This morning I sat on the top of Tully Mountain, looking across the greening, rolling hills of Orange, Athol, and Royalston to Watatic, Monadnock, and Wachusett Mountain in the distance. Staring at the seemingly uninterrupted vista of woodlands and the glistening beauty of Tully Reservoir, I was overcome by gratitude. Gratitude that I get to call this land “my back yard,” grateful for the warming sun on my face, grateful for the intrepid group of foresters that decided 35 years ago that they had work to do. Grateful for all the dedicated Mount Grace members and supporters who have made 35,000 acres of conservation possible with bold vision and commitment to action.
The Mount Grace founders challenged themselves in 1986 to protect the working landscapes of farms and woodlands across 23 towns, experimenting with an approach to environmentalism that embraces the rural economy and the people in it. It is not worth protecting the farm if there is not also a plan to protect the farmer. Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust did not set out to protect the land from humans but saw the land and the people as inexorably interconnected. This original vision was embraced by Leigh Youngblood whose commitment to innovation and collaboration enabled her to move fast to take on new opportunities and adapt to serve the changing needs of the community.
This year we will take time to celebrate the major milestones of Mount Grace’s first 35 years, while we also celebrate the profound legacy of Leigh Youngblood’s pragmatic, creative, and collaborative leadership. Leigh was never overly bothered with whose name was on the sign, as long as the deal was made and the land protected.
We celebrate an organization that transformed conservation in New England. Mount Grace embraced collaboration and seeing the big picture while implementing new solutions locally. Mount Grace pioneered a partnership model that has been monumentally more effective in protecting the landscape by bringing people together. We are celebrating an organization that believed in the power of emboldened youth playing pivotal roles in every aspect of land conservation. Launching TerraCorps, an organization that embraced service to our nation, through service to our land. We are lauding the organization that said it is not enough to save farms, we need to help the local food system and partnered with Quabbin Harvest Food Co-op to provide them with a new space. We implemented a new conservation tool to ensure the next generation of farmers will have access to affordable farmland, so we have farmers for the future.
Mount Grace is at such an extraordinary crossroads during what we might likely look back on as one of the most tumultuous years in our lives. This year, the lands we have protected were experienced as a lifeline to so many. They provided quiet, safe outside spaces where we could visit with one another safely, find respite and tranquility from the world, and start to heal from so much grief and anxiety. We source the wood we use to build and heat our houses from these same acres. This land also provides us with fruits, vegetables, and healthy sustenance that is less dependent on a huge fragile broken food system. So many of us took great pleasure and relief this year from buying our food directly from the growers in smaller safer environments. The work of Mount Grace has never felt so necessary. That said, major questions persist for the next 35 years.
- What is the maximum we can do as a land trust in the face of the dwindling window to avert catastrophic climate change disaster? How can we measure all our actions as an organization through that lens?
- How can a land trust which, by its very nature, resists change, advocate for the myriad changes necessary in our approach to diversity, equity, inclusion, and land justice?
- How do we embrace the fundamental changes to our cultural appreciation of open spaces, safe trails, local food, and minimalist lifestyles, while trying to heal from so much personal and global grief?
- And finally, can we continue the work of building bridges between disparate facets of our torn-apart, divided country around our shared love of the land?
It’s not an option for Mount Grace to put our heads in the sand and pretend that we don’t live in this world at this time. The conservation work we do in the next couple of years will determine whether we are indeed an organization that leads through troubled times or follows. As an ode to Leigh, we will continue to take planned risks and forge new paths to shape conservation work as we have done in our first 35 years.
This anniversary is not just an opportunity to pat ourselves on the back, toast Leigh and her extraordinary tenure, and keep on keeping on. This anniversary begs the question. What are we going to do for the next 35 years? Our challenges are monumental. There is an extraordinary societal need for our brand of leadership, and we need your support. The support of the Mount Grace community, whether by building our trails, teaching children about the dragonflies dabbling in our pollinator plots, helping to pull invasive plants, guiding our conservation priorities, opening your lands to the public for walks or parties, or donating financially, is a building block of change. Every individual action you take to support Mount Grace builds the kind of movement required to protect our region’s farms, forests, and climate. Join Mount Grace as a member, become a volunteer, consider conserving your land, or encourage your town to support conservation.
The future of our land depends on the decisions we each make—and the actions we each take—today.