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What were Vermont's 'poor farms' like?

An image made of two overlaid pictures -- one of a green road sign reading "town farm road" against a blue sky and green trees, and a black and white photo of people wearing clothing from the early 1900s standing along the porch of a house.
Photos: Elodie Reed/Vermont Public and courtesy of the Sheldon Historical Society
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Graphic: Elodie Reed/Vermont Public
Between the mid-1800s and mid-1900s, "poor farms," also known as "town farms," dotted Vermont's landscape. The history of such places — like the one in Sheldon, seen here in 1912 — is mostly hidden today. The most obvious remnants are the Town Farm and Poor Farm roads crisscrossing the state.

Vermont towns used to be required by law to provide welfare for local residents. That's where poor farms came in.

Brave Little State is Vermont Public’s listener-powered journalism show. In each episode, we answer a question about Vermont that’s been asked — and voted on — by you, our audience. Today, a question from a listener in Shelburne:

“What were Vermont's 'poor farms' like, and could parts of the poor farm model of local aid be adapted for the needs of today?”

Reporter Elodie Reed heads to Hardwick to attend a community dinner and visit the people now living on the same land as the former poor farm — in the hope of better understanding how we can care for one another today.

Note: Our show is made for the ear. We highly recommend listening to the audio. We’ve also provided a transcript. Transcripts are generated using a combination of robots and human transcribers, and they may contain errors.

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Farm on a hill

Sabine Poux: It’s the early 1800s in Hardwick, in the Northeast Kingdom. Settlers have recently secured the charter for the town. People there — specifically, men — they’re holding an annual meeting to conduct local business. They open mills, schools, a tavern and a church.

A photo of an old book flipped open, with a list of names under a heading "draft of hardwick" on one yellowish page, and on the other yellowish page, a map with rows of rectangular columns, each with a name written inside, and a few with words like "college" "parsonage" "school" written inside.
Digital Vermont: A Project of the Vermont Historical Society
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Courtesy
The early lot owners in Hardwick, Vermont kept by Samuel Chandler Crafts, 1768-1853.

Elodie Reed: More farms are cropping up. Including one on a hillside in the northern part of town, several miles away from Hardwick’s southern and eastern village centers.

Sabine Poux: Parts of this farm sound pretty good, according to newspaper accounts over the years. A writer says it has one of the best cow herds in Hardwick. There’s a cellar full of potatoes and vegetables, and the farm delivers milk and cream right to town.

Elodie Reed: Other parts of this farm sound … not so good. The people who live and work here are called “inmates,” though they haven't committed crimes. They’re sometimes treated like inmates, too. There’s a large wooden cage where they might be sent if they’re acting out. One person reportedly tries to escape, multiple times, and another person there kills themselves.

Sabine Poux: This is the Hardwick town farm, also known as the “poor farm.” And it’s an important part of Hardwick’s response to a 1797 Vermont law. That law says that towns shall support “all the poor, lame, blind, sick and other inhabitants within such town or place, who are not able to maintain themselves.” And also to provide things like housing and medical care.

In other words, the state says it’s not their job, or the feds’ job, to make sure Vermonters have what they need. It’s every town for itself, with each one designating official “overseers” of the poor to make decisions about the care people receive.

Elodie Reed: At first, Hardwick takes a more piecemeal approach, arranging for orphans to serve as indentured servants, and auctioning off adults and families to other residents who can take care of them at the lowest cost to the town.

A black and white photo of a long white building shaped like a barn with leafless trees alongside it.
Sheldon Historical Society
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Courtesy
The poor farm in the town of Sheldon, in Franklin County, pictured in 1913. The farm burned several times during its run in the 1800s and mid-1900s.

Elodie Reed: But by the mid-1800s, the number of people who cannot support themselves has grown. So Hardwick and many other Vermont towns open poor farms and poorhouses, where residents are forced to work for their keep — if they’re physically able.

Sabine Poux: As for the care people receive under this system — that appears to vary from town to town, depending on who’s in charge.

There are stories of meager food and clothing and cruel punishments. There are also a few hopeful examples scattered through the archives: like a story of volunteers celebrating Christmas with those living at the poor farm in Sheldon.

An image of a black and white newspaper clipping showing people standing around a person dressed as Santa. The caption underneath the image reads: "Santa Claus visits -- Mr. Benjamin Mitchell, 4-year-resident at Sheldon Home, is shown at right as he is presented gift by Santa Claus. The party, an annual event as Sheldon, was one of the best attended in eleven years. Looking on are Edward Gagnon at left, and Arnold Martin (Black shirt) of Swanton, co-chairmen for the festivities. Also see are Mr. and Mrs. Francis Nolan, operators of the Sheldon home."
Newspapers.com
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Courtesy
Some old newspaper accounts portray Sheldon's town farm in a positive light, like Christmas parties for residents, as seen in this St. Albans Daily Messenger photo.

Elodie Reed: These farms continue into the 20th century. By the time the Great Depression hits, in the 1930s, the Hardwick poor farm is “not what could be called … a paying proposition,” according to an old newspaper article.

At the 1938 Hardwick Town Meeting, residents decide to close the farm, completely. The selectmen sell it to a St. Albans couple for $5,500 — equivalent to more than $130,000 today. The “inmates” who have been living and working there, who are mostly older, go to live with the family of a longtime town official.

Sabine Poux: At the same time, state and federal governments are taking over welfare services through programs like Social Security. So in the 1960s, Vermont lawmakers approve legislation removing the rights of towns to run poor farms and the responsibility to care for those people who are otherwise unable to “maintain themselves.”

A black and white photo of the front page of the Hardwick Gazette newspaper from Thursday, April 28, 1938, which includes the headline "Hardwick Town Farm Sold." Another notable inclusion in this page: a Cox's Pharmacy ad reading "Fishin' tackle .... that's fit for fishin"
Newspapers.com
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Courtesy
As reported in the Hardwick Gazette, voters approved selling the town farm in the spring of 1938.

Elodie Reed: These days, in 2024 — there’s hardly any trace of the poor farm history in a place like Hardwick. The only hint is a steep dirt road, several miles away from downtown, that leads up to a relatively new campus of houses, gardens and a working farm.

Jonathan Gilbert: So we were not aware of the poor farm, or town farm, the history of it, until we actually got started. 

Sabine Poux: This history — and the potential to learn from it — is at the heart of today’s winning question, from an anonymous listener in Shelburne: "What were Vermont's 'poor farms' like, and could parts of the 'poor farm' model of local aid be adapted for the needs of today?"

And because the “poor farm” — or “town farm” — model functioned at the local level, reporter Elodie Reed also focused her reporting at the local level — in Hardwick. Where she actually first heard the term “poor farm” many years ago.

Elizabeth “Wiz” Dow: It's where they shut away the people and they, then they didn't have to deal with it. 

Sabine Poux: And she talked with people in Hardwick about what we might take — and leave — from that model of care.

Rose Friedman: I mean, we need emergency housing so bad. How frickin’ great would it be if it was on a farm?

ICYMI: Check out Brave Little State's 2018 story about the origin of Vermont road names "Poor Farm Road" and "Town Farm Road"

A photo of a dirt road leading off a main, paved road, with a green road sign reading town farm road in the middle of the two roads. The sky is blue and there are bright green trees on the roadsides.
Elodie Reed
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Vermont Public
Town Farm Road in Hardwick is really the only hint that there once existed a poor farm in this part of town.

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Reading into the past

Elodie Reed: The term “poor farm” feels pretty outdated in the year 2024. Partly because “poor” — in this context — is a massive generalization that refers not just to people without much money, but also to people with disabilities, people experiencing mental illness and people who are older.

But this generalization — “the poor” — is how Vermont justified sending these groups of people to farms in the first place in the 19th and 20th centuries.

“Poor farm” is also a phrase that comes up a lot — like in old newspaper articles, and on all the “Poor Farm Road” street signs you might see around the state. So, you’ll hear both the terms “poor farm” and the more palatable “town farm” in this story. They refer to the same thing.

And according to Allen F. Davis:

Allen F. Davis: They weren't very happy places. 

Elodie Reed: Allen is a retired professor of American cultural history who lives in the Northeast Kingdom.

A photo showing an older man in glasses sitting in a plastic chair on grass. He's wearing a sweater and khakis.
Elizabeth Dow
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Courtesy
Allen F. Davis grew up in Hardwick and used to teach American history.

Allen F. Davis: Hardwick's treatment of the poor was still strongly influenced by the English tradition imported into New England in the 17th century. 

Elodie Reed: He’s talking about the English poor laws that looked very similar to Vermont’s 1797 legislation, and the British almshouses that looked a lot like Vermont’s poor farms. By the 1800s, these institutions operated on the idea that poverty among able-bodied people was a personal moral failing, not a societal one.

Allen F. Davis: The town farm was all about the work ethic. 

Elodie Reed: Allen says society back then — and in his opinion, today — it divided people experiencing poverty into the “worthy poor” and the “unworthy poor.”

Here he is reading from an article he wrote for the historical journal in Greensboro.

Allen F. Davis: The “worthy poor” were those who were temporarily down on their luck — victims of circumstance, illness or depression. The “unworthy poor" lack character. They were lazy, drunken or simply unfit. And, of course, in much of the United States, you were “unworthy poor” by simply being Black or Italian or Catholic.

Elodie Reed: In Vermont, Allen says, towns tried to only help the “worthy poor.”

Allen F. Davis: And one way the poor could prove their worthiness was to work on the town farm. But the value of the products produced was not as important as the work done by the poor. 

Elodie Reed: Not only has Allen read about the Hardwick poor farm, he remembers it. Allen is 93 years old, and grew up in Hardwick in the 1930s and ‘40s, right at the tail end of the local town farm. He remembers seeing the farm while his father made a delivery from his general store.

Allen F. Davis: It was remote, but it looked like an ordinary Vermont farm. Except there was a fairly big house and my memory of all the old men sitting on the porch. It would be, in a sense, like some of the assisted living places we have today for elderly people. But I would urge you not to romanticize the poor farm. I do have this vivid memory of older people saying, “I hope I never have to go to the poor farm.”

Elodie Reed: In Hardwick, Allen says there was a certain stigma attached to being a resident at the town farm. But it’s hard to glean what life was like for the people who actually lived there

Elodie Reed: Are there any photos in there of the farm? Do you know?

Elizabeth “Wiz” Dow: I don't think so. And I hadn't noticed that we don't have any pictures of it, but that tells you a lot.

Elodie Reed: I’m inside the Hardwick train-depot-turned-historical society with its president, Elizabeth Dow, who also goes by Wiz.

A photo of a woman with short grey hair, glasses and wearing flannel over a red shirt stands and smiles inside a library with desks and chairs in the background.
Elizabeth Dow
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Courtesy
Elizabeth Dow, who goes by Wiz, is the president of the Hardwick Historical Society.

There isn’t anything about the town farm here on the day I visit.

And generally speaking, Wiz says this history remains out of sight.

Elizabeth “Wiz” Dow: It's one of those things that's just out there, but not real. You know? It's where they shut away the people and they, then they didn't have to deal with it. 

Elodie Reed: There is one detail about living at the Hardwick town farm that we do have, from old newspaper archives, that I can’t get out of my head. And that is the wooden cage — the one where “inmates” went if they were acting out. It sounds, obviously, pretty horrible to me.

But Wiz warns me that trying to interpret the past can be fraught.

Elizabeth “Wiz” Dow: I wonder about the cage. Yeah, we can look at it and say, “Oh my God.” But did somebody who was having trouble holding it together look at it and say, "That's where I'm safe to do what I need to do.” I don't know. 

Elodie Reed: What's your, sort of, ethos around making judgments or not making judgments about, like, human conditions in the past when, you know, you’re not living there, you don’t have all the context.

Elizabeth “Wiz” Dow: The past is a foreign country that we can't visit. It's really hard to try to report what happened, first, accurately, and second, without judgment.

Elodie Reed: How you judge the past is so dependent on the life you’ve lived.

A photo of a man in a red shirt and baseball cap standing in the wide-open door of a wooden barn. In the background is a clear blue sky.
Elodie Reed
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Vermont Public
Forrest Foster has been farming in Hardwick for 44 years.

And based on the life Forrest Foster has lived — he thinks there’s something to be said for how things worked when he was growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s, when Vermont’s last poor farms were closing.

Forrest Foster: Just pull and bang it.

Elodie Reed: OK.

Forrest Foster: You can turn right around and sit on that.

Elodie Reed: Forrest is a Hardwick dairy farmer. We’re in his tractor on the land he’s been working for 44 years. It sits on top of a hill just east of where the town farm used to be.

Elodie Reed: How many acres do you have Forrest?

Forrest Foster: One hundred and thirty-five. The house trailers are on my land. You see the trees over there on the fence line?

Elodie Reed: Yep.

Elodie Reed: Forrest actually grew up in Walden, the town next door. And I haven’t found any mention of a poor farm existing in Walden, at any point — not all Vermont towns had one.

But each town did have an overseer or overseers of the poor, the officials appointed to manage people’s care. And Forrest remembers Walden’s overseer with some fondness.

Forrest Foster: Our lady over there was Gertrude Strong. And you come in and say you broke your boots, or it ripped, or got a hole in it, or whatever. And she'd give you the money for a pair of boots and give you the boots, and then next time someone might be planting, might be banking up the house for fall, or whatever somebody had been in and said they'd like help with and it would get passed back to you and somebody needed something again, they worked that way.

A photo of a man in a red shirt and grey baseball cap, bending inside machinery with orange metal prongs.
Elodie Reed
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Vermont Public
Forrest Foster remembers his parents putting people up for the winter in exchange for chores on his family's farm in Walden.

Elodie Reed: What Forrest is describing — it sounds more neighborly than the poor farms I’ve been reading about. In this scenario, Walden residents who were unable to meet their basic needs still worked for their food, clothing and shelter. But they did so in their community. The town didn’t send them away, against their will.

Still, this model of local welfare, it really depended on who was in charge. Forrest says Gertrude Strong, the overseer of the poor, had a lot of discretion in her position.

Forrest Foster: Gertie was an angel to most people, and if she saw you coming in, she didn't think you needed it or that it really wasn't for you, she would let you know about it right off.

Elodie Reed: And this leads to the question: who should decide what you do or don’t need?

Stella James: I see a lot of people who feel, with good intentions, that they're arriving at a solution. And often they're not listening to the very people who need the help.

Elodie Reed: That's when we come back.

_

A photo of a balloon reading "Happy Birthday" in rainbow colors and confetti in the foreground, with a number of people standing around a park in the background.
Elodie Reed
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Vermont Public
The Civic Standard, a Hardwick nonprofit, celebrated its second anniversary on Wednesday, June 5.

Hardwick today

Elodie Reed: Down the hill from Forrest’s farm, in the center of Hardwick — there’s a birthday party happening one evening in early June.

Elodie Reed: Is it actually your birthday?

Tara Reese: It’s the Civic’s birthday!

Elodie Reed: The birthday party is not for a person. It’s for an organization, called The Civic Standard. The Hardwick nonprofit focuses on building community — through things like an annual Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament, a theater camp and a youth-led skate park project.

And tonight, it’s celebrating its second anniversary at a park in town. Picnic benches dot the grassy space overlooking the Lamoille River. Supper is fish stick tacos, and it’s free, just as it is every Wednesday night at the Civic’s community meals.

Rose Friedman: Like a free meal, for example, is such a simple thing. 

Elodie Reed: This is Rose Friedman, the executive director of The Civic Standard.

Rose Friedman: And it's so complex because if people — people have a lot of feelings about accepting a free supper and around like, well, “I don't need that, so I should let somebody else have it, who might need it more than me.” But what we're trying to do is, sort of, introduce the idea that we don't want to eat separately from each other.

A photo of two people wearing black shirts and gold happy birthday headbands, while one person holds a plate containing a piece of pie with a sparkler sticking out of it. Behind them is the side of a crimson building.
Elodie Reed
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Vermont Public
Rose Friedman, left, and Tara Reese are co-founders of The Civic Standard.

Elodie Reed: I’m here with Rose at the Wednesday Supper because I want to know how people in Hardwick think about the town’s now-defunct farm, and how they might answer the second part of our winning question — about how parts of the poor farm model might be adapted for today.

Elodie Reed: OK, so, I made packets.

Rose Friedman: Packets?

Elodie Reed: Rose looks over my packet summarizing the Vermont 1797 welfare law and old newspaper clippings about the Hardwick poor farm. She likes the localness of this model — the idea of problems not being solved at the state or federal level, but right here in Hardwick.

Rose Friedman: It should look a little different, probably, than it looked. But I mean, we need emergency housing so bad, like we need youth transitional housing and a shelter. And, you know, emergency housing and how frickin’ great would it be if it was on a farm and in a big house rather than a motel.

A photo of two men standing with their arms around each other with a yellow building in the background. One man is wearing a red and orange Hawaiian shirt, and the other is wearing a floral black knit sweater. Both are smiling.
Elodie Reed
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Vermont Public
Darren "Will" Devine, right, stands for a portrait with Eric Jonathan at The Civic Standard's "Wednesday Supper" on June 5.

Elodie Reed: More people at this community meal agree that it would be pretty nice to have a farm in town where people could go — voluntarily — if they want housing, or work, or local food.

Darren “Will” Devine: That sounds great. I would love to work on a town farm.

Elodie Reed: Among them: Darren Devine, who likes to go by the name Will. He describes his life as nomadic, and he’s spent time in and out of jail. He says he’s in Hardwick for a short time.

Elodie Reed: When I told you about the question, you said you’d love to work on a farm. What about that would you love?  

Darren “Will” Devine: I don’t know, I just love getting in the dirt working on farms. We have little raised bed gardens up in the woods. And then I, out in the city, I gotta bring loads of dirt over to Burlington, to the North End. We've been doing some urban farming up there. So like, I'm a young man, I can get, like, a lot of, like, hard, heavy lifting work out, but I'm also inconsistent. So I could, I feel like, on a farm that a community operates, I could come in and do, like, heavy lifting and moving wheelbarrows of dirt around, but then having, you know, like older people, maybe tend to the plants over the months. And then having it provide for the people that need it. And community dinners like this, it'd be great if we had community dinners with vegetables that we all grew.

Elodie Reed: As I make my way around this community dinner, asking people about this poor farm model, what I’m really trying to get at is how people think we should care for each other, and whether we’re already doing that well — or not. Which feel like delicate questions.

Bobby Schaffer: Sit down. 

Elodie Reed: You got a cannoli. That's good.

A photo of a man in jeans, white tank top and tan baseball hat with a red star on it, sitting at a picnic bench with his hands resting on a cane. In the background is a crimson building and grass.
Elodie Reed
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Vermont Public
Bobby Schaffer, long-time Hardwick resident and Vietnam veteran.

Elodie Reed: But longtime Hardwick resident and Vietnam vet Bobby Schaffer seems up for it.

Bobby Schaffer: Go ahead. I'm ready.

Elodie Reed: OK, you all right with this being recorded?

Bobby Schaffer: Oh, yeah, f—kin’ a, I got nothing to hide.

Elodie Reed: So I just ask.

Elodie Reed: Do you feel cared for in Hardwick?

Bobby Schaffer: I have, I have, yes, I do. The VA takes care of my physical needs, which is wonderful. And I have friends who drive me to appointments in the community, Gary Smith and the chaplain at the Legion, Todd Manchester. So I hate to ask, but they're very giving.

Elodie Reed: Do you feel like you have opportunities to care for people as well? 

Bobby Schaffer: Of course, I give corrective criticism, you know, I’ve got a point of view. I’ve been around. Yeah. Psychologically, I try to get people out of their doom and their depression. So I’ve done that with some neighbors.

A photo of a woman with long blonde hair and a baseball hat wearing a floral shirt over jean shorts. She's standing with her arm on a shelf full of food, in a room full of similar shelves.
Elodie Reed
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Vermont Public
Stella James says the Hardwick Area Food Pantry serves about 100 families a week across multiple towns.

Stella James: It's figuring out this fine line of where to give people space and where to be helpful if possible. 

Elodie Reed: Stella James is the site coordinator at the Hardwick Area Food Pantry, which serves about 100 families a week.

She thinks a lot about these questions of care in her community, and so I ask her about the Hardwick poor farm.

Elodie Reed: One thing about this model that struck me is how much of it was decided at town meeting. 

Stella James: Yeah, I actually, I was disturbed when I thought about it. I see a lot of people who feel, with good intentions, that they're arriving at a solution and they want to help figure out how to take care of a quote, unquote, “a problem.” And often they're not listening to the very people who need the help.

Elodie Reed: Stella says those people with good intentions — they need to trust that the people they’re trying to help are experts of their own situations.

Stella James: I think that people in those situations don't need anyone to solve their problems. What they actually need is someone to notice them and then ask them what they need, and then just provide that thing that they're asking for so that they can maintain their privacy, their dignity and be able to be independent. 

Elodie Reed: This is something people couldn’t do during the poor farm era. And something that Stella says people often still can’t do in our present-day welfare systems.

Stella James: And so I see people who, they really want that privacy so they won't ask for help, and then they end up on the outskirts, where maybe they're like, walking through town, and they're seeing everybody doing their jobs and doing a thing, and they just feel more and more distant and more and more separate from what's going on. And that alienation, I think, accrues over time because those people feel invisible.

I feel like we have so much as a society to learn from people who actually have been through those trials, and it's just really sad that we would put them somewhere else. Because we're missing those opportunities to learn about reality.

Heartbeet Lifesharing

Jonathan Gilbert: I think that's the basic foundation of Heartbeet and of Camphill: that no matter how you were born, in which bodies you were born, you have a destiny to fulfill and you have something to bring to the world around you. 

Elodie Reed: This is Jonathan Gilbert, one of the co-founders of Heartbeet Lifesharing. That name, Camphill, that he mentions — that’s referring to the larger network of communities that Heartbeet belongs to.

Jonathan Gilbert: And at Heartbeet we are trying to support each other to discover that, because we can't actually discover it on our own. We need each other.

A photo of a small blue bird-house like structure with books inside and colorful popsicle sticks decorating the outside. A sign on it reads "Heartbeet Lending Library."
Elodie Reed
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Vermont Public
The Heartbeet lending library, created in the community's woodshop. Heartbeet residents have the option to partake in a number of activities including woodworking, fiber arts, cooking, gardening and farming.

Elodie Reed: Heartbeet is a state-licensed therapeutic residence for people with developmental disabilities where they live with, not apart from, people without disabilities, on a working farm. It also happens to occupy the same property where Hardwick’s town farm used to be, along Town Farm Road.

Jonathan Gilbert: It’s quite interesting. So we were not aware of the poor farm, or the town farm, the history of it, until we actually got started.

Elodie Reed: Heartbeet is actually where I first learned about the concept of poor farms some eight years ago, when I reported another story here.

A photo of a person in a red shirt and baseball cap sitting in a row of a bright green garden, with a hand in the soil.
Elodie Reed
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Vermont Public
Suzannah Dickinson, a resident at Heartbeet Lifesharing in Hardwick, works in the vegetable garden on Wednesday, June 12.

And some similarities persist between past and present. Heartbeet produces milk, cheese, meat, eggs, vegetables and honey. Some of the people who live in the four houses here also work right on the farm.

Elodie Reed: What's your name? 

Max Gleicher: I'm Max.

Dan Morse: Max. 

Elodie Reed: Nice to meet you, Max. I'm Elodie. What are you up to out here today?

Dan Morse: What are we doing today, Max? Gardening? 

Max Gleicher: Yeah!

 Dan Morse: Pruning tomatoes.

Max Gleicher: Mmmm. (laughter)

Elodie Reed: But unlike the town farm of old, people at Heartbeet get to choose whether they want to live here — they aren’t forced to. And everyone gets to choose how they spend their time, whether that’s barn chores or cooking in the kitchen or woodworking or making fiber arts. They also have social opportunities in town, and town can come to them during events at Heartbeet’s community center.

A photo of people standing in a line with one another, talking, laughing and hugging. Above them are murals painted to look like watercolors and a sign reading "may you connect with your wisdom"
Elodie Reed
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Vermont Public
Heartbeet Lifesharing staff and residents line up for lunch on Wednesday, June 12. Staff here are known as “coworkers” and residents with disabilities are known as “friends” — all live together on a working farm in Hardwick.

Also, the old terms of “overseer” and “inmate” are long gone — Heartbeet’s staff are called “coworkers,” and the residents with disabilities, are known on the farm as “friends.”

Among those friends is Ann Blanchard, another cofounder at Heartbeet and the first resident to move here.

Ann Blanchard: In town, there was a bulletin board where everything, advertisements and ads and so on, and my mom so happened to see an advertisement for Heartbeet.

Elodie Reed: At the time, Ann was living on another community farm, for older people, just north of New York City. She liked that at Heartbeet, she could live and work among people with disabilities. People like her.

A photo of three people in green, red and pink shirts crowd together and small for a photo.
Elodie Reed
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Vermont Public
Heartbeet Lifesharing friends Ann Blanchard, left, Suzannah Dickinson, center, and Annie Jackson, right, smile for a portrait during lunchtime on Wednesday, June 12.

Elodie Reed: I have two questions for you. First one is, did you, and do you feel cared for here?

Ann Blanchard: Yes, I do feel that I am cared for. And sometimes my needs are met and sometimes not. But that's, that comes just, I guess, natural, natural way.

Jonathan Gilbert: Right. I go through that, too.

Elodie Reed: I guess the other question I had for you is, do you feel like you get to care for your community, here? 

Ann Blanchard: Yes, I do care for my community. 

George McWilliam: Can I share some other things you told me the other day? 

Elodie Reed: This is George McWilliam, the executive director of Heartbeet.

George McWilliam: When she joined, the families were very young and Ann did a lot of caring for those young children. 

Ann Blanchard: And I helped with the three kids all in the farmhouse.

A photo of two people in baseball caps and safety glasses holding a drill as it screws together a wooden frame.
Elodie Reed
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Vermont Public
Jonathan Gilbert, right, and Kai Tidblom work together to build a window casing in the woodshop at Heartbeet Lifesharing. Jonathan is one of the co-founders of Heartbeet.

Jonathan Gilbert: I sure hope that we’re definitely more current in how we care for each other, you know? There's a real element of being there for one another. And even if we carry different titles, “long-term coworker,” “coworker” and “friends,” once you really understand the intention of the community, all those titles go away, and we really care for one another. To support each other on development and thrive and help each other in finding what is our purpose in life, you know?

Elodie Reed: As Jonathan Gilbert reflects on what came before Heartbeet, on Hardwick’s poor farm, he says he feels the land chose them — not the other way around.

Jonathan Gilbert: You might say that land might have some karma, you know? This may be some history that is imprinted into the land. And hopefully it is healing that can be done with the new initiative that come over. And I think that’s been the case of what's unfolding here.

A photo of two people from the back as they walk down a dirt road toward a collection of houses and farm buildings set into green grass and trees.
Elodie Reed
/
Vermont Public
Heartbeet Lifesharing is located on the same land as Hardwick's former town farm. It's designed to be an inclusive community for adults with developmental disabilities.

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Credits

Thank you for listening to the show. And a big thanks to the listener in Shelburne who sent in this thoughtful question.

This episode was reported by Elodie Reed and produced by Sabine Poux. Editing and additional production from the rest of the Brave Little State team: Burgess Brown and Josh Crane. Angela Evancie is Brave Little State’s Executive producer. Our theme music is by Ty Gibbons; other music by Blue Dot Sessions.

Special thanks to Zoe McDonald, Lexi Krupp, Erica Heilman, Liz Gauffreau, Tara Reese, Kent Osborne, Carlotta Hayes, Eric Jonathan and Jackson Miller. And to all the folks we spoke with at Heartbeet Lifesharing.

As always, our journalism is better when you’re a part of it:

Brave Little State is a production of Vermont Public and a proud member of the NPR Network.

Elodie is a reporter and producer for Vermont Public. She previously worked as a multimedia journalist at the Concord Monitor, the St. Albans Messenger and the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, and she's freelanced for The Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, the Berkshire Eagle and the Bennington Banner. In 2019, she earned her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Southern New Hampshire University.
Sabine Poux is a reporter/producer with Brave Little State. She comes to Vermont by way of Kenai, Alaska, where she was a reporter, news director, and on-air host for almost three years. Her reporting on commercial fishing and energy has been syndicated across Alaska and on NPR.