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The Vermont Conversation

The Vermont Conversation

VBSR's The Vermont Conversation hosted by David Goodman, airs live every Wednesday from 1-2 PM on WDEV Radio Vermont. The show features interviews with people who are making a difference locally and nationally in the worlds of socially responsible business, politics, education, the environment and activism, as well as serves as a way to keep current on VBSR's events, policy work and program happenings. Scroll down to listen to recent shows or Tune into WDEV at 1:00 PM every Wednesday!

Join the Conversation! The Vermont Conversation welcomes call-ins at (802) 244-1777 or comments and questions via email. Have a great idea for a show or interest in joining us yourself? Let us know!

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Did you miss an episode? Scroll down to hear the most recent shows. OR, view the archives to see past guests and topics.

May 4 

Working more, getting less: Vermont’s working women struggle to get ahead

A new report, “Where Women Work and Why It Matters,” developed by Change the Story VT paints a disturbing picture of the plight of working women in Vermont. 43% of VT women who work full-time do not make enough to cover basic living expenses. Women who work full-time are disproportionately employed in low-wage jobs – across every age group, at every level of education. And Vermont women are especially vulnerable in their senior years, when their median annual income from Social Security ($10,000) is half that of men ($20,000). The report was backed by the Vermont Women’s Fund, Vermont Commission on Women and Vermont Works for Women. We discuss the state of working women in Vermont and potential solutions. 

Tiffany Bluemle, director, Change the Story VT
Marybeth Redmond, director of development & communications, Vermont Works for Women

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April 27

David Bronner: Fighting soap maker

David Bronner is Cosmic Engagement Officer (CEO) of Dr. Bronner’s, the top-selling brand of natural soaps in North America and producer of other organic body care and food products. The iconic soap brand is noted for its famous label that espouses a philosophy of world peace it calls ALL ONE.

David Bronner is a grandson of company founder, Emanuel Bronner, and a fifth-generation soap maker. Under David and his brother Michael’s leadership, the brand has grown from $4 million in 1998 to just under $100 million in annual revenue in 2015.

David has been a high profile activist on hemp legalization, organics, drug policy reform, GMO labeling, and livable wage. Dr. Bronner’s soap currently features a label advocating “Fair Pay for All People.” Bronner has been arrested in front of the White House for protesting about restrictive hemp laws.

David Bronner talks about his grandfather’s legacy, his company, and his activism. 

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April 20

Earth Day 46: Can businesses be environmentalists?

On April 22,1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets across the country to demonstrate for a sustainable environment. “By the end of that year, the first Earth Day had led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.” []

On Earth Day 2016, activists and sustainable businesses came to the Vermont State House for a People’s Lobby Day. We speak with participants from two leading Vermont businesses about the role of businesses in advancing environmental goals and the challenges that their own companies face in trying to meet them. [April 20, 2016 broadcast)

Ashley Orgain, Manager of Mission Advocacy, Seventh Generation
Chris Miller, Manager of Social Mission & Activism, Ben & Jerry’s
Shay DiCocco, brand manager, Seventh Generation

In the second half of the show, we discuss the carbon tax and other initiatives to address environmental and climate change goals:

Daniel Barlow, Public Policy Manager, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility
Johanna Miller, Energy Program Director, Vermont Natural Resources Council

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April 6 

Where to Locate Renewable Power

Should communities have more say in where renewable power is located? A group of farmers wrote to the Vermont Legislature this week to defend their ability to locate renewable power on their farms. We talk with a farmer and a solar power provider about some of the challenges in siting renewable power. (April 6, 2016 broadcast)

James Moore, co-founder, Suncommon
Meg Armstrong, sixth generation Essex Junction farm family

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How the FIght for $15 Caught Fire 

When fast food workers walked off their jobs and launched the Fight for $15 in late 2012 in New York City, few people would have predicted that a few years later, the $15 minimum wage would become law. We discuss how the fight for $15 caught fire to become law in California and New York, and beyond. (April 6, 2016 broadcast)

Yannet Lathrop, Researcher and Policy Analyst, National Employment Law Project

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March 23

Brown is the new white: The new American majority

In his book Brown is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority, author Steve Phillips argues that “many progressives and Democrats continue to waste millions dollars chasing white swing voters. In fact, explosive population growth of people of color in American over the past 50 years has laid the foundation for a New American Majority consisting of progressive people of color (23 percent of all eligible voters) and progressive whites (28 percent of all eligible voters) — comprising 51 percent of all eligible voters in America right now.”

Steve Phillips was the youngest person ever elected to public office in San Francisco and went on to serve as president of the Board of Education. He is a co-founder of, a social justice organization that conducted the largest independent voter mobilization efforts backing Barack Obama. He discusses the new American majority, and the forces behind Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and prospects for the 2016 election. 

Steve Phillips, author, Brown is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority (The New Press, 2016)

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March 23 

Tom Stearns: From teen seed merchant to Small Business Person of the Year

Tom Stearns launched High Mowing Organic Seeds in 1996, and in its first year sales were $2,000 and he was the sole employee.  Twenty years later his company has grown to be one of the top organic seed companies in the U.S., and today has more than 60 employees.

Stearns was named Vermont’s 2016 Small Business Person of the Year by the Small Business Administration. He was recognized for growing his company, increasing sales, employee growth and contributing to the local community.

High Mowing Organic Seeds is a farm-based company that produces and distributes vegetable, flower and herb seeds throughout the U.S. and Canada. High Mowing Organic Seeds is the first organic company guaranteeing all of its seeds are non-genetically modified organism verified.

Stearns talks about his journey from being a teenager fascinated with seeds to being part of a burgeoning national local and organic food movement. 

Tom Stearns, owner and founder, High Mowing Organic Seeds

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March 16 

Child deaths and unfair convictions: One reporter’s stories

In honor of Sunshine Week, a national campaign to promote transparency and freedom of information, we speak with Jenifer McKim, a senior investigative reporter the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.

Since starting in the fall of 2013, her stories on child welfare and homeowner debt have been the recipient of both a 2014 and 2015 “Publick Occurrences” award issued by the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Before joining NECIR, McKim, worked as a social issues and business reporter at the Boston Globe.

Jenifer McKim is the recipient of the New England First Amendment Coalition 2016 Freedom of Information Award, for her series “Out of the Shadows,” which investigated the failings of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families. Her investigation found that children were dying because of a lack of oversight by this government agency. Her reporting required months of negotiating with public officials, dozens of public records requests and thousands of dollars in fees for those records. McKim also discusses her investigation of Darrell Jones, who has served 30 years following a murder conviction, but has now won a new hearing based on evidence that he did not receive a fair trial. 

Jenifer McKim, senior investigative reporter, New England Center for Investigative Reporting.

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March 16 

President-elect Sanders: The morning after 

What would greet President-elect Bernie Sanders after the victory parties die down and residents of Burlington, VT awaken to their first cup of coffee? …The economics of ‘capital strike’ would threaten to trump the verdict of democracy.”

That’s the dark warning from William F. Grover, professor of political science at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont. He is the co-author (with Joseph G. Peschek) of the book, The Unsustainable Presidency: Clinton, Bush, Obama and Beyond (December 2014).

Grover discusses the forces that will rise up if a progressive leader such as Bernie Sanders is elected president — and what it will take to counter them. 

William Grover, professor of political science at Saint Michael’s College, co-author, The Unsustainable Presidency: Clinton, Bush, Obama and Beyond

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March 9

Slow Money 

The Slow Money movement aims to “bring money down to earth” by linking local food initiatives with local investors. Nationally, over $45 million has been invested into 450 small food enterprises around the United States. Twenty-four local networks and 13 investment clubs have formed. We speak with representatives of several different groups in Vermont that are dedicated to investing locally and making money slowly. (March 9, 2016 broadcast)

Will Belongia, Vermont Community Loan Fund 
Jeannine Kilbride, Cobb Hill Frozen Yogurt
Eric Becker, Slow Money Vermont and Clean Yield Asset Management
Janice Shade, Milk Money Vermont

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March 2

Is Vermont Education on the right track? 

What is the state of education and reform in Vermont? We review results of Town Meeting Day 2016. Eleven Vermont school budgets failed to pass (compared to over 30 budgets that were rejected two years ago) this year. We look at how education reform is faring, talking about new initiatives around universal pre-K, flexible pathways, Act 46 and school mergers, and how marijuana legalization might affect schools.

To review current state if education: 

Nicole Mace, executive director, Vermont School Boards Association

Jeff Francis, executive director, Vermont Superintendents Association

Listen now 

February 24

Can Vermont adapt to climate change?

In the midst of one of the warmest winters in memory, how can Vermont adapt to the new realities of climate change? Paul Costello of the Vermont Council on Rural Development has been exploring this issue with community leaders all around Vermont. He has helped lead the Vermont Climate Change Economy Council, which recently issued a five-year report, Progress for Vermont. He argues that Vermont can be a national model for how states and communities thrive in a climate-changed world. 

Paul Costello, executive director, Vermont Council on Rural Development 

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February 24 

The future of work

MIT Professor Thomas Kochan argues in his new book, Shaping the Future of Work: What Future Worker, Business, Government, and Education Leaders Need to Do For All to Prosper,that the social contract has broken down, and he offers a vision of how to create more productive businesses that also provide good jobs and careers and build a more inclusive economy and shared prosperity. (Feb. 10, 2016 broadcast)

Thomas Kochan, George M. Bunker Professor of Work and Employment Relations, MIT Sloan School of Management and co-director, MIT Institute for Work and Employment Research

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February 17


Hamilton Davis has been a journalist and policy analyst for more than 50 years. He covered the 1968 and 1972 presidential campaigns for the Providence Journal, and served as an editor at the Burlington Free Press in the 1970s. He lives in Vermont with his wife Candace Page, a retired veteran reporter at the Burlington Free Press. Davis regularly writes about health care reform for He reflects on some of his biggest stories: covering the presidential campaigns, Pres. Richard Nixon, his book about corrupt Burlington “super cop” Paul Lawrence, and his advice to young journalists today. Davis also blogs on topics ranging from health, politics, to the Red Sox. 

Hamilton Davis, journalist


February 10 

Saving Europe’s refugees

More than one million refugees poured into Europe in 2015, the greatest migration of people since WWII. Most of the refugees are fleeing war, especially from Syria, but many are Iraqis and Afghans fleeing violence. Most are smuggled by boat onto the Greek islands from Turkey, which now hosts more refugees than any other country. Seventh generation Vermonter Jane Dwinell, a registered nurse and Unitarian minister, recently returned from the Greek island of Lesvos, where she volunteered with Lighthouse Refugee Relief  to assist refugees arriving in overflowing boats. She discusses the crisis and why she helped. She also wrote a daily blog account of her volunteer work in Greece. 

Jane Dwinell, RN, Unitarian minister, refugee volunteer

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January 28 

“You gotta crazy idea? We’re the place to come”

Echoing Green has established a global community of emerging leaders—almost 700 and growing—who have launched Teach For America, City Year, One Acre Fund, SKS Microfinance, and more. From edible crickets, composting humans, to tackling climate change, we discuss the cutting edge social entrepreneurs who they support, and what they are looking for.

Janna Oberdorf, Vice President, Strategic Communications, Echoing Green

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January 28 

Can entrepreneurs solve global problems?

For the past five years, the Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Middlebury College has pioneered a new kind of entrepreneur: those whose business is the world’s problems. According to CSE, social entrepreneurs are “individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change.” CSE director Jon Isham discusses how it works.

Jon Isham, director, Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Middlebury College, Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies

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January 22 

Farm to Plate comes of age

he Vermont legislature passed the Farm to Plate Investment Program legislation in 2009. On its fifth anniversary, the Farm to Plate program has issued an annual report touting remarkable results: 5,300 new jobs in the food sector and $10 billion in annual sales. We discuss the impact of Farm to Plate and Vermont’s food sector with two of its leaders.

Erica Campbell, Farm to Plate Network Director

Jake Claro, Farm to Plate Network Manager

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January 22 

Should Vermont divest?

Should Vermont divest? A recent study argues that Vermont’s state pension funds have given up $77 million in gains due to investments in fossil fuels. Gov. Peter Shumlin has also recently called for the state to divest, causing a rift with State Treasurer Beth Pearce, who opposes divestment. We speak with a Vermont investment manager about why he advocates for divestment.

Eric Becker, Chief Investment Officer, Clean Yield Asset Management 

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January 14 

Is your privacy protected? 

Drones. Computer hacking. Cell phone location services. These are just some of the threats to privacy that citizens face on a daily basis. Allen Gilbert, executive director of the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, discusses new legislation aimed at protecting privacy, and why he feels that Act 46, Vermont’s new education law, violates the Vermont constitution and will likely result in a lawsuit from the ACLU.

Allen Gilbert, executive director, Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union

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January 14

Paid Sick Leave: Has its time come?

More than 57,000 working Vermonters lack any kind of paid time off. In 2015, a paid sick leave bill passed the Vermont House but failed in the Senate. The Healthy Workplaces Bill currently in the Vt. Legislature would enable many Vermonters to be eligible for paid sick days. Gov. Peter Shumlin endorsed the call for paid sick leave in his 2016 State of the State address. Listen Now

To discuss paid sick leave:

*Jen Kimmich, co-owner, The Alchemist, member VBSR Policy Committee

*Paul Millman, president, Croma

January 7

When We Fight, We Win: Greg Jobin-Leeds on transformative movements

Greg Jobin-Leeds is the author of When We Fight, We Win: 21st Century  Social Movements and the Activists That Are Transforming Our World. The book, rich with art curated by the activist art group AgitArte, chronicles the movements for same-sex marriage, Black Lives Matter, the DREAM Act, climate justice, mass incarceration, Occupy Wall Street, and others. Jobin-Leeds is the son of Holocaust survivors. He discusses what he has learned about how to successfully make transformative change in the 21st century. Listen Now

Ban the Box: Helping ex-prisoners

“Ban the Box” refers to the policy of removing the conviction history check-box from job applications. If employers must ask about convictions, they can ask later in the hiring process. The call to “ban the box” has become a powerful movement for fair hiring.

Today, over 100 cities and counties have adopted “ban the box” and a total of 19 states representing nearly every region of the country that have adopted the policies

Last April, Gov. Peter Shumlin signed an Executive Order to implement a ‘ban the box’ state hiring policy. Vt’s ‘ban the box’ Executive Order removes questions about criminal records from the very first part of job applications for state employment. Agencies will continue to conduct background checks, but only after an applicant has otherwise been found qualified for the position. The policy will prevent applicants from being immediately screened out of state jobs because of a criminal conviction. The policy will not apply to law enforcement, corrections, or other sensitive positions.

We talk about the effort to get all Vermont employers to ban the box with:

*Russ Bennett, from NorthLand Design & Construction, chair of the VBSR Public Policy Committee

*Chris Curtis, staff attorney, Vermont Legal Aid

*Manuel La Fontaine, who was formerly incarcerated, and now works to ban the box nationally with the group All of Us or None.

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December 30: Waterbury’s Good Neighbor: Rev. Peter Plagge

We dedicate our last show of 2015 to going beyond the headlines to talk with folks on the frontlines of working with some of the most vulnerable Vermonters. For 15 years, Rev. Peter Plagge has been pastor of the Waterbury Congregational Church and director of the Waterbury Good Neighbor Fund, an emergency financial resources for Waterbury area residents. He talks about the hidden face of poverty, how to help, and the power of listening.

*Rev. Peter Plagge, pastor, Waterbury Congregational Church, Director, Waterbury Good Neighbor Fund

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December 30: #IAmMoreThanHomeless: ANEW Place for Vermont’s Homeless

ANEW Place is a homeless shelter in Burlington, Vt. that aims to create long term solutions for homeless men and women. The ANEW Place shelter used to be called the Burlington Emergency Shelter, but it rebranded last year to reflect its focus more on long-term solutions, in which shelter is just the first component. ANEW Place recently launched a video, #IAmMoreThanHomeless, to challenge stereotypes of homeless people

*Michelle Omo, director of development, ANEW Place

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December 23: From the Inner City to College

We often hear stories about the cutthroat competition among high school seniors applying to elite colleges. But the experiences of low-income students of color are too often reduced to grim  statistics. Joshua Steckel is an inner-city high school guidance counselor and the co-author with Beth Zasloff of Hold Fast to Dreams: A College Guidance Counselor, His Students and the Vision of a Life Beyond Poverty (The New Press). His book traces the intimate narratives of ten different students in a Brooklyn public high school as they strive to get to—and through—college. He is joined by one of his former students, Maya Ennis, who talks about the challenges of leaving the inner city to attend Wheaton College and Carnegie-Mellon University.

Joshua Steckel, college counselor and co-author, Hold Fast to Dreams: A College Guidance Counselor, His Students and the Vision of a Life Beyond Poverty

Maya Ennis, graduate student, Carnegie-Mellon University

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December 23: Kids in Prison

More than 2 million children are arrested each year— and predictions are that one in three American schoolchildren will be arrested before the age of 23. Award-winning journalist Nell Bernstein’s Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison (The New Press) takes a personal look at America’s hidden children.

Bernstein is a former Soros Justice Media Fellow in New York, and winner of a White House Champion of Change award. Her articles have appeared in Newsday, Salon, Mother Jones, and the Washington Post, among other publications. Bernstein has spent more than 20 years listening and bearing witness to the stories of incarcerated kids.

*Nell Bernstein, author, Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison

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December 16: Fighting poverty & changing lives and Public artist Sarah-Lee Terrat

Leaders of two Vermont anti-poverty organizations talk about the scope of the problem and what works.

*Duncan McDougall, founder and director, Children’s Literacy Foundation (CLiF). CLiF has provided free literacy programs and brand-new books to low-income, at-risk, and rural children up to age 12 in almost 85% of the communities in New Hampshire and Vermont.

*Mark Redmond, executive director, Spectrum Youth & Family Services. Founded in 1970, Spectrum is a nationally recognized leader in helping youth ages 12-26 and their families turn their lives around, serving 2,000 teenagers, young adults, and their family members annually.

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On Dec. 14, 2015, Gov. Peter Shumlin cut the ribbon on the new state office complex in Waterbury. As visitors enter the building, the first thing they will see is a striking mural that rises up a stairway. The mural tells the story of Vermont and of the former Vermont State Hospital that occuped the buildings of the state complex for over a century.

The mural was created by Sarah-Lee Terrat of Waterbury Center, one of Vermont’s leading public artists. She was chosen in 2001 to design the Vermont State Quarter, part of a national state coin series. She also designed many of the original Ben & Jerry’s scoop shops.

Her iconic brightly colored murals can be seen all around Vermont, and the country. Her bright, fantastical artwork can be seen at the Vermont Children’s Hospital, in the floors of NRG Systems in Hinesburg, in the children’s bedrooms inside the homes of Phish musicians Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon, on the walls of Arvad’s Restaurant in Waterbury, and at the Bonaroo Music Festival in Tennessee. Samples of her work can be see on her website

In 2015, Terrat received a $50,000 Arts in Public Buildings Grant from Vermont Arts Council for a mural project in the Vermont State Office Complex. She spent two years in the State Archives doing original research about the former psychiatric hospital and its patients. The mural captures the lives and stories of the former patients and staff.

She discusses the former state hospital, her roots in art, and her advice to young artists.

*Sarah-Lee Terrat, artist, owner, Yelodog Design

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December 9: Green loans for energy efficiency and the Vermont Spirts Revolution

There are new ways that homeowners can pay for energy efficiency improvements–including no-cost loans. A conversation about Green loans for Vermonters:

  *Laurie Fielder, Program Director for VGreen loans, VSECU

  *Mark Kelley, Efficiency Vermont

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There is a revolution in spirits going on in Vermont — not (just) the new age kind, but the kind you drink. The craft beer revolution has spawned a sister act. To talk about the explosion in popularity and varieties of Vermont spirits:

  *Mimi Buttenheim, President, Mad River Distillers, vice president of Distilled Spirits Council of Vermont

  *Ryan Chistiansen, distiller, Caledonia Spirits

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December 2: Jitu Brown’s journey for justice

Jitu Brown is a national leader on civil rights and defending public education. He recently undertook a 34 day hunger strike to protest the closing of Dyett High School on the South Side of Chicago, where he lives.  He talks about threats to public education, the Black Lives Matter movement, and his advice to his young African American son

*Jitu Brown, national director, Journey for Justice Alliance

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December 2: Biking to Paris for climate change

*In June 2015, recent college graduates Morgan Curtis (Dartmouth ’14) and Garrett Blad (Notre Dame ’15) came on the Vermont Conversation to talk about the bike ride they were about to embark on: riding 10,000 km from Vermont to Paris (, where would finish at COP21, the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Morgan and Garrett arrived in Paris for COP21 on November 25th, 2015 after 5 months, 3 days, 27 rainstorms, 91 homes, 18 ferries and 4979 kilometers of bicycling through New England, Atlantic Canada, Iceland, Scandinavia, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland & the UK.They join us from Paris to talk about their journey, and the UN climate summit.

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