Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Land of Milk, Maple Syrup and Mentors

The first thing you notice when you cross the border between New York and Vermont is the lack of billboards.  Many years ago, the state decided to ban billboards because they were considered a blight on the landscape.  It's an immediate shock to the senses for me because billboards are everywhere here in Missouri!  Don't let the lack of billboards fool ya though, there's a lot going on in the state!  All one has to do is get off the interstate and travel the back roads and you see small farms and businesses thriving!  Small signs posted at the bottom of a driveway tell you that you can buy maple syrup or that a roadside farm stand is just ahead.  Or, you can stop by the Cabot Creamery Annex and browse and buy locally made products to your hearts content!  Add to that the local chambers of commerce who promote everything in their small towns and you have a winning combination!  Compared to other places, there is a stunning level of cooperation between small businesses throughout the state!  Cabot Creamery makes the best cheddar cheese as far as I'm concerned but when you walk in the annex, you find far more than just cheese!  Homemade mixes for biscuits, scones and pancakes.  I counted four different hot chocolate/hot cocoa mixes.  Let's not forget the maple syrup, maple sugar and maple creme!  Plus, micro-brews, hard cider, jams and jellies, salsa, crackers, sodas and soap, the variety is amazing!  Each and every one of the items in the store is locally made by small businesses within the state of Vermont!

Restaurants are no exception.  They go out of their way to use local products from fruits and vegetables to locally raised meat and poultry.  And of course, they use local syrup and cheese and butter.  Believe me, you can taste the difference!  They're proud of the diversity and they're willing to support each other!  They are also willing to talk to complete strangers and answer questions.  Some places like Cabot Creamery and Cold Hollow Cider Mill offer either tours or demonstrations of how their products are made.  They are proud of what they do and they want people to see exactly how it is done.

I tell you all of this because I vividly remember a time when Vermont was not such a hopeful place to live!  Jobs for the average Vermonter just were not there!  Farms were being bought by out of staters for high end developments because milk prices tanked and property taxes went sky high.  There were some farmers who couldn't afford to hold on any longer!  It looked like the Vermont way of life was going to be ripped up and paved over to make room for yet another condominium complex!    Open fields were being replaced by cookie cutter housing.

There were individuals, however, who decided that they were not going to give up so easily!  The traditional way of life was important, it mattered and somehow a piece of it needed to be saved.  Farmers got creative and started creating events that brought people to their farm-the birth of agri-tourism.  Small businesses started creating "value added" products.  Instead of just selling strawberries, how about making some really cool jams?!  They chose to work together and when they started to see success they didn't keep it to themselves.  Instead they created workshops and gatherings where they could teach others to do the same thing!  The cottage industry movement flourished!

You could use a lot of terms to describe these individuals.  Creative, visionary, diligent, hard working, risk taker.  A couple of verses in Proverbs really reminded me of just how important their vision and risk taking were to the community and the state.  In Proverbs 14 (The Message Paraphrase) it says:
"Cynics look high and low for wisdom and never find it; the open minded find it right on their doorstep."
This verse in Proverbs 15 (The Message Paraphrase) also jumped out at me:
"The empty-headed treat life as a plaything; the perceptive grasp its meaning and make a go of it."
The easy out would have been to take the cynics route instead of looking at what they had right on their doorstep.  The easy out would have been walking away instead of trying to make a go of things.  When I say some of these folks took a big risk, I mean they put it all on the line for their vision and goals!  Believe me, they went in to the venture with a lot of fear and trembling!  But life is like that, isn't it?  There's a lot of fear out there in the world today and a lot of hopelessness being purveyed.  Sometimes though, you just have to use that fear to propel you forward to take a risk that you know is worth taking.  Sometimes you just gotta lay it all on the line and trust God that you have been given the skills and strength to fulfill your dream and vision!

The second part of all of this, is the mentoring (which I can not emphasize enough!)  Sharing with others what you did and how you did it and helping them avoid your mistakes and sharing lessons learned is incredibly important!  Even just offering encouragement can be the best gift that you can give someone.  I saw that lesson first hand on the last day that we were in Vermont. 

My 17 year old son Robert starts his Senior year this fall.  I don't know what he will end up doing but I can tell you that he is incredibly gifted and amazingly smart!  One of the things that he is really passionate about is blacksmithing.  He has his own little mini forge set up in our front yard under the trees down the hill.  He had shown an interest a few years ago and after doing a little research I found a local workshop here in Missouri.  I signed him up for so he could check it out.  I signed my husband and Lonnie up as well so the three of them set off on a weekend adventure!  Rob was hooked!  He loved it!  But, there were a lot of people telling him that he couldn't make a business out of it. They thought that he needed to think about doing something else and just keep blacksmithing as his hobby.  I, on the other hand, think that he should follow his heart and use his gifts to the best of his ability!  Long story short, we had passed by a local blacksmithing shop in Marshfield, Vermont and on our last day there we decided to stop so Rob could have a look.  Blackthorne Forge is owned by the wonderful and amazing Steven Bronstein who creates the most incredible pieces of work out of metal!  Steven not only took time out of his busy schedule to talk to Rob, he also helped Rob troubleshoot a couple of things that he had been having problems with at home!  He answered Rob's questions, but more importantly he encouraged him to keep at it and also gave him the name of someone to get in touch with who might be able to help him down the road!  His passion and dedication and his success hopefully gave Rob the encouragement he needed to pursue his dream! 

My hope and prayer is that you are inspired and encouraged to follow your heart and take a risk and use your God given gifts and talents to make a difference.    Life is meant to be lived not feared!  It's time to step forward and do what you were called to do!  And someday, you will be the one mentoring others and sharing your story!  I am looking forward to hearing your story!

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