As seen in the Caledonian Record:

Mateo Kehler, co-owner of the award-winning Jasper Hill cheese operation in Greensboro, said the pandemic taught the value of online meetings.

In 2019, the sales team flew for sales meetings. In 2020, they didn’t.

“We sold all the cheese … and we didn’t go anywhere,” Kehler said.

Jasper Hill saved $250,000 in annual travel costs, maintained a smaller carbon footprint and the quality of life improved dramatically.

“I get to be at home with my family,” Kehler said.

“Zoom — boy I love Zoom. This is the best thing ever.”

Kehler spoke Thursday as part of a virtual forum with NEK business and education leaders on how confronting the climate crisis can also create economic opportunities for Vermonters. The forum, which attracted nearly 50 participants, is part of a series hosted by the Vermont Council on Rural Development and Vermont’s Climate Economy Action Team.

Paul Costello of the council said the intent is to explore how Vermonters can work together to adjust locally instead of being paralyzed by a civilization-altering change.

Craftsbury green builder Dylan Kinsey said climate change is affecting everything he does, forcing him to access the cost of shipping materials and being aware of the distances that employees have to drive to reach work sites.

“In Vermont we do a lot of driving, a lot of driving,” Kinsey said.

“That’s an eye opener to me,” said host, Jon Copans about the worry over transportation.

The pandemic has created a catch-22 in the building industry, with a demand for new housing happening during a labor shortage, Kinsey said.

Judy Geer, co-owner of the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, said the Nordic ski operation bought snow guns in 2011 to provide snow every November as a fail-safe. Soon after that, the snow guns became essential.

But the fuel for snow guns increased the center’s carbon footprint, so the center has turned to a European method of preserving snow — covering snow piles to use the next season.

The center was encouraging carpooling, but the pandemic ended that, Geer said. And clients used a lot of take-out containers during the pandemic, forcing another look at the center’s carbon footprint.

They have electric vehicle charging stations and highly efficient wood boilers and use waste heat from the snow guns. All the heating is done without fossil fuels, she said.

They are adapting, while still meeting the mission of providing outdoor access, Geer said.

The center has an energy scorecard on its web page.

Kehler said Jasper Hill is all about sustainably producing high-value cheese that will bring urban wealth back to the Greensboro area community.

The goal is to reverse — on a small community scale — a 40- to 50-year trend of producing cheap food in rural America for the suburban and urban market, reducing rural wealth in the process.

Jasper Hill is also in a marketplace that is increasingly hostile to animal agriculture and trending away from meat and dairy, Kehler said. Jasper Hill must take their sustainable message and products to the marketplace, he said.

Before the pandemic, Kehler said that climate change was the biggest conversation in his business.

That will resume its prominent place as the pandemic winds down, he said.

“Agriculture accounts for 30 percent of carbon emissions. Agriculture has to be part of the solution.”

Over the next 10 years, Kehler said Jasper hill is working toward a zero-emission operation, with 100 percent solar electricity and bio gasses produced on the farm.

They believe that grazing and ruminants have a really important role to play in sequestering carbon in the soil, he said.

The 117 people involved in Jasper Hill are driving the effort, he said.

And so are the youngsters, he said, “who are really holding our generation responsible for creating change now.”

Janel Hanrahan, a professor of atmospheric science at Northern Vermont University, said she began to see a climate change “signal” in a study 15 years ago, of the Great Lakes.

Like Kehler, Hanrahan said seeing how climate change will affect her seven-year-old son makes it less abstract.

“My son will live through it,” she said, calling that frightening.

There are more students interested in climate change at NVU, she said.

She asked if Kinsey is seeing more home buyers concerned about climate change.

Kinsey said the challenge is to offer energy-efficient homes made with sustainable products to all budgets.

The future, he said, isn’t single-family homes dotting the Vermont landscape, but highly efficient clusters of housing.

Panelists gave a shout-out to energy committees in NEK towns, where some even provide financial support for home energy audits.