January 21, 2010 – Today, we learned that Judge Durkin has ruled in favor of the JLD Walmart project. We have not had an opportunity to review the decision, but this seems like a good time to provide more details on our concept for an appropriate use of the farm fields in question.
An appropriate use would keep the land available for food production. An ideal use would achieve this goal while bringing tangible benefit to the property owner (JL Davis) and to the surrounding community. We have a suggestion that could achieve both goals in a surprisingly creative way.
One of the best ways to bring high-quality economic activity to any community is to locate a new educational facility there. Such a facility would not only provide good quality jobs on site; but it would have the added benefit of attracting smaller secondary businesses to the community to serve the facility’s students and workforce.
Sustainable agriculture is shaping-up to be one of the hottest concerns of the new century. Viable agricultural lands may be viewed as expendable by some sectors of the Vermont community, but elsewhere in the country and around the world, agricultural land is golden, offering the highest potential future return for investment of any property. Permanently disabling prime agricultural land by paving over it is not only irresponsible; it represents very poor long-term investment management.
Now, we just happen to have a public university here in Vermont that already has a recognized agricultural college among it’s educational assets. UVM operates a number of agricultural extension facilities beyond the Burlington campus; and Mr. Davis has already demonstrated his generosity toward UVM by endowing the school with the Dudley H. Davis Student Center. Wouldn’t it be nice if Mr. Davis would donate the undeveloped land he now owns near Exit 20 of I-89 to the University of Vermont for the purpose of creating a sustainable agriculture research farm? This facility could represent the cutting edge of twenty-first century agricultural investigation with all the accompanying investment and acclaim such a bold new program could bring to UVM. The facility could incorporate community gardens, state-of-the-art community compost facilities, and ag-educational modules for high school and grade school students to serve the greater St. Albans population. Our kids would learn to be proud of their rural heritage and the valuable role sustainable food production plays in the health and prosperity of a forward- thinking nation.
If JL Davis donates the property for this purpose, where would the funding come from for all the rest? Well, that’s where I see Walmart playing a role. This would be a golden opportunity for the corporate giant to put their money where their mouth is and endow something that is truly green and human-scale. The publicity they could gain from such an endowment would be tremendous. Turning over a new leaf, they could then choose to locate a smaller general merchandise store in downtown St. Albans, and JLD Properties would develop both the downtown store and the ag-educational facility at Exit 20. Visitors and students would come from all over, engendering a host of new small businesses in the area. Owners of property adjacent to the burgeoning new model farm might look to ag tourism, specialty farming and other related rural industries to keep their land viable for food production.
The City and Town of St. Albans would benefit, the county would benefit, Mr. Davis would benefit, UVM would benefit…and even Walmart would benefit in the end.
This is just one example of how creative thinking can keep this farm-land viable while realizing the greater economic goals of the community and allowing entrepreneurs to profit as well.