In 1983 Will Raap founded Gardener’s Supply Company in Burlington, Vermont with a vision to create a business where people, planet, and profits are equally important. At the same time he was providing tools so that people could raise their own food and enjoy doing it at the same time.
In December of 2009, Gardener’s Supply became 100 percent employee-owned. Raap began selling shares to employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Program in 1987, allowing all employees to earn stock and participate in company profits. Selling Gardener’s Supply to the employees kept the business in Vermont, and gave employees the opportunity to become owners of an enterprise they helped build, something Raap felt was critical when he started the company.
Although the company could have sold to outside buyers, Raap’s original vision motivated him and that included equal concern for people involved in the business. At a time when many jobs are moving overseas or companies are being sold to large conglomerates, employee-ownership maintains accountability to workers, to product integrity, and to the regional economy.
Meeting a parallel concern for the planet and for future generations, in 1990 Gardener’s Supply created a non-profit to undertake the land restoration and agricultural renaissance of the Intervale, an abandoned pig farm and unregulated dumpsite in on a floodplain in the middle of Burlington. Today the Intervale Center manages nearly 300 acres in a patchwork of organic gardens, independent farms, nurseries, a community composting facility, community gardens, recreation trails, and wildlife corridors.
But the Intervale has done even more than that—it has inspired Burlington to imagine greater self sufficiency in food production, spawning new farmers and an informed citizenry who recognize the importance of a locally based food system. And once such an imagination enters into the public mind, the possibilities expandlocally made furniture and wool products, distributed energy production, and public transportation options.
The Burlington fever has spread to other towns and regions in Vermont. In Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom a cluster of seed, compost, cheese, meat, fruit, and vegetable production businesses have kept jobs local and maintained skills, while building a proud economy that feeds itself and exports quality goods to other regions. Vermont is turning into a model of what a new economy might look like.
Will Raap did not do this alone. But his vision in 1983 for Gardener’s Supply included all of this. And visions are active and potent when held for the right reasons. It is such visions that start revolutions. In his 2006 E. F. Schumacher Lecture he describes the journey that led to this vision and its implementation.
It is time for a revolution in our economic system—transitioning to one that is local, vibrant, diverse, fair, restorative, and sustainable. A citizen revolution region by region. Sign up today in your local economy!