Welcome to the era of Big Sugar

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Adam Parke stands at the collection point that pumps sap from steep hills to the east and west of the Hinman Road in Glover. Photos by Chris Braithwaite

by Chris Braithwaite

 copyright 3-13-2013

BARTON — When Adam Parke and Todd Scelza “sweetened the pans” and drew off their first 165 gallons of maple syrup Monday night, it was the culmination of ten months’ work and an investment of a quarter of a million dollars.

It was also a demonstration of what has happened to one of this area’s oldest and most traditional enterprises.  Welcome to the era of Big Sugar.

Starting from scratch in May last year, Mr. Scelza and Mr. Parke have installed 11,700 taps over hundreds of acres of forest they’ve leased in Glover from Nick Ecker-Racz.

If all goes well, they’re looking forward to expanding to 15,000, perhaps 20,000 taps in future seasons.

That won’t make them the biggest operators in the business.  Mark Colburn in West Glover has 21,000 taps this year.  And when Mr. Parke and Mr. Scelza needed some very large tanks to handle their sap, they got them used from a sugarmaker in Franklin County.  With about 100,000 taps, the seller found that his 4,500-gallon sap tanks were just too small.

All of the time and money the partners have put into their operation since last May is culminating this week in a productive machine with a great many moving parts.

Most of the taps yield their sap to a collection point that sits in a low, swampy area just off the old Hinman Road.  The sap is drawn to two big tanks by a vacuum pump that reaches deep into the forest to the east and west through two-inch dry lines.  The sap actually flows through a parallel set of wet lines, connected at strategic points to the dry line.

Mr. Ecker-Racz collects that sap in a tank on a trailer behind his tractor and hauls it south on the Hinman Road, across a ford over a small creek, and a short distance west on the Shadow Lake Road to a big insulated shipping container that houses a shiny new reverse osmosis (RO) machine.  Another big tank receives the sap, along with sap pumped directly from taps in another section of the operation, on the south side of Shadow Lake Road.

A smaller tank sits beside the sap tank in the barn the partners have built, collecting a gush of concentrated sap from the RO machine.

That concentrate gets pumped up into a tank in the back of a veteran dump truck and hauled through Glover and Barton to Mr. Parke’s farm, high at the end of May Pond Road.

There it is boiled down into syrup in a six-by-16-foot evaporator fired by two oil burners.

The whole exercise is a fascinating mix of old and new.  In Mr. Parke’s sugarhouse the back pan is 30 years old.  He bought it from the defunct American Maple Company in Newport, and it was patched up under the supervision of Bucky Shelton at the new sugaring supply business in Orleans, Lapierre USA.

But the front pans are gleaming new stainless steel.  There are three of them taking up the space of the traditional front pan, and a fourth to serve as a spare.  The point, the sugarmakers explained, is that one pan can be lifted out of place and replaced while it is being cleaned.  Frequent cleaning comes with the RO-enriched concentrate that arrives from Glover.  It drops a lot of niter as it boils, and that can’t be allowed to coat the bottom of the pan.

“With RO sap, you’re kind of right on the edge of disaster all the time,” said Tim Perkins, who directs UVM’s Proctor Maple Research Center in Underhill.

He’s seeing a steady growth in the maple industry.  Exact numbers are hard to come by, Mr. Perkins said, but his estimate is that “the maple industry has been growing quite rapidly over the last five years, on the order of 4 to 5 percent a year.”

New technology has been key to the industry’s growth, Mr. Perkins said.

“Anybody of a reasonably decent size is going to have a very efficient operation with a modern tubing system, vacuum lines, RO, and very efficient evaporators.”

A vacuum system like the one Mr. Parke and Mr. Scelza laid out with the help of a consultant from New York State can double the yield per tap.

The ratio of taps to syrup, Mr. Perkins said, “used to be a quart per tap in a good year on buckets.  Now, tapping forest trees, you can get half a gallon per tap year after year, if you’re doing everything right.”

“If you don’t have vacuum,” Mr. Shelton said flatly, “it’s like having a ski area without snow making.”

To handle all that sap most large sugarmakers have turned to reverse osmosis.

David Marvin of Butternut Mountain Farm in Morrisville recalled starting out 40 years ago with 4,000 taps.  “That was a pretty big deal,” he said.  His operation currently has 16,000 taps.

“The real key has been reverse osmosis,” Mr. Marvin said.  Without it, sugarmakers were burning between four and four and a half gallons of oil to make a gallon of syrup.  With RO, Mr. Marvin said, it takes two quarts of oil to make a gallon of syrup.

Without RO, Mr. Marvin said, “we wouldn’t have this expansion in the industry.  The consumer wouldn’t be able to afford the energy we’d have to use to make the product.”

Though most large-scale sugarmakers burn oil, Mr. Perkins at the research center noted that the technology of wood-fired rigs continues to advance.  While wood-fired rigs have long relied on a supply of forced air at the bottom of the fire pit, the new models add a flow of air over the top of the fire to burn gasses that would otherwise go up the stack.

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Bucky Shelton stands beside the Hurricane at Lapierre USA in Orleans. The rig applies new technology to the time-honored practice of burning wood. Photos by Chris Braithwaite

Mr. Shelton has one such rig on display at the Lapierre store in Orleans.  It’s a three-tiered beauty in stainless steel called the Hurricane, and it carries a price tag of $36,212.  Its top unit, called a piggyback, concentrates the sap on its way down to the evaporator.

For Mr. Parke and Mr. Scelza, finding a very large, untapped hardwood forest rich in maple was key to their enterprise.  Mr. Ecker-Racz bought his land at the end of the Perron Hill Road in 1968 and moved onto it in 1970.  Since then the trained forester has cultivated it much the way others might care for a garden.

He’s culled for firewood, harvested the softwood several times, but left the best hardwood standing for saw logs — or for sugaring.

He scorns the idea of clearcutting, or even selectively cutting everything over a certain size.  Though they are rare these days, he said, “you will find a few old-time Vermonters who understand the genetics of wood.  It’s just like a dairy herd.  You don’t milk your culls and beef your best cows.”

Mr. Parke is clearly delighted to have found such a stand of maples.  “Nick is an exceptional forester,” he said of Mr. Ecker-Racz.

Mr. Parke and Mr. Scelza demonstrated a lot of ingenuity in getting set up for sugaring.  The barn on the Shadow Lake Road is a reconstruction of one Mr. Parke tore down in Orwell.  Years ago Mr. Parke picked up a couple of shipping containers and buried them at his farm as root cellars.  He dug them up and used one to house the RO machine, the other for the pumps and generator at the collection point in the swamp, where there is no power.

That military surplus generator proved too small for the job, so while he waits for a new one Mr. Parke is using a borrowed generator powered by his tractor.  As one neighbor noted, that requires 2 a.m. runs on his ATV to keep the tractor fueled.

When Mr. Ecker-Racz first broke out the Hinman Road with his tractor at the end of February, its front end fell off as it dropped into the open ford.

But he had it fixed in time to deliver the first loads of sap.  And on Tuesday morning with the RO machine sending a gush of concentrated sap into the tank, the two partners were clearly delighted to see their enterprise finally in production.

contact Chris Braithwaite at chris@bartonchronicle.com

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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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In memoriam: Henry Labrecque

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Jeannette and Henry Labrecque at home in September of 2011. Photo by Chris Braithwaite

Editor’s note:  Henry Labrecque died on December 7, 2012.  In his memory, we republish here an interview Chris Braithwaite did with Mr. Labreque that was first published in the Chronicle in the fall of 2011.

by Chris Braithwaite

copyright the Chronicle, September 28, 2011.

 

BARTON — Nothing could seem more normal on a sunny afternoon in late September than to see Henry and Jeannette Labrecque harvesting a hay crop from a field beside the Cook Road.

The couple might have been seen in such a field more than half a century ago, working with equipment that was a little smaller, a little slower.  But then, as now, you would expect to see Mrs. Labrecque behind the wheel of the tractor.

“One thing I always liked was driving tractor,” she said in a recent interview.

Henry Labrecque might have been seen there 70 years ago, a strapping young teenager, perhaps driving the team of horses, perhaps building the load of loose hay on a wagon.

He has lived on the farm for all but the first four of his 83 years, and worked on it almost that long.

He has a crystal clear memory of his eighth birthday present, a privilege bestowed by his father:

“I could start milking cows by hand.  I’ll never forget that.  I thought I was a man.”

One of his earliest memories of life on the farm, which sits on a deceptively sharp curve on the road to Willoughby Lake, is less positive.

The farmhouse had a bad foundation, he recalls, and its movement had opened cracks in the roof.  A few months after the family moved there in October 1932, young Henry woke in his upstairs bedroom to find “a couple of inches of snow on the sheets.”

That morning, he recalled with a smile, “it didn’t take too long to get dressed.”

Mr. Labrecque’s French-Canadian family had arrived at their ramshackle farmhouse in northern Vermont by an indirect route, one that reflected the times they coped with.

Henry Labrecque. Photo by Chris Braithwaite

His mother, Marie Anne, had moved from Montreal to Lawrence, Massachusetts, to join hundreds of young women in the textile mills.  His father, Jeremie, had moved nearby from his family’s Quebec farm to work at Fafnir Bearing.  They met at the wedding of his neighbor and one of her friends, and married in 1927.

Then the Depression hit.

“In 1931 he got laid off and moved up here, to the Kittridge farm,” Mr. Labrecque said.

That place, now fallen into a ruin, had just been remodeled by the father of Tony Pomerleau, the Burlington developer who is playing a key role in Newport’s redevelopment.

“But he lost it,” Mr. Labrecque said of his father and the Kittridge farm.  “Then he moved here, to the old Pete Damon place.”

Of Mr. Damon’s reason for leaving, Mr. Labrecque said, “Things went wrong with him, too.”

Things were going wrong for a lot of farmers in the early ’30s.  Mrs. Labrecque recalls the bankers of the day with no hint of affection in her voice.

“If they missed a payment by one day, they were evicted,” she said of farmers like Pete Damon.

Yet the bankers gave Jeremie Labrecque a bit of a break.

“The deal was he could stay here, and if he could make a go of it, they’d sell it to him,” Mr. Labrecque said.  “In 1934 they did.”

The farm, then 120 acres, sold for “right around $3,500.”

His father started out with about a dozen cows, milking them by hand.

There was no electricity, Mr. Labrecque recalls.  “We got it the day before Christmas, 1942, which was a Saturday.”

He has sharp memories of the electricians who busied themselves in the house that day, particularly of one universally known as Old Tink Prescott.  “He’d stick his finger in his mouth, then stick it in the socket and say ‘Yep, there’s electricity there.’”

The herd grew steadily over the next decade, as Henry Labrecque grew up.  “When we were married in 1954 there were 25, maybe nearer 30,” Mr. Labrecque said.

“I grew up in Newport Center, a whole 23 miles from here,” Mrs. Labrecque said.

“I knew the road to Newport Center,” her husband said.

He said that with a smile that seemed to recall a farmer in his mid-twenties wooing the girl who would be his wife for (so far) 57 years and with whom he would raise seven children.

It was important to both parents, as their family grew, that they retain the French language.

All seven of their children can speak French, and at least one grown son, Richard, still slips into that language when he talks to his parents.

Jeannette Labrecque keeps a close eye on the baler from the driver’s seat as son Richard Labrecque keeps a close eye on his mother. Photo by Chris Braithwaite

Mrs. Labrecque is a plain-spoken woman, and her voice still conveys some of the fury she felt when a teacher sent a daughter home with the advice that she should be speaking English in their home.

“There was no English spoken in this house,” she said.  “How else would they keep their French?”

“When I started school I knew one word in English,” Henry Labrecque said.  “That was ‘No.’”

At his first day of school he couldn’t so much as ask to go to the bathroom.  Finally recognizing his discomfort, the teacher found a bilingual classmate, a girl who figured out the problem and led young Henry to the outhouse.

Then she translated the teacher’s instructions on the universal code, using his fingers to indicate number one and number two.

But he can still hear the laugher that filled the one-room Devereaux schoolhouse when he raised his middle finger to his teacher, and she calmly bent it down and raised his index finger in its place.

“My mother never could talk English,” Mr. Labrecque said.  “Dad could, after a while.  I picked up the English language, but I kept the French.”

Speaking the French language in northern Vermont had its price, Mr. Labrecque said.

“French-speaking people were looked down on.  If there was a good job, the English speaker got it.  French people, they were farmers.  They worked the land.”

On her drive to school, he recalled, “the teacher would pick up some of the Fisk kids that were neighbors, but I had to walk.”

Yet his bilingual ability proved to be critical to the work he did to support the farm.  He’d drive north into Quebec to buy hay, Christmas trees, and brush for his wreath-making business.

Son Richard has taken that business over, and finds his French essential to negotiations with farmers on the other side of the border.

His business, and his ability to chat with his sources, has made Richard an expert on the state of the Quebec dairy industry.  His key finding:  Quebec’s supply management system, based on quotas, supports a thriving business while Vermont dairying continues to decline.

“When I got out of high school there were 17 farms between Barton and Willoughby Lake,” Henry Labrecque said.  “Now there aren’t any.”  He and Jeannette sold their cows in 1994.

Mr. Labrecque didn’t want to sell them, his wife recalled.  “I said, ‘If you don’t want to sell the cows, you can do the work yourself.’  That changed his mind.”

While he has passed the hay and wreath business on to Richard, Henry continues to haul loads of gravel out of a pit on the farm, even as he recovers from major heart surgery in June.

Talk of the gravel pit brought back other memories of the Depression and the WPA, the Works Progress Administration created by President Franklin Roosevelt to put unemployed men back to work.

“In the winter of 1934-’35 they graveled the road to the Barton Village line — in the winter — with horses.  The WPA had men in the pit shoveling gravel all winter.”

His father worked too, hauling gravel.  “I think that first year it was $2.25 a day, the next year $2.50.  That was for Dad, the horses and the wagon.  That’s what kept the place from going under.”

He remembers touching hands with Roosevelt in 1934, when the President was campaigning in Newport for another term.

Another childhood memory involves the skin of a calf and a cattle dealer who, to this day, Mr. Labrecque is reluctant to name.

“It was during haying in July.  I was seven.  It would have been 1935.  Dad told me, ‘If you skin that calf you can have the money.’”

He remembers running out to meet the cattle dealer as his rounds took him past the farm; remembers the dealer standing on the running board of his truck, his gold teeth, and his ability to speak French.

“All I could talk was French.”

Young Henry offered up the hide, and the dealer agreed to buy it.

“He picked through the change in his hand and gave me a Canadian dime.”

What Henry didn’t know was that the dime was worthless in Vermont.

“I went down to Medie Massey’s store for a nickel ice cream.”  The store was at the corner of Main Street and Duck Pond Road in Barton.

“He asked me if I had any money.  Boy, did I!  I had a dime!  Well, he didn’t give me no ice cream.”

Henry got the same reception at Ralph Moore’s store downtown, and from Mr. Boisvert on Upper Main Street.

“I went into Wallace Foss’ store.  He asked if I had any money.  I showed him my dime.  He said ‘I’ll give you an ice cream and you keep your dime.’  I ended up giving it to the church.”

That dealer “was a tight-fisted son of a gun,” Mr. Labrecque said.  Years later, at a dance in Glover, the dealer had a chance to ask the farmer why he never sold him any cattle.

“So I told him,” Mr. Labrecque said.  “He denied it, but it was the truth.”

Asked which era of farming he most enjoyed, Mr. Labrecque was quick to respond.

“When the whole family was here.  All the kids were here.  We had problems, but they were enjoyable years.”

“It was a good life, but it was seven days a week,” he said.

“Sometimes,” Mrs. Labrecque added, “it felt like eight.”

To read an obituary of Henry Labrecque, please see the obituary pages for December 12, 2012.

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Broe – Lantagne family is built on reindeer games

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At present Prancer is the only reindeer in the entire state of Vermont. He makes his residence with Pauline Broe at the Vermont Reindeer Farm in West Charleston. Prancer, a female, is currently awaiting a reunion with Comet II, though to the untrained eye he will bear a stunning resemblance to the original Comet.

by Richard Creaser

copyright the Chronicle 10-24-12

WEST CHARLESTON —  Even before Pauline Broe picked up her bullhorn to address the crowd on Sunday it was apparent that this wasn’t your typical family gathering.  With sun and rain appearing in equal measure, members of Ms. Broe’s extended family enjoyed brunch under the tent, stood around the fire pit or roamed the grounds of the Vermont Reindeer Farm.

The gathering is an annual event for Ms. Broe’s family and, in particular, her branch of the Westmore Lantagnes.  All seven Lantagne siblings still reside within an hour’s drive of the town where they grew up.

But it is far more than a gathering of the clan.  To Ms. Broe it is an opportunity to remember who she is, where she came from, and exactly what kind of legacy she wants to leave behind for the next generation.

“We were probably the poorest family in Westmore when we were kids,” Ms. Broe said.  “Someone else was always giving us clothes and Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner.  There wasn’t any expectation that we were going to go to college.  Our parents expected that we would finish high school.”

Being on the receiving end of charity left a deep impression on the Lantagne children.  It instilled in them a recognition of the power of one person to make a tremendous difference in the life of another.  It fostered in them a strong sense of family and a willingness to pool their resources for the benefit of all.

The annual family gathering turned into a fund-raising effort to help support members of the family, Ms. Broe said.  Whether by explicit donation or through silent auctions and walkathons, the family gathered money to form a Lantagne family scholarship fund.

Remembering the generosity of the community they received as children growing up in Westmore, the Lantagne siblings have turned their annual gathering into an opportunity to raise money for a family scholarship fund, to support relatives dealing with illness as well as providing money for the American Cancer Society. They are, back row from left to right: Richard Lantagne, John Lantagne and Bernard Lantagne. In the front row from left to right are Avis Brosseau, Joyce Ofsuryk, Pauline Broe and Joan Peters. “We’re just looking for a way to give back to a community that gave so much to us,” Ms. Broe said.

“Our expectation is that if a child in this family wants to go to college, they will go to college,” Ms. Broe said.  “Those of us in a position to help will help.  That’s just the way we are.”

The gathering has also helped provide funds for ailing family members including, most recently, a sister-in-law and a nephew who battled cancer.  Their struggle highlighted the prevalence of cancer in the community and inspired the family to also donate a portion of their fund raising money to support cancer charities.

All this focus on good deeds would seem to suggest that a Lantagne family gathering is a dry, joyless affair.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Adjacent to the food tent an inflatable bounce house keeps the younger ones dry and entertained.  As Ms. Broe speaks with the Chronicle she is constantly jostled by a kaleidoscope of animals that includes three goats, a donkey and a pig who thinks he’s a dog.

A more varied menagerie of animals probably hasn’t existed outside a zoo or a pretty famous ark.  And that brings us back around to the name of Ms. Broe’s farm — Vermont Reindeer Farm.  To the average American, reindeer are something you see in nature shows, on Christmas cards or in claymation television specials.  Visitors to Ms. Broe’s farm, however, get to lay their eyes — and sometimes hands — on the real McCoy.

Comet and Prancer are the star attractions at the Broe farm, though Comet is, at present, off in New York State awaiting permission to enter Vermont.  In truth, he would be Comet II, but in order to avoid giving children nightmares about the mortality of Santa’s faithful sled team Ms. Broe is content to present the illusion that the original Comet is simply away on business.

“This is the only reindeer farm in all of Vermont,” Ms. Broe said.  “So how did it all get started?  It’s not like we sat around dreaming of reindeer.”

Like most of the stories Ms. Broe told on Sunday afternoon, this one found its origins somewhere else.  The land on which we stood has been in John Broe Senior’s family stretching back five generations.

On a different day and at a different hour a pile of bones might prove intimidating to a group of youngsters. Not so this collection of “dinosaur” bones located along the walking trail behind Pauline Broe’s West Charleston home. The intrepid scouts who led the Chronicle to the find at the Vermont Reindeer Farm are, from left to right, Madison McRae, Connor Broe, Gwen Lantagne and Tyler Choquette. Photos by Richard Creaser

Before that parcel became a farm it had played host to a modest but lovingly crafted camp.  The Broe’s decided to build a more permanent dwelling using wood harvested from the land.  Naturally, it seemed a shame to tear down a perfectly good cabin to make room for the house, so they just conjoined the two in a style that is both rustic and more than a little bit storybook.

“Some people have a back lawn,” Ms. Broe said, looking out the north window.  “We have a back forest.”

She neglected to mention that the forest was a strange, magical place inhabited by brightly colored ceramic frogs, fairies and bridges complete with shaggy-headed trolls.  Did we neglect to mention the dinosaur bones?

“I really like coming out here and walking on the trail,” niece Gwen Lantagne said.  “I like seeing the frogs, the little bridges and the dinosaur bones.”

“I think they’re just cow bones,” Tyler Choquette said with almost convincing certainty.

The fact that the younger generations take happily to field and forest, eagerly sharing the magic of that place with a complete stranger, proves that what the Broe’s have built lives up to their ideal.  This is a place where memories are made.

“When they grow up I want them to be able to remember Aunt Pauline’s and all the wonderful animals and the things to see and do,” Ms. Broe said.  “I want them to remember where they came from and how that made them who they are.”

Which somehow brings us back around to the reindeer.  The farm grew as a place where rescued animals could find respite and a loving home.  It started with a pony and soon expanded to the various furry and feathered critters that snorted, brayed, bleated and squawked around the pastures and pens.

“One day I was looking at Country Woman magazine and saw a picture of a blond woman in a red outfit with a reindeer,” Ms. Broe recalls.  “I thought, ‘That could be me!'”

Transforming that vision from idea to reality proved to be complicated.  The threat of chronic wasting disease (CWD) among captive herds of deer severely limits the transport of animals like reindeer.  To import the animals to Vermont, the Broe’s first had to find a clean herd from a state certified to ship animals to this state.

Tedious though the process may have been, Ms. Broe expressed no qualms about following that reindeer dream.  The reindeer have proven popular with folks booking Christmas celebrations, as well as with the dozens of schoolchildren that have visited her farm.

Sharing her animals and her property with family and friends and schoolchildren is something that Ms. Broe treasures immensely.

“I love the opportunity to make kids happy,” Ms. Broe said.  “When you see a child that has had problems bonding with other people and you see them hugging an animal, that’s amazing.  People can connect to animals in a way they might never connect to other people, so giving them that opportunity means a lot to me.”

If one were to ask what precisely a farm with two reindeer, a bunch of goats, a confused pig, a donkey and a collection of chickens and ponies produces the simple answer is probably the right one — fond memories of a special place from their childhood.

contact Richard Creaser at nek_scribbler@hotmail.com

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Radiant Hen publishes Higher Ground to benefit flood victims

by Tena Starr

copyright the Chronicle 9-12-12

Higher Ground, by Kevin Fitton, is a simple little story for children.  Basically, it’s about Tropical Storm Irene and one Vermont farmer’s efforts to keep his family and beloved dairy cows safe in the face of rapidly rising water.

This farm family doesn’t experience the devastation that many Vermont farmers did because of Irene, but it does know loss.  However, their grief and recovery efforts are tendered by the neighborliness, the kindness and generosity that characterized the aftermath of Irene in Vermont.

Although the story itself is pretty basic, this is a gorgeously illustrated little book.  Of course. The illustrations are by Plainfield artist Mary Azarian, who made a name for herself decades ago with her stunning woodcuts.  In 1999, she won the Caldecott Medal for her book Snowflake Bentley, a picture book about the life of Wilson Bentley.  She’s illustrated more than 50 books, and that doesn’t begin to describe her art.

The bigger mission behind the publication of this slim paperback is that 100 percent of the proceeds from its limited edition sale of 1,000 books will go to the Vermont Farm Disaster Relief Fund, which was established with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture to help farmers hurt by Irene.

Mr. Fitton of Ferrisburgh is a pastor in South Burlington.  He developed a love for books at an early age and is the author of several short stories.  This is his first published book.

“It’s a lovely story that shows not only how community comes together in times of need, but also how important the farm animals are,” said Tanya Sousa of Radiant Hen Publishing.  “They’re family to the characters in the book — not just moneymakers.”

Mr. Fitton had submitted the manuscript, and “we really liked it,” Ms. Sousa said.  “Since it was about Tropical Storm Irene it crossed my mind that, by some chance, people might want to do it as a fund-raiser.”

Mr. Fitton immediately agreed to the fund-raiser.

Ms. Azarian also donated her time, as did the graphic arts and editing team of Theresa Perron-Janowski and Jeannine B. Young, both of West Glover.  Carl and Susan Taylor of Derby paid for the printing so that all the money from book sales can go to the Vermont Farm Disaster Relief Fund.  “Everyone agreed to do it for nothing,” Ms. Sousa said.

Ms. Sousa of Coventry started the Radiant Hen Publishing company about five years ago.

“My thinking was that, as an author myself, it’s very frustrating to me to be treated sometimes poorly, to sometimes not get paid even when there was a contract,” Ms. Sousa said.  “I saw the need for companies that gave Vermont authors and illustrators a chance to break in in a way that they are treated like somebody, and they get decent royalties.”

People don’t make a lot of money with a book published by Radiant Hen because they don’t sell an awful lot of books, but they do get generous royalties on those they sell, Ms. Sousa said.

She doesn’t recommend either writing or publishing as a path to riches, but personally she doesn’t care.  “We’re doing it for the love of it,” she said.  “For the money to generate money for the next book.”

Radiant Hen’s goal is to publish three books a year, but that number recently slipped to one a year for economic reasons, although Ms. Sousa said business is picking up some again.

Authors submit their work to Radiant Hen and Ms. Sousa, as well as a team of volunteer readers, screen the manuscripts.  To start with, they must meet Radiant Hen’s basic guidelines:  The author must be a Vermonter and the book must be about either an environmental or agricultural subject.

At the moment, picture books likely stand the best chance of publication.  “We’ve decided not to do chapter books,” Ms. Sousa said.  “We did well with them, but they don’t bear the publication costs.”

Nor does Radiant Hen help people self-publish their books, she emphasized.  Prospective authors can’t simply offer to pay the little company to print their book.  “If it gets chosen, it gets chosen because it fits,” Ms. Sousa said.  “We’re not a vanity publisher.”

Authors and illustrators get royalties; Radiant Hen keeps the rest of the money to cover printing and marketing costs, standard practice in the publishing business.  That income usually does no more than pay the bills for printing and marketing.

“I’m not concerned about making money with it,” Ms. Sousa said.  “I’m just concerned with giving people an option.”

She said Radiant Hen receives hundreds of manuscripts, many of them very good and worthy of publication.  She can sometimes recommend another publisher.  “Often we have to say no, but we try to give them a foot up, try to give them any help we can.”

The publishing company’s unlikely name starts with a sad story that ended with what Ms. Sousa views as a bit of a miracle.

She and her husband had a small flock of chickens, but for unavoidable reasons the chicken coop had not been fully tightened up.  One day she walked out to the coop and found the entire flock slaughtered by a raccoon.  There wasn’t a chicken left alive.  In fact, there wasn’t a chicken left whole.

Ms. Sousa said that after she got done crying she went back out to the coop to clean up the mess and was amazed to find one white leghorn hen standing there unharmed.   She had no idea where the hen had been or how it had survived.

“She was my beautiful white radiant hen, and when it came time for the publishing company I wanted a name that boded well for survival.”

Radiant Hen’s mission is to publish books, for both children and adults, that encourage good citizenship, kindness, and environmental awareness and debate, and to raise awareness of Vermont places and people and sustainable agriculture.  Ms. Sousa also hopes to incubate promising authors and artists.

At the moment, Higher Ground is available through Radiant Hen.  It can’t be sold through bookstores unless the store is willing to take no cut from its sales.   The 30-page book is $10.95.  Radiant Hen’s website is:  www.radianthen.com.

contact Tena Starr at tena@bartonchronicle.com

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Wildlife management area created as working dairy farm is saved

Bill and Ursula Johnson sold their landmark dairy farm in Canaan, Vermont, creating a wildlife area at the same time. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle 8-8-2012

CANAAN — A landmark working dairy farm here has been sold to a young farm family while a new wildlife area was created, protecting six miles of frontage on the Connecticut River and ensuring public access for fishermen, campers, and bird watchers.

It was a complicated deal and one lots of people wanted to celebrate at the Bill and Ursula Johnson farm on Friday, August 3.  About 70 people attended, including the heads of several state agencies, plus local legislators — Senator Bob Starr and Representative Bob Lewis.

Secretary Deb Markowitz of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources said the Johnsons’ sense of civic duty in wanting to make the whole thing happen was laudable.

“This is just one more example of what it means to be a Vermonter,” she said.

Secretary Chuck Ross of the Agency of Agriculture said when he was approached about this idea that it was so clearly a wonderful project that it was a “no-brainer.”

Vermont Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Pat Berry said the project is unusual because it brings together three of Vermont’s top values:  working lands, conservation, and public access.

“Look around you.  This is a big deal,” he said.

Bob Klein of the Nature Conservancy agreed.  “What makes Vermont so special is the integration of those things,” he said.  “Every project is a manifestation of a collection of values.  Conservation isn’t something somebody else does.”

The deal took more than two years to put together.  The Johnsons sold 849 acres, of which 583 is being kept in farming, with conservation easements.  The remaining 266 is being made into a state-owned Wildlife Management Area (WMA).  The property and easements cost $1.45-million, according to Tracy Zschau, regional director of the Vermont Land Trust.

She said the first step was to buy the conservation easement, which was about $450,000 of the total cost.

The first main funding source was the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation’s Upper Connecticut River Mitigation and Enhancement Fund.  Representatives of the fund put up the money for the easement plus the additional $1-million to buy the property, with the understanding that VLT would find others to help share the cost.

In the long run, Ms. Zschau said, other funding sources agreed to help, and the New Hampshire group ended up paying under $500,000.

Funds came in from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service, Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.

The Nelson family bought the working dairy farm.

Cy and Andrea Nelson bought the 583-acre working farm, with easements in place, for $965,000.  The Nelsons will also have a free lease on 50 acres of land within the state-owned WMA in exchange for allowing public access to the river.

Mr. Nelson said he was glad to have the opportunity.  It was not a simple decision though.

“It was a big commitment financially and for our family in general,” he said.  Cy is the son of Doug Nelson, who was also on hand for the celebration.

“I’ve worked for him on the family farm since I was a kid,” he said.  Now he and his wife, Andrea, have a two-year-old daughter of their own, named Sloan.  They are expecting again soon.

Mr. Nelson said the Johnsons helped make the transition very smooth.  The Nelsons are employing the same five workers the Johnsons did, which they said has made a big difference.  Some of the employees live in housing on the farm.

Cy and Andrea Nelsons have 215 milking cows in Canaan and 250 in Coventry.  He said the river-bottom rock-free land on the Johnson farm is ideal for farming, and the corn is doing extremely well this year.

“I think we’re as good as anything,” he said.

“The dairy industry is a pretty unique industry.  Our profits are always fluctuating.”

Bill and Ursula Johnson have retired as farmers, but Mr. Johnson still serves the area in the state House of Representatives.  Mr. Johnson represents the towns of Brighton, Canaan, East Haven, Lemington, Newark, Norton, and Westmore.  Ursula Johnson worked in the field of conservation.

Over and over again in the course of the day, officials remarked on what a wonderful job the couple had done keeping the land in great shape.  Where many farmers would have drained a lot of the wetlands in order to make more pasture or hay land, the Johnsons kept a lot of it intact, and as a result there is a tremendous abundance and variety of birds and wildlife.  On Friday, people saw half a dozen great blue herons, a northern harrier (marsh hawk), and several other species of birds.

After the speeches, people were invited to take tours of the farm or two parts of the WMA.  One was north of the main barn, and the other was south into part of Lemington.

“There’s not a written plan for this area yet,” said Fritz Gerhardt of Beck Pond LLC, a conservation scientist who led the Lemington tour and pointed out some highlights in the farm land and wetlands.  The WMA plans for the whole state will be discussed at a public hearing in Montpelier on August 21.  People who have ideas for what should be done with the property will have a chance to give their opinions.

Joan Allen of The Nature Conservancy, Ms. Zschau and Jane Lazorchak of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department were credited as being the three masterminds behind the complicated project.

“This is exemplary by national standards,” said David Govatski, president of Friends of Pondicherry, based in New Hampshire.  Mr. Govatski did a bird survey for the land trust that showed 89 species, some of them rare.  He said the wetlands are home to hundreds of wood ducks, American bitterns, and purple sandpipers to name a few.  Of the species found in the survey, 30 species of special concern to conservationists were noted.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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Apple crop is skimpy this year

Mort Gellman of Holland, Vermont, stands next to one of his Honeycrisp trees. He manages a 100-tree apple orchard on his property. Photo by Natalie Hormilla

by Natalie Hormilla

copyright the Chronicle 9-5-2012

After a long, hot summer, people may be looking forward to fall foliage, cooler weather and crisp apple cider.  When the foliage will change or the weather cool is anyone’s guess, but at least one thing is certain:  This autumn’s apple crop won’t be nearly as bountiful as it was in 2011. 

“We had a lot of frost damage this spring,” said Mort Gellman, who manages an orchard of about 100 apple trees of ten different varieties on his property in Holland. 

Mr. Gellman, like many apple growers, was hit hard by the April frost that followed an unusually warm March. 

“Just when they were in full bloom, the temperature went down to 15 degrees,” he said.  “Yep, it was a big hurtin’.” 

Mr. Gellman sells his apples mainly through the Newport Farmers’ Market, and people are welcome to come pick their own.   

“I sold every apple I had,” Mr. Gellman said in reference to last year’s season. 

Some varieties fared better this year than others.  He estimates that he’s down about 75 percent on his crop of Cortlands, but only about 50 percent on his Honeycrisps.  His Rome Beauty tree, which is a very late bloomer, had its best year since he planted it three seasons ago. 

Mr. Gellman said the Rome Beauty is one of the finest baking apples, and it’s a variety from the 1800s. 

As of August 30, his apples weren’t ready for picking just yet.  His earliest variety, Zestar, had about one and a half or two weeks left before harvesting could start. 

Mr. Gellman planted all the trees himself, and takes care of them mostly by himself, sometimes with the help of a neighbor.  He turned 86 in August. 

“I’m not doing this to get rich,” he said.  “The orchard is my life.”

Mr. Gellman started working in apple orchards when he was 18 years old.  At one point in his life, he ran a large vegetable farm in his native New Jersey, where he planted 50 acres of tomatoes for the Campbell’s Soup Company.  He also worked on a 5,000-tree apple orchard in Missouri in the mid-90s. 

“I know enough about growing because that’s most of what I ever did,” he said. 

He isn’t alone in having fewer apples this year.  In fact, the apple crop for all of Vermont is forecast to be down about 28 percent compared to last year. 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), the state can expect to see a crop of about 24 million pounds of apples, down from last year’s 33.5 million pounds. 

The dip in statewide production mirrors a drop in national production for the year.  NASS has forecast that U.S. apple production will weigh in at 8,065.7 million pounds this year — about a 14 percent drop from last year’s 9,420 million pounds. 

Cate Hill Orchard in Greensboro also expects much less of a crop this year.

“I think we had a total crop failure, really, from that late freeze, or rather that early spring,” said Maria Schumann, who owns and operates the orchard withJosh Karp. 

Last year, Cate Hill Orchard had about 60 or 70 fruit bearing trees, Ms. Schumann said.  This year, about 20 of their trees bore fruit.  “And they all have way less than they had last year,” she said. 

Ms. Schumann cites the same reason as Mr. Gellman:  the April frost. 

“It’s a normal time to have that kind of freeze, it was more just that everything was three weeks ahead because of that warm weather in March,” she said.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this year’s March was the warmest ever for the U.S. since formal record keeping began in 1895.   Some states experienced warmer weather than others that month.  Vermont was one of the states to experience its record warmest March, along with the biggest apple producing states in the eastern half of the country, Michigan and New York. 

Cate Hill Orchard sold apples and cider at farmers’ markets in Hardwick, Montpelier and Stowe last year.  Ms. Schumann said they probably won’t do cider this year, except for by the glass maybe. 

Cate Hill Orchard has a mix of trees that are about 100 years old and were inherited from Mr. Karp’s family.  They also have much newer trees, for a total of about 250 trees.  Ms. Schumann said there is no real difference in production among the fruit-bearing trees in terms of their ages. 

“Last year was such a fantastic year,” she said.  “There were apples everywhere.” 

She said that last year’s bounty may also have something to do with this year’s dearth. 

“A lot of apples, not all, but especially heirloom varieties, will tend to have on years and off years.  They won’t bear the same amount every year, even without a frost.” 

Terry Bradshaw, president of the Vermont Tree Fruit Growers’ Association, also said last year’s big crop was a factor in this year’s smaller one.

“Last year was an incredible apple year in terms of quantity of fruit,” he said.  “Even maple trees had apples on them.”

Mr. Bradshaw said it’s prudent to manage an orchard so that spring buds are thinned to a number that doesn’t stress out the trees. 

“If you don’t, you’ll get what’s called biennial bearing,” he said, meaning that the trees will produce a big crop every other year, with little or no production on the off years. 

“So that’s kind of the one-two punch of why things might be a little bit lower this year,” he said.  “I noticed before the frost even came that the count of buds was low.”

Mr. Bradshaw makes the bulk of his observations at his home in Calais and on the orchard he manages for University of Vermont (UVM) Extension in South Burlington. 

He estimates that even without the frost, many trees that produced heavily last year would have only had about 70 percent production this year.  

Mr. Bradshaw explained that it’s in the apple trees’ best interests not to produce a lot of apples each and every year. 

“The only reason why any plant produces fruit is not to feed us, but to have a baby, to keep spreading the plant along,” he said.  “What the plant wants to do is make lots of those seeds, a lot of apples, and it wants to be fairly small so animals can spread them and it doesn’t mind not doing it every year because it breaks up pest cycles.  But the role of an apple grower is to grow big red apples every year, so we’re trying to steer nature in our direction.”

Biennial bearing may contribute to a lack of wild apples this year, which were in abundance in many areas of Vermont in 2011.

“A managed orchard has an annual crop,” Mr. Bradshaw said.  “Whereas wild trees, if they put all their resources out one year, they don’t mind taking a breather.”

Mr. Bradshaw said that state crop production has been variable.  He said the UVM Extension orchard is looking at about a half crop this year. 

“But I’ve heard of some growers saying they’re having their best year in recent memory, so it’s variable, and it depends on the varieties and when their blooms open,” he said.

“In Cabot there are maybe 3,000 trees in a fairly young orchard and they’re having their best crop ever,” he said.  “I’ve heard in the Eastern Townships they’re doing very well.  So there’s plenty of fruit.”  

“The economics of growing is interesting this year,” he said.  “If you’ve got fruit, you’re sitting in the driver’s seat, because all those packing houses and processors in west New York and Michigan have been driving to New England with checkbooks in hand trying to buy up fruit, and a lot of that’s for processing cider.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me to see $7 or $8 jugs of cider this year, so it’s good to be a grower.”

Mr. Bradshaw also said that those who did get fruit this year may find themselves with an especially good quality crop.  He said the sunny and warm weather has been complemented by just enough moisture to get the fruit to size.  

“I’m seeing larger fruit and redder fruit, because there hasn’t been a lot of cloud cover,” he said.  “The sun is what turns the apples red.”

Leaves turn solar energy into carbohydrates, which translates into a sweeter, higher quality apple, he said. 

“The other factor that turns apples red is cool nights,” Mr. Bradshaw said.  “Macs are classic with that, once you get nights in the 40s — and I think the weather is shifting and we’re going to come into the fall weather here.”

He pointed out that apple trees are grown all over the world, so they are very adaptable to different climates.  He said lack of rain and warm temperatures shouldn’t affect the trees. 

“The fruit buds are already set,” he said, referring to the middle of summer.  “If you get a drought in June, that would affect things.  The conditions that we’ve seen, I think we’ll have a good crop for next year.  Trees are adaptable, and they know that in August it dries up.  August is our least precipitous month every year, and all of the tree’s growth processes slow down by the middle or end of July because that’s how the tree’s programmed, to work with the systems we have.”

Chris Rawlings of Heath Orchard in Stanstead, Quebec, said that he’s seeing a crop of smaller quantity but higher quality this year. 

“It’s holding at about 65 percent of an average year,” he said.  “There are varieties which are better than usual in quality, not quantity.

“What I’m seeing on the MacIntosh is that, despite the fact that we had this event of frost on the blossoms, the apples that have come through for the most part are beautiful — round and have very little crevices and bumps for scab spores to install themselves, so they’re much prettier.  They’re an average size, no bigger, no smaller.  They’re looking good and they’re a reasonable size given the dryness.”

He said his Cortlands are looking particularly good as well.  The MacIntosh apples will start getting picked this Friday, September 7, which is early.

“We’re harvesting a week to ten days earlier than usual, across the board,” he said. 

Mr. Rawlings owns and operates the orchard with Lynn Heath.  They have 3,500 trees on 15 acres.  

Mr. Rawlings told the same tale as other growers — that the warm March followed by cold snaps accounts for most of this year’s lighter yield.  He said his Melba trees do take a breather every second year.

He also said that “micro micro climates” within his orchard account for some of the discrepancies he sees among his trees, even among the same varieties. 

“Nothing much is making a lot of sense, you know,” he said.

Still it sounds like Heath Orchard will have plenty of fruit to pick, as will most Vermont growers. 

Even though Vermont will see a significant drop in apple production, it’s still doing better than some other states.  Michigan — normally a top three apple producing state — is looking at a crop of 105 million pounds, as compared to last year’s 985 million pounds; New York is forecast to have 590 million pounds, compared to last year’s 1,220 million pounds. 

Washington — usually the apple producing leader of the country — is slightly up this year, at a total of 5,700 million pounds. 

NASS surveyed orchards of 100 or more bearing-age apple trees to gets its numbers.

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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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Parker Pie plans airport expansion

 

Parker Pie will open a new branch of its restaurant in Coventry in this hangar at the airport. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle, July 5, 2012

by Joseph Gresser

COVENTRY — Newport State Airport here may see a big increase in traffic by the end of the year.  But most of the people won’t be trying to catch flights.  Instead, they’ll be after pizza, beer and music.

Cavan Meese, one of the owners of Parker Pie in West Glover, plans to open a second branch of his restaurant in a hangar at the airport.  Construction workers are readying the building for occupancy, he said in a telephone interview Monday, and will hand it over in a couple of weeks.

The state, which manages the building, has put in insulation, windows, sheet rock, fire safety improvements and a radiant slab heating system.

After that a crew will move in to build a bar and mold the space into a comfortable gathering spot.

Mr. Meese said he is not depending on air travelers or other aviation-related visitors to fill his new establishment.  Instead he said he hopes that the Coventry version of Parker Pie will attract patrons from nearby Newport, as well as Coventry, Irasburg and Orleans.

He said he would like to see the airport restaurant become a community center just as the original West Glover edition has.

Mr. Meese opened the original Parker Pie seven years ago with the idea of creating a gathering place for his community.  That idea has been far more successful than he could have imagined at the beginning of the project.

That success can be seen in a couple of expansions of the original dining space and kitchen, and the creation of Village Hall, where performances and community gatherings are held.

It can also be seen in a lack of parking space, long waits for pizzas and grumbling neighbors.

Mr. Meese said he would have liked to open the Coventry space for the summer season “to take some of the heat off Parker Pie in West Glover.”

He said it made sense to open another restaurant.  “Rather than expanding our kitchen, we’ll expand 15 miles north.  I wouldn’t mind if business in West Glover dipped off.”

The new space will have a menu that is “a mirror image” of that offered in West Glover, he said, although he did hedge a bit by suggesting that Coventry may feature some signature dishes of its own.

“We’ll be able to do bigger shows there,” Mr. Meese said.  The converted aircraft hangar that the new Parker Pie will occupy will retain its huge front door, he said.

Once a way is figured to lock the big door open so as not to endanger patrons, Mr. Meese said, “we’ll end up with a setup that will allow us to do special events there.”

The new restaurant will hold “quite a bit more people than fit in Village Hall,” he said.  But Mr. Meese joked that he doesn’t expect that any of the bands he plans to present in Coventry will rival the crowds brought in by Phish at the town’s largest-ever concert.

Opening day for the second Parker Pie hasn’t been set, but Mr. Meese said he hopes to start operations sometime this fall.

The larger space will give the restaurant an opportunity to pursue some of its long-term ambitions on a larger scale.  Mr. Meese said Parker Pie has always tried to use as much local produce in its dishes as possible.

In summer months when growers in the area have plentiful supplies of plum tomatoes and jalapeño peppers this is no problem, he said.  So far, though, the Parker Pie kitchen crew has not been able to put up enough local produce to last through the long winter.

The exception has been basil, Mr. Meese said.  Parker Pie’s chefs freeze enough pesto that every diner is served a local product at any time of year.

With a larger facility this will not only be true for the restaurant’s patrons, but Parker Pie will also be able to offer canned marinara and barbeque sauces as well as salsa for sale.  Plans also call for freezing pizzas for home baking.

Mr. Meese said he is looking forward to working with local growers to supply Parker Pie’s increased demand for tomatoes and other produce.  One of those could be a near neighbor, if Pete’s Greens realizes a plan to build large greenhouses on nearby land owned by New England Waste Services.

That project calls for the growing area to be warmed with waste heat from a power plant owned by Washington Electric Cooperative that burns methane gas produced by the landfill to run generators.

Mr. Meese said it would be fitting if that connection were made, because he heard that the project was originally conceived at Parker Pie.

The location of the new restaurant could be made more valuable if development plans for the state airport come to fruition.

In January Guy Rouelle, Aviation Program Administrator for the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans), outlined plans for the airport.  At that time Mr. Rouelle hinted at Parker Pie’s plans, without naming them.

He also said that a company is in negotiations to build a 50,000-square-foot plant to manufacture airplane parts and aircraft out of composite materials.

Mr. Rouelle said composite materials, such as carbon fiber, are both lighter and stronger than aluminum and titanium, which are currently used in aircraft construction.

According to Patricia Sears, director of Newport City Renaissance Corporation (NCRC), discussions are still proceeding with the aircraft manufacturer who, she said, is not yet willing to be identified.

Mr. Meese said he now has a connection to NCRC, having been appointed the chairman of the organization’s transportation committee.  He said this position will give him an opportunity to push ideas he has had about transportation options for the Northeast Kingdom.

These, he said, include reestablishing passenger train service between Newport and White River Junction.  Mr. Meese said he would like to see early and late runs between the two towns every day, with stops in Lyndonville, St. Johnsbury, Wells River and Bradford.

He hopes to see round-trip midday runs between Newport and St. Johnsbury for shoppers, workers and people seeking medical treatment.

Mr. Meese said he also expects to see an increase in air traffic in the area.

He said he has other plans to improve the way taxi, shipping and delivery services work in the area.  These may, he said, eventually involve home delivery of Parker’s pies.

“It’s the kind of innovation we need more of in the Northeast Kingdom.  We have to think out of the box.”

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

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Mammoth Greensboro cheese case helps Cabot and others

by Joseph Gresser
copyright May 17, 2006
GREENSBORO — The latest thing in getting Vermont milk to market turns out to be one of the farmer’s oldest tricks.  Cheese.
Mateo and Andy Kehler, brothers and the proprietors of Jasper Hill Farm, plan to prosper regardless of the price of milk, and they mean to help other dairy farmers do the same.
Three years ago the Kehlers began assembling a herd of Ayrshires and building facilities large enough to make and age the maximum amount of cheese their farm would support.
Already their cheeses have won major awards and gained favor at some of New York City’s most prestigious restaurants.
Now the brothers are teaming up with Vermont’s largest cheese makers to create a mammoth cheese cave that will allow others to concentrate on producing milk and starting cheeses while relieving them having to cure, market and ship their product.  All will benefit from the economies of scale, Mateo Kehler said Saturday.
He took out a roll of plans showing what looked like a seven fingered hand.  Each of the fingers, upon closer inspection, will be a 60-foot-long cheese vault.  Each of the 12-foot-high arched chambers will be between 20 and 30 feet wide.
A central refrigeration system will create seven different environments each designed to favor production of a particular type of cheese.
The vaults are to be built into the side of a hill on the 225-acre farm.  The above-ground portion of the facility will house a packing and shipping area as well as a shop, Mr. Kehler said.
The key to the ambitious plan is the interest that other Vermont producers have shown in the project.
Already Cabot Creamery has begun working with Mr. Kehler to produce a cloth wrapped cheddar.  The cheese is make from the milk of a single herd of cows, that of George Kempton of Peacham.
The cheese is started on the Peacham farm and after two days wheels are brought for aging to Jasper Hill Farm.
There they are coated with lard and then a cheesecloth binding.  The Kehlers will watch and turn the cheese for the ten months it is aged.
The first wheels of the naturally rinded cheese will soon be heading off to Provision, a firm that distributes cheese in New York State and New England.
Mr. Kehler said that Cabot will occupy two vaults in the new cave.  Without their help, he said, Jasper Hill could not manage the large-scale project.
Two other cheddar makers, the Grafton Cheese Company and Shelburne Farms, are considering using the Kehlers’ aging facilities.  Mr. Kehler pointed out test wheels from each of the companies in his present underground aging area.
Another local cheese maker, Neal Urie of Bonnieview Farm, has contracted with Jasper Hill Farm to cure his Ben Nevis, a hard cheese, and Mossend blue cheese.  Bonnieview Feta is cured in brine, Mr. Kehler said, and Mr. Urie will continue to keep it in a refrigerated unit on his South Albany farm.
“What he really likes to do is take care of his sheep,” Mr. Kehler said of Mr. Urie.  The new arrangement, he said, will allow Mr. Urie to concentrate on producing milk.
Milk is the name of the game, according to Mr. Kehler, who says that Jasper Hill Farms’ cheeses are a way of featuring their milk.
“Your cheese can’t be any better than your milk,” he said.
Mr. Kehler proudly displays a plaque from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture honoring Jasper Hill Farm for the best standard plate count for 2005.
“We’re not efficient producers,” he says.  “We’re going the extra mile to produce the cleanest highest quality milk we can.”
Raw milk from the Kehlers’ cows is currently featured in four different cheeses, Constant Bliss, a soft cheese covered in a white rind, Winnemere, a cheese with a rind washed in beer brewed using the natural yeasts found in the cheese aging cellar and bound with the cambium layer of spruce bark, Bayley Hazen Blue, and Bartlett Blue which has less blue mold than the Bayley Hazen.
Mr. Kehler said that his blue cheeses have a less pronounced flavor of blue mold than do Danish blue or Roquefort.  He described the very strong Spanish blue cheese, Cabrales, as “mugger’s cheese.”
“It whacks you upside the head,” Mr. Kehler said, “and you look down and your wallet’s gone.”
Tyler Hawes, cheese buyer for the Artisanal Cheese Center of New York City, is effusive in praise of Jasper Hill’s cheeses.
Mr. Kehler, he said, makes wonderful cheeses, and is also good at creating a story to go with his products.  The cheese’s names, for instance, are both evocative and rooted in Greensboro tradition.
For instance, Jasper Hill Farm doesn’t take its name from a geographical feature.  It is named for Mr. Jasper Hill, the former owner of the land.
Both Mr. Hawes and Mr. Kehler said there is more demand than supply of Jasper Hill cheeses, but there are no plans to increase the amount produced.
At present, Mr. Kehler said, he and his brother are milking 32 cows with another ten who will calve out in June.  They are producing about 1,650 pounds of milk a day.
Mr. Kehler has to calculate a bit before giving the amount of milk in pounds.  The farm, he says operates on the metric system.  A liter of milk, he says, weighs a kilogram.  With ten liters of milk needed to make a kilo of cheese figuring production totals, he said, is just a matter of moving a decimal point.
Jasper Hill Farm’s herd, Mr. Kehler said, is a closed herd.  They will raise their own replacement heifers.  It is a young herd, too, he added, noting that the farm’s first 15 cows are now in their third lactation.
Mr. Kehler hopes to help other farmers to follow his lead which, he said, can result in farmers receiving three times as much money for cows’ milk and twice as much for sheep and goat milk.
When his new caves are finished he wants to gradually bring new farmers into the fold of artisan cheese makers.
While the idea of being a cheese finisher is novel in the United States, Mr. Kehler said France calls members of the profession affineurs.
Mr. Kehler said cheeses finished in his vaults will be co-branded.  The Cabot cheese, for example, will be called Cabot Cloth Bound Cheddar from the cellars of Jasper Hill Farm.
The Kehlers’ interest in spreading the benefits of their business goes beyond farmers.  An East Hardwick woodworker was the first beneficiary when he was commissioned to make small wooden crates for shipping Jasper Hill cheeses.
He now makes up to 130 of the elegant containers a week, and other cheese producers have engaged his services.
By the end of the summer Mr. Kehler expects to have eight full-time employees and the new cave and shipping facility will create jobs for eight more, he said.
Despite following Vermont tradition in making farmstead cheeses, Mr. Kehler feels the state has been less than appreciative of his efforts.
Last year he battled to get a law enacted making clear that for tax purposes Jasper Hill Farm is a farm and not an industrial plant.  Before that judgments about eligibility for the current use program were made by the tax department.
Officials there decided that the Kehlers’ cheese making activities negated their farming and judged them ineligible for the property tax subsidy.
With the help of State Senator Robert Starr, Mr. Kehler said, the law was clarified to cover operations such as Jasper Hill Farm.  The Agency of Agriculture, he said, fought Senator Starr’s efforts all the way.
Mr. Kehler said he is offended by what he said is the state’s “get big or get out attitude.”
He lamented Vermont’s inability to see that farmers like the Kehlers contribute to the image the state wants to create.
Mr. Kehler listed articles in GQ and The New York Times as well as appearances on the Today Show and CNN.
“We create a portrait of Vermont that’s irresistible just as a byproduct,” he said.
One byproduct of the Kehlers’ success is the difficulty in finding their cheeses locally.  Mr. Kehler said that the brothers try to keep Willey’s Store supplied at a lower price, but with other customers calling for their products it is difficult.
There is a bright spot on the horizon.  By adding employees this summer, the brothers will be able to send someone up to Craftsbury Common every Saturday this summer to sell cheese at the farmers’ market.
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