From one Vermont icon to another: Turnau brings her VPR experience to Shelburne Farms

Courtesy photo
Robin Turnau, a Charlotte resident, joined Shelburne Farms as Chief Advancement Officer in September.

By CHEA WATERS EVANS

The popular longtime head of Vermont Public Radio recently took a step outside, from the studios of VPR to the barns of Shelburne Farms.

Robin Turnau, who worked for the public radio station for 25 years, is now the Chief Advancement Officer for the Shelburne nonprofit.

A familiar name and voice of countless radio pledge drives, the Charlotte resident now is charged with developing and promoting the iconic farm’s fundraising and philanthropy initiatives.

Shelburne Farms has a somewhat double life: It’s a local resource where Shelburne residents can visit for free; schoolchildren take countless field trips there; and families celebrate life events with brunches and dinners at the Inn.

But it’s also internationally-known as a model for sustainability, a pioneer of the farm-to-plate movement, and an education center for teachers from around the world.

Turnau said she sees her new role at Shelburne Farms as also having that dual purpose. She aims to foster the farm’s connection to the town of Shelburne while promoting its profile nationally and around the world with attention to the farm’s sustainability efforts.

For example, she pointed out that the farm itself is a tourist destination with almost 150,000 visitors per year. Yet she also would like to encourage visitors to explore the local area, “and to be able to draw people here and point them to not just the [farm’s] welcome center but to other places as well,” such as Shelburne Museum, Village Wine and Coffee or the Shelburne Country Store.

It’s important, she said, to “make Shelburne Farms be an integral part of the Shelburne economy.” She said she also looks forward to getting to know not only “the folks in the town, but those who run the town as well.”

Though public radio is a singular experience for the listener and Shelburne Farms is experienced most often with others, both have a strong sense of community among their supporters. Turnau said there are parallels between the two organizations and their missions that have translated well during her transition since she started her new job in September.

“For VPR it is about a community of listeners and here at Shelburne Farms it’s about creating a community around coming to this beautiful place… and being involved in the farm-to-plate movement,” she said. “When I think about VPR, I think about it as having a broad and wide impact in Vermont… when I think of Shelburne Farms —– there are many levels to Shelburne Farms — the mission is to inspire and cultivate learning for a sustainable future. There are no boundaries around sustainability, so that for me is one of the many common threads.”

The farm will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2022, and though Turnau said she can’t divulge any specifics yet, there will be an increased focus on building the nonprofit’s endowment, increasing the educational opportunities available for students and educators, and continuing to preserve the physical integrity of the buildings on the property.

Sustainability and energy use will also continue to be a major theme for the farm’s development future, Turnau said.

Imagining the farm in the future is exciting, but so far Turnau said she’s still getting used to being there every day. Although she appreciates all of the farm’s activities, she said one of her favorite things to do at her new workplace is simply walking to Lone Tree Hill on the farm trail by Lake Champlain, and through the woods near the sugarhouse to the market garden.

From her office in the farm barn she can hear the baaing sounds of sheep.

“I have to pinch myself every day and say ‘Wow, I get to work here,’” she said. “It’s pretty extraordinary.”

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