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(HOST) Commentator Ron Krupp says that conservation of agricultural land – and ways to make communities stronger – will be topics of discussion in Randolph this weekend.

(KRUPP) One of the serious issues facing us today is that of sprawl and unchecked development. Sprawl affects the entire community. The paving over of our land base, increased traffic and the absence of connectedness among neighbors are just three of the results of poorly planned growth.

One of the bright lights in recent years in Vermont has been the saving of thousands of acres of agricultural land by the Vermont Land Trust and other local land trust groups by way of conservation easements. But as impressive as these efforts have been, not everyone is familiar with this alternative to development, and there is still much to be done.

This weekend the Northeast Organic Farming Association will explore the topic of saving the land and creating stronger communities at their annual winter conference in Randolph on Saturday. The keynote speaker will be Peter Forbes, the co-founder of the Center for Whole Communities of Waitsfield, Vermont. The Center brings farmers, indigenous peoples, biologists, environmentalists, educators and others together for educational workshops and leadership retreats.

Peter believes there is a strong connection between the health of the land and health of communities. He and his partner Helen Wybrow led a workshop that inspired a traditional land trust to save the last working fishing pier in a coastal town. The groups they brought together included a First Nation people of Canada, who were grappling with land, the extraction of minerals and development issues. They help these groups work together to find new solutions to saving the land and to build trust between the haves and have nots.

The Center for Whole Communities is located at Knoll Farm in Waitsfield. The farm is one of those Vermont “Jewels in the Crown”, like the Calvin Coolidge Historic site in Plymouth or Shelburne Farms on Lake Champlain. Knoll Farm sits high above the Mad River Valley. To the east lies the bustling, skier/tourist-friendly village of Waitsfield. To the north and west are 12,000 acres of wildlands. I can remember the days when Scottish Highlander cattle with their magnificent horns roamed the fields. Today, the large beef animals have been replaced by Islandic sheep, but the working farm, fields and forest survive, as does the largest cottonwood tree in Vermont.

Visitors are welcome at Knoll Farm, but Peter Forbes will also be speaking at the organic farming conference. In addition to saving agricultural land, workshops will explore heirloom seed varieties, agri-tourism, farm scale wind energy, homestead cheeses, starting your first farm business and many more topics. And I’ll be there to talk about planting by the stars.

This is Ron Krupp, the northern gardener.

Ron Krupp is a gardener and author who lives near Lake Champlain on Shelburne Bay.

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