What do you enjoy about being a professional of color in VT?
I have always thought of Vermont as this cozy, warm little house, with fire burning and a tea kettle on. You look around and so many people are happy and loving each other. But then there are some folks out in the cold looking through the window, and seeing this incredible community. They’re seeing what is possible and the support that Vermonters extend to each other, but they feel like they can’t get in to access it. This feeling is why I ran for office at 21 – to open that door and to allow more folks to be a part of the conversation and community. I enjoy being a professional of color here because I look around me and see so many of us doing the same. Paving the way for the next generation and then looking back to make sure we are bringing along our community with us.
What advice would you have wanted to receive about being a VT professional before arriving?
When I talk to young folks who want to run for office or enter the professional and business world, I think it’s important to be very upfront that you will stand out. But, that is mostly a good thing if you are up for it. At the same time, it can be exhausting, so you have to lean on the BIPOC folks around you. You have a strong support system of people from the Vermont Professionals of Color Network who understand you without the need to explain yourself. That is something to fall back on so you can lift others up with you as you rise.
What do you wish others knew about living in VT that you’ve discovered?
I hope everyone knows that we have each other’s backs here. I felt alone when I first moved here, but immediately was lent a hand and an ear by so many mentors who are now like family. In the work that I have engaged in to encourage more young people of color to run for office, my biggest goal has always been for the participants to know that they have a large family around the state that will be there for them no matter what. The personal is political, so reach out whatever you’re facing, and you will be supported.
Are there other things (events/opportunities/etc.) you’d like to share with the VT BIPOC community?
Those who know me well may have heard this before, but please, run for office! From school board to State Representative to the Governor’s office, we need your voice at the table. Running for office and putting yourself out there can be extremely vulnerable and we are working to create support systems to help you run a campaign, win, and lead with support once elected. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re interested in taking the leap. We would all love to connect you with resources, networks, and support.
Why are you a member of Vermont Professionals of Color Network?
Community, community, community. Full stop. It is a deeply powerful experience to be able to stay connected to people of color across the state in a network of support and mutual understanding. I’m incredibly grateful for this network so that we can lean on each other. I know many people of color love this state and want this state to love them back. I am here to help you feel loved and to make your home here.
To read the rest of the interview with Kesha Ram Hinsdale, and others BIPOC community member profiles, visit the VT Professionals of Color Network website at www.vtpoc.net.
Vermont Professionals of Color Network (VT PoC) exists to increase the visibility of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) statewide, and increasing access to statewide resources to the BIPOC community. To join the VT Professionals of Color Network member network to keep up on all the news and events across the state, click here.
Montpelier, nestled into the heart of Vermont amidst the Green Mountains and at the convergence of three rivers including the notable Winooski, is a quaint gem of a town. Montpelier is the smallest Capital in the Nation, with the vibrancy of a bustling city. Known for its abundance of restaurants and cafes, and weekend family-friendly community events, Montpelier radiates activity.
According to Montpelier Alive’s Executive Director, Dan Groberg, “Montpelier combines the best of both worlds: it has a “small town” feeling, where you feel supported, know your neighbors, and can easily make friends and get involved, while having the amenities of a larger town.”
Travelers seeking natural beauty, arts and culture, and outdoor recreation flock to Central Vermont, and have reason to stay. There is so much to do, and the friendly, welcoming community is eager to connect.
Many visitors come to Central Vermont for seasonal fun. In the winter, outdoor enthusiasts find great skiing, with Stowe and the Mad River Valley only 30 minutes from Montpelier, and over 25 kilometers of Nordic ski trails accessible to the Capital community. The ice rink in front of the Statehouse is a great community gathering place. As the northern Vermont flowers bloom in spring, the rivers rush with waters and explorers in canoes at the North Branch Nature Center. Wrightsville Beach in neighboring Middlesex is where families settle in for splashing and cooling off on the warmest of days. Montpelier comes to life in the summer, every street lined with outdoor eateries and bustling boutique shops. Home to Barr Hill Distillery, and a short drive to the Alchemist Brewery where the World’s best ‘Heady Topper’ is made, the region is proud of its abundance of makers. The Capital City Farmer’s Market showcases Vermont’s best, and features everything from produce to high quality craft. In addition to food and drink, there is plenty of accessible hiking in Hubbard Park, a short walk away from the gilded Statehouse dome. Kayakers enjoy the North Branch River and great Winooski River, and Mountain Bikers find adventure on the extensive trail network maintained by our local Montpelier Area Mountain Bike Association (MAMBA). In the fall, the brilliantly colored foliage never fails to delight visitors and locals alike.
Montpelier is also a hub for the arts. Every other month, the city hosts Art Walk, an event that supports artists by displaying their work in different venues across town, and inviting the public to stroll the streets to enjoy the artwork together. There are festivals nearly every weekend in Central Vermont. This community loves to gather and celebrate the diverse creativity that exists within it. From our annual July 3rd Celebration, drawing thousands of people to Montpelier for a lively parade and fireworks, to Ice on Fire, a celebration of deep winter, our festivals strengthen the fabric of our community.
Groberg adds, “(Montpelier) is a phenomenal place to raise a family. Kids can still be kids here, and there are lots of fun family-oriented events and activities”.
Montpelier’s visitors often come from nearby cities of Boston, Portland, and New York. What makes Montpelier’s accessibility unique is its proximity to Canada. Montreal is only a two hour drive away, passing through Burlington, and the small villages of the Eastern Townships in Quebec.
The same elements that make Montpelier a desirable place to visit also make it the perfect place to stay. Montpelier is not a transient community, the people here support one another and are constantly finding ways to connect, even in the most difficult of times.
Find out more about Montpelier and all it has to offer as a on the Montpelier Alive website. Read what people have to say about our small town, and see the busy calendar of events at www.montpelieralive.org.
Photo by Erica housekeeper | Jesse Thornburg of Grid Fruit holds a sensor beacon at Mach’s Market in Pawlet. The sensor beacon measures certain characteristics of the environment where they’re placed—such as a refrigerator or freezer—and send those measurements to a nearby microcomputer.
Written by Kelly Nottermann, Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund
Passionate about climate change and sustainability, Jesse Thornburg and Javad Mohammadi met in Pennsylvania through their respective research on ways to reduce energy demand on the power grid—the key, they felt, to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and slowing climate change.
Thornburg came from a renewable energy background, while Mohammadi had worked with utilities, but they both came to the same conclusion: big companies, including Google and Honeywell, were making headway in the residential space, but there was one niche not being targeted by the biggest players—commercial refrigeration.
Energy Star estimates that refrigeration constitutes up to 40 percent of the total energy in supermarkets, grocery stores, or convenience stores, but Thornburg says that most U.S. stores don’t measure refrigeration demand separately from store consumption as a whole, let alone use that data in day-to-day decision making.
“Renewables are increasing in prevalence,” said Thornburg. “That’s the supply side of the equation and we’re all for that. But there also needs to be responsiveness on the demand side. Big companies are seeing that and working on residential solutions, but no one is focused on the smallest class of commercial buildings that rely on consistent refrigeration.”
Gib Mach, owner of Mach’s Market in Pawlet, Vt. and one of Grid Fruit’s first clients agrees. Mach recently installed 146 solar panels on the roof of his building and hopes to install a hydro-electric station in the future. Mach is “all about climate change” and says Grid Fruit is just what he was looking for.
“It’s an opportunity to get involved,” says Mach. “I want my business to be as efficient and cost effective as possible and Grid Fruit offers a sophisticated way for me to manage energy use.”
Using data to shift energy demand.
Refrigerators and freezers use compressors to keep temperatures within an optimal range. When the temperature drifts up toward the maximum of that range, the compressor turns on to cool the unit—that’s the typical humm you hear from your refrigerator at home. In a commercial setting, Thornburg and Mohammadi found that compressors in multiple units are often running at the same time and are not controlled by centralized digital controls like you might have with smart home devices. Many grocers use legacy systems that either don’t collect data or, if they do, send the data to the cloud and never use it outside of maintenance emergencies.
Grid Fruit collects that existing data and also supplies small sensors to units that do not have data collection capability. These measurements of temperature and power characterize how the refrigerators and freezers are running. That data is then run through an algorithm that returns recommendations for optimizing energy use—for example, staggering compressor cycles or the timing of defrost—to flatten demand.
The company also helps grocers be responsive to alerts sent from utilities to shift power to or away from certain times of day depending on anticipated load on the grid.
“The total effect is reduced demand during peak times which is good for global warming and, because it reduces expensive spikes in energy use, good for the business owner as well,” said Thornburg. “The two work hand in hand.”
For example, if Green Mountain Power anticipates a surge in energy demand on a hot day when people are running their air conditioners, they might send an alert asking customers to shift energy-intensive events to evening. Grid Fruit can manage that event for store owners, shifting a scheduled defrost, for example, to an off-peak time of day. The store owners get access to a customized dashboard where their information is available in real-time and they can participate as much, or as little, as they choose for each event.
Starting up during a shutdown.
The company was just beginning to gain some traction when COVID-19 hit in 2020. “We had a couple of signed non-disclosure agreements,” said Thornburg, “but no one wanted to move forward amid such uncertainty, so we were a little stuck.”
Taking the pause as an opportunity to dig deeper into their business and marketing plans, the founders looked into accelerator programs. “DeltaClime’s Energy 2021 cohort was a great fit for us,” said Thornburg, “and once we realized it was going to be virtual, we jumped on the opportunity.”
“DeltaClime helped us focus on business plan fundamentals that were critical to us as technical co-founders without formal business training,” he said. “The active participation of the utilities was really exciting and left us with the impression that Vermont is a small and agile place to be an energy startup.”
Grid Fruit won a pilot with Green Mountain Power through the program, prompting the company’s expansion to Brattleboro where they currently have two pilots underway, including Mach’s Market, and are in conversations with a commercial baker. The five-person team is complemented by a three-person research team at the University of Tennessee.
Power in numbers.
The pilots, along with the relationships the company is developing with DeltaClimeVT sponsors Green Mountain Power and Efficiency Vermont, are the starting point for a bigger vision where Grid Fruit is managing not only individual stores but also looking regionally at their collective power use and making adjustments accordingly.
“Eventually, we want to offer a plug and play option for small stores that immediately connects individual stores into this network across the service territory, across the state, or beyond,” said Thornburg. “Within a store, we can balance eight to 20 or more units, but there is a much larger benefit to the grid if a number of stores within the area are signed on.”
Thornburg would like to enroll larger chains, food manufacturers, and shipping facilities—really any business that relies on refrigeration.“We see this as a way to network clients that are reliant on refrigeration that has traditionally been very inefficient and run without consideration for the unit next door or across the street. We want to give them an opportunity to individually and collectively make a difference on climate change.”
Geoff Robertson, Managing Director of the DeltaClimeVT business accelerator program, is currently recruiting entrepreneurs like Thornburg and Mohammadi for the DeltaClimeVT Energy 2022 cohort, which will be focused on energy-related products and services that reduce the need for costly infrastructure or electrical panel upgrades.
“We are particularly interested in services and technologies that have wide potential applicability with rural populations and that enable small businesses, low and moderate-income Vermonters, disadvantaged populations and multi-family building residents to participate in the low-carbon economy,” said Robertson.
Selection will focus on companies that are currently at a pilot or demonstration stage and planning for scale. Applications for the Energy 2022 cohort are due by January 31, 2022. For more details, visit deltaclimevt.comor contact Geoff Robertson at 802-828-3753.
About DeltaClimeVT – A Climate Economy Business Accelerator
Managed by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (VSJF), the DeltaClimeVT business accelerator is a Vermont-based program serving startup and seed-stage ventures focusing on energy and climate economy innovation. The program provides an intense accelerated learning and business development process designed to test assumptions, expose and remediate business vulnerabilities, prepare for significant investment, and provide a platform for rapid scaling. As a proven leader in sustainability, Vermont offers participants access to a large number of entrepreneurial climate economy and energy experts throughout the program.
Photo by Erica Houskeeper | Treeline Terrains co-founder Nathaniel Klein starts a piece in a workshop in Middlebury. Each mountain is made with laminated hardwoods, carved with a CNC router, and hand-sanded and finished with linseed oil for long-term protection.
When three friends at Middlebury College couldn’t find the perfect gift for their boss, they decided to make something special. Nathaniel Klein, Jacob Freedman, and Alex Gemme wanted to thank their supervisor at the Middlebury Snow Bowl for helping them establish a scholarship program. “We had such a great experience coaching skiing and wanted to give her something that was connected to the Snow Bowl,” said Gemme. “We had this idea of carving a model of the ski hill out of wood.”
And so, they did.
Freedman, a geography major, figured out how to map the ski area using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology. From there, the trio worked out how to send the digital mapping file to a CNC router that would carve a model from wood. Klein, who grew up in his grandfather’s woodshop, put the finishing touches on the model, hand sanding and rubbing in linseed oil to bring out the grain of the wood. It was an instant hit.
“Everyone kept telling us we had to sell them,” said Gemme. “We didn’t set out to start a business; it was actually an accident.”
Still undergrad students at Middlebury College at the time, they registered their company in the spring of 2021 and Treeline Terrains was officially in business.
Support from entrepreneurial, wood products communities.
As biology, chemistry and geography majors, they realized they would need to brush up on their business skills to really give Treeline Terrains a go. Senior year, they enrolled in Middlebury Entrepreneurs, a winter term course taught by the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies for students who want to start their own business.
“Without the class we would not have gotten to where we are,” said Freedman. “It allowed us to take our idea in this amorphous shape and figure out the main roadblocks we would have to face to go from an idea to selling something. From there, we were able to springboard into an LLC that spring, which was a quicker timeframe than what we anticipated.”
In the summer of 2020 they received a grant from MiddChallenge, a program at the college that funds student entrepreneurs for the summer who want to explore a business idea. They decided to buy a CNC router and move into Klein’s grandfather’s basement in Massachusetts for the summer where they would have access to a workshop and woodworking tools. They spent the summer refining their models, figuring out how to add features such as buildings, rivers, lakes, and trails… and planning their return to the Green Mountains.
“It was always our goal to be back in Vermont,” said Freedman, “but housing is really scarce and we were in the middle of the pandemic.” After looking all over the state they found a local builder willing to let them use his shop back in Middlebury and, through their connections, were also able to land an apartment.
“The community connections were on our side,” added Freedman. “It was a business decision to come back to Middlebury and it was definitely the right one.”
Another key component of their decision to locate the business in Middlebury was their relationships with A. Johnson Co. lumber mill in Bristol, where they purchase all of the wood for their models. “They’re a great family and have competitive pricing and good products,” said Klein. “They have expertise from working in the industry most of their lives and are willing to share that with us. Once we found them, we were not going to go anywhere else.”
Connecting people to the places they love.
As the models have evolved, so has their customer. The business has caught the attention of local nonprofits, including the Middlebury Area Land Trust who commissioned them to make a model of their 18-mile trail system so that kids could engage tactically with the trail system, and Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports who had them create a 3-D model of Sugarbush Ski Area for visually impaired skiers and riders. “They are education pieces that help people connect with place,” said Freedman.
They also recently completed a large commissioned piece for a family that wanted to see their home on a map of their local ski area. “It was really fun to make,” said Gemme. “The larger the scale, the more terrain there is to play with.” He added that the family marked their home on the model with a gemstone.
One of their largest pieces was presented to Senator Patrick Leahy November 10, 2021 to commemorate the Senator’s receipt of the Vermont Outdoor Business Association Trailblazer Award. The piece is a physical outline of Vermont showing all of the state’s natural mountain and water features—something they would like to do more of for other states.
While a large, custom model might run into the thousands, most pieces on the company’s website range from $70 to a few hundred dollars. The current collection includes lakes and ski areas in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, a Saddleback Mountain cribbage board, and a model of the Adirondack High Peaks region. This holiday season they are introducing keychain models of Mt. Mansfield and Camel’s Hump that will sell for $14.
“The pieces are really about helping people to connect to the places they love,” said Freedman.
Planning for growth in Vermont.
The business is a full time job for all three and they have big visions for the company’s future. To start, Klein would like the business to have its own shop space and a full set of quality tools, some of which they currently lease or borrow. Gemme would like to see that happen by spring of 2022. He adds that the company will need two or three additional routers if growth meets projections, much of which centers on edging into the ski market.
“We’re iterating and trying something new every day,” said Freedman. “Most of our peers are sitting at a desk all day or doing something more related to their major, but every day is a new and exciting adventure for us.”
“Alex and I thought we were going to be doctors,” said Klein with a grin, “but now, who knows.”
About the Vermont Forest Industry Network
Vermont’s forest products industry contributes $1.3 billion to Vermont’s economy and supports more than 9,000 direct and indirect jobs in forestry, logging, processing, specialty woodworking, construction and wood heating (2017). Those numbers more than double when maple production and forest-based recreation are factored in. The Vermont Forest Industry Network creates space for strong relationships and collaboration throughout the industry, including helping to promote new and existing markets for Vermont wood products. Learn more or join at www.vsjf.org.
Considering a career in nursing in Vermont? The Green Mountain State is a wonderful place for healthcare professionals to live, work, and develop careers.
The State of Vermont knows occupational licensure adds additional logistics for professionals who are considering relocating to another state. The Vermont Office of Professional Regulation, in partnership with the Governor’s Office, is leading the effort to reduce licensing barriers, simplify the process, and make transitioning from state to state with an occupational license easier.
Under the State’s new initiative, “Fast-Track Endorsement”, a person who has been practicing in another state for three years can get their license approved within two business days. Utilizing this process, the Office of Professional Regulation has licensed approximately 1125 people in nearly 50 professions since April 2021.
Vermont employers as well as applicants can view real-time licensure status on the Office’s website; applications are entirely online with access 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Visit the Office of Professional Regulation to apply, renew, update, request a verification, or check your application status.
In addition to the expedited licensure, on February 1, 2022, Vermont will join 39 other jurisdictions as a member of the Nurse Licensure Compact. The compact allows registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical/vocational nurses (LPN/VNs) to have one multistate license, with the ability to practice in person or via telehealth, in both the primary state of residence and other compact jurisdictions.
Vermont’s excellent healthcare rankings are a major factor in our high quality of life and have earned us recognition as one of the healthiest states in the US – No. 2 for children’s health and the No. 3 for senior health. As of Dec. 30, 2021, Vermont had the highest rate of complete COVID-19 vaccination rates in the country with 79% of all eligible Vermonters fully vaccinated. We hope you come join Vermont’s vibrant health care community.