Hungry Vermonters face cuts in aid

hunger web

Joe Patrissi at the NEKCA food shelf. Mr. Patrissi said it was fully stocked on Monday morning, but demand is great, and a few hours later several of its shelves were bare. Photo by Tena Starr

Years ago, Kim Arel found herself in a tough spot.  She had two young children to feed, and for a brief time the only way to swing that was to visit a food shelf.  “I was surprised to see other people there that I didn’t think I would,” she said in a recent interview.

Later, when she was in a better place, Ms. Arel decided to pay it forward, and became a donor to food shelves herself.  And for the past 12 years or so, she’s been running the food shelf in Jay, which serves five towns.

Last week, she said, many of her clientele were talking about the latest round of cuts to 3SquaresVT, the program that helps poor Vermonters put food on the table.  “They don’t know what they’re going to do.”

Those cuts, which will take effect on November 1, are due to the expiration of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding, which passed in 2009 and included a temporary increase for help with food through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  The temporary boost increased the monthly SNAP benefit by 14 percent. Continue reading

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Moose harvest lagging at mid-season

Barry Adams of Lyndonville hunting with his father, Dave, shot this 442-pound cow in Wheelock Monday morning.  Photo courtesy of Cedric Alexander

Barry Adams of Lyndonville hunting with his father, Dave, shot this 442-pound cow in Wheelock Monday morning. Photo courtesy of Cedric Alexander

by Paul Lefebvre

BARTON — Halfway through the 2013 season and the moose harvest is running about 40 percent behind last year’s figures at this time, according to biologist Cedric Alexander of the state’s Fish and Wildlife Department.

Early estimates suggest that 115 moose had been taken as of Monday night, said Mr. Alexander, the department’s moose biologist who was at the Barton reporting station Tuesday.

Mr. Alexander attributed the trailing harvest to a reduction in permits — about 30 fewer than were issued a year ago.

A hunter not included in the mid-season report was Chris Manges of West Burke, who shot a 622-pound cow Tuesday in Craftsbury.

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Roger Pion shown competent for trial

Attorney David Sleigh (left) represents Roger Pion in Orleans Superior Court.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Attorney David Sleigh (left) represents Roger Pion in Orleans Superior Court. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Bethany M. Dunbar

NEWPORT — A new examination of Roger Pion’s mental health shows that he is currently competent to stand trial, attorneys and Judge Howard Van Benthuysen heard in the criminal division of Orleans Superior Court Tuesday.

His new lawyer, Chandler Matson, asked for some time to prepare for a trial.  He is the third attorney on the case and said he does not have all the records yet.  He said he is 60 to 70 percent up to speed.

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Passenger train might come to Island Pond

Kato's Railroad

copyright the Chronicle, October 9, 2013

by Paul Lefebvre

ISLAND POND — For two private developers who would like to start a nighttime rail passenger service between Montreal and Portland, slow is beautiful.

The working name for the project is train-hotel, and in a special meeting here Tuesday with Brighton Selectmen, Francois Rebello of Montreal and Richard Bennett of Biddeford, Maine, laid out a business proposal that would warm the heart of nearly everyone in a town that the railroad put on the map.

Essentially, the pair want to put evening passenger trains on three different routes, all linking Montreal to New York.  Initially, the trains would run for three months, starting in the summer.

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What drives the price of firewood?

These are some of the logs from David Poirier’s woodpile in Barton, familiar to drivers along the Barton-Orleans Road.  Photo by Natalie Hormilla

These are some of the logs from David Poirier’s woodpile in Barton, familiar to drivers along the Barton-Orleans Road. Photo by Natalie Hormilla

by Natalie Hormilla

The price of a cord of green firewood is running about $185 this year, about the same as last year. It’s a price that’s mostly determined locally — at least compared to other home heating fuels, like oil or propane. It reflects the cost of pulpwood and fuel, and the weather, to name some of the factors that figure into the annual cost of cordwood.

And it’s a price that hasn’t fluctuated much for long stretches of time, although there was a dramatic leap around the turn of the millennium.

Back in 1970 or 1971, when he first started logging, David Poirier of Barton charged $50 a cord. Today he’s asking $185, but for years the price did little more than creep up.

Michael Moore of Brownington is selling firewood for $170 a cord this year, the same as last.

Mr. Moore said he’s been logging, or at least involved in it, since he was four years old. “I used to ride the horse, the skid horse,” he said.

While a number of factors affect the price of firewood, one in particular is weighty:

“The pulp wood market — it’s what the mills are paying for the wood,” Mr. Moore said. “The pulpwood market is what drives the price. You’re not going to buy firewood that’s cheaper than pulpwood. It can make a difference of $10 a cord on firewood, very easily.”

Mr. Poirier agrees.

Mr. Poirier logs with his son and partner, Jeff, and they cut about 600 cords of wood per year. He said mills can determine the price that they’re willing to pay, notify the loggers they work with through the mail, and therefore control the price of firewood through supply and demand.

“When the demand is there to make wood products, they’ll raise the price,” he said. “It might be for three months, but if it’s worth $150, and they decide they need a bunch of stuff, they’ll raise it to $175. They pretty much determine all that stuff.

“They’ll raise their prices so they can get more of it. It gives more incentive to the loggers to say the hell with the firewood.”

Mr. Poirier also pointed out that the pulpwood market is a year-round market for loggers, and therefore an important part of their business.

“Pulp is what you make toilet paper out of, writing paper, anything that you do that you write on, is all made of pulpwood, whether it’s hardwood or softwood,” Mr. Poirier said.

The pulpwood market can change quickly, too. “A big outfit might need 100 tractor-trailer loads of Scott paper towels, but then the market might change and they say they only need 20,” he said.

Those changes have an immediate effect on the price of firewood.

“Say your wood at the mill just drops like heck,” Mr. Poirier said. “Course that’s going to affect the price of your firewood. If you don’t drop the price of your firewood there’s people out there that will do it just to cut you out of the picture. Just like the stock market, you keep an eye on it very closely.”

The price of firewood is relatively stable, he said.

“It usually doesn’t fluctuate too much. Last year, we were selling for $190 and we actually went down to $185, because there are a lot of cutthroats out there. We should be getting $200 now, but there are so many people out there doing it for easy money, and people see that.”

“I’d say, it doesn’t usually fluctuate more than five bucks a year,” he said. “Sometimes ten, but that’s rare.”

Mr. Poirier and Mr. Moore both said that the price of gas and oil affect the price of firewood.

“Everything we run is fuel related, and fuel is $3.50 a gallon right now,” Mr. Poirier said. “The more you pay for fuel and repairs and all this, it all fluctuates like that. So the cost of fuel means it costs more money to produce the cord of wood.”

Mr. Poirier said that when he first started logging over four decades ago, fuel was only a quarter a gallon.

“So that makes a big difference,” he said. “Hydraulic oil over the last ten years has doubled in price.”

“It’s expensive, period,” he said, about the cost of producing a cord of wood. “All your expenses to get it out, whether it be fuel or whatever.”

Mr. Moore also cited the rising cost of fuel, and the equipment itself, as drivers of the cost of firewood.

In 1980 he sold green, cut and split wood, delivered, for between $50 and $55.

“In 1980, I could buy the best saw around for $200,” he said. “Now it’d be $2,000, or $1,500 anyway. We were buying chainsaw gas for 50 cents a gallon and diesel fuel for 40 cents a gallon,” he said.

He also pointed out that just about everything under the sun is more expensive over time.

firewood price chart chronicle classifiedsHe also said that delivery, and where the logger and customer are located, add to the cost. He said it’s hard to compete with people who are closer to their customers, so that makes a difference in price — by up to about $5 a cord, he said.

“Who’s near you and who ain’t?”

Mr. Moore also touched upon a bigger-picture factor that he believes affects the cost of firewood.

“Next big thing is probably the state of Vermont,” he said. He said the state owns hundreds of thousands of acres that don’t get cut. “The wood is going by because it’s not getting cut.”

Mr. Moore believes this has had a big effect on the cost of firewood.

“Because all the wood is in competition with the lack of wood. Because the more you shrink the supply, the more you drive the price up.”

“The supply is limited by the amount of wood the state isn’t cutting in certain areas,” he said.

“We had a dramatic change in the price here during and after the Champion Lands buyout,” he said. “Because it was a huge mark of land, and it went off the grid.”

The Champion lands buyout, completed in 1999, is Vermont’s largest conservation project in history, according to the Vermont Land Trust. The former Champion Lands consist of 132,000 acres of forestland, located mostly in Essex County. The land was owned by Champion International Paper Company before being transferred over to a mix of public and private entities including the Fish and Wildlife Department and the Agency of Natural Resources.

The firewood market is particularly important in the state of Vermont.

About 15 percent of Vermont homes use wood as their primary source of heat, said Matt Cota, executive director of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association.

There are still more homes that use wood to supplement a heating system that mostly runs on other fuels, like oil or propane.

“If you look at the U.S. census data, wood is a minor player in every other state,” he said. “In Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, it’s in double digits. But everywhere else it’s in low single digits.”

Another factor in the price of firewood is that about 50 percent of homes in Vermont use oil as their primary source of heat, Mr. Cota said.

“When oil prices go up, there’s more demand for cut and split wood,” he said. “The higher the price of oil goes up, the higher the price of wood goes up. If the oil price is okay, people might not go out and buy that extra cord of wood. A lot of people in Vermont supplement with wood, even if they use oil.”

The use of oil as a primary source of heat is mostly unique to this area, Mr. Cota said.

“Of all the oil heat consumed in the United States, almost all of it is consumed in New England, New York and New Jersey. Over 80 percent of oil heat is used in the nine Northeastern states. It’s gas and electricity elsewhere.”

Mark Collette, alternative heating specialist with Blanchard Oil Company of Orleans, has seen the effect of the price of oil on the firewood market.

“In ’08 or ’07, when $4 oil was thrown in our faces, and people were looking at a $10,000 a year oil bill, it was a banner year for boilers,” he said, referring to wood-fired hot water heating systems.

Mr. Collette said that newer, more efficient wood stoves can also cut down on a person’s need for firewood. He said that if a person replaced a “non-EPA, old technology, pre-1985” stove with a more efficient model, they could use between 25 and 40 percent less wood to heat the same home.

Mr. Collette said that convenience factors in, when people decide whether to heat their homes with wood or other types of fuel.

“The convenience is what you pay for, and that’s the big deal with oil and propane — it’s convenience, and you pay for it,” he said. “The time it takes, the physical demands of cord wood are significant, depending on one’s potential.”

“People forget — short term memories — what it used to be like,” he said. “It’s like $3.50 or $3.60 for oil per gallon, and propane varies widely on consumption.”

Mr. Cota said the same thing.

“On a BTU basis, oil costs more than wood, but there’s also something nice about turning the thermostat and leaving it — the comfort and simplicity. With wood you got to wrestle either the bag of pellets or the chunk wood. It’s part of the Vermont tradition, but it’s hard work. It can be very satisfying, but it’s hard work.”

Weather also factors in to the price of firewood, Mr. Cota said.

“Wood prices go up or down according to weather. Is there a supply? Can they get out into the forest to get it cut and split and dried before it’s cold?”

“There could be a supply and demand issue if the weather is bad,” he said. He remembers a summer sometime in the last five years that was really wet, so the wood was hard to deal with.

“The amount of wood taken off land to cut for the winter was less. Then there’s great summers.”

Mr. Poirier said he couldn’t put away any seasoned wood this summer, due to the wet conditions.

Much like the loggers, Mr. Cota said that the wood market is driven more by what’s happening in the area, as opposed to the cost of other fuels.

“Oil price is determined on a global level. Wood is local,” he said. “The price of oil in, wherever, you name it, affects the price of oil in Vermont.”

Mr. Poirier pointed out that while wood is cheaper than oil, propane is cheap, too. “But the trouble with that is that’s not a real controllable market,” he said.

“Anything you have as far as gases, we don’t control that — government controls that stuff. Wood is controllable, but not the same way.”

“I think people get a lot more for their dollar from a cord of wood compared to oil,” said Gary Lyman of Glover.

Mr. Lyman cuts about 50 cords of wood a year from his property.

“Like eight cord will heat most homes,” he said.

He multiplied that number by the cost of a cord of his wood this year, which is $200, to show what it would cost to heat an average home with wood.

“I bet they would use more than that on fuel oil,” he said.

Mr. Lyman described himself as a farmer and a half-ass logger, who only cuts wood for firewood customers. Still, the pulpwood market affects his price, too.

“I go with what everyone else gets,” he said, on how he determines his price. “So of course it affects me.”

He said his price is maybe $10 higher than last year. He couldn’t remember how much he charged when he first started cutting wood about 45 years ago.

“I’m sure way back we gave it away, you know, it was really cheap. I can’t remember how cheap, but not much. Just in the last ten, 15 years, it’s got up to worth doing.”

When asked if he thought the price of wood is determined more locally than globally, he referred to recent conversation with family.

“A relative in the Burlington area said it’s $250 and higher, a relative in Connecticut says it’s the same as it is here. So you figure it out, because I can’t.”

contact Natalie Hormilla at natalie@bartonchronicle.com

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Police standoff with armed suspect in Newport

BREAKING NEWS  9-25-2013

NEWPORT — Derick J. Niles, 36, of Newport pled innocent in Orleans Superior Court Wednesday to misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct after a police standoff at his home.  Bail was set at $100,000 by Judge Howard VanBenthuysen and Mr. Niles was lodged at Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport.

Early Wednesday morning, the Newport City Police Department issued an advisory warning residents of Highland Avenue between Pleasant Street and West Main Street to remain inside and to lock their doors, just before 7 a.m..  A bulletin issued at 8:18 a.m. further advised residents of the area to evacuate on account of an armed suspect.

For a full court story, and a separate story about this suspect and the incident, please see the next edition of the Chronicle on October 2.

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Tenants prepare to leave historic Spates Block

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Betty McQuillen’s father, Harold Jenks, bought Farrant’s Flower Shop in 1927 from John Farrant the son of its founder.  It was started in the nineteenth century and is the oldest continuously operating business in the city.  Ms. McQuillen said it will be centered on Farrant Street after its Main Street shop closes in December.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Betty McQuillen’s father, Harold Jenks, bought Farrant’s Flower Shop in 1927 from John Farrant the son of its founder. It was started in the nineteenth century and is the oldest continuously operating business in the city. Ms. McQuillen said it will be centered on Farrant Street after its Main Street shop closes in December. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — John Daggett carefully placed boxes, pieces of furniture and random possessions into the back of a box truck parked on Main Street here Friday.  Over the past couple of weeks, Mr. Daggett said he’s helped around five households move out of the strip of buildings on the south side of Main Street known as the Spates Block.

The buildings, which run from Center Street up to Second Street, will be demolished in late winter to make way for a retail and hotel complex known as the Renaissance Block.  In preparation, landlord Doug Spates is clearing them of their tenants.

Mr. Daggett said he moved out of the J.B. Police building not long ago and into a new apartment that is also owned by Mr. Spates.

The new apartment is “beautiful,” he said.   “It’s definitely going to be a big change from here.  Where I was living everything was included.  Now I have to pay my own heat and light.”

Mr. Spates is charging a lower rent for the new apartment than he was for the old one, Mr. Daggett said.  That will make it easier to afford the new bills.

On a warm September day John Daggett pauses for a moment as he loads a truck with the belongings of Spates Block residents who are rushing to move before their October 1 deadline.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

On a warm September day John Daggett pauses for a moment as he loads a truck with the belongings of Spates Block residents who are rushing to move before their October 1 deadline. Photo by Joseph Gresser

“Sometimes I get a little behind on my rent,” he said, but he added that Mr. Spates is willing to work with his tenants.  He said Mr. Spates has given him odd jobs to help him out when he’s short, and he’s helped prepare new apartments for people who are being displaced from Main Street; he’s even helped some move.

Stephanie Forest also moved from the Spates Block recently.  She now lives in Derby Line in a bigger apartment that, at $500 a month, is $50 less than the one she rented in Newport.

Mr. Daggett said the change is going to be hard on some people, even if they get help from Mr. Spates.  For many, he said, “It’s definitely a tough adjustment.”

“With all these cutbacks it’s going to be hard on people the first year,” he said.  “I hope when they tear things down and put things up it straightens out the economy.”

Bill Stenger, the co-owner of Jay Peak Resort and one of those seeking to replace the Spates Block, told members of the press earlier this month that he hopes to contribute to an improvement in the city’s economy by building the Renaissance Block, a hotel and conference center on the site of Waterfront Plaza, and a biotech research and manufacturing facility on the site of the old Bogner building.

All of the projects are to be financed through the EB-5 visa program.  Foreign investors in a job-creating business are able to get a green card and eventual citizenship through this federal program.

The Spates Block in 2013 is a faint echo of what it used to be.  Soon even that echo will fade when the block is demolished this winter to make way for new shops and a hotel.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

The Spates Block in 2013 is a faint echo of what it used to be. Soon even that echo will fade when the block is demolished this winter to make way for new shops and a hotel. Photo by Joseph Gresser

In order not to cause more harm than necessary to city businesses, Mr. Stenger said he will wait until after the Christmas season to take ownership of the Spates Block.

He said he wants to allow the businesses to get through the big retail season before they have to move.  When it comes time to build the Renaissance block, Mr. Stenger said the work will be done from the rear of the building to avoid creating traffic problems on Main Street and interfering with other businesses in the city.

“It will be like construction in New York City with the fence with holes in it to watch the workers,” he said.

When complete he said the hotel will boast 64 suites, a pool, a brew pub, and retail space on Main Street.  Mr. Stenger said he expects the hotel to appeal to researchers working on projects at the biotech center as well as regular visitors to Newport.

The building will be open for business in 2015, he said.

The Renaissance Block will replace a collection of buildings that have seen better days, but represent a significant chunk of Newport history.  When the city submitted its application to join the state’s designated downtown program, it prepared a listing of historic buildings in the Main Street area.

According to that document, the J.B. Police building, in which Mr. Daggett lived until recently, was one of the three oldest on the Spates’ Block.  It was built around 1900, 18 years before Newport was organized as a city.

The building was first called the Arlington Block, but received its current name after Police’s Fruit Store moved into the ground floor.  The store was owned by Gasper Borella, who moved from Italy to Plymouth, New Hampshire.  There he added Police to his name.

Carol Bonneau cooks breakfast for Newport residents at Family Recipe, her restaurant.  She plans to keep feeding people until she has to leave and, if possible, to go out with a big party on Main Street.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Carol Bonneau cooks breakfast for Newport residents at Family Recipe, her restaurant. She plans to keep feeding people until she has to leave and, if possible, to go out with a big party on Main Street. Photo by Joseph Gresser

His son John B. Police took over the store when his father returned to his homeland.  His name is still emblazoned on the front of the building.  The Police family owned the building for the next 61 years.  The only store now open in that building, and one of only four businesses on the block, is Newport’s oldest continuously operating business, Farrant’s Flower Shop.

Betty McQuillen was minding the store on Monday.  Her father, Harold Jenks, bought the business from John Farrant in 1927, Ms. McQuillen said.

He, in turn, had it from his father, Thomas Farrant, who Ms. McQuillen said, came over from England and started selling flowers in the late nineteenth century.

“He owned all of Farrant’s Point,” she said.

She said she doesn’t see how her business will be able to afford to move back to Main Street once construction is done on the Renaissance Block.  Her plans call for basing the business on Farrant Street near its greenhouse.

That option won’t work for Carol Bonneau, the owner of Family Recipe, a restaurant that specializes in breakfasts and is only open mornings.  Ms. Bonneau said she’s seen business decline and thinks it’s because people don’t realize she’s still open.

She is and said she plans to stay open until December 1, the date she’s been given to leave the building.  Like Ms. McQuillen, Ms. Bonneau said she doesn’t think she can find another storefront to rent on Main Street.

Her plan is to keep serving breakfasts as long as she can and then to look for a job, she said.  When it comes time to shut her restaurant’s doors she said she wants to go out in style.

If the city allows it, “We’re going to throw a big party on Main Street,” she said.  “We’re going to give out some food.”

She plans to keep all her restaurant equipment and hopes to raise enough money to buy a food truck and take it around to events where she can again cook for people.

Ms. McQuillen said that not having the Main Street storefront will mean a loss of walk-in traffic.  But the business will be able to keep on delivering orders from customers, she said.

The Spates Block has been losing businesses for years.  The Great Outdoors of Newport, a sporting goods store that once occupied two storefronts, moved to Waterfront Plaza in 2006.

Other businesses closed more recently.  Myers Jewelry shut its doors earlier this year when its proprietor, David Myers, retired.

Jocelyn and Cinta’s Bake Shop moved across the street into the newly opened tasting center, and Debi Meade moved her store to the Hood Building on Coventry Street, in the process changing its name from Fabric to Ewe-phorium.

Aside from Family Recipe, the only businesses that remain open are a second-hand store run by Northeast Kingdom Community Action (NEKCA), and TNT Tattoos, which is located in the oldest building on the Spates Block, the mansion built by Converse Goodhue Goodrich around 1870.

Now it shows little trace of its origin, but it may have been the home of Mr. Goodrich and his wife, Almira, whose legacy is the library that bears their name.

The Goodrich mansion sits on the corner of Main and Second streets.  Over the years, it has been repeatedly refashioned.  The building appears as a home in an 1881 map.  By the turn of the century, though, it was home to a millinery business located on the first floor.  In 1925 there were three storefronts and apartments along Second Street.

The main storefront has been vacant since Your Name Here Embroidery was bought by the owners of Majestic Trophies and Northeast Kingdom Signs and moved across the street to their store.  TNT Tattoo, on the Second Street side of the building, is the only business operating in what was the old Goodrich mansion.

On Main Street, Mr. Daggett waited at the truck as a bare-chested man carried a large glass fish out of the building and entrusted it to his care.

He introduced himself as Shawn Hildreth.  Like Mr. Daggett he was helping people move their belongings to their new lodgings.

It was a matter of kindness, Mr. Hildreth said.  “I’m trying to help people.  It’s true, when you do that it comes back to you.”

Mr. Hildreth said he has lived in Newport for 30 years and stayed in Main Street apartments “off and on.”

Looking up at the buildings, he said. “I don’t want to see it go.  I think it’s bad news to see it go.”

Thinking it over for a moment, he added.  “Maybe it will help get some of the hoodlums off Main Street.”

Mr. Daggett smiled broadly and said, “I used to be one,” he said.

Mr. Hildreth laughed.  “So did I,” he said.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

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Three-fourths of the region is overweight

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From left to right, Zylus and her sister Giada Hodges of Newport, and Autumn Walsh of Brownington enjoy healthy snacks provided by Meghan Stotko and the Lunch Box at Saturday’s screening of Weight of the Nation, sponsored by the district health department.   Photo by Tena Starr

From left to right, Zylus and her sister Giada Hodges of Newport, and Autumn Walsh of Brownington enjoy healthy snacks provided by Meghan Stotko and the Lunch Box at Saturday’s screening of Weight of the Nation, sponsored by the district health department. Photo by Tena Starr

by Tena Starr

NEWPORT — About 75 percent of the people in Orleans and northern Essex counties are either overweight or obese.  Thirteen percent of 12- to 19-year-olds are considered obese, as well as 11 percent of kids under five.

In the state as a whole, 28 percent of children and 58 percent of adults are either overweight or obese.  The rate of obesity in the Newport area is 31 percent, the worst in the state.

Those are some of the alarming statistics presented at Saturday’s filming of Weight of the Nation, an HBO documentary that tackles the challenges associated with the country’s growing rate of obesity, as well as the history of America’s weight problem.

The morning’s events, which included the movie, a brief discussion about what can be done, and a story walk and healthy snacks provided by Meghan Stotko and the Lunch Box, was organized by prevention specialist Jennifer Woolard at the health department’s Newport office.

Ms. Woolard said she hoped to start a conversation about how to have a healthier community.  Orleans County is the unhealthiest in the state, she said.

The reason for that perhaps mystifies Ms. Woolard, who noted that the area has parks, community gardens, sidewalks, good grocery stories, farmers markets, and bike paths.  It also has woods and fields, lakes and streams, and a thriving local food movement.

In other words, people in the Northeast Kingdom have access to both healthy food and ways to burn off calories.

That can’t be said of other parts of the country, inner cities, for instance, where children have no place to safely engage in physical play.  But it’s certainly true in the Northeast Kingdom, where many can just walk out the front door in order to ride a bike or go for a walk in a safe neighborhood.

The rate of Vermonters who don’t get enough physical activity is 17 percent, says the health department.  In this area, it’s 27 percent.

Ms. Woolard said she doesn’t have the answer; she simply set out to start a discussion and to offer information.  “We want to make it community driven, we don’t want to tell people what to do,” she said.

That was the message of the day.

“Today is not about blame or shame,” said Jim Burnett, director of the district health department in Newport.  “But we are not immune from the struggle of dealing with overweight and obese.  We are, sadly, on a trajectory, where maybe for the first time, our children may have a shorter life span than their parents.”

About 30 people attended the event, which was held at Waterfront Cinemas.

Access to both good food and ways to engage in physical activity are factors in the nation’s struggle with an increasingly overweight population, but so is income, and that might be the key to figuring out why one of the most rural areas of Vermont also has the highest percentage of overweight people.

The highest rates of obesity are among lower income Vermonters, according to the health department.  And Orleans and Essex counties are the poorest in the state, according to U.S. Census data.

The film, done in collaboration with the Institute of Medicine among others, is a captivating tour of human biology, U.S. food policy, and small steps that have been taken throughout the country to initiate change.

While it doesn’t abdicate personal responsibility, it does point out that obesity became epidemic in the country in the past 30 years for reasons that often go beyond personal choice.

When the U.S. government started keeping track, in 1900, of why people died the three main causes were pneumonia as a result of influenza, tuberculosis, and diarrhea.

Today, five out of ten untimely deaths are related to being overweight, according to the film.  Two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese, which leads to diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, sleep apnea, heart trouble, and pain.

While the natural tendency is to look at the situation as a lifestyle choice, biology says the behavior was laid down a long time ago.  “Biology plays as much a role as psychology,” says one doctor in the movie.

For one thing, people aren’t genetically programmed to turn down calories.  Human DNA is programmed to ward against scarcity:  If food is available, eat it, and human DNA hasn’t changed much in thousands of years.  It certainly hasn’t changed in the last 30 years, although lifestyles have changed dramatically.

The audience laughed when the film pictured cavemen devouring a wild pig.  You really wouldn’t expect people of that time to take two bites and say I’m full now, says the narrator.  Humans are genetically programmed to eat what’s available while it’s available, she says.

And for thousands of years that worked out just fine since food wasn’t reliably plentiful, and it took a certain amount of effort to acquire it.

That’s the biology in a nutshell:  People are designed for a world of scarcity where food is not easily available, and it takes a substantial expenditure of energy to get it.  Humans are programmed to survive in a hunter gatherer world that no longer exists, at least in most cultures.

Enter agriculture.  Humans became farmers.  And, historically speaking, shortly after that, industrialized agriculture developed, at least in the U.S.  By the early twentieth century, the federal government had made cheap, plentiful food a priority.  But what to do with it?

What’s followed is a glut of corn and soy in the U.S., the film asserts, a glut that’s subsidized and is used to produce cheap, and unhealthy, food:  beef fed by cheap grain, sodas sweetened by cheap corn syrup, cookies, crackers, and snack foods that pack a high caloric punch and little nutrition.  The food the nation produces in mass quantities is inexpensive compared to fruits and vegetables, which receives no government subsidies.

It gets worse.

Humans became sedentary.  Instead of cultivating crops or doing other manual labor, they began to sit in front of screens, more and more screens all the time.  In fact, Americans are using less calories per day than in 1970, but consuming more.

And then came marketing.

Obesity goes up as income goes down, the film says.  In part, that’s because people are programmed to acquire as many calories as possible for the dollar.  The dollar menu at a fast food restaurant is a lure for poor families because it saves time, and it saves money.

The film goes on to note these grim numbers:  The profit margin for a soft drink is 90 percent.  The profit margin for fruits and vegetables is 10 percent.  Naturally, companies being in the business of making money, heavily market their most profitable products.

On the more sinister side, perhaps, is the fact that the federal government subsidizes the corn and soy industries, encouraging further production of cheap, but unhealthy, food.  The government is driving farmers, who are also interested in making a living, to overproduce food that isn’t good for the country as a whole, the movie says.

“The kind of food we eat is the kind that’s most profitable,” one analyst flatly says.  Another says it would cost the food industry between $36- and $40-billion a year if Americans cut 100 calories a day out of their diet.

Remarkably, the film says that this country doesn’t even produce enough fruits and vegetables to meet the dietary needs of its citizens.

A brief discussion, led by Dr. Alan Rubin, followed the movie.  Some mourned the loss of IROC, which provided indoor recreation facilities.  Others mentioned what is available in the way of opportunities for exercise, which the area doesn’t lack.

Those who are interested in furthering the discussion are encouraged to contact the Healthworks Coalition at lesley.becker@neklsvt.org.

contact Tena Starr at tenas@bartonchronicle.com

To read the Chronicle’s editorial on this subject, click here.

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Glover will vote on sewer expansion

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Ross Clark asks a question at an informational meeting about the Glover sewer bond vote coming up on Tuesday. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle September 13, 2013

Glover Selectmen voted at the end of an informational meeting on September 12 to go ahead with their plan to split anticipated debt for an addition to the town’s sewer system 50-50 between Parker Pond sewer users and all the town’s taxpayers, if a bond vote is approved Tuesday, September 17.

This decision was made after hearing the opinions expressed at the public meeting and taking into consideration input submitted by e-mail or other personal communications, selectmen said in an e-mail.  The anticipated $1,540,000 debt is the local cost of a $2.8-million project to add sewer lines to about 100 camps around the shores of Parker Pond.  The selectmen said taking on this debt is conditional on a positive vote on the sewer bond, on an acceptable financing offer from United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development, and on final approval of the sewer extension project.

The selectmen say they hope that the USDA will offer Glover a $2,800,000 package that includes a $1,260,000 grant and a $1,540,000 loan at 3% over 30 years.  The selectmen said they would like to encourage Glover voters to vote on September 17, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., and to approve the bond issue.

At the September 12 meeting, camp owners asked if the project would be mandatory, and the selectmen said all camp owners on the lake will be required to help pay the debt service.  But camp owners with working septic systems who do not want to hook on when the project is being built would not have to pay for operating and maintenance costs.  Everyone who hooks on when the project is being built will have their hook-up, including a grinder pump, included and paid for by the town.  People who hook on later would have to pay that expense themselves, selectmen said.

Selectmen said property taxpayers could expect to pay about $30 more on $100,000 worth of property, while new sewer users can expect a bill of about $723 a year.  Existing sewer users in Glover and West Glover villages might actually see their current sewer bills decrease due to the sewer costs being spread out over more people, selectmen said.

For a full story including results of the vote, please see the next edition of the Chronicle on September 18.

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German police seize Twelve Tribes children

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In this Chronicle file photo, a Vermont state trooper carries a bundle of wooden rods out of a restaurant owned by the Island Pond community on June 22, 1984.

In this Chronicle file photo, a Vermont state trooper carries a bundle of wooden rods out of a restaurant owned by the Island Pond community on June 22, 1984.

by Chris Braithwaite

BAVARIA, Germany — German police seized 40 children of the Twelve Tribes religious community here on September 5, according to press accounts.

The group is one of many international offshoots of the Northeast Kingdom Community Church in Island Pond, whose children were seized by Vermont State Police in a controversial raid on June 22, 1984.

Almost three decades later, German officials say they are investigating allegations that are almost identical to those that led to the Island Pond raid.  According to the British newspaper the Guardian, Germany sent 100 police officers to two of the sect’s complexes on the basis of “fresh evidence indicating significant and ongoing child abuse by the members.”

On its website, the Twelve Tribes acknowledges that adult members strike children with the thin wooden rods that troubled Vermont officials, though it denies that it abuses the children.

“When they are disobedient or intentionally hurtful to others, we spank them with a small reed-like rod, which only inflicts pain and not damage,” the website says.  “Desiring to be good parents, we do not hit our children in anger, nor with our hand or fist.”

Another British journal reported that German police were prompted to act after they were shown graphic scenes of adults beating six children in a basement room.  According to The Independent, the beatings were filmed by a journalist who claimed to be a “lost soul” to gain entry to the community, and used hidden video cameras and microphones.

His footage was shown on German television Monday night, The Independent said.  The program included an interview with a spokesman for the Bavarian youth welfare service who described the film as shocking.  “We never had proof that they do this,” he said.  “It is terrible, they preach peace but they beat their children.”

Vermont’s effort to seize and detain the sect’s children to look for evidence of physical abuse collapsed in the Orleans County Courthouse in Newport.  Judge Frank Mahady ruled that the state’s claim that all the children in the community were in danger of abuse was too vague to justify their emergency detention.  He sent them home to Island Pond that afternoon.

The sect has consistently denied that its children in Vermont were victims of physical abuse.

contact Chris Braithwaite at chris@bartonchronicle.com

For more free articles from the Chronicle like this one, see our Editor’s Picks pages.  For all the Chronicle’s stories, pick up a print copy or subscribe, either for print or digital editions.

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