Education, News, Plainfield

Cooperation Vermont Plans a Future for Goddard Campus

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Two groups plan to utilize the Goddard College Campus, one for further learning and community resilience.

PLAINFIELD – Since Goddard College announced in January that they were suspending residency programs and moving to an online only model, at least temporarily, several proposals to use the campus have emerged.

The Cooperative College Collaborative, “a group of stakeholders from Goddard College – including leadership from the faculty union, staff union, alumni, and student body – have joined forces to transform the college into a cooperatively run institution.” Their website suggests, “A better college is possible. A college rooted in the values of liberation, collaboration, cooperation, and radical democracy can emerge.”

Another group, “on a parallel track, with solidarity support from this collaborative working group, Cooperation Vermont (CVT) and the Cooperation Vermont Community Land Trust (CLT) are looking to acquire the physical plant (campus, land, buildings) before other market forces do.” They then plan to “permanently decommodify it as part of the CVT CLT.”

“With the campus, CVT envisions the creation of a Just Transition Campus as a place of transformational learning, experimentation and community resilience. In addition to continuing relationships with Goddard – hopefully a Goddard that is a Cooperative College – to bring back their residency program, we would continue the leases with important community institutions that will have no place to go when their lease expires including Maple Hill School, Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism, WGDR Central Vermont Radio and Goddard Cafe.”

In a recent conversation with CVT Director Michelle Eddleman McCormick and CVT CLT Board Member Grace Gershuny, the Gazette learned of their commitment to cooperative principles. The organization, founded just two years ago, has already had success with revitalizing the Marshfield Village Store. That transitioned it into a worker-owned cooperative, where McCormick serves as general manager.

McCormick says that the network of organizations supporting the effort to acquire the Goddard facilities have generated “enough impact investment dollars” to proceed with making a proposal in an amount they expect will be necessary to purchase the property. Their funding also anticipates an amount in the one million dollar range to overcome years of deferred maintenance.

Their conversations with Goddard administrators has resulted in the mutual execution of a nondisclosure agreement. A recent email from the group to those administrators offered a path for taking the next steps to conduct due diligence, including the offer of a good faith deposit to confirm their earnest intentions. They hope for a response that will allow further investigation into the value and state of the campus.

Gershuny, an author, educator and organic consultant, became involved with CVT several years ago when she wrote a concept paper that involved ways to preserve land. She then became involved with the People’s Network for Land and Liberation. Through that association she was introduced to Kali Akuno. Akuno is a co-founder and executive director of Cooperation Jackson, which is an emerging network of worker cooperatives and supporting institutions. Cooperation Jackson is fighting to create economic democracy by creating a vibrant solidarity economy in Jackson, Miss., that will help transform Mississippi and the South.

Gershuny has a long history of working with cooperative principles, as her biography on the CLT website shows: “In the 1990’s she served on the staff of USDA’s National Organic Program, where she helped write the regulations. She learned much of what she knows through her longtime involvement with the grassroots organic movement, where she organized conferences and educational events and developed an early organic certification program for the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA).”

McCormick was active in long-term mutual aid work in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, where she became committed to transformative change.

Both discussed their commitment to the principles they espouse, along with a history of accomplishing what they set out to do.

McCormick and Gershuny say their interest in decommodifying the campus is for the good of people rather than the economy. The concept of a just transition guides their thinking about acquiring the campus.

Just transition is a place-based set of principles to shift economic and political power by putting energy into moving an extractive economy to a regenerative economy. The means of approaching production and consumption cycles is looked at holistically and as waste-free as possible. That transition must be just and equitable, with effort put into redressing past harms and developing new relationships of power for the future through reparations. Just transition describes how the future is seen and how it is reached in the belief that an unjust process will never result in a just outcome.

Those concepts seem to inform all of their thinking about the process of acquiring the campus.

Cooperation Vermont would use the site to create a community production center with a green fabrication lab, woodworking, metal working, etc., as a way of relocalizing production and creating the means to build affordable housing both on campus and throughout the state of Vermont.

Their thoughts for a possible future include fully utilizing the campus to create a place where current organizations will stay and continue to use the facilities. They envision making it available for other organizations working together, sharing space and ideas. Future plans might include developing an agroecology school, an agroforestry project, a cooperative daycare center and using dormitory space for senior housing.

All of these organizations would “work autonomously, but intentionally collaborate to start to weave together the various threads into a tapestry of community resilience and relocalization.”

Their website lays out a vision, sharing that, “We envision a thriving, living, learning and working place where art and culture are centered, community is both built and cared for, and we can demonstrate what a Next Systems model may look like.

“In addition people who are part of the US Solidarity Economy Network are ready to support the project.

“And last, but certainly not least, there is an expansive local network of people who are Goddard Alumni and now, or soon to be, former staff who care deeply about this campus for all that it once was and could be into the future.”

Cooperation Vermont, based in Marshfield, is a sister organization of Cooperation Jackson, and is the sponsor of the Marshfield Cooperative at the Marshfield Village Store. Cooperation Vermont is also one of the anchor organizations of the People’s Network for Land and Liberation, which consists of Cooperation Jackson, Community Movement Builders, and INCITE Focus.

Paul Fixx is editor of The Hardwick Gazette and lives in Hardwick.

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