Five-Town Initiative Aims to Build Regional Resilience

By Ron Miller

Local residents listen to contractors at a recent Weatherize event.

Local residents listen to contractors at a recent Weatherize event.

Although “Woodstock” is part of our name, the mission of Sustainable Woodstock since its founding has been to serve five towns within our regional school district—including also Reading, Bridgewater, Pomfret and Barnard. This year, we are making a more deliberate effort to reach out to neighboring towns to see how we can help promote sustainable community development across our region.

We’re all familiar with the advice to “think globally, act locally,” which guides us to bring complex, overwhelming environmental problems down to a scale where citizens and community leaders can take direct and focused action. Yet it is not always clear how to define “local.” Should municipal or county borders mark the edge of our concerns? River valleys or bioregions? State boundaries? Local food advocates often talk about sourcing within a 100-mile radius, which for Vermonters would embrace parts of Quebec or adjoining states. Borders are arbitrary. “Local” should be interpreted as what is appropriate to specific issues and civic resources.

Woodstock differs in several ways from the towns around it, being considerably larger and having become such a renowned destination for vacationers and retirees. Yet it is a regional hub; in addition to its schools, Woodstock shares other resources with adjacent towns, including shopping, cultural offerings, medical and social services, and even this newspaper. If we wish to live in a vibrant, resilient community, we should count this entire area as “local.” Sustainable development, and resilience in the face of environmental and economic uncertainties, depend on all of us working together.

Sustainable Woodstock’s various action groups provide opportunities for area residents to work together on projects where there are shared concerns. These include energy efficiency, community gardens and other local food options, promotion of local business, educational events, enhancement of community spaces, and other possibilities. We want to facilitate the formation of citizen action groups in all the towns we serve, according to local needs that residents identify in each community. We can then offer ongoing support to these groups, such as contacts, resources, organizing tips, and some financial support.

Zach Ralph, our community outreach staff member, has begun exploring possibilities in all the towns. He has found that declining populations, especially of younger people, are challenges for each of them, limiting the availability of volunteers. Energy committees or coordinators are already established in Reading, Pomfret and Barnard but all could use additional citizen involvement. In Bridgewater, there is no energy group but residents are organizing to save their closed school, an important community gathering space. Zach reports that they are looking more broadly at what else can be done to improve the longevity of their community. “Individuals in the community,” he says, “are exploring gaining village status through the state, installing a large community solar array, building a business alliance, and even creating more public transportation between Bridgewater and Woodstock. Sustainable Woodstock has been working with community member Collen Doyle to explore the idea of a shuttle line from Bridgewater to Woodstock.”

Zach’s goal is to build grassroots-led sustainability projects by working collaboratively with existing structures and groups in the communities. He invites residents to come forward to participate. “Too much for too long has depended on a handful of individuals in the area to create, build support for, and sustain initiatives geared towards communal sustainability. Sustainable Woodstock will be working in all these communities, without exception, to drum up interest around community resiliency, efficiency, and energy independence with the goal of engaging more volunteers.”

Find out how YOU can participate in Sustainable Woodstock’s Five-Town Sustainability Initiative and promote sustainable development in your community. Email Zach at or call our office at 457-2911.

Do Just One Thing: Volunteer for sustainable community development in YOUR town.

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