Local tour gets national press

Shelburne FarmsBy Phyl Newbeck

We all know we live in a vacation land, but sometimes it’s nice to get confirmation. The May 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveler lists 50 “Tours of a Lifetime.” The first such tour in the North America section is a Vermont offering known as the Localvore Trail. Other North American tours include birding in Alaska, cycling in Tennessee, wolf-watching in Montana, a Caribbean trek in Dominica, and Gallic Fun in Nova Scotia.

Subtitled “Dig in to Vermont’s Edible Landscape,” the seven-day tour offered by Cultural Crossroads of Barre will take place in mid-August. It starts in Burlington with a visit to Lake Champlain Chocolates and the Intervale. Day two is spent at Shelburne Farms learning about cheesemaking. Tour-goers will travel to Middlebury College, Ben & Jerry’s, Hardwick, and Jeffersonville before returning to Burlington.

Carrie McDougall of Cultural Crossroads is thrilled to have the opportunity to showcase some of Vermont’s small farms and businesses. After all, her own business is a one-person operation. McDougall founded Cultural Crossroads in 2005 but closed shop for a few years when her husband was ill. This is the fifth time she has been featured in National Geographic Traveler. She has also received recognition four times in Condé Nast Traveler.

McDougall relishes the opportunity to offer a tour in her home state. “My niche is cultural travel,” she said. “I want people to experience a place, not just check sites off a list.” Cultural Crossroads tours are designed to visit places that are not on most tour bus agendas, like eating at locally-owned establishments and steering clear of brand-name hotels. This is McDougall’s first Vermont tour, but as a member of the board of the Vermont Travel Industry Conference she has lots of experience working within the Green Mountain State. “I wanted to show what we have to offer beyond skiing, hiking, and biking,” she said. “This state is rich for farm-fresh food, and there are great experiences that people don’t think about.”

McDougall doesn’t advertise all the destinations on the tour because a few are normally closed to the public. Given her previous awards, she believes the excursion may attract some international travelers, but she noted that Vermonters could benefit from the tour, as well. Although locals have walked the grounds at Shelburne Farms, they may not be aware of the sustainable businesses which take place there. Likewise, Vermonters are probably familiar with High Mowing Seeds but may not recognize that they are one of only two companies that have 100 percent non-genetically altered seeds.

Norrie Quintos of National Geographic Traveler was happy to have the opportunity to highlight the Localvore Trail. “The tour stood out to the editors because it hit many of the high notes we look for – small-scale, original, and sustainable,” she said. “Plus, what better way to explore the culture of Vermont, which was ahead of the curve on the localvore movement in the U.S., than through its food and food producers?”

McDougall has a master’s degree in intercultural relations. She has led tours for Vermont Public Radio and the Boston Globe and has plenty of international experience, but she’s excited about her newest offering. While most of her tours are entirely her own creations, she admits to having had help from a variety of sources including the Department of Agriculture and the University of Vermont in putting together this tour. “Vermont has a lot to offer, and localvore is something that people are talking about a lot these days,” she said. “Knowing we have it in our backyard is pretty exciting.”