Glover Day honors a local vaudevillian

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Sophia Cannizzaro gazes in shock and awe at the Golden Barbie trophy she and Susie Perkins won for their rendition of “The Little Waif” at the Johnnie Prindle song contest.  Ms. Cannizzaro left after her rendition of the tragic ballad and returned to find that she had become the proud owner of the coveted award.

Sophia Cannizzaro gazes in shock and awe at the Golden Barbie trophy she and Susie Perkins won for their rendition of “The Little Waif” at the Johnnie Prindle song contest. Ms. Cannizzaro left after her rendition of the tragic ballad and returned to find that she had become the proud owner of the coveted award.  Photos by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser 

GLOVER — An annual community event with a weight of tradition always faces the risk of becoming stodgy.  Glover Day, with its Chamberlain Run, bicycle race and puppet show re-enacting the story of Runaway Pond, could easily become a snooze.  But the citizens of Glover are too resourceful to allow that to happen.

For the 2013 edition of the town celebration Glover mined a new vein of history and came up with a unique competition — the Johnnie Prindle lookalike and song contest.  In the latter part of the nineteenth century Mr. Prindle was a successful vaudeville performer, who, when not touring the country, made his home in Glover.

Earlier this year a group of his descendants presented a collection of his papers to the Glover Historical Society.  That was the inspiration for this year’s contest, which brought out a group of talented performers each trying to outdo the others as they played and sang some of the songs that brought Mr. Prindle fame and some degree of fortune.

Glover Selectman Jack Sumberg served as the master of ceremonies for the contest, and introduced a novel mode of deciding its winner — the “silent clap-o-meter.”  Mr. Sumberg and his partner in judgment, Linda Elbow, claimed to be able to detect the enthusiasm felt by spectators as they thought about applauding for contestants in the lookalike competition.  He did not reveal the method by which the judges reached their verdict on the best performance of a Johnnie Prindle song.

The first Johnnie Prindle song competition brings out the best competitors.  Here, from left to right, Joan Alexander, Lynne Birdsall, and Celia Latham vamp and preen for their adoring fans as they sing “Ma’s So ’Fraid We’ll Get Stole,” a warning of the dangers faced by those too amply supplied with beauty.

The first Johnnie Prindle song competition brings out the best competitors. Here, from left to right, Joan Alexander, Lynne Birdsall, and Celia Latham vamp and preen for their adoring fans as they sing “Ma’s So ’Fraid We’ll Get Stole,” a warning of the dangers faced by those too amply supplied with beauty.

Mr. Prindle’s songs were written in a wide variety of styles, and some were clearly not intended to be performed by him.  One that was, though, was “I’m Not As Green As I Look,” a piece used in his personation of Ruben Glue, a hayseed from Glover.

Bread and Puppet stalwart Jason Hicks, outfitted in a seersucker jacket and top hat, was backed by Lily Paulina on baritone horn and Hannah Temple on accordion.  Mr. Hicks was progressively drenched by Erin Bell, in accord with the admonition repeated in the song’s chorus — “Let’s push it down into the brook.”

When Mr. Hicks finished the song Ms. Bell threw him over her shoulder and ran off with him toward the Barton River.  He returned, soaked to the skin, during the second act on the bill.

That was a winsome trio made up of Joan Alexander, Lynne Birdsall and Celia Latham vamping their way through “Ma’s So ’Fraid We’ll Get Stole.”  As they peered over their fans and flirted with the audience, Ma’s fears appeared to be well founded.

Geoff Goodhue does his best Johnnie Prindle impression.  He was awarded a pair of sunglasses bearing the image of the Glover vaudevillian for his role in the first Johnnie Prindle song contest at Glover Day on Saturday.

Geoff Goodhue does his best Johnnie Prindle impression. He was awarded a pair of sunglasses bearing the image of the Glover vaudevillian for his role in the first Johnnie Prindle song contest at Glover Day on Saturday.

Johnnie Prindle’s attempt at topical satire was taken on by Geoff Goodhue.  With accompaniment by Lindsay McCaw and bubbles provided by Maura Gahan, Mr. Goodhue sang about a series of impossibilities including police officers making a hundred dollars a day and women getting the vote.

These and other amazing eventualities were predicted to happen “Not this year, but some other year.”

When Susie Perkins and Sophia Cannizzaro took the stage in tatterdemalion with dirt-smudged faces, the program took a sharp turn toward the pathetic.  Accompanied by Ms. Cannizzaro’s fiddle, Ms. Perkins shook a small tin with a few coins in it as the pair sang “The Little Waif.”

Their rendition of the tear-jerker was affecting enough that members of the audience spontaneously left their seats to add coppers to Ms. Perkins small store of wealth, much to the performers’ surprise.  They pulled in enough over the course of the song for Ms. Cannizzaro to buy a refreshing ice cream cone.

Greg Corbino accompanied himself on accordion as he asked the musical question “Who Am I?”  The enigmatic song was billed as Mr. Prindle’s great specialty, but Mr. Corbino, who performed the chorus as a sing-along, failed to supply the answer.

The contest concluded as Lila Winstead sang a sad piano bench song to a lunch bucket.  Ms. Winstead said Mr. Prindle wrote the many, many verses of

Dameon Russell is congratulated at the end of the 2013 Chamberlain Run.  Mr. Russell, who hails from Newport, finished with a time of 31:02.  Second place finisher Max Lockwood of Washington, D.C., trailed by more than half a minute with a time of 31:40.

Dameon Russell is congratulated at the end of the 2013 Chamberlain Run. Mr. Russell, who hails from Newport, finished with a time of 31:02. Second place finisher Max Lockwood of Washington, D.C., trailed by more than half a minute with a time of 31:40.

“The Little Tin Bucket” in an apparent attempt to capitalize on the market for sentimental ballads.  She said she remains unsure whether the Glover tunesmith was copying the trend or satirizing it.

Mr. Sumberg’s silent clap-o-meter determined that Mr. Goodhue was the person who bore the closest resemblance to Mr. Prindle and awarded him a set of sunglasses ornamented with a steel-cut engraving of the master.

Ms. Perkins and Ms. Cannizzaro took the golden Barbie trophy as best interpreter of Mr. Prindle’s songs.

Leah Frost streaks toward the finish line of the Chamberlain Run Saturday.  With a time of 32:55, Ms. Frost ended the eight-year reign of Tara Nelson as Glover’s fastest woman.  Ms. Nelson finished with an excellent time — 35:12 — and took fourth place overall in the race.  Ms. Frost was third.

Leah Frost streaks toward the finish line of the Chamberlain Run Saturday. With a time of 32:55, Ms. Frost ended the eight-year reign of Tara Nelson as Glover’s fastest woman. Ms. Nelson finished with an excellent time — 35:12 — and took fourth place overall in the race. Ms. Frost was third.

Other Glover Day novelties included the defeat of Tara Nelson for the title of fastest woman in the 5.5-mile Chamberlain Run.  Ms. Nelson had held that distinction since 2005, but was outpaced this year by Leah Frost.

Ms. Frost is from Maine, but plans to remain in the area and has been engaged by North Country Union High School to coach its cross-country team.

Red Sky Trading Company attracted a big crowd as owner Cheri Safford played host to a celebration of local foods.  Visitors were able to sample from a farm-to-table tasting menu featuring locally made cheeses and meats, along with produce from local farms.  Bethany Dunbar also read from Kingdom’s Bounty, her illustrated catalog of local food producers, to provide context for the meal.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

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Tea Leaves explores the mother-daughter relationship

tea leavesby Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle 5-15-2013

Tea Leaves; a memoir of mothers and daughters, by Janet Mason, published by Bella Books, Tallahassee, Florida, 2012, paperback, 202 pages, $15.95.

I celebrated Mother’s Day pretty quietly this year.  My own mother died a little more than a year ago, so it was a time to think of her, which I always do anyway.  My thoughtful adult son came to see me with a basket of flowers.  My thoughtful boyfriend took me out and gave me flowers.  I had spent the week before with my thoughtful adult daughter in California seeing some great new music, some killer whales, and trying — completely unsuccessfully — not to freak out over traffic in Los Angeles.

To pass the time while waiting for airplanes on my way out and back, I brought with me a small paperback I thought might be good to read at this time.  It came to me last fall, when the author gave a talk at the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick.  Since the death of my own mom was so recent, I had to set this book aside.  A book about a daughter my age taking care of her dying mother was a bit too much for me right then.

Yet, I was intrigued by the parts I’d read.  And I was glad to have it with me on this trip some months later.  Now I’m glad to recommend it as the kind of book that makes you think about your own life.  What’s right with your relationships with your mother and your daughter?  What’s wrong and why?  What doesn’t really matter?  Sometimes reading other people’s experiences puts your own into perspective.

Janet Mason is a talented and honest writer.  Her relationship with her own mother was not perfect, which of course is what makes the book interesting.  More interesting is the fact she is willing to explore the imperfections without dwelling on them and becoming one of those victim writers whose memoirs I can never quite stand to read.

Life is hard.  Being a mother is hard.  Nobody’s really ready for it when she gets the job, no matter how much you might have read or planned.  It’s just not like anything else, and you can’t really prepare.

But somehow the species keeps managing to perpetuate.  Somehow some of us seem willing to take that plunge and become parents.  We do our best, whatever that is.

Ms. Mason was an only child.  Her grandmother and mother were factory workers.  She was the first generation to go to college, and that in itself puts a certain amount of pressure on.  The politics are not the same through the generations, and neither is the sexual orientation.  Ms. Mason is a lesbian, and while that might have put a strain on some mother-daughter relationships it wasn’t a big issue for her mom, who was open-minded in this respect.  The family supports and loves Ms. Mason’s partner, their “unexpected daughter-in-law.”

Ms. Mason’s mother was, herself, a bit of a rabble-rouser and one to question authority or the status quo in general:

When I was old enough, she sometimes took me with her, the two of us marching and attending rallies, waving our matching mother/daughter coat hangers at pro-choice events.  I was the less adventurous one — hanging back and watching with something bordering on amazement as my mother heckled the hecklers and squeezed the balloon testicles of a Ronald Reagan cardboard cutout.

Ms. Mason’s grandmother was a lifelong Republican and Episcopalian, yet she, in her own way, questioned the status quo by getting a divorce in the 1920s and raising her children herself in a time when many other single mothers were forced to give theirs up.

Ms. Mason’s mother developed cancer, which was misdiagnosed at first.  By the time she found out what it was, the disease had spread too far and the diagnosis was terminal.  From then on Ms. Mason spends much of her time with her mother and father.

At first it’s hard for Ms. Mason to understand and accept that her mother is dying:

The next day we had an appointment to see the oncologist whose office complex was next to a shopping mall.  As I sat in the backseat of my parents’ car, I felt lost in long loops, off-and-on-ramps that seemed to go nowhere.  I was subsumed in a hard glittering sense of doom — deep in a nightmare that would not let me wake.

A theme of the book is a mother’s hopes for her daughter — hopes that she will do better, or accomplish more, or accomplish something the mother was not able to do.  Ms. Mason’s mother had very strong feelings about this, and sometimes Ms. Mason feels she has not lived up to her mother’s dreams for her.  Meanwhile Ms. Mason’s mother was a woman of artistic talent and interest, but who needed to work at a basic job to support her family.  Ms. Mason finds a portfolio stashed away with no artwork in it, which leads to feelings of guilt — did she get in the way of what could have been her mother’s success as an artist?

She finds something else to hold on to in these final months — and for long after her mother is gone.  It’s a “School Years” book with report cards and pictures from each grade:

She always asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I wrote it down each year.  It didn’t matter how ridiculous or remote the possibility was.  In first grade I wanted to be a fireman, later a violinist, a gypsy, a scientist, a comedienne, an oceanographer, a guitar player in a jazz band.

My mother let my dreams be dreams.  She did not expect consistency or demand a discipline that would eclipse my childhood.  No one ever asked my mother what she wanted to be when she grew up.  But she asked me every year and wrote down my answers.  As I watched my mother slipping away from me — as painful as it was, day after day — the thought of this book, filled with my earliest dreams and aspirations, was something for me to hold onto.

A simple thing that meant so much.  Tea Leaves is a simple book with a lot to offer.  It’s about figuring out your future, your past and your present.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com.

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Guzman experiences homelessness to highlight the issue

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copyright the Chronicle 3-27-2013

Luis Guzman introduces his movie about homelessness, The Nimby Project.  Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Luis Guzman introduces his movie about homelessness, The Nimby Project. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar

JAY — When Luis Guzman was growing up in the Lower East Side of New York City, his mother always made too much supper for the family.

Every night, she packed up the leftovers and gave them to her son to take under the bridge to homeless people.

“That’s how my mom raised me,” he told people who came out to see his new movie at the Foeger Ballroom at Jay Peak Friday night.

Called The Nimby Project, it’s a documentary showing Mr. Guzman’s three days living in disguise as a homeless person in the city where he grew up and worked as a social worker before going into acting.

The idea for the film was born one evening in the city, when Mr. Guzman — who lives part of the time in Sutton — was hanging out with an old friend who grew up here, Tim Kavanagh.  The two came up with the idea, and as Mr. Kavanagh put it, “It just flowered from there.”

The movie was made by Pick it up! Pictures.  Jacquelyn Aluotto is the producer and director and chief executive officer of the company, whose mission is to address homelessness, domestic violence, and associated social issues through film.

Ms. Aluotto’s touch has made The Nimby Project more than a straight documentary.  The film is informative, but it’s also quite beautiful — it shifts from color to black and white, shows grainy dark images at times and intricate details at other times.  Blues guitar music is in the background.

Statistics and quotes are shown in between scenes of Mr. Guzman’s efforts to find a place to sleep, some food, and to get people walking by to notice his cardboard signs.  “Love is your Legacy” says one.

Mr. Guzman discussed the project before the premiere showing Friday, answered all questions afterwards, and hung out to just chat with the people who came out.  Proceeds from the premiere event went to Northeast Kingdom Youth Services, which helps youth in transition.  Last year the service helped 34 homeless youth, said Marion Stuart, the executive director.

Lexie Shaw, a teen Miss America contest winner from Chittenden County, read a poem she wrote about homelessness.

The Nimby Project film will be a headliner at the Soho International Film Festival in New York on April 6.

Mr. Guzman said that once he had decided to go homeless for a couple of days, he began to think about how to prepare for that experience.  First of all, his producers talked him into making it three days instead of two.  He would wear a microphone, and there would be security within view but not immediately close to him.

He thought to himself, maybe I should eat less, sleep less, stop shaving, keep socks on for a week, sleep on the floor.

He finally ended up deciding it wasn’t something he could really prepare for.  “I just kind of dove into it.”

He got some hair and makeup work done so people would not recognize him.  He wore a wool cap and thick glasses, a ripped shirt, and he carried a backpack.  He said he got into an argument with his producers, who wanted him to engage with the actual homeless people and get their stories.  Instead, he wanted to just experience it himself.  Also, he said, a lot of homeless people are extremely territorial.

“You just can’t go into their space,” he said.

One of his first stops was a food pantry, where he was given a bag of food, including raw broccoli and other vegetables.

“Eggplant I would not recommend eating raw,” he said.  But the broccoli was good to have.

After that, he headed out onto the streets.  Very quickly, he began to realize that people do not look at a homeless person or acknowledge his or her existence, for the most part.

“You’re a nobody.  Dogs notice me more than people,” he said.

Out of 1,000 people who walked by, one or two would say hello, and a couple of people handed him some money, although he did not ask for it.

The first night he had to find a place to try to sleep.  He found some shelter in a nook near a bus stop, but real sleep was not possible.  Even though he knew he had security around, the city noises and the hard ground kept him awake.

The second and third days of his adventure, sleep deprivation was a big factor.

“What you end up with basically is a broken kind of sleep,” he said.  On one of the nights, he slept in a church,

“Today feels like a very weird day,” he said into the microphone on the second day.  “It’s like I just don’t even exist today.”

Walking by the United Nations, he considered going inside and making a statement:  “I am a citizen of the world, and I would like to address the assembly.”

He decided against it.

“I often think of what kind of world we’re leaving our children, and it sucks right now,” he said into the microphone.

One the second or third day, he made a cardboard sign that said, “I See you.  See me?”

He sat on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum and finally, what he was waiting for:  a woman came up to him and said, “I see you.”

After the film he said that was the highlight of his three-day experience.  The worst part — a bad hot dog given to him by a street vendor when he didn’t have quite enough money to pay for one.  The hot dog was not cooked or went bad somehow, and it made him sick.

Mr. Guzman said he walked about 30 miles in three days because, for the most part, he just felt like the best thing to do was to keep moving.

One man said he looked familiar, and another actually recognized him.  A young man came up to him and said, “You look like Luis Guzman.”  Mr. Guzman told the young man he WAS Luis Guzman and they were working on a documentary about homelessness.

After the film, Mr. Guzman was asked why he told the man the truth.  He said he decided he wanted to be honest, and by then he had been out on the streets ignored for a long enough time that it felt really good to be recognized.

“I needed to acknowledge the fact that somebody recognized me,” he said.

Mr. Guzman said he learned a lot from the experience, and he hopes it will help draw attention to the problem.  He met people who were homeless even though they had nine-to-five jobs.

“Not every homeless person is a nut job,” he said, asking those in the audience to consider how easy it would be to become homeless.  For some, it’s a matter of losing a job, a spouse, or a parent.

Mr. Guzman said making this movie was “the most amazing thing outside of being a dad that I’ve ever done.”

In his mother’s tradition, Mr. Guzman takes his four adopted children and one birth child to volunteer at soup kitchens on Thanksgiving Day.

He said he knows that people can’t give every homeless person they walk by a dollar, but sometimes a simple acknowledgement of their existence could be a bright spot in that person’s day.  If you don’t have money, you can volunteer or bring clean, folded clothing you don’t need to a homeless shelter.

Mr. Guzman has appeared in more than 60 movies, including Crocodile Dundee 2, Carlito’s Way, Traffic, Anger Management, Fast Food Nation, and Disappearances based on Howard Mosher’s book.  He’s also been in advertisements for “naturally aged cheddar hunks” for Cabot Creamery.

He told the audience at Jay that he’s been in Vermont for 20 years so he is no longer a flatlander.  The Northeast Kingdom is a “beautiful, wonderful place for children to grow up,” he said.

“When I first moved to Vermont, everybody thought I was crazy ’cause I was a New York City boy.”

But he loved it here, especially after learning how to build a fire and some things about predicting the weather.  He said he tried and tried to build a fire and when he finally could do it, he was so excited.

“I was down to my last match that day,” he said.

He came to Vermont first to Goddard College and decided he really liked the people, who he said are cool and laid back.

He said he learned that when the cows lie down or the tree branches’ bottoms show, it’s going to rain.  He told his city friends, who laughed at him until they found out he was right.

Some statistics from The Nimby Project:

Three million Americans are homeless.  One thousand soup kitchens turn away 2,500 people every day.  One million, four hundred thousand people in New York City rely on foodshelves.  The average age of death for a homeless person is 47 for men, 43 for women.  Every 53 minutes a child dies from poverty.

Also from the movie, a quote from Mother Theresa:

“The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved.”

Mr. Guzman said he was humbled by his three-day homeless experience, and grateful for his own real life and his family.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

 

 

 

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Lydia Spitzer Demonstration Forest dedicated

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northwoods spitzer2

Lydia Spitzer cuts the garland created for grand opening of the demonstration forest named in her honor. The garland was made by NorthWoods Stewardship Center program assistant Meg Carter because it seemed more appropriate than cutting a ribbon. Left to right are NorthWoods Stewardship Center board president Nancy Engels, operations manager Jayson Benoit, Ms. Carter, Ms. Spitzer, and Sam Perron, NorthWoods’ sustainable forestry specialist. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle 2-6-2013

CHARLESTON — “I can’t imagine anything I would be more proud to be associated with,” said Lydia Spitzer at the dedication of the Lydia Spitzer Demonstration Forest at the NorthWoods Stewardship Center on Friday.

Ms. Spitzer donated 1,300 acres to the center in 2008.  She had donated conservation easements to the Vermont Land Trust in 2007.  It is the largest donation the land trust has ever received, Tracy Zschau, regional director of the trust, said Friday.

“All I did was buy a piece of land a long time ago,” said Ms. Spitzer.

She said when she bought the land in 1993, she had thought she might be a visionary entrepreneur and start an enterprise with a school, trails, and other features that would support nature, forestry, and conservation.

She said by her fiftieth birthday when she had not done it, she thought it might be better to connect with her neighbors instead.  Coincidentally Bill Manning had created the Vermont Leadership Center in 1989 with some of the same goals in mind.  In the beginning the center owned no land at all, but in 2005 it got about 100 acres.  The name and structure changed and the center became the NorthWoods Stewardship Center.

Ms. Spitzer has been more than a neighbor all along — more like a friend and fan.  She described her relationship with the center as: “the absolute joy of being in love with this organization.”

She said the staff and board of NorthWoods are the ones who should get the credit, along with her grandfather, Ward Canaday, who made money during World War II with a company called the Willis Overland company that produced Jeeps used in the war.

Mr. Canaday made enough money to start a large trust, and the Canaday Trust has supported lots of arts and educational causes over the years.  In the fall, the NorthWoods Stewardship Center was awarded a grant from Canaday of $185,000 to create the Forest Stewardship Institute.  The grant will cover staff and the institute’s purpose will be to teach sustainable forestry practices to landowners and others.

There are already some hiking trails on the land, and plans are to make some more and link the existing trails, said Trails Coordinator Luke O’Brien.  The land stretches over Tripp Hill to the shore of Echo Lake, where there is one trail already.

When Ms. Spitzer first bought the land, most of it had been cut off with little old growth remaining.  One of her goals was to improve its value for forestry as well as educational purposes.

Mr. O’Brien said there were, at one time, 30 kilometers of groomed cross-country ski trails, but they were too expensive to maintain as groomed trails.  The new trails will be more likely ungroomed, basically self-service access to the land.

Logging roads will become available as trails as well, he said, for backcountry skiing and snowshoeing in the winter and hiking and horseback riding in the summer.

Mr. Benoit said the plans are to build a bunk house and more parking lots and access spots over time.  There are three new kiosks with information and a map, and three more are planned.

The institute will be working with the land trust and local Audubon societies, Mr. Benoit said.

Ms. Spitzer lives in North Pomfret.  She has a kitchen designing business called Design Discovery.  She said the land is beautiful, but as an absentee landowner it’s been difficult to keep an eye on it.

“There’s a lovely swamp.  And somebody was putting out half a cow carcass,” she said, to bait coyotes to shoot.  It’s an activity she didn’t like but it was hard to do anything about it from North Pomfret.

Donating the land is a win-win, she said.

“There is nothing I could have done with it that would be better,” she said.  “It’s nice for me.”

NorthWoods Operations Manager Jayson Benoit spoke on behalf of the center, and presented Ms. Spitzer with an ash walking stick.  The NorthWoods Stewardship Center has four permanent full-time employees and other seasonal help.  In the summer there are 80 people working at the center, including the Conservation Corp student workers.

He said the center is approaching its twenty-fifth anniversary and has recently developed a recreation plan and new mission statement.

After each brief speech on Friday there was a round of applause, which included enthusiastic barking by the dogs on hand.  Two of them were Ms. Spitzer’s golden doodles, which are half golden retriever and half standard poodle.  They are named Milo and Hopper.

For more information, see the center’s website: www.northwoodscenter.org

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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

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In Greensboro: Hill Farmstead Brewery expansion wins approval

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Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro.  Photos by Bethany M. Dunbar

Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro. Photos by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle 1-23-2013

GREENSBORO — Hill Farmstead Brewery was approved for a planning and zoning conditional use permit after a hearing on Wednesday, January 16.

The application is to add some room for storage, to bring equipment and supplies that are currently outside or stored in Hardwick under a roof at the brewery, and to open a separate retail area.  Currently there is a small bar and retail area in part of the brewery — essentially a garage.

The hearing was run by Zoning Board Chairman Jane Woodruff, who asked brewery owner Shaun Hill to present some background and outline his plans.

Inside the brewery is a small retail area where people can buy small tastes of beer, fill up growlers, and buy glasses and T-shirts and some bottled varieties.  Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Inside the brewery is a small retail area where people can buy small tastes of beer, fill up growlers, and buy glasses and T-shirts and some bottled varieties. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Mr. Hill plans to add on to the existing brewery in two phases, probably over two years.

Hill Farmstead Brewery has been in business for three years and has attracted attention from beer lovers all around the country and internationally.  It is rated as one of the top five microbreweries in the world by a website called Rate Beer.

The room was packed with people at Wednesday’s hearing, almost all of whom had come to support the application.

One set of neighbors said they did not like the traffic on the back road where the brewery is situated, and wish the business did not include selling beer directly to the public.

Mary McGrath said she and her husband worked with Mr. Hill and some of the other neighbors to put conservation easements on their land and create a wildlife corridor between the Barr Hill Nature Preserve and Long Pond.  She said the brewery with retail traffic seems out of character.

“We now feel somewhat ambushed by Shaun’s proposal,” she said.  She said she likes and respects Mr. Hill, but doesn’t like the plan.

“This is not a farming nor a forest enterprise,” she said.

Clive Gray asked how many acres of the property had been conserved.  Mr. Hill said 95 acres out of 99 acres were conserved, but he kept five acres out because he had always planned to build a brewery.  He said the Vermont Land Trust has approved his expansion plan.

He told the members of the zoning board and planning commission he wanted to start a brewery as a way to make a life and a business for himself in the town where he grew up.  He is the eighth generation of Hills to live on his farm.

“I had a sense of place.  I knew I wanted to spend my life in Greensboro,” he said.  He added that the retail side of the business is critical to be able to make a living and employ people.  He employs three people, and expects to add one more.

Phil Young deals with cold beer apparatus as the kegs were stored outside.  In the background is Dan Surarez. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Phil Young deals with cold beer apparatus as the kegs were stored outside. In the background is Dan Surarez. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

“Right now all of our glass and all of our kegs are kept outside in the snow and in the rain,” he said.

He said a better retail space, storage, and packing area will make the whole process more efficient.  He and his staff currently make about 60,000 gallons of beer a year, and 100,000 gallons a year would be a comfortable number.  His plans are not to grow a lot more than that.

“I’m not interested in running 30 or 40 or 50 employees.  It’s not within the scope of what I’m trying to do,” he said.  “I live where all of this is going on.”

He said the brewery is right beside his house and sometimes people wander into the house looking for a bathroom.

He added that there are a couple of reasons the traffic might ease up.  One is that there are lots of new breweries opening, all around the country and locally.  He is also hoping to get a change in Vermont law that would allow him to mail beer directly to customers.  Currently wine makers can mail wine, but beer makers cannot mail beer to out-of-state customers.

“We’re not purposely trying to bring people to us,” he said.  He said he doesn’t advertise and the retail side of the business is only open from noon to 5 p.m., Wednesdays through Saturdays.  The brewery is also starting to sell limited numbers of tickets to three special events each year to keep numbers under control.

He wondered how people would feel if Rocking Rock in Greensboro became known as an important geological formation and people started driving into town to see it by the droves.  If that happened, would local people be upset with the town government, upset with the rock, or would they develop a special appreciation for it themselves?

Most in the room supported the project and said the brewery has helped the town.

“Right now I’m in my slow period,” said Rob Hurst of the Willey’s Store.  He said this time of year he suffers when he loses one regular customer, which happened recently when someone had to go into a nursing home.

He said it’s clear that Hill Farmstead Brewery and the Jasper Hill Farm and cheese making business are drawing new business to Greensboro.  People come to town to try to find those two places, he said.

“They’re always stopping and asking for directions,” Mr. Hurst said.

To try to help people — and to draw some of their business — he has put a map up beside his gas tank showing people how to find Hill Farmstead and Jasper Hill.  He hopes that the tourists will fill up.

Rod Kerr, a neighbor of Mr. Hill’s who has a second home he rents out to tourists, said people who want to go to the brewery have been giving him lots of business.  Some were renting the place that night.

“The amount of money that trickles out of that brewery is unbelievable,” he said.  “We have no problems with it.  It’s tremendous.  Let’s put Greensboro on the map instead of trying to hide it.”

Mateo Kehler, one of the owners of Jasper Hill Farm, said Shaun Hill is to be congratulated.  He said he doesn’t know of many people who start from scratch that makes a mark on the wider world the way his has done.

He said these kinds of businesses are creating excitement among a new generation of business people in Greensboro.  It will encourage younger people to move here instead of leaving, he said.

“At the end of the day, you can take the pulse of the community in the school yard, and I think we’re doing okay,” Mr. Kehler said.

At right is Bob Montgomery, getting ready to pull down the overhead door.  At left is Phil Young.  Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

At right is Bob Montgomery, getting ready to pull down the overhead door. At left is Phil Young. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Jackie Tolman, another neighbor, said she has children and animals, and Mr. Hill always lets her know if there is an event coming up.  He has spoken to her often about the traffic situation to ask if it’s bothering her.

“Shaun is a most conscientious neighbor and an excellent communicator,” she said.  “I have complete faith that his vision is what he says it is.”

Mr. Hill was asked by the planning commission and zoning board members if he had done any traffic studies.

It has doubled very year, he said.  “We could never make enough beer to satisfy demand.”  He said 95 percent of the beer is sold within 60 miles of the brewery.

Asked about landscaping plans, Mr. Hill said he is working with the Elmore Roots nursery and intends to plant apple trees and fruit plants, including some of what might have been Lewis Hill’s original cultivars, to use in the beer making process.

Asked about energy plans, Mr. Hill said he currently has a permit to spread some of the waste from the beermaking process on the fields.  Some day, he said, he would like to work with Peter Gebbie, who has a methane digester.  He is also interested in adding wind or solar power at some point.

At this point the brewery has 16 parking spaces and the plans are for 36, so cars won’t have to park on the side of the road.

The permit was approved with conditions.  No signs will be larger than six feet square or lit internally, and they will comply with all setback requirements.  If the present sign by the side of the road is moved, it should comply with setback requirements and be moved back to 50 feet from the center of the road.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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Reporter’s notebook: Condor recovery is a long-term project

 

This young female condor’s head has not yet turned orange. Photo by Katie Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle, 8-22-2012

BIG SUR, California — In 1987, there were just 27 California condors left in the world.  The last wild bird was taken into captivity — a highly controversial move to try to keep the species in existence.

Two years later my daughter was born.  Katie Ann Dunbar always had a fascination with dragons, and that seems to have translated into a scientific interest in birds.  Armed with a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology, she helped with bobolinks in Vermont and falcons and other raptors in California.

Those experiences led her to Big Sur, where she is working to help condors make it on their own.

Despite all our human efforts, the birds are still extremely rare — due mostly to problems created for them by people.  Fragments of lead bullets are their biggest threat.  Another problem is plastic trash scraps and bottle caps.

There are currently about 400 condors in the world, half of them in captivity.  The captive breeding program is working, and condors have been reintroduced to the wild.  Some are raising chicks the old-fashioned way, on the edge of a rock cliff somewhere.

There are condors in California, Arizona and Mexico.

In July, my sweetheart, Jim Bowes, and I had the incredible privilege of getting a good look at these birds ourselves when we visited Katie.

One day we got to go with Katie to where she perches on a cliff opposite the nest, watching through a high-powered scope as the wild condor mother nuzzles its chick lovingly.  These birds are enormous.  The baby chick, covered with gray down, is 19 pounds.

Under ideal circumstances, condors can live to be 60 years old.  They keep their mates and are extremely social.  The wild flock has an easily seen hierarchy when eating.  The matriarchs and patriarchs are first.  Kids wait their turn.

These birds, when fully grown, have a wingspan of nine and a half feet.  Seeing one in flight, skimming through the fog overhead, is a breath-taking experience.  Native Americans revered a legendary thunderbird, which some believe was a condor or an even larger relative of it.  It’s easy to see why.  These dramatic birds make an impression.

Condors’ wings are mostly black with a white pattern on both the top and bottom.  They have a feathery ruff around their necks, and adults have orange bald heads.  They eat only carrion, and the bald heads come in handy for keeping clean while tearing the meat from something dead.

Katie’s employer is the Ventana Wildlife Society (VWS).  Founded in 1977, VWS is a nonprofit with a mission to restore wildlife and educate the youth of central California.  VWS relies heavily on interns and volunteers.  She is an intern and has just accepted a second six-month stint.

The VWS helped bring back bald eagles.  The group also worked to help songbirds and monarch butterflies and to restore habitat.  The small team does workshops and classes for youngsters, and older students can apply for an eco-experience — a one-day or overnight experience with the California condors.

Jim and I had our own personal eco-experience while visiting.  Katie took us up to the VWS base camp for the night.  The base camp is high on top of a mountain overlooking the ocean, in the middle of an 80-acre property — the condor sanctuary.

The land in this area of the country stops abruptly at the ocean’s edge.  It makes for some incredible views of the ocean from the cliffs with rocks and narrow beaches below.  Highway 1, which winds around the edges of the cliffs, is in itself a tourist destination.

The camp is 20 miles up a tiny, winding one-lane dirt road perched on the edge of the cliffs.  There were four locked gates to go through.

My daughter seems perfectly comfortable driving the F-150 up this lane with a frozen dead calf carcass in the back of the truck.  She is also fine in eight-lane traffic to Los Angeles, where injured birds are treated at the zoo.

The calf carcass, provided by a neighboring dairy farmer, is lead-free food for the condors.  This is part of what the VWS does — provide the birds with a source of food that won’t make them sick.  In order to keep the wild birds from associating food with humans, this is done under the cover of darkness while the condors roost nearby.  In the morning they can be watched, through the scope, while they have their meal.

The VWS has a flight pen where an injured bird is staying right now, and another one perches on the pen, offering some company?  Or Katie thinks maybe it is taunting its friend.

All the 70 birds in this wild flock have been captured at one time in their lives, in order to put tags on their wings and small tracking transmitters, so they can be identified from far away.  Part of Katie’s job is tracking the birds to make sure they are all moving around normally.  If one stops moving for too long, she and her colleagues will look for it to make sure it’s all right.

The birds still sometimes die from lead poisoning, which happens if they eat a fragment of a bullet that might be in a carcass or a gut pile that a hunter left behind.  Something I didn’t know:  A lead-based bullet loses 30 percent of its mass on impact with the animal.  Tiny fragments scatter through the meat, which is a hazard not only to the big birds but also to humans who eat meat shot with lead bullets.

As a precautionary measure, they trap each bird once or twice a year to test their blood for lead.  If high lead is found the bird is sent to the Los Angeles zoo for treatment.  Chelation treatment takes one to three weeks of daily injections.  Chelation is a chemical process similar to what is done with children who get lead poisoning.

Sometimes a bird requires surgery to get a lead fragment out of its guts.

One of the missions of the VWS is to get hunters to switch to copper or other non-lead bullets.  Although eating copper is not good for you either, copper doesn’t fragment the way lead does.  The VWS provides free boxes of copper bullets to hunters in the condors’ range, and reports that 93 percent of hunters surveyed said the copper bullets worked just as well.

In condor country, lead bullets are banned, but some hunters still use them out of habit.

Another hazard for the birds is trash.  Condors in the wild eat bits of seashells and feed them to their chicks, to aid digestion (probably for the same reason chickens peck the dirt) or possibly for the calcium.  A small piece of plastic, broken glass, or a bottle cap seems like a seashell, and they eat them and feed them to the chicks.  The chicks can’t digest this stuff.  Their stomachs fill up with it, and they can actually starve to death.  So the VWS checks the chicks every so often, taking them down from the nest to do blood tests and palpate their stomachs to feel for odd shapes.

If a condor chick is full of plastic and bottle caps, it goes off to the zoo for surgery.  It can’t go back to the wild until it’s grown up.  Then it has to learn how to be a wild bird all over again.  It will be matched with an older mentor bird.

Despite these issues, condors are definitely doing better than they were.  The goal of the recovery program is two flocks in the wild of 150 birds and 15 breeding pairs each.

According to Return of the Condor, The Race To Save Our Largest Bird From Extinction by John Moir, a 2004 forecast by researchers at Stanford University predicts that unless things change, about 10 percent of the 10,000 bird species on Earth will go extinct by the end of the century.  An additional 15 percent will be so drastically reduced they will “no longer be ecologically significant.”

What are the consequences of these drastic losses of biodiversity?  No one knows, but it won’t be good.

Katie Dunbar watches a condor mother take care of its 19-pound chick. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

During our visit with Katie, I read the condor book as quickly as if it was a suspenseful novel.  It’s well-written, telling the story of the people who have devoted so much time and energy to saving these birds, and the stories of the individual birds as well.  John Moir is an award-winning author and science writer who lives in Santa Cruz, California.  The book was published in 2006, so it is up to date.

Another place to get more information, if you are interested, is the VWS website: ventanaws.org.

You might see some photos of a young woman who grew up in West Glover and graduated from Lake Region Union High School on there.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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Dunbar was uniquely qualified to write Kingdom’s Bounty

Reviewed by David K. Rodgers

Kingdom’s Bounty “A sustainable, eclectic, edible guide to Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom,” by Bethany Dunbar, published by Umbrage Editions 2012, soft cover, 128 pages. $25.

Bethany Dunbar of West Glover is uniquely qualified in many significant ways to have written and illustrated her new book, Kingdom’s Bounty, “A sustainable, eclectic, edible guide to Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.”  She was raised and went to school in Craftsbury, graduated from Lyndon State College, worked with her ex- husband as a dairy farmer for 11 years, was a reported for the Hardwick Gazette, and then for the last 25 years has been a reporter and co-editor at the Barton Chronicle.  In addition she gives a weekly radio interview about local news stories on WDEV, is a regular contributor to New England Country Folks and is past president of Vermont Press Association, still serving on its board of directors.  A fine photographer, she knows the Northeast Kingdom in great depth and has her finger on the pulse of new trends there, especially those involving food.

Kingdom’s Bounty, just published by Umbrage Editions, goes beyond a simple factual guide to being a real celebration of the people, community and landscapes of the area.  As one of the people profiled in this book (Mrs. Everts of Too Little Far,), susintly summed it up about locally grown food, “It has a story and a name behind it.  It has a person.  It has a place.”  Ms. Dunbar uses her journalistic skills to bring out  the human aide of numerous hardworking entrepreneurs and artisans who are fulfilling their personal vision of a better life and an excellent product, all of whom have put the Northeast Kingdom on the national map as being in the forefront of the local, organic, healthy food movement.  These are people who really care about what they do, who are solidly connected to the land and the cycles of the animal and plant life around them, living in a more biological rhythm as opposed to the omnipresent mechanical (and now electronic) rhythms of our culture.

This guide is generously illustrated and very attractively printed, predominately with Ms. Dunbar’s own well composed evocative photographs, which are always empathetic to the subjects.  The text has 32 profiles and over 200 listings, carefully organized alphabetically by the name of the enterprise and the town where they are located, with helpful cross references, suggested tours, and a good map.  What makes this guide special is that it combines a lot of useful information with an engaging personal narrative.  It is comprehensive in that it includes more than the edible, with entries on museums, inns, bookstores, county fairs and other activities as well as interesting side features on types of cows, barns, and not to mention the history and geology of the region.

Altogether Kingdom’s Bounty is a labor of love for the beauty of the Northeast Kingdom and the richness of its people.  We should carry a copy of it in our car to encourage exploring this amazing place we call home.

Bethany M. Dunbar will share a booth at the Orleans County Fair in Barton with the Chronicle.  The fair is August 15 through 19.  To order a copy of Kingdom’s Bounty at a special discount for Chronicle readers ($20 plus $9 shipping and handling), click here. Kingdom’s Bounty is also available for $25 plus tax at the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, the Woodknot Bookshop in Newport, the gift shop at the Old Stone House Museum in Brownington, the MAC Center for the Arts in Newport, Barnes and Noble in Burlington, Hudson News at the Burlington International Airport, and the Craftsbury General Store.

 

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Even in winter, local food economy is growing

by Bethany M. Dunbar
copyright the Chronicle January 19, 2011
Even in the middle of January, in the middle of an essentially stagnant economy, the local food movement in northern Vermont is showing signs of not only life, but growth as well.
Barb Judd at the Mountain View Stand in Newport is operating a winter market for the first time.
“The more stuff that goes bad in the big world, it pushes people back — back to their roots,” she said. She said more and more, people want to know who grew their food and where it came from.
“People are sick and tired of not knowing.”
She decided to try a winter market and see how it went. She opened up the week before Thanksgiving in the same space where Cinta’s bakery is located just outside of Derby Village. Not all of her food is from Vermont — especially this time of year — but she buys as much local produce as she can find, Vermont chicken and other meats, and she gets wild seafood directly from Massachusetts.
She didn’t have sales statistics on hand during a recent impromptu interview at the store, but she said the response has made her know the timing was right. It took her usual summer customers a while to find her — up Route 5 a bit from her summer location — and she said they sometimes come bursting through the door expressing enthusiasm to have found her again.
“Five years ago, I remember thinking, I am on the edge of something.”
Based on the response, she is considering making renovations to her summer farm stand to make it into a year-round business.
Alicia Knoll, one of the owners of Montgomery’s Café and Newport Natural Foods, said they have seen enough growth in the past five years to hire about three more employees than the businesses used to have.
“I think that people are cooking more,” she said. “We don’t really have prepared foods in our store, we have ingredients.”
She said Steve Crevoshay and Madeleine Winfield built up the store for years. The core base of customers is still coming back, plus more.
“We like to think we haven’t lost that many,” Ms. Knoll said.
“There’s a certain number of people who will always go to Price Chopper.”
On a recent Friday, Gerard Croizet of Berry Creek Farm in Westfield stopped in at Mountain View, and Ms. Judd discussed getting some spinach from him.
Mr. Croizet and his wife, Rosemary, sell organic vegetables, honey, beeswax candles, and strawberries in the summer. They have a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group with 60 members.
People who want to buy directly from the farm join the CSA and are guaranteed a weekly box of food for 20 weeks. Mr. Croizet said their CSA group has grown by ten people each year (which is more than 10 percent). He has had to turn people away because he wanted to make sure he could grow enough food for all the members, plus continue to supply the Berry Creek farm stand, Newport Natural Foods and Mountain View.
On a freezing cold Sunday afternoon, spinach was growing inside one of his unheated greenhouses. The greenhouse has double plastic walls, and the spinach growing inside is covered by a white light cloth row cover. Underneath the cloth, spinach is green and growing.
Mr. Croizet said sometimes it freezes and looks pretty bad, but after a day or two of sunshine it perks up and grows again. By March there will be enough heat from the sun inside the greenhouse to start more vegetables.
He agreed with Ms. Judd that there is growing demand for local food.
“There’s a consciousness — people are more conscious about what they eat,” he said.
Dairy farming has for years been the driving force in agriculture in Vermont, but in recent years dairy farms have struggled to survive. According to a report recently released by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, the Farm to Plate Stategic Plan, the number of dairy farms in Vermont has decreased by nearly 91 percent over the last 60 years. The value of milk and other dairy products in Vermont is $493,926,000, according to the report, and the total value of Vermont agricultural products is $673,713,000.
Dairying is not gone but it’s changing. Large farms have bought up smaller ones or leased their land. Some have installed methane digesters as a way of making their own electricity.
The fact that dairy is still a big part of the economy is evidenced by the recently-released list of the top 100 businesses in Vermont, compiled by Vermont Business Magazine.
St. Albans Cooperative Creamery is number ten on the list with revenues of $320-million. Poulin Grain is number 41 with $68-million.
Green Mountain Coffee, which has recently bought a coffee company on the west coast and one in Canada, is the second largest business in Vermont and the second one to have more than a billion dollars in revenues at $1.3-billion. The largest company listed in Vermont is National Life Group with $1.5-billion.
Alternative dairying and artisanal cheese making is a growing area of the dairy economy in Vermont.
The Northeastern Vermont Development Association (NVDA) is running an advertisement looking for someone to “provide outreach to farmers in the Northeast Kingdom region about the benefits of a fluid goat milk producers’ association.”
The position is half-time, for two years, funded by a Rural Business Opportunity Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture “working closely with the Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery.”
Vermont Butter and Cheese is also looking for a quality control and lab worker, and two other small cheese and yogurt makers in Vermont are hiring as well. Bob-White Systems in South Royalton just announced a new line of equipment and supplies for farmstead cheese makers.
The potential for growth in Vermont’s food economy is good, according to the Farm to Plate Strategic Plan just released by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund. After a series of meetings and research into Vermont’s agriculture and food systems, the report was created.
“Vermont’s food system is a significant part of the state’s economy, with total economic output of $2.7-billion annually, employing over 55,500 people at nearly 11,000 private sector businesses across the state. And the state can expect 1,500 new private sector jobs over the next ten years if Vermonters double their consumption of locally produced food from just 5 percent to 10 percent of their total food purchases,” according to the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund’s web site, where the full report is available.
Brothers Mateo and Andy Kehler of Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro — and their families — are part of the changing face of dairying.
“If we want things to remain the same, then something’s going to have to change,” says Mateo Kehler.
Dairy farmers who ship to the commercial market — not organic — are getting a better milk price than they did in 2008, but the basic price paid under the antiquated federal system is still just under the average cost of making milk in Vermont.
Organic dairy farmers get about $31 for a hundred pounds of milk (about $2.66 a gallon). That is about $13 a hundredweight ($1.12 a gallon) more than the conventional price.
Meanwhile the Cellars at Jasper Hill — a system of cheese caves where the Kehlers age their own cheese, along with Ploughgate, Cabot, and others — is a business that has seen dramatic growth. Jasper Hill makes 80,000 pounds of cheese a year.
In 2010, Mr. Kehler said, the company grew 50 percent from the year before. By the end of the first quarter the company will have 29 employees. Four years earlier it had four.
Jasper Hill cheeses do not all sell locally. But the word “local” could include Vermont to consumers from Boston or New York.
Mr. Kehler said the cellars are about 40 percent full, and they could fill them right now with cheeses from all over the U.S. and Europe. But their mission is to fill them with Vermont cheeses and help more local farms add value to their milk in hopes of keeping more working farms on the land.
In a region in France called Comté, 3,000 dairy farms are producing a type of cheese named after that region. Their price is based on a team of experts who taste the product of each farm and decide on pay based on quality. Mr. Kehler would love to see something like that happening in Vermont.
Jasper Hill has agreed to lease a section of the new Food Venture Center under construction in Hardwick. Jasper Hill has already hired five employees to work there because they had to be trained. Mr. Kehler said Jasper Hill made a commitment to this project when people were first discussing it, and he is excited to see it coming together.
Louise Calderwood is the interim director of the venture center. It will have five production cells and a warehouse. The meat and cheese cells will each be leased for five years, and there will be cells for people packing wet products such as salsas and jam, a cell for vegetables, a bakery, and possibly dry mixes.
Before construction is complete, demand is exceeding space available.
“I recognize that neither the meat cell nor the dairy cell are going to meet the needs of everybody,” said Ms. Calderwood, who will step down once the facility is up and running. “We already see that the needs are broader than the existing facility.”
The venture center is advertising to find a permanent manager and an operations manager.
More information about the venture center will be available at a meeting at the North Country Union High School Career Center on Saturday, January 22, at 10 a.m.
Another local food project in the planning stages is a Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center, which would offer retail spaces for local farmers and food producers and be a tourist destination. This project, led by Eleanor Leger of Eden Ice Cider in Charleston and Gloria Bruce of the Northeast Kingdom Travel and Tourism Association, is currently under study for its economic feasibility.
The power of the Vermont brand is well known by Bill Stenger at Jay Peak. He said consumers expect Vermont products to be “clean, healthy, safe and authentic.”
The new restaurants at the mountain, Alice’s Table and the Tower Bar, feature Vermont apple cider, Cabot cheddar, Vermont bacon and burgers, and a beer made especially for Jay Peak by Long Trail called Jay Peak Tram Ale.
The chefs have started a garden just outside the new restaurant, and plan to expand it.
He said Jay Peak has always supported the area’s farmers, recently through the Green Mountain Farm to School program, and Jay Peak will continue to look for more ways to do so.
“The relationship with the farm community is pretty indelible, and it goes deep.”
Pete’s Greens in Craftsbury has seen steady growth. The barn fire at his farm on Wednesday, January 19, was a huge setback. But it’s clear that Mr. Johnson will rebuild and his customers will see him through this difficult time.
Mr. Johnson has more than 350 CSA members. His business has seen 15 to 20 percent growth in gross sales in recent years, he said in an interview last fall. Earlier the growth was faster. That’s plenty of growth per year. He doesn’t want it to grow so fast he loses control over quality.
“It’s not like you’re just making widgets,” he said. He has seven full-time employees and 13 in the growing season. He raises 40,000 pounds of beets, 70,000 pounds of potatoes, and 50,000 to 60,000 pounds of greens.
Andrew Meyer has seen growth in both of the agriculture-related businesses he’s got in Hardwick. Vermont Soy sells its products to local independent stores and around New England and New York City. He also sells to food services, including the University of Vermont and Middlebury College.
“We’re starting to introduce products with a longer shelf life,” he said. The company grew 50 percent in 2010 and employs six people.
Vermont Natural Coatings, which makes paints and stains of whey, doubled its sales in 2010.
Mr. Meyer, who is one of the people who started the Center for an Agricultural Economy in Hardwick, sees potential for more growth in the agriculture-related economy if and when more infrastructure can be added.
For example, he would like to see a system for farmers who sell at farmers markets and who have extra produce. A distribution system could be established to sell the rest of their produce in a larger market by getting some farmers together, he suggested.
He’d also like to see a central facility where soy beans and other Vermont-grown grains could be stored, milled, cleaned, and distributed. That way each farm would not have to buy the expensive equipment needed for those tasks.
Curtis Sjolander, who raises vegetables and trout at his farm in Wheelock, is one of the managers of the Caledonia Farmers Market group.
Mr. Sjolander said despite the fact there are more farmers’ markets around than there were in the past, the Caledonia market (St. Johnsbury and Danville) has 50 vendors and is approaching a gross annual sales figure of $350,000. It has been increasing by 10 percent a year.
“Each one of us does better than we ever would alone,” Mr. Sjolander said.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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Sweet Rowen Farmstead is back in business

by Bethany M. Dunbar

Paul Lisai has restarted his creamery business, Sweet Rowen Farmstead. This pasteurizer can do 50 gallons of milk at once. He will soon be putting in a second one that can process 200 gallons at once. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

EAST ALBANY — Sweet Rowen Farmstead — dairy farm and creamery — is back in business.
Paul Lisai has built a small pasteurizing plant at his home and is bottling milk and making cream-style cheese. He hosted a grand opening on Mother’s Day, Sunday, and he is delivering milk and cheese to area outlets this week.

Mr. Lisai started bottling and selling milk from his Randall lineback cows under the Sweet Rowen label last summer. A mere three months after he started building up his new business the creamery where he was pasteurizing milk — also the creamery used by Ploughgate Cheese — suffered a devastating fire.

“People were just kind of catching on a little bit,” he said. He hopes they liked the first taste because soon he will have the capability to produce much more local fresh pasteurized milk.

Pasteurization kills bacteria that can be harmful. Mr. Lisai uses a system of gentle pasteurization, raising the milk to a temperature of 145 degrees for half an hour. At this time he can do 50 gallons in one batch, but before much longer he will be able to do 200 gallons.
Mr. Lisai is working for Bob-White Systems, based in South Royalton, which sells pasteurization equipment for small farms.

The company is developing a pasteurizer called Lili, which stands for Low Impact, Low Input. The pasteurizer raises milk to a temperature of 161 degrees for just 15 seconds. It is not yet approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. Meanwhile Mr. Lisai is selling the approved equipment and acting as a consultant for other small dairies on behalf of Bob-White.
After the fire last year, Mr. Lisai had to do some soul searching to decide if he really wanted to go back into setting up a creamery. He was immediately approached by the Vermont Farm Fund. The fund was established by Pete Johnson of Craftsbury and the Center for an Agricultural Economy in Hardwick after Mr. Johnson’s barn burned. After that fire, there was so much outpouring of support to rebuild Pete’s Greens that Mr. Johnson and the center decided they wanted to establish a fund that would help other farmers who had been struck by a fire or natural disaster.

That encouragement helped Mr. Lisai decide, and the next decision was where he would build it. Some options included at the Pete’s Greens barn or at the Vermont Food Venture Center in Hardwick, but in the long run Mr. Lisai decided he wanted the creamery at his family’s property, where he plans to farm eventually. At this point he is leasing a farm, owned by John and Lindsey Davis, just a ways down the road from his home.

Mr. Lisai said building a new creamery was quite an undertaking. He mentioned that the people at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture have been extremely helpful. Half of the cost of the project was setting up a waste water system. He did the carpentry himself.

The United States Department of Agriculture gave Sweet Rowen a grant for producers who are adding value to their products. It’s a matching grant of $47,869, which means Mr. Lisai must spend an equal amount of his own money on the project.

So far he has hired one part-time employee. An intern is starting next week. He plans to hire one more full-time employee by the middle of June.

At this point he is processing about 180 gallons a week and milking just five cows. He is a member of Agri-Mark and shipped milk to the co-op all winter, but with only five cows milking right now he is not shipping milk to the co-op currently. He expects to be shipping again by June.

He hired Marisa Mauro as a consultant to help him make cheese. Ms. Mauro is the owner of Ploughgate Cheese. The two had been sharing equipment and creamery space before the fire.
Mr. Lisai grew up in southern Vermont. His father managed an apple orchard. He studied agriculture and forestry at Sterling College and worked on several area dairy farms, including the Jones farm where he first found out about Randall linebacks. The family gave him one to start his own herd. Randall linebacks were originally bred for three uses — draft, dairy, and beef. They were among the first cows brought to the Americas, Mr. Lisai said.
Mr. Lisai named the farm Sweet Rowen after the second cut of hay each season. It’s a traditional New England term. Mr. Lisai decided the name would give a nod to the area’s strong roots in dairying while highlighting the idea of new growth.

Future plans include starting a dairy community supported agriculture (CSA) group. CSA customers sign up to buy a planned amount of food directly from farmers.

Sweet Rowen milk is available at Four Acre Farm in Barton, Buffalo Mountain Co-op in Hardwick, Currier’s Market in Glover, Newport Natural Foods in Newport, Pete’s Greens in Craftsbury, and at the creamery in East Albany. Mr. Lisai said he expects the cheese will also be available at these outlets by this coming weekend. Other outlets may be added later.

For more information, see Sweet Rowen’s web site:  www.sweetrowen.com.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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An intimate drink with a literate coyote: Perimeter Check II

Perimeter Check II, Tales from Vermont’s Upper Kingdom, by Paul Lefebvre.  Published by Beck Pond Books.  187 pages.  $14.95.
Reviewed by Julia Shipley
copyright the Chronicle February 23, 2011
Fans of Paul Lefebvre’s know how his weekly column for this newspaper, Perimeter Check, is delivered like an intimate mutter, as if you’d dared yourself to climb on the barstool next him as he was ten minutes into his second whisky, and he had deigned to pretend you were a pretty good friend.
First conceived in 1999, Perimeter Check has appeared on a weekly basis in the Chronicle for almost 12 years.  As co-editor of the Chronicle, Bethany Dunbar acknowledged, “He’s always pretty easy to find on Mondays — he’s home writing his column.”
Mr. Lefebvre’s first book of columns, aptly titled, Perimeter Check, debuted in 2008.  This second collection, Perimeter Check II:  Tales from Vermont’s Upper Kingdom, gathers together more of these prize-winning episodes, as his column has won four first-place awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association since 2004.
In offering an explanation for the title and content of these 1,200-word dispatches, Mr. Lefebvre states in the introduction, “No one is sure what he will find by picking at the edges.  But it is at the edges where I have found a life. Small truths sometimes grow into a larger one, and I would like to believe the columns in this collection are keepers of little truths.”
Edges, as ecologists know, are places rich in biological activity; one of my favorite poets, a psychologist by training, asserts that, “Truth appears only at the borders,” and once, seated with a group around a campfire in a wilderness area in Arizona, I watched a coyote skirt our circle, trotting the perimeter where the flickering light of our campfire met the deep blue shadows.  In this manner, Mr. Lefebvre is like a literate coyote, whose beat is the place where two zones converge.
His column of November 21, 2007, takes for its beginning the phenomenon of in-between seasons, “when one season is not quite over and another flirts with beginning.”  His sentences are so unpretentiously smart and beautiful: “Dwellers of the Upper and Lower Kingdom alike will undoubtedly agree that when it comes to the space between winter and fall, all of us are living between a hope and a fantasy — etched indelibly in those lines where the snug hat meets the creases in the brow:  Maybe I’ve got enough wood to last the winter; maybe it’s my year to get that ten-pointer.”
His columns relate stories that are scrounged, befitting of a coyote’s luck and cunning, from his rambles around the state’s least populated counties.  As in his column from October 17, 2007, which describes his willingness to “make do with whatever is at hand.  From wearing a dead man’s clothes to picking up discarded wooden guardrails and splitting them lengthwise to use as bridge planks….” He calls it “back road conservation,” this act of browsing and selecting from the discards and blow-aways of the byways.
It seems this same kind of beachcombing ethic directs the way his column accrues: It can begin with a letter from the State Police about his reported stolen guns.  Or it might start out as a note to self:  “Never trust a car that has sat for two months in the winter without being driven.”  Sometimes a simple change in the length of daylight kicks off a riff that leads to a review of Chief’s horseradish and closes down with a roofing job finished in the chilly rain.
In My Antonia, a classic novel by Willa Cather, the narrator, speaking from the early twentieth century, tells us of his college studies, learning, ‘Primus ego in patriam mecum…deducam Musas means “for I shall be the first, if I live, to bring the Muse into my country.”  He goes on to explain how his professor clarifies that the word “patria” didn’t mean nation, “but the little rural neighborhood on the Mincio where the poet was born.”
This was not a boast, but a hope, at once bold and devoutly humble, that he might bring the Muse (but lately come to Italy from her cloudy Grecian mountains), not to the capital, the palatia Romana, but to his own little “country,” to his father’s fields, “sloping down to the river and to the old beech trees with broken tops.”
When Mr. Lefebvre writes from his little rural neighborhood, telling us of the Great Piano Shootout at Mad Brook, recounting past basketball games as he waits for a truck loaded with firewood to find his driveway, or making another escape to camp, it seems there is a carefully meted out, lonely-proud howl rising out of these pages.
Masters of narrative say there are only two fundamental stories:  A man goes on a journey and a stranger comes to town. Somehow, each week, Paul Lefebvre finds a fusion of those archetypes, sending his readers a letter from a place where the dirt road meets the main road, “between church and religion; between marriage and love; and even between hill and town,” as he says in a column titled, “A People of In-Between.”
In this manner, simultaneously bold and devoutly humble, bent over his computer in Newark, Vermont, on most every Monday, Mr. Lefebvre escorts the Muse as he stands with one paw inside, one paw outside, straddling the perimeter, the rogue poet-King of the Upper Kingdom.
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