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Traveling Through the Farms and Green Mountains of Vermont

The Windsor-Cornish covered bridge in Windsor, Vermont
The Windsor-Cornish covered bridge in Windsor, Vermont

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STEVE EMBER: Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.

BARBARA KLEIN: And I’m Barbara Klein. This week on our program, we take you on a trip through the northeastern state of Vermont, part of the area known as New England.


STEVE EMBER: Each fall, people travel to Vermont to see the colorful autumn leaves. In winter, people come to ski and snowboard in the mountains. In the warmer months, they go on river-rafting trips and camp and enjoy other outdoor activities.

Only about six hundred thousand people live in Vermont. That makes it the second least-populated state in the country after Wyoming. And the state is small not just in population. Vermont is forty-fifth out of the fifty states in territory. It has just twenty-four thousand square kilometers of land. In addition, it has almost nine hundred fifty square kilometers covered by water.

BARBARA KLEIN: What Vermont lacks in size, it makes up for in beauty. It is known as the Green Mountain State. The name comes from the Green Mountains, which divide the state up and down the center. In fact, the name Vermont comes from the French "verd mont," meaning green mountain.

Along the northern border of Vermont is the Canadian province of Quebec. Vermont is bordered by Massachusetts on the south, New Hampshire on the east and New York on the west.

STEVE EMBER: A century ago, forests covered less than one-third of Vermont. Trees were being cut down for farmland and forest products faster than they could be replaced. That has changed. Today forests cover more than three-fourths of the state.

But Vermont is known not just for its natural resources. It is also known for a strong sense of independence.

During colonial times, Vermonters fought off territorial claims by bordering colonies. Ethan Allen led most of the fighting with help from his brother Ira and an armed group known as the Green Mountain Boys.

Ethan Allen became a hero of the American Revolution. But Vermont was not among the thirteen colonies that declared their independence from England in seventeen seventy-six.

Vermont did become the fourteenth state, however, when it joined the Union in seventeen ninety-one. And it became the first state to declare slavery illegal.

By seventeen seventy-seven, Vermonters had written their own constitution declaring themselves free and independent. Their constitution also made slavery illegal in Vermont.

The colors of fall are seen on the lawn of the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier
The colors of fall are seen on the lawn of the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier


BARBARA KLEIN: The capital of Vermont is Montpelier, in the center of the state. But the largest city is Burlington, on the shores of Lake Champlain. Lake Champlain and the fertile Champlain Valley are in the northwestern part of Vermont. They are named for Samuel de Champlain. The French explorer arrived at the lake in sixteen-oh-nine.

Burlington is busy and fast-growing. It is also home to one of the state’s oldest and largest schools: the University of Vermont. The university was established with a financial gift from Ira Allen in seventeen ninety-one.

Vermont has strong roots in education. Emma Willard was teaching in Vermont when she became an activist for women’s rights in education. Martin Henry Freeman, the first black college president in the United States, was born in Rutland, Vermont.

And the philosopher John Dewey was from Burlington and attended the University of Vermont. Dewey is considered the father of modern progressive education in the United States.

STEVE EMBER: Dairy farming is the main agricultural industry in Vermont. But the travel industry and manufacturing are also major employers.

General Electric manufactures airplane engine parts in Rutland and North Clarendon, Vermont. IBM makes computer equipment at a factory in Essex Junction. And the computer software developer IDX Systems is based in Burlington.

Food producers also help drive the Vermont economy. Local companies include Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. The Cold Hollow Cider Mill is the largest producer of fresh apple cider in the northeastern United States. More than three hundred thousand people visit the mill each year to see how fresh apples get crushed into cider.

Vermont native Eric May drills a hole to tap a maple tree for sap at his home in Ira, Vermont
Vermont native Eric May drills a hole to tap a maple tree for sap at his home in Ira, Vermont

Vermont is the leading producer in the United States of another liquid that many people enjoy: maple syrup. The sweet, golden syrup is made from the sap harvested in spring from Vermont's sugar maple trees. The four grades of Vermont maple syrup differ somewhat in color and taste. But they can all be enjoyed on a morning meal of pancakes and eggs.

BARBARA KLEIN: Community support for local farming is strong in Vermont. Burlington and its surrounding communities, for example, hold local farmers markets several times a week.

Many people who sell goods at these markets are members of a cooperative farming program supported by the Intervale Center. This is a nonprofit group that helps develop land and farm-based businesses in and around the city of Burlington.

One of its most successful operations is the farm incubator program. Through the program the Intervale Center provides low-cost land to new and established farmers. In addition, members share equipment, business services and technical assistance. Each incubator farm is required to use organic growing methods.

STEVE EMBER: Intervale does not support dairy farming, but Shelbourne Farms near Burlington does. This nonprofit working farm is one of the biggest and oldest cheese producers in Vermont. Its award-winning cheddar is made from the milk of Brown Swiss cows.

Shelbourne Farms also supports community education programs. Each year more than one hundred thousand people visit the farm which overlooks Lake Champlain.

Lila Vanderbilt Webb founded Shelbourne Farms in eighteen eighty-six. The Vanderbilts are an important family in American history. She was the granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who built his wealth in shipping and railroads.


BARBARA KLEIN: One of the best-known companies in Vermont is Ben and Jerry's. It sells ice cream around the country with names like Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey. The British-and-Dutch company Unilever bought Ben and Jerry's in two thousand.

Ben and Jerry's even has a small graveyard with markers for flavors that have been retired. The graveyard is behind its factory in the small town of Waterbury.

Also in Waterbury is a store operated by the Vermont Teddy Bear Company. Toy bears sold in the United States are commonly made in China. But the company says it hand-produces the only bear made in America and guaranteed for life. And it ships its products around the world. The bears can come specially dressed -- for example, for events like weddings, birthdays or holidays.

STEVE EMBER: No matter what road you take to the Ben and Jerry's factory or the Vermont Teddy Bear store, chances are you will cross a covered bridge. Bridges protected by structures that look like barns represent historic small-town America. There are just over one hundred covered bridges remaining in Vermont. Most were built in the eighteen hundreds.

BARBARA KLEIN: Our trip to Vermont would not be complete without a stop at Huntington Gorge. This is a deep, narrow cut in the earth. Water from the Huntington River flows fast through the gorge. Officials estimate that more than forty people have drowned over the years while swimming in Huntington Gorge.

Dangerous as it is, Huntington Gorge is also perhaps the best example of water sculpture in Vermont. It is truly a natural work of art. A series of deep drops along the gorge end in pools of dark blue, green and clear water.

Smooth white rock formations force the water through the path of the gorge. Rainbows of color fill the air along with the music of bubbles and rushing water.

Huntington Gorge is another reminder to visitors that nature has made its mark on Vermont.


STEVE EMBER: Our program was written and produced by Jill Moss. To learn about other states, and to download MP3 files and transcripts of our programs, go to I'm Steve Ember.

BARBARA KLEIN: And I'm Barbara Klein. We hope you can join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.