Bruce Bernstein, who organized the event at The Barn in South Egremont, leaves the stage after introducing Lawyer and folk singer Doug Mishkin

Egremont candidates forum draws sizeable crowd

The pleasures of small time life -- socializing and politicking -- brought Egremont neighbors together on Sunday at the Egremont Barn.

Egremont — “Egremont is special,” I was told by Rose Levine who used to live in Great Barrington but moved a few years ago to Egremont and says there’s a real difference. “Egremont is smaller and friendlier,” she said. “I love it here.”

The pleasures of living in this small town were abundantly clear this past Sunday afternoon as Egremont residents gathered at The Barn in S. Egremont to hear from the two women who are running for the seat on the Egremont Board of Selectmen being vacated by current chair, Bruce Turner, and to meet and greet each other.

This get-together was the idea of Bruce Bernstein who, as a volunteer, manages The Egremont Post, one of two listservs that give Egremont residents the chance to exchange information and help each other online. Not satisfied that digital connections sufficiently define neighborliness, Bernstein decided to provide an opportunity for Egremonters to meet in person and, in this old-fashioned style of town togetherness, to mix socializing with the serious business of thinking about the future of their town. To his amazement, a sizeable crowd of 40-50 people turned out.

After a period of socializing, the bonding over Egremont began in earnest when Bernstein brought Doug Mishkin up onto the Barn’s stage. Mishkin, local lawyer and folksinger, performed his “Egremont Song” (“Egremont moves me…Egremont ever more” ) to applause from the group.

And then came the serious part of the program – presentations by Carla Turner and Lucinda Vermeulen, candidates for the Board of Selectmen. Turner and Vermeulen are both deeply rooted in this community. Turner and her husband run the only remaining dairy farm in Egremont (there used to be 17!), and represent a long tradition of local family farms. Some 30 years ago, to ensure the survival of their farming operation, they started their maple syrup business, which continues today. Vermeulen has been in and out of Egremont since she was a toddler. After a career in retail marketing and merchandising, she came back to Egremont when she married Ken Vermeulen. Egremont has been her home for many years. Since her husband’s death, she has been running Kenver Ltd., the sports equipment and apparel store on Route 23 in the center of town.

Carla Turner, candidate for the Egremont Board of Selectmen, spoke first at the candidates forum. Photo: Marcie L. Setlow

Carla Turner spoke first. She talked about her passion for wildlife, which fuels her desire to preserve open space and to keep Egremont beautiful. She also talked about her experience running the business side of the farm, keeping the books and controlling expenses. “Our dairy farm has survived because we’re efficient,” she said, pointing out that they are now putting in robots to increase efficiency. She likes to keep operations streamlined, and would bring this same concern to her activities in town government. Moreover, Turner has experience writing grants. She has written grants for farms, for wells and for property maintenance projects. In the process, she works with different segments of the community…with plumbers, electricians and politicians. Her grant writing experience has taught her how to build bridges between what the applicants want and what the people who control the money want, and she feels this ability to connect people with different interests would serve her well as a member of the Select Board.

Lucinda Vermeulen, also running for the Egremont Board of Selectmen, presented her priorities. Photo: Marcie L. Setlow

Next up, Vermeulen reminded the crowd that she has served as chair of the Egremont Planning Board for three years. That experience, she says, has taught her a tremendous amount about what we need to do to keep Egremont vibrant. She shared her list of priorities:

  • Environmental stewardship is the most important, she said. “If we don’t have a planet to live on, nothing else matters.”
  • She supports a full-time police department staffed by local residents. “It is important that we be served by someone who lives in the community and has a stake in the community.”
  • Affordable and mixed-income housing is vital. She believes we need people of all income levels. A diverse citizenry serves the community in different ways and allows us to all learn from each other.
  • She is hugely dedicated to bringing high-speed internet to the whole town. At present, 30% of the town is still not wired.
  • She believes the town needs to be sensitive to the different needs of different villages within the town. Right now, she pointed out, we are a one-district town, but one size does not fit all here.
  • Finally, she would champion civility, civility, civility. “We all love this town, and we need to talk to each other. We are better together.”

After their formal presentations, the candidates remained to mingle further with their neighbors and to answer questions informally.

At the same time, two candidates for the Planning Board, Rose Levine and Nick Keene, also used the afternoon’s opportunity to collect signatures to qualify to run and engaged their fellow Egremonters in conversation about the future of the town.