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Vermont Youth Rethink “Tiny” Housing

Tiny House Fest Vermont presenters connect the dots on housing and community across generations.

In experience-based educational programs around the state, Vermont youth are discovering that there’s more to a tiny house than the build. At Tiny House Fest Vermont on October 27th, 2019, three groups will report on their investigations into housing policy and people’s housing needs in Vermont and beyond.

Fest co-founder and producer Erin Maile O’Keefe is excited that presenters will include middle school, high school and college age youth groups. “When it comes to human habitation we’ve focused on narrow subject silos, and we are far from having what we need. We are also so far from having something viable to leave for future generations. Their activism is vital.”

It’s the fourth year of Tiny House Fest Vermont, founded in 2016 to explore creativity in housing and shared community spaces. After three years in Brattleboro, the festival is bringing its brand of celebration and inquiry to the Mad River Valley, home of co-presenter Yestermorrow Design/Build School.

They will be among 60 presenters presenting on three stages at the festival on Sunday, October 27, 2019 at Sugarbush Resort. Presentation topics range from the keynote, “Sustaining Sustainability: Regenerating the Practice of Life,” by Bill Reed of Regenesis, Inc., to “Designing the Next Generation of Tiny House Trailers: A Live Design Jam” with Steven Wright of Wright Trailers.

Starting with an engineering project that integrated math and science within a tiny house build, a Rutland middle school group discovered a city ordinance that did not allow tiny houses in Rutland City, opening a door for students to get involved in public policy debate. Laura MacLachlan collaborates with both teachers and students to embed academic standards into contextualized learning opportunities she calls “Education in Action.” She and students of the program will present “Rutland Youth Build Tiny for Climate Change” on the Story Stage at 2:30 pm.

Next up, an immersion journalism program involved six Vermont high school students in traveling across the country to see and learn about tiny house villages that are designed to create homes for people for whom housing security is a struggle. They listened and learned from residents and community members involved in making the villages happen. Mary Simons and the youth of Conversations from the Open Road will present on the Story Stage at 11:30 am.

Look up “802 Lab: Lift House” online.You’ll see a taste of how Norwich University’s Design Build Collaborative, with partners Downstreet Housing & Community Development and Washington County Mental Health Services integrated a design/build approach with processes that initiated from the perspective of vulnerable inhabitants to create Lift House. Project champions Tolya Stonorov (Stonorov Workshop) and Cara Armstrong (Director, Norwich University School of Architecture and Art) will present on the Community Vision Stage at 4:00 pm.

“When we talk about people, houses and the commons, we hope to encourage a sense of thoughtful re-inhabition, or a way of relating differently to our interactions and the environments we inhabit,” says fest co-founder Lisa Kuneman. “This year we get to listen to and meaningfully interact with young people as they explore their world and their views. Learning on this level is an incredible opportunity.”

Tiny House Fest Vermont is entry-level fun and learning for the public, as well as a resource for DIY makers, builders, designers, community builders and policy makers. To date, the Fest has drawn up to 8,000 people to downtown Brattleboro to view houses on site, see presentations and exhibitions, have a speed review of their own designs, create in a kids’ maker space, and attend a tour of small and tiny houses in Windham County.

The move to Warren is motivated by a presenting partnership with Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Waitsfield, VT. Yestermorrow Director Charlotte Potter describes The Mad River Valley Area as home to an eclectic community of architects, makers and adventurers. “For almost 40 years Yestermorrow has helped empower individuals to build objects, homes and habitats that reflect their ideas and values. The festival is a fabulous tool to help the school expand this conversation to the greater region with an invitation to tour the area and experience its creative history.”

The first year, Tiny House Fest Vermont was to be a small event in downtown Brattleboro, organized by friends to highlight the local community of innovators. The response from presenters was enthusiastic, and thousands of inquisitive and motivated people showed up to get answers to questions and connect with the like-minded. According to Fest co-founder, Lisa Kuneman, “The nearby food coop cafe turned into an ad hoc meeting space for people from Massachusetts who wanted to talk about creating a tiny house community of their own.”

Each year, the range of tiny house demos on site has grown to include demos of a range of approaches to building tiny, from the high-performance Vermod to the romance of a “vardo”—a model of mobile living space originally fashioned to be drawn by horse. The number of presentation stages has grown from one to three, organized by theme: Community Vision, Design/Build, and Story (personal stories).

Yestermorrow presented the nation’s first Tiny House Fair in 2013, and it has pioneered coursework for the layperson since 1980 at its campus facility in Waitsfield, VT, and throughout the country. The school offers a variety of courses, including a 3-day Tiny House Design course in February and longer form Tiny House Design/Build courses during the summer months.

Tickets are available online with early bird pricing until midnight 10/26, the night before the fest. For more information about this and programming, visit the website: www.tinyhousefestvermont.com.

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