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Mihaly Commentary: Changing the world

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2013-04-19

VtDigger.org editor’s note: This op-ed is by Marc Mihaly, the president and dean of Vermont Law School. He is an expert in land use, urban planning, and energy law and policy.

Vermont Law School is here for people who want to change the world. We are not like other law schools, and our uniqueness is a core identity that we must nurture and will serve us well. Part of that identity has grown from the place where we are located – here in Vermont, surrounded by a working landscape that contributes both economically and culturally to our state. We are proud to be here in Vermont, and we know that being here helps our students to achieve the goals they come here with – to learn how to make a difference in the world.

As director of the Environmental Law Center, I helped create both the Institute for Energy and the Environment and the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems. The research opportunities offered here at VLS bring enormous depth and experience to our students’ education. Those research opportunities often come from the hills that surround us. We are looking at policy questions that arise because of the vibrant working landscape and the intersection of a natural resource-based economy and the people who love the environment that economy helps to create and sustain.

As president of the Vermont Law School, I see how important Vermont’s working landscape is to the state and to her people, as well as to students who come here “from away” and have their lives changed because of the place they choose to study law.

The Working Lands Coalition is calling for a “five-by-three” investment – $5 million per year for three years. This type of investment will allow Vermont to really grow this sector, create jobs, and ensure that our economy and our culture continue to thrive for generations to come.

Last year, the Vermont Legislature created the Working Lands Enterprise Fund and seeded that fund with about $1 million to assist land-based businesses in Vermont with access to capital and technical assistance. Although everyone agreed it was a good idea, many were unsure whether the demand was really there. Now we know the answer, as over 350 applications came to the board with over $10 million in requests in this first year of funding. The opportunity is there, and Vermonters want to grow their businesses in ways that support the workings lands economy.

This year, the governor has recommended $1.5 million for continued support for the Working Lands Enterprise Fund. This recommendation is a recognition of the potential in this growing sector. However, in order to really capitalize on this opportunity, we should make a significant investment. The Working Lands Coalition is calling for a “five-by-three” investment – $5 million per year for three years. This type of investment will allow Vermont to really grow this sector, create jobs, and ensure that our economy and our culture continue to thrive for generations to come.

Vermont Law School is here for people who want to change the world. However, we know that sometimes the best way to change the world is to recognize the strengths we already have. Vermont’s working landscape is one of her greatest strengths. Let’s make sure we are doing all we can to celebrate and encourage the people who work the land and keep us strong.