Allison Hooper Bio PicGuest author Allison Hooper is the co-founder of Vermont Creamery, an award-winning creamery offering fresh and aged goat cheeses, cultured butter and créme fraîche. Hooper has been a Sterling College trustee since 2014 and was recently named to the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America for 2018. She will be a panelist at the School of the New American Farmstead’s Winter 2019 class Beyond the Farmer’s Market, a one-day seminar designed specifically for female entrepreneurs who are considering taking the next leap in business development.

Entrepreneurs have grit. They have insight. Like artists, they envision a product, service or world that others don’t see. Entrepreneurs adopt a belief system to drive their business. Without believing, it is difficult to stay focused, overcome adversity and engage an audience. We can’t teach these traits. We should, however, nurture them and unlock passion and vision.

Sterling prides itself on asking students to dig deep and unlock their passion. Leading by example, Sterling is at the forefront of giving people, both staff and students, a path to thinking creatively. Stepping onto campus, students know that they have chosen an unconventional path.  New and exciting, they hopefully feel safe to incubate a seemingly unconventional business idea. The community is poised to nurture and help shape that idea without judgement.

The college campus is a rural sanctum comprised of a community who takes to heart its role in shaping the future of the planet, modeling the importance of community, social responsibility and our delicate place in the ecosystem. Uncomplicated and straightforward, Sterling fosters our innate human nature of decency, fairness and social justice. Students leave Sterling with a healthy balance of optimism to make the world better and skepticism to navigate the perils of the marketplace.

As an ag-entrepreneur myself, I am particularly intrigued with Sterling students’ pursuit of agriculture and ag-based businesses. I recall their pain. I sense their passion.

Starting a dairy farm is nearly impossible today, but Paul Lisai ‘06 did just that when he repurposed his family land in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont by starting Sweet Rowen Farmstead in 2011. Paul has a pragmatic approach to sustainability. He is true to his values of building soil without use of chemical fertilizers. He has not certified his farm as organic which reserves his option to treat animals when they are sick. His daily dairy products of bottled milk are distributed locally where his customers know him and his cows. His high-market cheeses have wider distribution and are appreciated in more urban markets. He has grown slowly and gained expertise along the way.  

Sara Turnbull ‘11 considered turning her Bloomfield, New York goat farm into a cheesemaking enterprise. She was wise to take a less capital-intensive route by making and selling soap as Chicory Farm Soap. She is valorizing a hand-crafted local product and the  soaps are beautifully packaged. She is bringing cash into her business as she contemplates cheese or entering new markets for her soaps.  

Eric Dube ‘13 is a self-made cider-maker. He co-founded Dube and Robinson in Tamworth, New Hampshire in 2012. He used his college experience to incubate his business and was putting his college classes to use right away in his career. From the get-go, his desire to use his business to change the world and reduce his carbon footprint has informed his business strategy. And, he has garnered a solid following of customers who share his values.  

When I began, I thought little about making money with my business. I cared more about affecting my community by doing what I loved and less about how I would make a living. I  knew the business needed to cash-flow and the reality of paying a mortgage grew on me but it didn’t eclipse my approach to my work. I am grateful for my seedling of a business idea and the experience of growing it from nothing. Regardless of growth and success, I am grounded in the  authenticity of having started from scratch. I have high hopes for these entrepreneurial young people. They dream but they are not dreamers. They know where they are going. They are doing the work and staying true to their beliefs.

Sterling is not only about nurturing the individual but also about nurturing a place. It is no accident that ag-entrepreneurs gravitate to Vermont. A New Jersey native, I wandered to Vermont at age 23 with the notion that it would be a friendly and appropriate place to establish a cheesemaking enterprise. The sense of place that defines Vermont can be transformative for a twenty-something. It was for me and now for our three twenty-something entrepreneurial sons.  If Vermont doesn’t keep Sterling students here, it is certainly a catalyst to create a sense of place back home or elsewhere.

If you dream in agricultural entrepreneurship, take a good look at Sterling College in the heart of Vermont. You will not only be backed by a College’s curriculum but a community and state that supports innovative thinking in agriculture.  

Filed Under: Blog Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems

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