so too will much of the appeal of our hillsides, as well as the views. But also, spiking real estate prices to satisfy the droves of transplants moving here make farmland cost prohibitive.

History teaches that when an economy declines, luxury expenditures (including vacations) are the first to go. Destination weddings, craft breweries and high-priced vodka may rule the day today, but they will all be bankrupted the day the natural cycle of economic decline returns. Imagine what the Great Depression would look like in Vermont in 2022.

We live in a nation where the vast majority of citizens have lost any comprehension of agriculture or its central importance to economies and human health. This process advanced quickly in urban areas: Vermont has been one of the few rural places in America where poor white farmers just kept on doing the only thing they knew — farm. COVID has revealed the cataclysmic danger of dependency on industrial food transported many thousands of miles — and indeed Vermont has increased meat production faster than its facilities can keep pace with. But that corporate food supply, just like the industrial methods employed to produce it, is not sustainable.

Vermont’s tourist “industry” is not sustainable as the sole source of economic growth. Though profiteers dream of crafting a gentrified Vermont a la Martha’s Vineyard, the reality of massive federal money-printing will intrude on that fantasy. Inflation will steadily amplify, shrinking real wealth and vacation budgets. Especially hard hit will be food prices: what a shame that Vermont has hitched its economic future to an unsustainable tourism fantasy rather than the core that all humans will always need — nourishing food. This was always Vermont’s core, until bureaucratic growth and corporate domination eclipsed and prayed upon that food-producing culture. The exploitation of Vermont’s farming culture for the profit-making of nonfarmers is coming to a close.

The companion hypocrisy is the incessant railing about the “climate emergency” by elites who never say a peep against the skiing “industry” or the environmental idiocy of advertising to attract people to drive fossil fuel cars here to peep at leaves. Vermont’s tourism is both an environmental and an economic folly: policymakers are presently oblivious of this; future generations will know it through experience.

Dear reader, perhaps this essay is altogether too gloomy for those steeped in cognitive dissonance. But there is an alternative: the national economy thrives; the national debt does not produce inflation; corporations begin making healthy fresh local food to meet the demand of consumers. All three of these are likely impossible, and all three are necessary to avert the looming peril we face as Americans.

As out-of-staters flock to Vermont to condemn it for being racist and backwards, and in need of modernizing, they are pounding the last nails in the coffin of that self-reliance which has always been Vermont’s culture. And when stagflation descends upon America — a declining economy coupled with unprecedented debt that forces interest rates to rise and the currency to wobble — Vermonters will be left holding the bag — of nothing.

The common-sense diversification that was necessary for Vermont farms is being discarded in favor of high-profit specialization. That works fine until history repeats itself, and reality intrudes — humans all need food. Vermont has abandoned its farming creed, dependency on technocrats and fools has expanded. When the economy implodes, there are few alternative economic directions for Vermonters to pursue. Agricultural land developed for subdivisions will be unavailable to revert back to food production; breeding stock has largely disappeared.

Note: I am not attacking tourism or related businesses, any more than I would be attacking maple syrup production if I said a farm that relied upon that alone incurred risks that are avoided by diversification. Progressives advertise solar panels as bringing economic growth to Vermont, but these are not manufactured here, are inefficient and polluting, and have been subsidized by a grotesquely regressive wealth transfer from poor to rich through net-metering hijinks. Snowmaking equipment is no more “green” that the chairlifts and long-distant commutes encouraged to fill the slopes — and it is a dangerous economic dependency that also focuses wealth in a few hands rather than dispersed widely — as with farm production. But here again I am not calling for ending skiing — I am pointing out the hypocrisy and vulnerability that attach to that tourist-dependent industry, not to small local farms.

Additionally, this tourist-centric force in Vermont is making housing unaffordable — both home ownership and rents) for large numbers of native Vermonters: places like Stowe have become cost-prohibitive for locals, as tourists mob Airbnb rentals and buy up properties to rent at nosebleed prices. This too is a cost of tourism dependency that undermines Vermont and forces human capital to emigrate for affordability.

Vermont’s economic model has become a tourist trap — not for the visitors, but for the residents of this once-agrarian state — when the rich tourists stop visiting. Supporting small farms is not just good for community, it’s good for business, and it’s good for survival.

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.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/formulanone

10 thoughts on “John Klar: Vermont’s tourist trap — the dangers of out-of-state wealth

  1. John.
    There are a whole lot of people around here still that have watched what was right and working then what has gone wrong that landed the state here.
    “History” is alive and well in the minds of the deeply rooted people still here.

    You don’t mention over-regulation and the impact that has had upon Vermont.
    That Over Regulation was quite often put into place by Non-Vermont Implants to the state- who at one time were Tourists- I might add (you paid a high price for Bernie and his followers)
    It’s not like it was us natives that voted to cook our own gooses and make our lives even harder than they already are. And the outta state Do-Gooders have done us very little good, thanks for nothing.

    Over Regulation and what is really simply ‘extremism’ is what has put a whole lot of places right out of business and these jobs lost were never replaced (Vermont Yankee anyone? I watched that loss drive that entire area downward into the mess it now is today)
    Yes, the environment is of the utmost importance, however, we need some sane balanced thinking too.
    Humans do need to live here and produce to survive and thrive so that our future generations have a place to exist as well. The fact that the state is depopulating proves that the balance is off and people can’t make it and leave. This isn’t rocket science, many of us have watched this happen over the decades. The over regulation, and over taxation has made it impossible and no longer profitable to do a whole lot of things that historically “worked” for Vermonters. Much of what you are describing is the fallout of THAT.
    I live in NH and I’m shocked at the high prices of everything whenever I go to Vermont compared to NHs prices. If people can’t buy the stuff then guess what- the producers don’t have a business.
    It’s the high cost of everything down the pipeline that makes whatever you are producing that much higher in cost.
    People can’t afford the stuff John. I’d myself buy all sorts of what you are producing, but we can’t afford too and that right there is a huge part of the issue. The state is not competitive at all. It’s as though the cost of producing means nothing at all to these people with their fantasy land-like ideas.

    Just yesterday I was at the Salvation Army store locally and witnessed a car with Vermont plates stuffing that car right to the roof with cart after cart of stuff they just bought- I would think for resale.
    They are doing this because it’s so much cheaper over here.
    THIS is because we are not taxed to death in NH so we can now produce for less money- and this ripples right down to wares in a second hand store.. the ripple effect is right across the board.
    In my opinion, a huge part of the issues in Vermont is that Vermont is now unaffordable FOR Vermonters!!
    I’m talking about your average people out there, not the wealthy outta staters that came and parked their money and opinions in the state.
    The life blood of the state is the “Normals”, the native population, and they cannot afford to make it because of what the wealthy people have created- and most of them were tourists at one point.
    So what did that tourism dollar really get for you?
    It’s really a displacement plan that has gone on…
    A whole lot of NHs population are now Vermonters that left the state for greener pastures over here in the granite state.
    This is major stuff that you didn’t touch upon here that needs fixing.
    “Good People Vote With Their Feet” is a very true statement.

  2. Thank you very much for this piece John. The agrarian Vermont of lore is indeed drowning under a tsunami of overwhelming forces. Maybe Ken Bergmann has a good suggestion – have city-folk buy stakes in farms and keep them going with their off-farm incomes. That might keep the small farms alive until the collapse of our greater society, which will happen.

  3. Thank you for this article John. Vermont needs more folks like you. I wish I could be one of them but my life has gone in another direction. I almost made the move up there in the late 70’s but … ah well. Today, I am a second home owner in Vermont and I love being there. Yes. I know I am a tourist but I wouldn’t want to change things one bit. Matter of fact, I wish things could be more like they were back then. I shouldn’t have bought a house. I should have bought a stake in a real farm where I could have stayed for a few months each summer. Maybe some farms would be open to such a thing.

  4. This also results in fewer children living here. Where I live now there are no kids anywhere near me; just older people and mostly summer homes filled with well to do visitors. What sort of future does VT have when we aren’t building families here?

  5. Tourism is one thing. Settling in, home buying, home building is likely to have more impact on Vermont than Tourism. Vermont is being targeted by 1.West Coast residents that have been in the many fire and draught areas or in arid areas that show no promise of relief 2. many whose life style has been changed by the pandemic. Home building is way up. Suberbanizing is probably a worse threat than tourism.

  6. Our dependence is on FOREIGN money – not domestic tourism. Don’t forget the clandestine meeting between Phil, Jim and David w/the CCP, February 2019. The CCP referred to Vermont as an open oxygen bar and referred to Vermonters as “unsophisticated.” It was all written up by the CCP consolute office press release. A deep dive into facts about who owns what in this State and where the money is coming from should clear up any questions of where this State has clearly gone. The Kingdom Con was just the beginning of the wholesale sell out of Vermont and it’s citizens.

  7. My ancestors came to Vermont looking for a place to survive and prosper.
    They hailed from Providence Rhode Island in the late 1700’s looking for a better life.
    They cleared the land and built their farms, changing the landscape to one of a bountiful harvest, resulting from their labors.
    Their goals of farming the land were for the sacred purpose of survival.

    Those coming to Vermont today must understand the harvest does not originate in the Store!

    • Yes! so many tourists and even our own children have no idea where food comes from. they want to save all the animals lives and buy their meat from the store

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