Billings Farm & Museum: Gateway To Vermont’s Rural Heritage

May 26, 2010

in Woodstock

In the summer of 2003, Governor James M. Douglas congratulated the Billings Farm & Museum on its 20th Anniversary: If farming is to have a future in this state, indeed if Vermont is to have a future with farms, the Billings Farm & Museum will help to lead the way. As a gateway to our rural heritage it shows thousands of visitors and students every year where rural Vermont has come from and why it is so important. It shows how ideas combined with hard work, with hands on relationships between people and nature, between humans and dairy cows, the soil and the seasons. It shows how generations interact with the places they inhabit and the places from which they draw their sustenance, how generations can care for the places they pass on to their children. In so many ways the Billings Farm represents the best of Vermont past, present and future. A clean environment, culture and heritage, tourism and a strong economy go hand in hand. Indeed, they are all important to each other’s success. For us to succeed as a state it is places like the Billings Farm & Museum that will help lead the way, the Vermont way. Congratulations on twenty years of service to the people of Vermont and the nation and best wishes for many more!

For travelers and Vermonters alike, Billings Farm is a gateway to a destination of rich historical, cultural, aesthetic, and natural significance. Vermont is a distinctive agricultural landscape knit together with compact villages, lined with pristine natural areas, and punctuated with lively small cities. Vermont’s culture is likewise distinctive and lively, full of tradition and innovation, with a vibrant creative economy rapidly developing amid a traditional rural culture. Rural Vermont is at once comforting and surprising. It is one of the world’s great unspoiled destinations – a place to nourish and renew the human spirit. To be an effective gateway means to help people appreciate Vermont and use it well. This applies to both travelers exploring the state and to Vermonters and their regional neighbors. The audience of the Billings Farm & Museum is evenly divided between these two groups. Many visitors are travelers from “away,” as Vermonters like to say, and an equal number are Vermont residents or live within a couple of hours’ drive of Woodstock. Many of both groups become members, often visiting a number of times each year. Many who are now Vermonters, came to the state as part of the great influx that began in the 1960s, adding new energy to Vermont society and particularly helping to build the creative sector of the state’s economy.

All of these people come to Billings Farm seeking a farm experience and insights into the culture of Vermont’s rural countryside. Many are families, either with young children or in multiple generations, who come both to learn and to enjoy a beautiful and safe place where they can have an engaging time being with one another. The farm offers these experiences, and increasingly, insights that they can take away with them, either to their homes nearby or in their exploration of the larger countryside beyond the farm fence.

To fulfill its gateway role well, the Farm & Museum should enrich the experience and insight of its visitors as they explore Vermont beyond Woodstock. It should help them to appreciate and engage places in Vermont, encouraging them to linger and to explore more deeply than they otherwise might, thereby enhancing their Vermont experience. Through appreciation and engagement with rural Vermont, they are more likely to become insightful travelers and residents, better equipped to be stewards of their own places.

A visit to the Billings Farm & Museum begins with discovery of the dairy farm that Frederick Billings established in 1871 on land that nourished Native Americans before Yankee settlement and that helped shape the thinking of George Perkins Marsh – the dairy farm that Mary and Elizabeth Billings rebuilt in the aftermath of World War II – the dairy farm that Laurance and Mary Rockefeller transformed into a center for preservation and interpretation of the agricultural roots of the Vermont countryside. The visit continues with exploration of the history of Billings Farm and of the rural society that surrounded it and helped shape the countryside and culture of Vermont. The visit concludes with an invitation to explore Vermont deeply, inspired by Billings Farm and Woodstock and with the knowledge of an “insider,” with insight into the life, work, culture, and society that continually transform, steward, and enrich the hill country of the Green Mountains.


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