Starksboro farm 'Unbound Grace' nutures youth
STARKSBORO — Kerry Kurt is one of many farmers around the state who have been busy stockpiling feed so her animals have food to last them through Vermont’s long winter. But she’s not just any farmer, Kurt’s beef cattle and horses on Sentinel Farms are part of a larger effort to provide opportunities for Vermont’s youth to gain confidence and the communication and social skills necessary to be thoughtful and engaged members of our communities.
Sentinel Farms off Route 116 in Starksboro is home to Unbound Grace, a nonprofit celebrating 10 years of farm-based programs that re-root our youth back into Vermont’s traditional agricultural skills and values. The three-week program builds youth skills and knowledge in horsemanship, the art of orienteering, gardening, pasture rotation and animal care, as well as in communication, community building and problem solving. Kurt describes the program as “a whole health approach that weaves connections between spirit, mind and body.”
In celebration of Unbound Grace’s 10 years of community service, Vermont Folk Rocker’s Jim Geier — a neighbor of Sentinel Farms — generously donated one of his beautiful rockers to raise funds for the health-focused youth programs. “In an increasingly digital and disconnected world we often miss the healing qualities gained from working with our hands. What I know to be true,” Geier said, “and what Kerry practices at Unbound Grace, is that working with your hands in close relationship with the Earth-grown materials that make your art, is absolutely essential to our mental and physical health. The work done at Unbound Grace gives each person the tools, space, and foundation to heal themselves, and then society, through a connection to our earth.”
Some of the graduates have actually gone on to become valuable Vermont Folk Rocker employees. Geier said that employees who come from Unbound Grace are different. “They see their work as I see it; the art of shaping nature into new forms that serve our community and beautify our spaces,” he said. “Graduates of Unbound Grace come to work with a deep respect of the materials we use to create our rockers and an infectious joy for learning that makes them wonderful to work with.”
Middlebury resident John Zecher has been an animal lover since childhood. He was introduced to Unbound Grace at Fire and Ice Restaurant, where he purchased a raffle ticket for the Vermont Folk Rocker on display. “I wanted to offer my support to youth who need the opportunity to experience a bit of what my childhood had been filled with — outdoors, learning how to care for and connect with animals,” Zecher said. He ended up winning the raffle
Another generous member of the Unbound Grace community is Paris Rinder-Goddard, co-owner of Middlebury’s Fire and Ice Restaurant, where the folk rocker was displayed for the raffle. “I support the foundational work that Unbound Grace at Sentinel Farms offers the rural youth in our community,” Rinder-Goddard said. “I understand the importance of engaging, supporting and challenging youth to develop their leadership and problem-solving skills. These confidence-building skills help youngsters make healthy lifestyle choices and later on enjoy successful employment.”
Unbound Grace provides fertile soil, both physical and spiritual, for those who participate to establish their roots. And when they move on, their lifelong connection to Unbound Grace sustains and comforts them. Take Victor Hinojosa for example. He grew up in Bristol and from a young age had a clear vision for his life. Hinojosa began spending time at Sentinel Farms when he was 9 years old during a particularly difficult time in his life. Now a junior at Norwich University, Hinojosa continues to draw support from Unbound Grace.
“Unbound Grace supported my dream as a child and continues to support my goal to become governor of Vermont,” Hinojosa said. “I look forward to serving all of Vermont.”
No matter where Hinojosa goes or what difficulties he may face, he stands strong knowing he has a safe and nurturing place to return whenever he needs it, Kurt said.
She said that these men reflect a growing community centered on good work as defined by Wendell Berry: “Good work involves much giving of honor. It honors the source of its materials; it honors the place where it is done; it honors the art by which it is done; it honors the thing that it makes and the user of the made thing.”
Unbound Grace is a non-profit organization that offers all youth the equal opportunity to re-root themselves back into Vermont’s traditional working landscape through taking part in Sentinel Farms Arts, Agricultural & Equestrian Programming.
Supporters of Unbound Grace can assist in its good work by buying Sentinel Farms’ grass-fed beef that was harvested in stress-free conditions or by donating to support scholarships for youth, regardless of their means, to participate in the summer camps. Donate at the farm at 4118 Route 116 in Starksboro or through Kurt, who can be reached at Kerry@unboundgrace.org.