CROs: Building Self-Sufficient Communities

Community Resilience Organizations (CROs) have sprung up in six Vermont towns since Tropical Storm Irene flooded the local villages and beyond in 2011. Starting in 2014, Hartford is one of six towns to start a local branch – previously known as Community Resilience Organization of Hartford, the group’s name recently changed to Resilient Hartford – from the overarching program of CROs, a non-profit originally organized by Peg Hough, in response to the damaging effects Irene had on Vermont. Peg put over 30 years of environmental and urban planning experience into the creation of CROs. By its very nature, the organization is based on the classic Vermont values of bringing together and strengthening communities to become more self-sufficient through individual and group work.

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Put simply CROs focus on foreseeable and unexpected changes in water, food, and energy supplies that a community or neighborhood may face. When a community is more self-sufficient in the face of minor and major hazards they are more resilient, and community resilience is the goal. Local CRO groups receive support from the larger organization and are involved with town government, similar to a planning commission. Members of CROs act as liaisons to different arms of the town government. In Hartford, a few of these members include Matt Osborne, the town planner, and Paige Heverly the Energy and Transportation Project Coordinator at Vital Communities. 

Even on a small scale these groups’ input with local town and village government, combined with the ability to organize community members, can have a significant impact. Paige Heverly (soon to be the Resilient Hartford chair at the time of this interview) explains to me how something as simple as the heavy rain in late June of 2017 brought up a recurring issue of washouts around the train tracks. With the CROs input and action the repair of those washed out areas included planting woody plants and upsizing the culverts upstream to reinforce and prevent future problems. The idea is to locate those areas where the community themselves can better, creating greater resilience to future issues.

One of the larger tasks the group is charged with is reviewing, modifying, and implementing the state’s Hazard Mitigation Plan for Hartford and its five villages. The plan is called “Vermont Stronger” and when the state has concluded its writing the six CRO towns will review and discuss its contents internally and within the community. The aim is to know the plans within, educate the community, and add to the report to make it specific to the local community. As chair of Resilient Hartford, this will be Paige’s primary responsibility. Paige’s qualifications for this role include a Masters of Environmental Law and Policy from Vermont Law School, with an undergraduate from Green Mountain College in renewable energy and eco-design. 

Paige points out while discussing the issues brought by the rain in 2017 that Hartford, like every town, has access to state and federal programs that could take care of similar problems. FEMA would pay for more culverts upstream but does not allocate funds for the upsizing of culverts, which is what this particular scenario needed. With this explanation, Paige emphasizes the fact that you as a community member know best “which roads always wash out, and which grandmother in the neighborhood is now alone since her last grandchild moved away.”

Everyone in your local chapter of the CRO is a community member, and not all of their agenda stems from natural disasters or even the town government. CRO projects include resilient assessments and project workshops to address what community members want to focus on in their town, such as planting riparian buffers, neighborhood captain programs, community celebrations, roundtable discussions, and creating emergency shelters, to name a few. 

This past summer, the Hartford’s CRO had their first workshop series. The series included talks from Vermonter Ben Falk, author of the book Resilient Farm and Homestead, and Chuck Collins, author and senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies where he directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good. The workshop series included more hands-on activities including a compost skills demonstration and talk, work in the White River Junction community gardens, tree health demonstrations and tree guild planting, old cemetery clean-ups, and food preservation.

Do you have a workshop you’d like to lead? Interested in having your opinion and knowledge added to the input for Hartford’s Hazard Mitigation Plan? Want to start a neighborhood branch of the Hartford’s CRO that creates a community garden or checks in on the elderly on your block during times of extreme weather? They are very intent on building more neighborhood groups in the five villages and strengthening the sense of united villages. The organization provides resources, and informative meetings so don’t hesitate to get involved. You can get in touch through the website, or contact Paige directly at cpheverly@gmail.com

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