Degree: Self-designed: Land-Based Entrepreneurship
Current Hometown: Barton, VT
Employment: Founder, Birdhous. Also, deliver mail with the U.S. Postal Service to feed the farming habit.
Can you tell us about the work you are doing with Birdhous?
I’ve recently purchased a 49 acre property not far from Sterling. In the long term, I’d like to share the land with young land-based entrepreneurs in a residential program that nods at Burlington’s Intervale Center. We need young farmers, but the barriers to entry are too high. I want to make farm based enterprise more attainable for more people.
This summer, I’m raising pigs, chickens, testing a variety of annuals, and beginning to plan and build resilient systems on the land. I’ll welcome LNT campers and sell my successes as value-added products and raw goods in an on-farm cafe. The groundwork we lay this summer and in growing seasons to come will create a market for the residential program, allowing young farmers to focus on their craft and the realities and responsibilities of what they sow without overwhelming financial burden or taking on too much at once.
[Birdhous allows for ecologically minded farmers, chefs, artists and other land-based entrepreneurs to test out their new ideas on a ½ acre of land. As Jes says, “If you don’t turn a profit on 1/2 of an acre, you won’t turn a profit on the 50 you borrowed from the bank.]
How did Sterling influence your current career path?:
I knew when I came to Sterling, at 23, that I was looking for a life on the land, but it was living in such close community that shaped that plan into what it’s become. More than the coursework and hands-on experience, conversations with my cohort and living in a community that wants to walk the walk shaped my worldview and brought more hope into the equation. I wanted a degree and to care more, to love more. I got it.
More directly, I wrote a proposal for a huge property owned by the VT Land Trust as a pseudo-Senior Project. While the Land Trust decided to retain ownership of that farm, my proposal led to the funding of this property in Barton. And thus, Birdhous begins.
What is your most memorable Bounder/Expedition memory:
I went home early on what I believe was the most mild expedition in Sterling’s history, but, the group had found an old beagle in the middle of the woods that morning, and I got to ride home with him!
Any words of wisdom for the current Sterling students?
It’s easy to bash “the man,” easy to blame administration, or feel like Sterling is just another cog in a capitalist machine. It’s not easy to find a place where your voice really matters, where you can pave the way for actual change, even if it only lasts until the next ASOP wave. Learn to trust yourself and to use your power for good at Sterling, you’ll take that wherever you go.
Secondly, the Student Activities Fund, oh-so-near-to-my-heart, is about the coolest thing to exist in a modern institution: use it or lose it! Anyone looking to own or run a business should be sitting in those meetings every week, pitching their own ideas, and/or serving as the Student Activities Coordinator. Those meetings are a whole lot like actually asking for money, and it’s good to have a little practice with folks you know, who aren’t wearing ties.
You can get all the experience you need at Sterling, you just need to know where to find it and how to spin it for the right audience. I’m 20 minutes away, come chat with me.