Greg Dennis: Gratitude for all things local

As far as I can tell, only Americans, Canadians and Liberians have a holiday dedicated to the general giving of thanks.
So as the seas rise, the weather gets weird, and the president tries to make a mockery of our democracy, it’s a good time to remember those things for which we can be thankful. 
Everyone has a list of the profoundly personal things that merit our gratitude. But what of those things we share? We, that is, who live in this quirky county that stretches from the west coast of New England to the snowy spine of the Green Mountains. 
Here’s my list:
•  Three downtowns.Having grown up in a small town where every storefront held a profitable local business, I remain a lover of small-town downtowns. While Middlebury’s is imperiled by the rail bridges project and the decline of retail, the downtown is still home to a rock-star bookstore, the always tasty Otter Creek Bakery, two inns, a good library, a fabulous co-op, an arts and culture center, Town Hall Theater, two galleries, a movie theater that is so much more, a game store, an outdoor store, a whimsical gift shop and a lovely town green. And that’s not even counting the Marble Works or businesses off of Court Street or Exchange Street.  
Vergennes has a lively downtown restaurant scene, plus actual clothing stores, a pharmacy and an opera house with stellar acoustics, among other highlights.
Aside from being strikingly picturesque, downtown Bristol has managed to keep most of its storefronts full while also hosting a couple of lively bars and restaurants, a pharmacy, a supermarket, cohousing, and multiple events on the green.
•  Speaking of restaurants and cafes, Vergennes this year saw a successful transition to new ownership at the excellent Vergennes Laundry, while also holding on to the Black Sheep, Park Squeeze, Three Squares, a new ice cream shop, a restaurant-bar combo, a pizza place — and I’ve probably forgotten a couple others. I always feel at home at the Bristol Cliffs Cafe. And while Middlebury lost Carol’s Hungry Mind this year, the Daily Grind has arisen in its place.
•  A lively music scene. The Festival on-the-Green somehow manages to be both popular and among Vermont’s best-kept secrets. Ditto for Ripton’s long-enduring and always lively Community Coffee House. The Town Hall Theater hosts a variety of musical acts, and many kinds of music shine on at the college. Again I’ve probably missed (or want to keep secret) a couple other musical gems.
•  Year-round sports.Whether your passion is hockey, tennis, basketball, soccer or pickleball, there’s probably a game near you. Our high school sports provide both spectator delights and life lessons for our young people. And if some of the best Division III sports in the nation is your cup of tea, you can drink your fill at the college.
•  Year-round recreation.The prevalence of pond hockey isn’t what it used to be due to climate change. But the skiing, boating, bicycling, hiking and hunting are still outstanding. The fishing ain’t bad, either.
•  A (partial) economic and social safety net.Poverty remains endemic in parts of our county. But at least the poor are not forgotten. Our churches, the John W. Graham Emergency Shelter, the Charter House, the Open Door Clinic, HOPE (Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects) — along with a long list of other nonprofits supported by the United Way — continue to strive for a region where the worst of poverty’s effects are eased by caring administrators and a broad network of volunteers.
•  Nearly full employment. Yes, there are still too many people who have to work two jobs to stay afloat, and too many who still go without health coverage and affordable childcare. But as conservatives are fond of saying, the best welfare program is a job. 
•  Agriculture that looks to the future.Whether it’s organic dairies or vegetable and fruit farmers, the county is home to a growing web of localvore agriculture supported by organizations like our farmers markets, the co-op and the ACORN food network. And as the State Senate candidacy of Marie Audet reminded us, conventional dairy farmers can also be advocates for greener energy and agricultural practices that reduce carbon pollution.
•  Other efforts to slow climate change.We live in the birthplace of the, the world’s most far-flung organization focusing on ways to ease the catastrophic effects of climate change. The statewide affiliate,, remains locally active. The college has taken big steps to reduce its carbon pollution, and students there have led the effort to have the college divest out of fossil fuels as part of the worldwide divestment campaign. 
The Acorn Energy Co-Op has created one community solar project and is on the verge of constructing another. Several local businesses provide quality solar hot-water and photovoltaic systems. A new local group has emerged to combine climate action with a growing low-carbon economy. Our ski, maple sugar and tourism industries will be the beneficiaries of all these efforts.
•  High-quality medical care.When the UVM system took over Porter and its clinicians, a lot of us worried that healthcare would suffer. But so far, so good. 
Led locally by Dr. Fred Kniffin, the UVM system has steadied the ship since taking over. There’s been some progress on a better structure of electronic medical records. And it appears the near-rebellion among the ranks of physicians and nurses is blessedly a thing of the past.
All that, and our local medical (and dental) care remain both competent and compassionate. It’s hard to deliver quality healthcare to rural communities, but Porter and UVM do a pretty good job of it.
•  Good and broad-based local government.Our selectboards and town meeting traditions remain alive and well. Plus we’ve got an increasingly progressive contingent of local legislators, who also remain open and accessible to the views of Republicans and independents.
•  The Addison County Independent. At a time when the newspaper industry is shrinking, we are very lucky to have this vibrant and informative newspaper in our midst.
That’s my gratitude list. What’s yours?
Gregory Dennis’s column appears here every other Thursday and is archived on his blog at Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @greengregdennis. 

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