I started Clyde River Farm and Forest after retiring from the NorthWoods Stewardship Center in 2004. It was kind of a full circle from family upbringing to Atlantic College, Sterling College, The Vermont Leadership Center (NorthWoods), to the farm/forest/nursery.
Growing up in the 50s, I spent many weekends working in our large vegetable gardens, or helping my dad with landscaping and surveying projects on municipal land in and around Reading, Mass. Although my parents became educators, they inherited the history and traditions of Jacob Manning’s Reading Nursery, which propagated evergreens, deciduous trees, and many original fruit varieties, and provided them by rail and coach all over the country from 1840-1900. The five sons, including my grandfather, became nurserymen and landscape architects and collaborated with the Olmsted brothers on many private and municipal projects at the turn of the century.
Northern New England has always felt like home, whether we were living in Maine, New Hampshire, or Vermont. Once my Dad became a Superintendent of Schools in small rural communities we moved around a lot, and I swore I would put down roots in one place like my ancestors had done before me. My wife Pat's Pennsylvania Dutch farming heritage inspired me to focus on the values of the working farm. Vermont’s climate fueled my interest in the outdoors: raw beauty, wilderness, and plenty of land to spread out on.
When I was a young 27, an opportunity came along to participate in changing the curriculum of a boys’ prep school to an experiential college. Learning along with our first group of 37 Grassrooters, I became the head of transition at Sterling College with no particular skill set. I was fortunate to find an unusually talented team. We changed the curriculum from a traditional prep school to a college that regarded character molded by the rugged elements of northern New England as an important attribute of education. Hence one of our Sterling mottos way back when: “Working Hands, Working Minds.” The experience of developing Sterling’s outdoor centered college program and public purpose would become integral to the mission of the Vermont Leadership Center (now the NorthWoods Stewardship Center) 20 years later.
Backing up a bit while I still can, I should say that one of the most influential experiences for me must have been my time at Atlantic College in Wales, now one of the 14 institutions making up the United World College movement. It was an international college developed around the Outward Bound program, which encouraged us to think like beginners in everything we tackled. I suppose that’s why the sea (we lived and studied in an old Elizabethan Castle on the Bristol Channel) was such a good teacher. It took quite a while to gain confidence shoving off in a boat or canoe through big waves in freezing temperatures. The challenges faced at Atlantic College gave me confidence to tackle new projects, and Sterling helped me learn how to design similar projects--ones that enabled students to appreciate the connection between the land and its inhabitants.
To ensure a working landscape that is also conservation-minded is to place a large emphasis on ecosystem education, so that young people and landowners both have access to information about the interactions between human and natural communities. The Clyde River Valley is a rich microcosm of the Northern Forest monitored closely by the Northwoods Stewardship Center’s ecosystem management project which we started at the Center in 1996 after many long discussions at that time with Vermont State Naturalist Charles Johnson. But this in itself is not enough to ensure that future generations of landowners will cooperate to do what’s best for the land. The key word here is cooperation. Partnerships with private non-profits, state and local agencies, private organizations, farmers, and other landowners are the key to ensuring that issues like streambank restoration, preservation of wetlands, and protection from non-point source pollution are supported by all parties and reflected in evolving public policy.
This is why our website domain name (vermontleadershippartnerships.com) feels so appropriate. Vermont has taken the lead in demonstrating cooperation between its citizens over resource use and management, and at Clyde River Farm and Forest we hope to be part of that strong community of foresters, farmers, and land owners working collaboratively toward an ecologically viable future.
- Bill Manning, Founder
A view of the farm
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