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Meet the VACD Team

 

Jill Arace
Executive Director

Jill has nearly thirty years of non-profit management and sustainable development experience, mostly overseas. She lived and worked in Thailand and Cambodia for eleven years, managing relief and development programs for several organizations. She returned to the US to attend graduate school, where she earned two masters degrees – one in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School, and the other in Economics from Boston University. After graduate school, Jill moved to one of her favorite places – Vermont – where she worked for eleven years at the Institute for Sustainable Communities managing civic participation and sustainable development programs. After traveling the world, Jill began learning more about conservation and community development in Vermont and in the beautiful Mad River Valley, where she lives and facilitates sustainable agriculture initiatives. Jill is particularly interested in supporting local food production and building bridges between different segments of the community. 

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Jeff Farber
Conservation Programs Manager
Jeff has had a long and varied career of non-profit administration, project management, and conservation activities. He has served on the Middlesex Planning Commission for the past five years, is restoring a forgotten farm apple orchard, raising organic fruits and vegetables and managing the woodlot on his 10 acres. Before coming to VACD in 2008, Jeff served on the staff of UVM's Division of Continuing Education, where he designed and managed distance learning programs for post-graduate professionals. Jeff is also a self-employed media producer developing award-winning documentary films and projects focusing on conservation and social change issues. He brings a wide range of managerial experiences and a strong commitment to conservation work to his position as VACD's Technical Programs Manager.
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Carrie Youngblood
Office Manager
The manager and bookkeeper of our virtual office is the current business office manager of Black River Design Architects. Carrie Youngblood is a graduate of the University of Michigan and has lived in Vermont for more than 30 years. Her previous office/financial positions have included the non-profits Downstreet Housing, VPIRG, Heaton Woods Assisted Living Facility, and Turtle Island Children's Center, as well as four years at Solar Works (now Real Good Solar). Carrie lives in Montpelier and is active in the United Church of Christ, currently a member of Bethany Church, Montpelier, and has served on the Board of Directors of the Vermont Conference where she was Moderator of the 2011 Annual Meeting. She is also the Treasurer of the Vermont Philharmonic Orchestra and sings in the Vermont Philharmonic Chorus.
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Troy Dare
Rural Fire Protection Program Manager

Born and raised in Rockland, Maine, Troy grew up enjoying life on the ocean as a Rockland High School Tiger dabbling in cross country, track, drama and other theater groups. He also developed a strong passion for guitar and music. After high school he attended Vermont Technical College majoring in Civil Engineering Technology. In the summer months he worked as a Stern-man on a few lobster boats and played guitar in a few professional rock bands. During his senior year at VTC, Troy did work-study for the Vermont Resource Conservation & Development (RC&D) Councils Vermont Rural Fire Protection Task Force on the Rural Fire Protection initiative. In the spring of 1998, the VT Legislature started funding the Dry Hydrant Grant Program and Troy has worked as the Engineering Technician for that program for 15 years until the RC&D's closed their doors in 2013. Troy has now moved on to become the Rural Fire Protection Program Manager for the VACD to continue the Dry Hydrant Grant Program and help evolve the Rural Fire Protection Program to another level of service & support for Vermont communities & Fire Departments. To date, Troy has helped install nearly 1200 dry hydrants in 235 towns and communities across the state. In 2017, Troy’s daughter Joule Loretta Dare was born and, in the Fall of 2018, he bought a house in Sumner Maine.

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Holden Sparacino
Water Quality Programs Manager
Holden works to develop, manage and support VACD's non-agricultural water quality programs across Vermont including stormwater projects, tree plantings, and more. Holden has an MS in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont where he researched snow removal best management practices and water quality impacts from road salt. Previously, he worked at the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring (ALLARM) in Pennsylvania managing a regional volunteer monitoring program assessing surface waters for possible shale gas industry impacts. Holden aims to connect practitioners, communities, and resources towards the protection and enhancement of surface waters with VACD. Holden lives in Burlington and outside of work can usually be found on a bike, on a hike, or trying out an unfamiliar DIY project.
Jess Buckley
Agriculture Programs Manager
Jess believes that if we all courageously follow our heart's calling, we can work together to make the world a better place. She graduated from the University of Vermont with a degree in Civil/Environmental Engineering and minor in Community and International Development. Her adventurous spirit led her to Central America where she co-founded the non-profit Clara Vista. Inevitably she yearned to return to the hiking trails of the Green Mountains and found her way back to the Northeast. Throughout her career she has spent many summers as the resident engineer on construction sites. Previously she worked for the Agency of Agriculture's Best Management Practices Program where she implemented water quality conservation practices on farms. As VACD/NRCC's Agriculture Programs Manager she has the privilege of collaborating with talented conservationists to cultivate environmental stewardship and viable food systems. She is passionate about empowering people to take care of themselves, each other and our planet. Jess lives in central Vermont with her partner, daughter, husky and her aspirations of building a homestead.
Alli Lewis
Vermont Agricultural Water Quality Partnership Coordinator
A native Vermonter, Alli was privileged to enjoy her childhood growing up in the Green Mountain State. While camping, hiking, traipsing through bogs and catching frogs, she developed a deep connection to place. Though trips abroad were enticing, Alli always wanted to return to the state she called home. She earned Bachelor’s degrees in Integrated Environmental Science and Wellness and Alternative Medicine from Johnson State College. Her passion for the environment led her to work in hazardous waste remediation, collaborate with farmers on water quality projects as a VACD agricultural resource specialist, and coordinate the NRCS-supported Lake Champlain Regional Conservation Partnership Program and other water quality grants through the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Clean Water Initiative Program. In addition to her environmental endeavors, Alli is engaged in Vermont’s healing and indigenous communities. As a mother, she strives to live in close relationship to the land and those who inhabit it, so that her son may develop the same awe, respect and commitment to the special place that Vermont is.
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Molly Varner
Communications Coordinator

Molly received a B.S. in Marketing Management from Syracuse University in 2008 and is currently one course from completing her Master's in Environmental Science and Policy at Johns Hopkins University. Molly joined the Grand Isle County Natural Resource Conservation District as Project Manager in March and has been combining her business acumen with recent training in conservation to expand the role of the district within the community. Inspired by the unique landscape and culture of the Champlain Islands, Molly hopes to bring new energy and light to issues challenging the county, such as water quality, and aquatic and terrestrial invasives. Her fellow Vermont districts, VACD, and NRCC have guided her through the state's conservation landscape, helping her to now support each in the role of Communications Coordinator. She's looking forward to reinventing her marketing skills to serve an eco-conscious audience. In her short time in Vermont, she's developed a deep connection to the Green Mountain State, spending her free time hiking, discovering new swimming holes, and enjoying the local culture. She is committed to enhancing the vitality of Vermont through both positions.

Clare Ireland
Finance Manager

After graduating from Beloit College with Bachelor of Arts degrees in philosophy and political science, Clare spent four years with an AmeriCorps program as a conservation crew leader and wildland firefighter in Missouri and Montana. During this time, she also acted as an emergency response coordinator, providing leadership in volunteer and data management in the wake of natural disasters across the United States. In 2015, Clare joined the L-A-D Foundation where she managed human resources, finances, and outreach initiatives for one of Missouri’s largest conservation nonprofits. Despite her field-based background, she is, in fact, a “numbers person” who loves the problem-solving power of a beautifully designed spreadsheet. A St. Louis native, Clare married a New Englander in 2017, and both she and her husband are excited to be brand new Vermonters. Outside of work, Clare enjoys hiking, wood working, gardening, and playing old-time fiddle.

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Meet the VACD Technical Staff

 

Joanne Dion
Program Assistant (Middlebury)
Joanne is a native Vermonter who grew up in Addison County. The favorite part of her job is helping co-workers and clients solve issues and to support them as they work to move projects along. Hospitality and quality customer service are of utmost importance to her. She is an advocate for recycling, composting and reducing waste of all kinds. Her time outside of the office is filled with family, friends, homemaking, walking, and camping. She considers herself fortunate to be working with such a wonderful group of people!
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Liza Lemieux
Program Assistant (St. Albans)
Liza’s dedication to conservation and passion for soil was developed while earning a Bachelor’s degree in environmental science from the University of Vermont. In addition to her study of agriculture and the environment, she also conducted research related to soil phosphorus availability across different land use types and worked as a lab technician processing soil samples at the UVM Agricultural and Environmental Testing Laboratory. Next, she served as an ECO AmeriCorps member with the Franklin County Natural Resources Conservation District, where she got to experience the beauty of Franklin County through lots of time spent in the field soil sampling and water quality monitoring. Now, Liza supports landowner participation and planner implementation of NRCS programs through her position as a VACD Program Assistant in the St. Albans USDA Service Center.
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Tanya Martin
Program Assistant (Newport)
Tanya is a Program Assistant in the Newport Office. She is native to the  Orleans County area where she has raised her two sons and her daughter. She has a deep connection with her community because of her diverse work experiences. Tanya worked for many years at the Community National Bank in Barton prior to operating her private and Vermont state registered childcare. She took great joy in being home with her family and caring for other  families children as well. Tanya has in most recent years worked as a County office employee for the Orleans and Lamoille County USDA Farm Service Agency Program Technician. Tanya takes great pride in her children and her grand-daughter. She loves being home and spending quality time with her family. Spring and summer are Tanya’s favorite seasons because, she spends her free time in her flower and vegetable gardens where she feels at peace!
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Izzy Bazluke
Cartographic Technician (Colchester)
Izzy is a fifth generation Vermonter and grew up in the suburbs of Essex. Half of Izzy’s time is spent assisting staff with GIS concerns, including the creation of maps, on-demand content, templates, and procedures. The remainder of her time is spent working on the ACEP-WRE program to monitor and restore wetlands throughout Vermont; preform onsite and offsite wetland determinations; and help to launch mobile planning tools in the state. Izzy joined VACD shortly after completing an international Master’s program in Environmental Management and Sustainability in the small Mediterranean island-state of Malta. Prior to post-grad, Izzy studied at Syracuse University, earning a degree in Biology with a focus on Environmental Science. In her free time, Izzy enjoys crafting, rugby, backpacking, and running.
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Joe Bondi
Wetlands Restoration Technician (Colchester)
Joe Bondi studied in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment at the University of Delaware and received his Bachelor’s of Science degree in Environmental Science with a focus on ecology and organismal biology. Before joining VACD, Joe served two years as an ECO AmeriCorps member serving local communities throughout northwestern Vermont. Joe is currently working to help restore native vegetation on wetland easements throughout the state, delineate wetlands, and helping to create restoration plans as part the NRCS’ Wetland Reserve Easement Program. In his free time, Joe enjoys hiking, hanging by the lake, reading, and playing basketball.
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Lauren Newman
Cartographic Technician (St. Albans)

Lauren grew up in Ohio and moved to Vermont to pursue a degree in forestry from the University of Vermont. She spent her summers in Ohio working in a leasing office and helping people find apartments. Lauren discovered her love of working with spatial data and GIS after taking Intro to Geographic Information Systems and decided to pursue a minor in Geospatial Technologies. Her capstone project was working to create a planting prioritization map for the Winooski Tree Board looking at spatial data, inspiring her to continue working with GIS in Vermont.

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Michelle Smith
Conservation Planner (Rutland)

Michelle joined VACD in the summer of 2011 as a CREP planner and is now working as a Land Treatment Planner. Prior to her role with VACD, Michelle worked as a Conservation\GIS Technician with USDA Farm Service Agency for more than four years where she gained extensive experience in GIS and conservation programs. Michelle is a MA native but has been living in Vermont for over thirteen years. She earned her undergraduate degree at Green Mountain College in environmental studies with double minors in biology and geology. As a graduate student, Michelle studied environmental sciences with a focus in conservation biology. She attributes her life-long love of the environment largely to her parents, who always encouraged her to explore the outdoors through backpacking, hiking, and family canoe trips.

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Cindy Watrous
Conservation Planner (Middlebury)

Cindy Watrous grew up in Piermont, NH on a small dairy farm.  She attended Becker Junior College earning an Associate of Applied Science for Veterinary Assistant.  Cindy was a Dairy Herd Improvement Association Technician for 23 years and enjoyed her work with the farmers in Addison County.  Cindy received her training on GIS from FSA and joined VACD in December of 2006 as a Land Treatment Planner covering Addison, Rutland and Bennington Counties. Cindy owns a small sheep farm and is a fiber artist who dyes and processes her own sheep’s wool into felted creations.   In her spare time, Cindy enjoys gardening, seeking treasures at yard sales, repurposing items and spending time with her two grand-daughters. 

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Justin Michaud
Conservation Planner (Newport)

Justin Michaud is a native Vermonter who grew up on a family dairy farm. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Sierra Nevada College and a Master of Science degree in Biology from Eastern Kentucky University. Justin joined the VACD team in 2015 and currently works as a Land Treatment Planner and Conservation Planner in the Newport field office. He loves playing with his two children, working on a diversified farm, fishing, gardening, and snowboarding. 

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Aaron Thomas
Conservation Planner (St. Albans)
Aaron grew up on a small fiber farm in Morrisville, New York where his family raised sheep and goats for their fiber to be used in hand crafted woolen goods. This is where he cultivated a passion for advocating for small farms. He graduated from SUNY Plattsburgh with a B.S. in Environmental Science and participated in the Applied Environmental Science Program through William H. Miner Agricultural Institute. Aaron joined VACD in November 2018 as a Land Treatment Planner in the St. Albans office. In his spare time, Aaron enjoys going to concerts, traveling to see friends, and relaxing by Lake Champlain with his dog.
Henry Webb
Conservation Planner (Middlebury)
Henry grew up in Monkton Vermont and was introduced to agriculture and a love for the land early on. He graduated from the University of Vermont Honor’s College having taken many classes that reflected his interest in natural resources, ecology, and Vermont’s landscape history. After college Henry worked for several different farms gaining practical skills and experience in different systems and scales of agriculture. He has continued to educate himself on soil science and nutrient management and their practical application. The resources offered by VACD and NRCS have been helpful to Henry on his own vegetable farm, so he sees his conservation planner position as an opportunity to help others navigate the system to access those resources and to use the knowledge he has gained from self-directed learning and hands-on experience.
Grayson Webb
Conservation & Forestry Planner (Berlin)
Having spent much of his childhood exploring the woods and hillsides of his hometown in Monkton, Vermont, it seemed only logical for Grayson to pursue a degree in Environmental Sciences at UVM. After graduating in the spring of 2016, he and two friends grabbed their bikes and biked across the country from Boston, Massachusetts to Pacific City, Oregon to gain an understanding of the environmental challenges facing us as a country. He spent two field seasons working for the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) in Fairbanks, Alaska then Tucson, Arizona, conducting plant and phenological surveys. Most recently, he worked as a Forestry Technician for the Forest Service on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests in Eastern Arizona. He is very excited to be back and working to improve the environment in his home state.
Kelley Gilhooly
Conservation Planner (White River Junction)

Kelley grew up in New York and spent most of her childhood outside exploring. She went to school at Saint Michael’s College where she got a degree in biology and minored in Chemistry and Environmental Studies. After graduation, she moved to the West Coast to work for the Bureau of Land Management on geomorphic stream surveys throughout Oregon, Washington, and Northern California. Between field seasons, she came back to Vermont to thru-hike The Long Trail, then moved to Colorado to work at Breckenridge Ski Resort and enjoy a winter skiing in the Rocky Mountains. She is very excited to be back on the East Coast helping to conserve the natural lands of Vermont!

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Meryl Braconnier
Conservation Planner (St. Albans)

Meryl grew up in Lynnfield, MA, just north of Boston. She attended UVM and graduated this past May with an Environmental Sciences degree and minors in French and Chemistry. Meryl now lives in Burlington, VT. She was a research assistant in Dr. Eric Roy's Nutrient Cycling and Ecological Design Lab, and joined UVM's first Soil Judging team. Last summer, she received a fellowship from UVM to conduct independent research on the social dimensions of river conservation efforts in Vermont’s Upper Missisquoi Watershed. Through her collaboration with the Vermont Land Trust, and work with landowners and farmers, Meryl became familiar with the social, economic, and environmental benefits (and challenges) to conservation initiatives and water quality. She is very excited to apply her knowledge in the conservation planning process through hands-on field work and engaging with customers. 

As for a few fun facts: Meryl enjoys staying active and getting outdoors—whether that’s by playing Ultimate Frisbee, gardening, hiking, or biking. She also likes to get creative in the kitchen and try new recipes. In normal (non-Covid) times, she’d be following the local music and art scene. In colder times, reading some poetry or fiction—in English or in French!

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