Montpelier might be the capital of Vermont, but when it comes to all things green, Burlington hails as the state's go-to city. Flanked by mountains, lakes and rivers, and dotted with bike paths, accessible hiking trails and family farms, it's no wonder Organic Gardening magazine ranked this "small city" as the second greenest in America, just behind Portland, Maine.
Founded in 1973 as a buying club, City Market/Onion River Co-op has sprouted into a community-owned food cooperative and grocery store located in downtown Burlington. Despite growing significantly since its early days, the market has stayed true to its original vision of offering residents a place to buy sustainable and healthy food. The store is also devoted to strengthening the local economy and community — more than 1,700 of the products on the store's shelves were either grown or produced in Vermont.
Certified by the Green Restaurant Association and actively committed to supporting sustainable family farms, Burlington's Magnolia Bistro offers one of the greenest brunches in town. LEED-certified carpet and lemon ricotta pancakes? Yes, please! Pauline's Cafe mixes a casual, upscale dining with a commitment to incorporating Vermont's finest ingredients into its dishes. Nearby, the Skinny Pancake, a creperie and coffee bar founded by graduates of Middlebury College, sources ingredients from local farms and runs its fleet on biodiesel and used vegetable oil. The restaurant is also a member of the Vermont Fresh Network — an organization that fosters farm-to-chef partnerships.
With so many individuals and restaurants committed to buying local food, Burlington is able to support a thriving local agriculture community. The Intervale Center is a nonprofit organization that supports farms, compost production and wildlife. Its (long) list of partner farms — growing everything from produce to flowers to bees — serves as a testament to its success.
Meanwhile, the Intervale Community Farm grows food for more than 500 households in and around Burlington. And just a few minutes down U.S. Route 7, Shelburne Farms is a 1,400-acre working farm and environmental education center that hosts year-round events — everything from cheese-making classes to its annual harvest festival.
The Vermont Green Building Network is a Burlington-based, statewide nonprofit network of builders, designers, developers, policy makers and other industry professionals working together to increase the state's participation in green building. Similarly, Smart Growth Vermont is an anti-sprawl, pro-community development organization that calls Burlington home. And Main Street Landing is an environmentally and socially responsible development company that focuses on building and renovation projects supporting the visual and performing arts, local business, ecological integrity and community well-being. It's a good thing, too, considering the company owns nearly all of the developable land on Burlington's waterfront.
People from all over the country head to Burlington to study at the University of Vermont, which hosts an impressive environmental studies program . As part of the program, students have the opportunity to explore and observe the area's system of rivers, forests and wildlife.
Speaking of natural landscapes, there's a lot of nature to explore near Burlington. Vermont boasts 52 state parks, and nearly as many organizations and clubs to help you explore them. The Green Mountain Club encourages hiking expeditions, especially on the historic Long Trail. As fall approaches, U.S. Route 7 backs up with "leaf peepers" out to catch a glimpse of the fall foliage, and in winter, Burlington residents can head to the Bolton Valley Ski Resort , which is only a 20-mile drive from downtown.
Need to get from here to there — and back? Green Cab Vermont boasts a taxi fleet of hybrid, electric and alternative fuel cars (including a Mercedez-Benz that runs on biodiesel). Like other cab companies in the area, passengers should schedule their rides at least 24 hours in advance. Local Motion is a nonprofit that works to promote biking, cross-country skiing, Rollerblading and walking as a means of alternative transportation as well as recreation.
After all that traveling, visitors can stop and rest at the Willard Street Inn, an eco-friendly bed-and-breakfast housed in a beautiful 19th-century Victorian mansion. In 2007, the inn decided to "go green," developing an environmental policy statement that included installing energy-efficient lighting and low-flow fixtures, composting kitchen organics, adding solar-powered garden lights, and purchasing post-consumer recycled tissue paper.
Seventh Generation produces a popular line of natural cleaning products and paper goods — from dish soap and detergent to recycled paper towels and plates. Not surprisingly, the eco-friendly company headquarters are located in Burlington. And speaking of conscious companies, everyone's favorite ice-cream maker, Ben & Jerry's, opened its first scoop shop in an old gas station in Burlington back in 1978. Today, the company's factory is still one of the area's biggest — and sweetest — attractions.
(MNN homepage photo: The Sharpteam /Flickr)