Engaging Journeys, Engaged Journalism

Postcard From Vermont

Some folks have such a kindly way of poking even sore points that you end up wanting to thank them.

With that general observation we happily introduce our Cindy Hill, garlic scape artistnew Green Mountains correspondent, Cindy Hill, who sends her first Postcard from Vermont. There’s not much question that Cindy is a great writer. She’s also an obsessed gardener (her words), mom, and fiddle player, not to mention a respected environmental attorney who hails from Middlebury, Vermont. In this week’s issue she explains just why Vermont residents, not generally fond of big anything — especially big government, but big business also — are starting to feel genuine fondness for corporate California agriculture.

Given that “Buy Local is the official Vermont mantra” and that the sparsely peopled Green Mountain State “has the highest density of farmers’ markets and micro-brewers and the lowest density of McDonald’s and Walmarts in the country,” you may be as surprised — shocked — by Cindy’s discovery as we were.

Getting back to the Buy Local idea lets us pick up where we left off last week. At the Center for Economic Development’s annual CSU, Chico economic forecasting session a number of years ago, speakers predicted that tourism would be the number one industry in Northern California within 20 years.

“Aha!” I remember thinking, being a hardcore Northern Californian and also hugely invested in California tourism. As a travel writer whose primary focus was California I considered myself more a lifelong student — this place being one of the most amazing on earth — and as a result a dedicated Californiac.

The Californiac in me was intrigued by the notion that tourism could play a major role in Northern California’s future economic development. And there are certainly worse things to hang your hat on. Tourism supports mom-and-pop small businesses (restaurants, B&Bs, retail shops, guide companies) that can generate decent family incomes — sustainable and sustaining local and regional businesses, in fact, to the extent that tourism dollars stay within the region.

Tourism can be a viable add-on to other businesses too, including family farming and various arts-related enterprises. Put a B&B unit or two out by the barn or above the studio and it’s possible for visitors to relax in the country or small-town neighborhood and remember a way of life long gone elsewhere.

Considering that 85 percent of all travel in California is by Californians, it only makes sense to invite harried city folks to come visit rural Northern California.

Anyway, that economic development news was just the beginning of the rather roundabout process that finally resulted in Up the Road. Travel in general — the idea of getting up the road, or starting in one place and ending up in another — became the working metaphor that connected both purpose and place.

If we managed to put our educational program “on the road” we could point to specific projects and businesses along the way that demonstrate sustainability, some particular, often unique interweaving of economic development with both social opportunity and environmental awareness or protection. And make sure people had a good time to boot.

Which is why travelers will soon be able to go to Up the Road’s website for top-knotch Northern California travel information — close-to-home Road Trips, anyone? — and, alongside, place-related sustainability information, or places to go, things to see, and experiences to sample that demonstrate the concept in a particular area. We’re hoping you fellow travelers will thoroughly engage too, and share your own experiences. As we get this large and complex web construction job closer to completion we’ll have much more to say about the details.

We will also be announcing — very soon — a variety of Other Roadside Attractions, unusual guided educational outings that focus on different aspects of sustainability.

Two key points before signing off:

We want Up the Road to be both stable and sustainable, a nonprofit organization not dependent on any one source of funding. So we’ll be experimenting some, to figure out what works and what doesn’t. We hope you’ll let us know what you think while generally cheering us on.

We also want Up the Road to be sustaining in relationship to its Northern California community. Up the Road won’t be telling folks what to think or what to do. But we will be telling you what a variety of engaging and engaged people are thinking and doing. We expect that to encourage some good conversation — and still more innovative ideas and creative work.



P.S. I’m always forgetting something. One thing I meant to say last time was this: If you’d like to become a Founder but are challenged to come up with $100 all at once, no problem. Things are tight here too. Just let me know and we’ll work something out.

P.P.S. If you’d like to be included on our mailing list please say so: editor@uptheroad.org.