Farm fresh ideas

Greg Cox, Democrat for state senate


WEST RUTLAND — Vermont’s farm culture is far from dead, and if Greg Cox has anything to do with it, agriculture will bring young people back to Vermont and grow the economy again.

“If we’re going to grow more farms, we need more farmers,” he said. “Ag is the easy one and will bring young people back to Vermont. They leave, they sow their oats, and then they say it’s time to start a family. We want the boomerangs.”

Cox, 69, is a Democrat running for one of three Rutland County Senate seats in a crowded field of nine candidates, including two incumbents. A longtime farmer and educator, for the last 38 years, Cox has owned and operated Boardman Hill Farm in West Rutland. He also founded The Rutland Area Farm and Food Link and the Vermont Farmer’s Education Centers.

Greg Cox

From Hippie to home

Cox isn’t just waxing poetic about bolstering agriculture and improving economic development through farming. He uses Boardman Hill Farm as an incubator space, drawing young farmers and helping those with the most potential get a foothold in the business.

“I offer land, equipment, help with a business plan and I work with the Vermont Land Trust to hook them up with established farms,” he said. “We’re trying to bend that age curve. I grow my own competition”

Cox grew up in Lamoille County and attended Johnson State College majoring in education, until the day he knew teaching wasn’t what he wanted to do.

“My mother was distraught,” he said. “But, I do teach after all.”

Cox has been working with at-risk youth most of his life. He also taught agriculture classes at Green Mountain College.

But it was his experience coming of age in the 1960s that led him to agriculture, and helped form his views on what Vermont needs. Right now.

“I was one of those back to the land food growing hippies back in 1968,” he said. “We were 100,000 strong. We changed Vermont and Vermont changed us. We need that same influx again. The low-hanging fruit is food and food business.”

Cox describes Rutland County as “the food mecca of Vermont,” ripe for an infusion of young blood, energy and new ideas to enhance what Rutland County already has going for it.

“Youth and entrepreneurial spirit, we need to bring that back to Rutland County,” he said. “Agriculture can be an economic engine and it can backfill a lot of those industrial jobs we’ve lost.”

Is dairy dead?

With the shuttering of more dairy farms all over the state each year, and the recent news that Rutland’s own Thomas Dairy would close for good on Oct. 1 due to the pandemic and lost of demand, Cox was asked: Is dairy dead?

“No, dairy is not dead,” Cox said emphatically. “But we need people with new, fresher ideas. The ‘get bigger’ idea and the Agency of Agriculture, they’re system thinkers and they can’t get out of the rut they’re in. They can’t see a new way and COVID is the perfect change agent because it’s exposed all of our weaknesses in our institutions: social, judicial, agricultural, education, healthcare.”

Cox said he thinks the Agency of Agriculture could use some new blood and an overall of its approach to agriculture in Vermont, or else nothing will change.

“It’s not the individual, it’s the system,” he said. “So people are stuck in a system, not equipped to deal with the new problems, so this is a time to evaluate all these systems, but they have no new ideas. That’s where you need someone who doesn’t own a suit and tie, who works with people and sees these things from the outside.”

Inside out

That person is Cox, but he has no illusions about how he would fit in on the Senate Agriculture Committee, his first committee choice, should he be elected.

“They want you to play,” he said. “I want to be on that committee on my terms and I’m qualified to do it.”

Cox would also like to serve on the Senate Economic Development Committee, understandably, his philosophies on agriculture and economic development intermingled and reliant on each other to succeed.

“We need to invest in us,” he said. “The only thing Applebee’s has on the neighborhood is a method for extracting our dollars and sending them elsewhere. Any business is not what we should be going after.”

Cox said he wants to see Rutland County encourage small, community-based business owned by local folks.

“Fore every $100 you spend at a locally owned business, $48 dollars stays in Rutland County,” he said. “At a chain store, only $16 stays local. We really need to work together to create a local economy.

If elected, Cox would also try and steer more state funding to Rutland County, saying that the Rutland County delegation doesn’t work well enough with Montpelier to secure funding for the county.

“I want more state resources coming to Rutland County,” he said. “We don’t play well with others at the state level because we are a more conservative county. I would like to make sure Rutland gets at least 10% of funding we get from the state.”

Not party time

The father of three, married for 29 years to wife, Gay, said that the divided social-political landscape of the nation is being mirrored on a local level.

“Where I stand, I reject the national party problems because both parties use inflammatory language to intentionally divide us and that has happened on a local level,” he said. “I stay away from that.”

But the farmer and innovator does not anticipate any problems working across the aisle should he be elected. I have worked with so may people and organizations to get things done,” he said. “I work well with others. I’m not arrogant. I am opinionated. It’s part of who I am. But I don’t cross people off my list.”

Cox lamented the inability of the nation to see people beyond their party affiliation, and to just see a person.

“They see a Trump sign and they just dismiss,” he said. “That’s insanity. We’re neighbors. We share this small piece of earth. We have to let people know they have value, have a conversation where you look for commonality. Get to the person behind the Trump sign.”

Be the change

Cox has a lot of ideas and genuinely likes people, he said.

“I view myself as a visionary and a change agent,” he said. “I never say, ‘no,’ I smile until it happens and if someone wants to take the credit, it doesn’t matter as long as it happens. To be seeking credit is to be filling a hole somewhere. You do not give to get, you just give because it’s the right thing to do.”

Cox has no illusions about his chances of winning a Rutland County Senate seat, given the more conservative nature of the county with Democratic incumbent Cheryl Hooker running for re-election. But that’s not stopping him from wanting to be an agent of change at the state level. If he loses, Cox said he will just keep doing what he’s doing, with good reason. “I was born white, male, middle class, three generations, educated,” Cox said. “I got five aces, so if I fail, I really suck.” aces, so if I fail, I really suck.”

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