A message to our members and supporters:
Conservation organizations across the country are struggling with how to best respond and react in this moment of social change, when the call to action is clear and profound: repudiate racist culture and commit to dismantling racism in all its forms.
The Vermont Land Trust is no exception. We have made an organizational commitment to deep learning and action on racial and social injustice in land access and ownership, over the long-term. This is a commitment that we are putting into practice at every level—among the staff, our Board, and now with all of you in the VLT community.
It is important for us to acknowledge a hard truth: in Vermont our relationship with racism and all forms of bigotry is tied deeply to our relationship with land ownership and access. From the first land speculators who laid claim to the lands of the Abenaki people; to campaigns in the early 20th century that recruited white people of northern European descent to visit, settle, and farm in Vermont; to the Vermont Eugenics Program which targeted poor, disabled, and Abenaki people; white landed Vermonters have benefited from systems and structures that have long excluded people ‘unlike them’ from this land.
For nearly every organization in the land trust movement there is hard, uncomfortable work ahead to grapple with this legacy. I believe this work must lead us into a more just relationship with all the people and lands that we are meant to serve.
We have a great deal of work ahead if we are to fulfill the commitments we have made at VLT to justice. VLT’s Strategic Plan, which we adopted in 2018, states that in order to achieve our goals as an organization, we must “acknowledge and address the ways in which disparities in power, privilege and equity affect all aspects of our work.”
As VLT’s President and CEO I recognize, perhaps with fresh eyes and clarity this week, that this critical work deserves more attention from us, and is not something we will ever finish. I am surprised by how ill-equipped I feel in this moment to say the right thing or respond in the right way. This message is a start: listening and learning that leads to meaningful action.
Please join us in learning. Our staff has begun pulling together materials specific to land access and equity that we are exploring together. If you are interested, we recommend:
- Reading Farming While Black, written by Leah Penniman, and listening to an interview with the author about the three pillars of anti-racism: education, reparations, and centering voices of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC).
- Reading Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors, written by Carolyn Finney.
- Listening to the New York Times podcast “1619” and learning about black land loss and discrimination from the USDA. We specifically recommend the episodes titled: The Land of Our Fathers: Part 1 and The Land of Our Fathers: Part 2.
Please support organizations led by people of color. You can donate money, purchase products, attend events, or offer support in other ways. Here are a few organizations and farms in our region that inspire us:
- Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust
- The Susu Healing Collective and their BIPOC Land and Food Sovereignty Fund, Vermont
- Soul Fire Farm, Grafton, NY
- Zafa Wines, Burlington, VT
- Clemmons Family Farm, Charlotte, VT
- Pine Island Farm, Colchester, VT
This is a beginning. I welcome your participation, thoughts, and suggestions as we continue.
President & CEO
Vermont Land Trust