A look at Selectboard life with Farmer Kate MacLean

  • Apr 10, 2020
  • Lindsay Williams

It’s not very often you speak with someone who makes you reconsider what it means to live a fulfilling life. A life without rigid structure or meticulously mapped out plans is something I never really considered. Following my conversation with Kate MacLean, an Emerge Vermont alumna, I rethought all of that. Kate grew up on Martha’s Vineyard—one of New England’s best kept secrets. A quaint island off the coast of Massachusetts, Martha’s Vineyard thrives in the summertime. Its beaches and farmlands, however, don’t come and go with the seasons. They are built into the infrastructure and lifestyle, and perhaps explain Kate’s free spirit and why she was eventually drawn back to farm life. Following a series of events and careers that took her all around the globe, Kate is now settled in rural Vermont with a successful farming business and a position in her local government as a Selectboard member. 

Kate graduated with a degree in History at Smith College, yet her first job was in wealth management. She quickly realized that was not her path and made the move out to California to work for Facebook as a language translator in its early stages. Cool, right? As a college student myself, I often fear about pursuing a career that strays from my major, but Kate is the perfect example of how following your interests—even if they do not align perfectly with your studies—is okay. It was at this point in our conversation where Kate first started to make me reflect on my own choices. Hearing her story and how she pursued a job that genuinely interested her rather than planning her life years in advance really took me aback. Not that I thought it was impossible, but the way she talked about her life as a series of events rather than a schedule was definitely foreign to me. Once Facebook started to expand rapidly, Kate’s interest in it dwindled. It was around that same time when a new opportunity presented itself on Kate’s winding path. She was offered a winter house sitting gig in a rural, almost undiscovered, part of France. Yes, France. As a young 20-something, she had no other major responsibilities besides herself. She took advantage of the freeness that comes with that time in life and moved to a new country to discover all it had to offer. Kate returned to the states with a newfound passion for food, and she followed that passion to North Carolina to live on her cousin’s farm. She’s been farming ever since then, and is now the proud owner of her own farming business in a town that resembles the place she spent those formative months in France.  

Kate’s introduction and experience with Emerge was not traditional. Most women go through the program with the hopes of one day running a successful campaign, but Kate actually won her race for selectboard before attending the weekend-long candidate bootcamp. Kate first heard about Emerge’s mission from a friend in February of this year. Her friend also went to an all women’s college, so they shared similar views about the importance of female leadership and empowerment. From there, Kate reached out to our Executive Director Jill Krowinski and soon after got a spot in the March Candidate Campaign bootcamp program. Kate has always been an active member in her community, but she wanted to explore more ways to be an advocate. After being asked to run for different positions at least a half dozen times, Kate decided to run for Chelsea Selectboard. Kate admits that before 2016, she had never considered getting involved in local government. It wasn’t until after the last presidential election when she noticed a surge in her female contemporaries stepping into local leadership roles. 

Although Kate won her election before her Emerge training, she admits that the weekend proved to be incredibly informative and valuable in more ways than one. She learned about the resources that the democratic party has to offer to candidates—something she says will prove to be immensely helpful. Along with the campaign tools, Kate gained a sisterhood from her training. Her class of eight women connected very quickly and have continued to stay in touch over the past month. Kate’s last social event before quarantine began was her Emerge training weekend, so she’s holding on to those connections during this difficult time. She keeps in pretty constant contact with most of the women, and one woman in particular has been very integral in working with Kate on forming the best practices for community organizing in the state. Finding this group of women with similar interests and aspirations is something that Kate says makes her feel more comfortable in her role. She is the only woman on a five person selectboard for the town of Chelsea, so her insights will definitely prove to be valuable when making decisions that affect a wide representation of people. In addition to this female representation role, Kate has undertaken outsized responsibilities with regards to the current pandemic. She follows the news closely and is in touch with how other communities are facing the crisis. As a result, she was the trailblazer for coordinating a response for her community. The Selectboard sends out regular statements and updates to Chelsea residents which outlines their coordination with the Department of Health and Emergency Management as well as other institutions integral to the Chelsea community. Now, Kate is leading an effort to send out hard copy mailers of resources and best practices to reach the many residents in her community that don’t have access to the internet.  Taking the initiative to send out messages that could assuage some of the resident’s fears is just one example of Kate’s amazing contributions to her community. While still new to the role, Kate has made it her mission to communicate with the town’s various boards and mutual aid organizers to give the residents a coordinated and transparent response to the pandemic. She has shown not only resilience but also intuition during this time, as she’s used her expansive network to paint a complete picture of how the state as a whole is facing the crisis. Her leadership and accessibility is something that serves as a beacon of hope during these uncertain times, and she’s handling her new responsibilities with grace and composure, even in the midst of her own company’s downturn.

Longest Acres Farm is Kate and her partner’s sprawling 120 acre farmland. They raise cattle and pigs to sell to Vermont and Boston based restaurants. As with most things during this global pandemic, the normal operations of restaurant business have been put on hold. With that, Longest Acres Farms is facing a massive roadblock. Emulating Kate’s stronghearted will, the farm is adapting to sell their products directly to families in Vermont and around Boston. This is no replacement for the business they were used to, but Kate is also taking advantage of any assistance offered to business owners. Her approach to the current situation is cautious but well thought out, and she’s still rooting for the farms that are doing well in the midst of the crisis. 

It was evident from the start of my conversation with Kate Maclean that she has a world of insight to offer to her community. A cultured, determined, and kind woman, Kate sets an example for what it means to be passionate and to actually act on those passions. Whether it be through her work on the Selectboard or her work running a farm business, Kate demonstrates a level of commitment and initiative that is reflective of a natural-born advocate. Our conversation made me take a step back and reevaluate what it means to live presently and seize opportunities. There are very few people who make me think outside of my shell, but for some reason my conversation with Kate did just that. I look forward to seeing how her career continues to evolve and how she will continue to inspire women—like me—to be unapologetically themselves in a day in age that often loses sight of that.

Emerge has one goal: To increase the number of Democratic women in office who are reflective of the incredible diversity of the Democratic party by recruiting, training and providing a powerful network.