The History of the High Meadows Fund
Carl and Judy Ferenbach established The High Meadows Fund (HMF) in 2004 as a supporting organization of the Vermont Community Foundation (VCF) because of VCF's capacity as a knowledgeable and engaged partner to inform and guide effective grantmaking in Vermont. Over its first few years, guided by a board of directors with deep familiarity with Vermont and the working landscape, the High Meadows Fund narrowed its focus to environmental grantmaking directed at promoting sustainable farm and forest enterprises, clean energy, and resilient land use in Vermont. A separate High Meadows Foundation was established for philanthropic giving outside the state.
HMF’s dual mission to improve the vibrancy of Vermont’s communities and the health of the natural environment inspires us to both mitigate the factors that contribute to the changing climate, and adapt to the risks and vulnerabilities brought about by extreme weather events and other impacts of the changing climate. These challenges shine a spotlight on the environmental and social justice challenges inherent in adapting to a changing climate, as Vermonters with more modest incomes are likely to live in housing that is expensive to heat and/or vulnerable to the impact of storm water erosion and flooding.
From its inception through December 2017, the High Meadows Fund has made grants totaling over $12.1 million. The High Meadows Fund recognizes that actions beyond grantmaking play an important role in serving our mission. Convening stakeholders with well-crafted agendas, contracting for specific research, and investing a portion of our assets for mission impact are strategies in addition to making grants. High Meadows considers the role of private markets in bringing successful ideas to scale over the long term.
High Meadows listens and watches for areas of specific need and opportunity in Vermont. From 2010 to 2015 High Meadows gave particular attention to first understanding, and then addressing, barriers to improving the energy performance of Vermont’s homes and community buildings. High Meadows saw this as a key strategy for reducing Vermonters’ greenhouse gas emissions. After Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, the High Meadows board turned more attention to the impact of the already changing climate on Vermont agriculture, land use, and community development. The fund’s watershed resilience initiative and its interest in zero-energy modular homes resulted from our post-Irene line of inquiry.
In 2017, High Meadows engaged a consultant to interview our grantees and other key partners to explore opportunities to achieve greater impact. These interviews reinforced our commitment to providing more than grant funding. Grantees and other funders value High Meadows’ role in fostering learning and connections among diverse practitioners across our areas of focus. Those we interviewed suggested High Meadows more actively share what we are learning and draw more attention to the work of our grant and investment partners, while also more proactively reach out to funders who share our values and mission.
You can learn more about what we heard from these interviews in our “2017 Reflections” blog post. In 2018, we hired a full-time Program Officer. With this new addition to our team, High Meadows can devote more resources to storytelling, blog posts, and active engagement with other funders who share our values and areas of focus.
The High Meadows Fund Board recognizes the fluidity of its process: we set out a strategy and course of action, reflect on our accomplishments and challenges, and make adjustments. We review our objectives annually, leave room for the new and unexpected each year, and use what we learn to influence broader policy and market activity in our fields of interest. The board also recognizes our effectiveness relies on the diligence and creativity of our grant, investment, and thought partners. We are grateful for the commitment, skill, and grace they bring to working alongside us.