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For the love of the land

Rindge: Former Meeting School property purchased and intended to be sustainable community

  • Craig and Megan Jensen are two of the five people who bought the 130-acre Meeting School property last week and plan to create a sustainable community there.
  • Craig and Megan Jensen are two of the five people who bought the 130-acre Meeting School property last week and plan to create a sustainable community there.

When the Meeting School in Rindge closed in 2011, it meant that students and teachers stopped attending school and the organization stopped operating on the Thomas Road property for the first time since 1957. It did not, however, signal the end of a community inspired by Quaker values of place-based education, spiritual seeking, simple living, and a serious commitment to Earth stewardship.

In a sale that closed on Dec. 4, Craig and Megan Jensen, Hannah and Dan Bissex-Berardi, and Craig Waterman all bought the five houses, 90 acres of woods, and multiple hay fields that make up the Meeting School property. The five former faculty members have plans to create a sustainable community there, temporarily named South of Monadnock Community, to keep the spirit of the property alive. Craig and Megan Jensen, who met through the Meeting School, were married on the property, and have lived there since 2011, began a limited membership CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture organization, called Sun Moon Farm, when the school closed.

Growing and harvesting vegetables, roots, herbs, greens, and even cut flowers, according to Sun Moon Farm’s website, was a way for two people who loved the school, the property, and the farmland, to retain and to remain stewards over it. “We were here and wanted to stay here,” said Craig in an on-site interview last week, indicating he and Megan had fears of developers taking over the property if they had not been there. The couple, who are both in their early 30’s, also make handcrafted toys and dolls in the winter time. Megan is also an illustrator and a print-maker.

In addition to running their CSA and craft business for the past two years, Craig and Megan had been working on their proposal for buying the property. The Meeting School put out a request for purchase proposals after deciding it would not reopen, looking for buyers who planned to use the property in a way that was consistent with the school’s values. Craig and Megan, in addition to the three others, put forward their vision of creating a close-knit, sustainable community, and it was accepted. “We’re really excited,” said Craig of the recent sale.

The eventual goal for the property is to have six full-time families living there and helping maintain the land. “Our vision is that people will want to come to a place where they know their neighbors and do some [farm] work,” said Craig. “We can’t be the stewards of this huge property by ourselves.”

For the time being, Craig and Megan are the only two owners living on the property. Several renters occupy the homes there, and over the next year, the five buyers will come up with a long-term ownership plan and hope to have new members living in the community. All of the owners currently meet at least once a month, with the other two families still living in the Boston area.

In regards to the group’s planning process, Megan said that they are taking the time to make decisions about the property with foresight and in an organized manner. “We want to be really intentional,” she said. “There are all these decisions we have to make as a group.”

The couple said they and the other buyers want to make long-term, sustainable decisions, like keeping the 90 acres of woodlot wild and open forever. “This is a really special place, not just to us, but to other people,” Craig said. “The burden of stewardship is pretty heavy.”

Elodie can be reached by phone at 924-7172 ext. 228, or by email at ereed@ledgertranscript.com. Elodie is also on Twitter @elodie_reed.

Two of my three sons are Meeting School alumni. So is my stepdaughter. Hence I have been following closely the story of its closing and the hard work the Trustees have been doing to decide how to devolve the land into new and responsible hands. When people give to an institution such as a private school, they have a reasonable right to be confident that their charitable support will be used in its stated mission. In this case, the mission was education; but not just 'plain vanilla' education; rather it was Quaker education. So I'm sure the Trustees felt that the land and buildings should go to someone or some group that would continue that sort of mission to the extent possible. These days Quaker education is stretched in a lot of ways; Quakers are among the innovators in education, particularly for peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding. Responsible stewardship for the Earth we live on is part of peacebuilding. And that includes 'placebuilding', what people are increasingly calling our direct relationship with the soil, with other living things, and with one another in closer community. So this seems to me like a good and well-considered decision. If it were the right time in my own life, I would consider coming to Rindge and living and working with these good folks, whom I know personally. But I am 'placebuilding' here in southeastern Vermont, a life-decision I took in the early 1990s. I am now 65 and feel satisfied that I have been living a productive and healthy life until now. I hope these beautiful and dedicated young people all feel this way when they reach my age, and I know they will most likely value the 'placebuilding' commitment they have taken at a much younger age than I was able to. I would only say to them, 'Leave yourself open to any leadings to educate and teach ... what you are doing is exemplary, and the wisdom and sensibilities you show us now are worth passing on to others in the fullness of time'.

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