This week, I had the chance to speak with State Representative Charen Fegard of Franklin County for our Friday Feature. A self-proclaimed “air force brat,” Charen’s upbringing shaped the direction and decisions in her life. She was born on the Howard Air Force Base in Panama and lived all over the world until deciding to plant roots in Vermont. Charen admits she’s been “politically aware” since the age of 19 when she first started writing letters and forming her own opinions on important matters. Since then, her path to State Representative has not been linear, but the work she does in the House for her community still proves her as an essential part in the fight for representation of Vermonters and Vermont agriculture.
I asked Charen why she decided to settle down in Vermont after having explored many places as the child of an Air Force member. “Vermont was the first place that ever really felt like home,” she said. Something about the sense of community she found in Vermont coupled with access to elected officials made Vermont the perfect match for Charen and her family. The size and population of Vermont lends to its ability for people like State Representatives to hear the voices of the people they’re representing. In her role, Charen serves as a voice for the people of Berkshire, Franklin, Highgate, and Richford. She serves on the House Committee on Agriculture and Forestry and is passionate about food systems and food sovereignty. Charen’s district is composed of farmers, particularly in the dairy section. Charen herself raises sheep, laying hens and has an abundant vegetable garden—some of which she puts out at her Free Veggie Stand. In the House, Charen is particularly proud and passionate about her part in postponing the sunset on on-farm slaughter regulation. If it were to pass, there would be no way for on-farm slaughter to continue for small farmers. Eliminating the sunset is about protecting local farms, farmers, consumers, and ultimately the animals from the stress of transport.
Charen’s introduction to the Vermont political sphere started after being recruited from a workshop where she learned the skills of supporting candidates. With the mentality of “someone needs to step up for others,” Charen committed to run for State Representative in 2018. Before her election, she completed the Emerge Vermont boot camp. She remembers the overall experience of the boot camp as being beneficial to her campaign, and it ultimately gave her the training and information she needed to move forward in her political career.
As legislators continue to be in session during the COVID-19 pandemic, they face new challenges that seem to build off of one another. Grappling in real time with the economic fallout that states and communities are facing in tandem with a public health crisis leaves elected officials to make difficult and unprecedented decisions. As it is also an election year, the crossroads of campaigning and legislating becomes muddled because the standard is to separate the two, but how, realistically, can one do that in our current situation? There is no easy answer, but Charen hopes that the people of Vermont recognize the work that their legislators are doing to ensure equity and justice for all people.
Reflecting back on her path to her current position, Charen is grateful for the Emerge program and how it supported her and her beliefs. In order to represent her district to the best of her ability, Charen must maintain a more moderate approach. Being center-lined is of utmost importance in her conservative district, so she’s thankful that Emerge welcomed her with open arms as a fair and equal opportunity space to learn and grow as a politician. After hearing her thoughts and opinions, I am truly in awe of the truthfulness and dedication that Charen puts into her work. She tells it how it is and isn’t afraid to use her voice and platform to make a statement. I used the word “refreshing” to describe the way she talks about politics, and I think during a time like this, a wake-up call is something we all need.
To learn more about Charen, click here.
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.