This blog is the fifth in a series of profiles written by 350VT intern Julie Elfin. Julie got the chance to speak with Jane Palmer of Monkton, a fierce defender of her local farmland. This is Jane’s story.
My family’s farm is just beautiful. The land is alive all the time. In the mornings, with the fog over the marsh…it draws people in. When it came up for sale 20 years ago, we knew it was ours. We couldn’t let it go to someone else who would chop it up and turn it into cookie-cutter houses. We’ve always been very protective of the land, especially the wetland on our property, because it’s such a beautiful piece of the ecosystem.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the farm is the Vergennes clay soil. Digging up our 2 acre improved vegetable garden plot and putting a pipeline through it, like Vermont Gas planned, would have completely destroyed the soil. And that was only the beginning. Everything we found out pointed to the reality that this wasn’t a good idea. Our neighbor brought over a map of the route that showed the pipeline going right through the middle of the orchard, the septic system, our pond, our water line and a grove of willows between our house and the road. Someone had just drawn a line through our property without knowing anything.
For me, opposing the pipeline is a matter of understanding. They don’t have respect for the soil like farmers do. They’re drilling into a living thing and they don’t know it! They don’t know that the earth is alive! You can’t fix a wetland. You can’t fix soil when you’ve destroyed it. They don’t know how to rebuild soil, they don’t know how to rebuild a wetland, and they don’t care. It’s a path of destruction through the land of Vermont. Everywhere it goes, it’s devastating.
Dealing with Vermont Gas has been a nightmare all the way. They didn’t contact us to let us know they were planning to use our land. We found out through a neighbor. We were threatened with eminent domain within the first five minutes of our first conversation with a land agent. The lack of respect we’ve been shown is appalling.
So, we intervened in the Axt 248 process before the Public Service Board. I thought if we demonstrated that the pipeline was detrimental to farmland, that would go on the record and they would take that into consideration when siting the pipeline. We were surprised that it didn’t matter. Our government is bought and paid for by the oil and gas industries. It felt like there was nothing we could do.
Vermont Gas offered our neighbors a pile of money, so instead of going through our farm, the pipeline now goes on two sides of it. It’s still going through prime farmland within 300 feet of our house. So, that’s not really a success. We wanted to get it off our land, but we also knew that they shouldn’t put it anywhere. We didn’t want them to just push it over to our neighbors’ land, because our neighbors are also farmers.
I’ve always been aware, but I haven’t been what you would call an environmentalist. My friend Mary Martin has a term: “reluctant activist.” I like that, but I don’t think I’m reluctant anymore. I don’t have bumper stickers on my car, but I let people know exactly what I feel about stuff. People run into me at the grocery store, and they know where I stand. I was asked to speak at the climate march in Boston in 2014. Four years ago, I never thought I’d be speaking in front of 2,000 people. I wasn’t sure anyone would want to hear what I had to say, but they did. You just have to find your voice and keep saying it.
I love people. I love humankind, that’s what motivates me to fight. I wish that everybody felt that way. I’ve been arrested for civil disobedience, and I’ll do it again if I have to. I’d rather go to jail than pay a big fine as I don’t have the money right now. This campaign is a relay, you know? You go as long as you can, and then somebody else grabs the baton. It kind of had to be that way. We were exhausted, just couldn’t keep it up forever. But the fight isn’t over, and we’re still fighting.
Julie Elfin is a senior at the University of Vermont studying the environment and communications. This profile series is her culminating project for her Online Organizing internship with 350VT.