Circus Smirkus opens season with Oz theme

Jenny Ritchie, the Circus Smirkus rope coach, looks up at a pair of aerial performers.  At this rehearsal, her main focus was on the three troupers lying on their backs.  They had the job of spinning the ropes to which the acrobats clung.  Performers in the show often assist their fellows in this tightly knit company.  Photos by Joseph Gresser

Jenny Ritchie, the Circus Smirkus rope coach, looks up at a pair of aerial performers. At this rehearsal, her main focus was on the three troupers lying on their backs. They had the job of spinning the ropes to which the acrobats clung. Performers in the show often assist their fellows in this tightly knit company. Photos by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

GREENSBORO — A crowd of Circus Smirkus troupers moved around the ring here at choreographer Matt Williams’ instruction early Friday morning.  Dressed in rehearsal clothes, the performers looked much younger than they do in their flashy show outfits.  That is, they look their age, which is, for the vast majority of the 27 youngsters, between 15 and 17.

It was toward the end of the second of three weeks, and they and a crew of directors, coaches and technicians had to put together a show they will perform 69 times during a seven-week tour.

Two thirds of the way into the rehearsal period, there was no show.

There was no lack of skilled performers and carefully honed routines, but Circus Smirkus is more than a collection of acts.  The company has, over the course of 25 seasons, earned a reputation for presenting ensemble shows built around a central theme.

This year the theme is Oz Incorporated, a slightly jaundiced take on the world created by L. Frank Baum in a series of children’s books.  Ringmaster Troy Wunderle plays a cross between a bumbling wizard and a spaced-out tycoon.

Right now, though, Jesse Dryden, the company’s creative director, is working with Mr. Williams to get troupers properly arranged in the ring for the charivari.  That’s the opening act of the circus, in which the entire cast parades through the ring, performing feats of balance or acrobatics in rapid succession.

In this year’s circus the charivari also sets the stage for the story of Oz, the string on which all the separate acts are strung like beads.

Dorothy, the little girl from Kansas is to make her appearance from above, circling on a rope swing.

The choreography is complicated and needs to be performed energetically to sweep the audience into the show.  At this stage the main issue is getting performers to their assigned places in the available time.

In actual performance there will be music, but now the performers are moving to counts shouted out by Mr. Williams.

Mr. Dryden watches closely as the performers walk around the ring.  Some aren’t hitting their marks in time.  The question is whether they aren’t moving fast enough or if the distance is too much for them to travel.

Speed is the answer, and the portion of the dance is redone until everyone is getting to his or her place.

Mr. Dryden, who was in the same class at the Ringling Clown College as Mr. Wunderle, has the overall responsibility for getting the show ready to go on the road.  Once it’s finished he will hand the keys to Mr. Wunderle, who will be responsible for the show during the tour.

This year Mr. Dryden is struggling a bit.  The show isn’t jelling as he might expect it to.  The problem, he says during a break, is that a lot of the most experienced troupers graduated from the company last year — the company’s age limit is 18 — and the group of leaders isn’t as big as it usually is.

In fact, he says, the two youngest troupers are the most experienced.  These are Emily and Ariana Wunderle, the ringmaster’s daughters.  Despite years of performing, Ariana, nine, is technically a “trouper in training,” but 12-year-old Emily is a full member of the company.

For some years, Ariana mostly worked in acts with her father, but this year she is all over the show.

Mr. Wunderle says the fact that his children work with him in the ring and his wife, Sara, is part of the front office crew is one of the delights of his job.

In the ring, the troupers repeat the dance and get the feel of the space.

Acrobats just mark their stunts, running into the ring and wriggling slightly to indicate the place where a flip would start and dash off to the side to make way for the next performer’s move.

Cuban coach Emilio D. Sobrino Sensiales instructs 13 Circus Smirkus troupers as they form a giant, spinning pyramid.

Cuban coach Emilio D. Sobrino Sensiales instructs 13 Circus Smirkus troupers as they form a giant, spinning pyramid.

Similarly, the balancing acts, including a human pyramid, are indicated by the performers moving from the starting to the concluding position.  After an hour of this work the group divides.

A trio of flyers rehearse on the ropes in the circus tent, while a gaggle of troupers head over to another tent to practice spacing for their trapeze act.  An upstairs room in the circus barn is the destination for some clowns who need to polish their routines.

In the sunshine of what will turn out to be the last sunny day in June, tractors are thrumming in a nearby field as farmers work to get their hay in.  In a tent with its sides rolled up for ventilation, performers are running elaborate patterns on a gym mat.

They are putting together a chase scene in which the Wicked Witch of the West and her minions pursue Dorothy and the Scarecrow on a trampoline.  The equipment can’t be used until the rope rehearsal is done, so the trampoline crew is reduced to marking the act.

Over in the circus barn Sarah Tiffin, a third-year trouper with a strong clown personality, is working on her part of a duo act.  As Glinda the Good, she is to battle Sam Gurwitt, who plays the evil witch.

Ms. Tiffin goes through her paces under the watchful eye of clown coach Jay Stewart, while both wait for Mr. Gurwitt, who is off with the trampolinists.

Brin Schoellkopf hovers above the tight wire.

Brin Schoellkopf hovers above the tight wire.

When he shows up the pair mug as they fire bolts of magic power at each other.  The idea of the sketch involves a magic reversal that reveals itself when Mr. Gurwitt cracks his knuckles and hurts Ms. Tiffin’s hands.

This causes a comic escalation as Ms. Tiffin stamps on her foot and Mr. Gurwitt hops in agony; he holds his breath until she passes out.

Another exchange of magic causes the situation to return to normal without Mr. Gurwitt realizing it.  There the act has come to a standstill.

Something has to happen to Mr. Gurwitt to knock him out, but the clowns and Mr. Stewart are having a hard time figuring out what it should be.

The idea of something big and heavy falling from the sky on his noggin is proposed, but there is no way to hide anything of size from the audience.  Ms. Tiffin suggests that Mr. Gurwitt ask another clown, Chase Culp, who is known in the troupe as Mongo, to hit him on the head with a club.  Rather than hurting Glinda, the result would be a knockout of the Wicked Witch.

There is no resolution of the problem when the rehearsal breaks up.

Six days later, on Wednesday, June 26, the troupers are back in the ring working on the charivari.  It’s damp and cool, so Mr. Dryden warns the acrobats to hold off their tumbling to avoid injury.

The troupers go into the opening dance, but for the first time they are working to the music that will be in the show, not just Mr. Williams’ counts.

At one point in the routine, the dancers make sharp typewriting gestures, then swivel into the movement of pulling a lever.  The music includes mechanical sound effects that mimic the movements.

“I saw you smiling,” Mr. Dryden says, “now you know how the music fits.”

He is bubbling with energy, despite almost three weeks of sleep deprivation.  The energy will be needed, because the rehearsal is going to be slow with frequent stops for lighting designer Anthony Powers to create cues.

Mr. Dryden grabs a microphone and does the Smirkus version of stand-up comedy.

“That was very wonderful,” he says after a portion of the charivari has gone well. “I’m sure that somewhere, someone loves you.”

Today, the pyramids are tried out, including one three-level extravaganza made up of 13 troupers in a formation that stretches from one side of the ring to the other.

Slowly, the pyramid rotates around the ring as coach Emilio D. Sobrino Sensiales watches.

Mr. Sensiales is one of three Cuban coaches who are with Circus Smirkus this year.  Mr. Wunderle said he and Mr. Dryden traveled to Cuba during the off season and worked with performers at a national circus school there.

The exchange is one result of that trip.

Two days later, Mr. Dryden is still working on the charivari.  A dress rehearsal has been put off, despite the fact that the show’s first performance is only a day away.

“If this is what it’s going to look like, we need another week of rehearsal,” Mr. Dryden tells the cast.  “Don’t think the audience is going to give us all this energy.  You give the energy, so the audience is blown away.”

The wear and tear on the troupers is showing a bit.  Mr. Sensiales is running a kind of ringside clinic, bandaging one performer, showing another a strengthening exercise.  Surrounding him is the pungent scent of Tiger Balm, a strong Chinese liniment.

Dorothy (Alyson Mattei), looks sympathetic as the Cowardly Lion (Chase Culp) showers a delighted crowd of children with tears.

Dorothy (Alyson Mattei), looks sympathetic as the Cowardly Lion (Chase Culp) showers a delighted crowd of children with tears.

Mr. Wunderle has a crew working on carrying him in and out of the ring.  He is up on stilts with a large animated face strapped to his back, but he can’t enter the tent standing upright.

He is borne into the tent on the backs of six or seven cast members and set up on his feet with his back facing the audience.  The huge face is that of Oz, the Great and Powerful, but the audience will be let in on the trick when Mr. Wunderle turns around.

Mr. Wunderle has crafted the mask himself, a reminder of his days as an art student.  In conversation, the ringmaster explains that he found the circus while in art school in Baltimore.

As an example of an advertising brochure, one of his classes was shown a flyer from the Ringling Clown College.

The year he attended, Smirkus founder Rob Mermin was co-directing the college and Mr. Wunderle discovered he could pursue his passion in Vermont, his native state.

Today, in addition to running the Circus Smirkus show, Mr. Wunderle is director of clowning for Ringling Brothers.

The Greensboro circus lot is soggy on Friday and a small bucket loader is spreading woodchips to keep patrons’ feet dry.

By Saturday afternoon, the time for the first show, the weather hasn’t improved and cars pulling in to park in a nearby field squeegee torrents of water from the earth with their tires.

It isn’t raining, though, and the crowds are lined up waiting to get into the tent for the first show of this year’s tour.  The aroma of popcorn wafts out of the concession tent and the candy butchers are doing good business.

Many of those waiting wear a plastic card with their name on it hanging from a lanyard around their neck.  These are troupers’ parents.

One, whose card says Greg, announces that he is from the Upper Valley.  Rumor has it that his son has been cast as the Scarecrow, he says.

When the tent is packed full, the crowd begins to clap slowly as if to bring forth the show.  Sure enough, Mr. Wunderle strides into the ring in his wizard regalia and they’re off.

The charivari goes smoothly and the audience oohs and aahs, especially at the spinning pyramid.  Dorothy comes down from the sky, dons her ruby slippers and sets out.

The audience is with the players, but the performance isn’t pinning them to their seats, yet.

A few acts draw strong reaction, including the duel between Glinda and the Wicked Witch.  They’ve added a bit of business in which Ms. Tiffin does a split and Mr. Gurwitt reacts by clutching his groin, bending in his knees and letting forth a long, high screech.  This brings down the house.

Mongo isn’t available to slug Mr. Gurwitt — he’s engaged playing the Cowardly Lion — but Alyssa Kim, as the head flying monkey arrives at the end of the battle.

She punches Mr. Gurwitt and flings his unconscious form over her shoulder and carries him out of the ring.

The trampoline act is properly frenetic, but at intermission the show still has the feel of a collection of disparate acts.

Something has happened when the show starts back up.  Maybe, Mr. Dryden has given a half-time pep talk, or maybe the troupers have realized the show’s possibilities for the first time.

At any rate, the energy level is much higher when they return for the second half of the show.

The acts race by and the audience reacts to the story more strongly.  By the time the Wicked Witch has been dispatched with a bucket of water and Dorothy has flown back to Kansas, swinging high above the ring, the audience is fully with the performers.

The final dance finds the crowd applauding and cheering from beginning to end.

Asked afterward when he knew he had a show, Mr. Dryden replies, “By the middle of the second half.”  He is, perhaps, a little ungenerous.

From here, Mr. Dryden turns over the vehicle he has created to Mr. Wunderle.

He will have the entire tour to polish the show, rearranging acts, if need be, or even cutting those that don’t work.

Mr. Wunderle says it’s important for the show to breathe.  While in the ring, he says, he can tell how things are going by listening to the crowd.

While out of the audience’s view, he watches from one of the three entrances.

By the time the troupe returns to Greensboro for its final performances on August 17, Oz Incorporated will be a finely tuned machine roaring through the ring.

And then the company will be gone, its performers scattered to high schools around the country, while Mr. Dryden and Mr. Wunderle dream up ways to top themselves in next year’s show.

contact Joseph Gresser at [email protected]

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.


In Greensboro: Cow power produced from a medium-size herd

Peter Gebbie checks the readings on his new methane generator. Although he admits to being slow with computers, his wife, Sandra, said Mr. Gebbie turns out to be very good with the high-tech system. Photos by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle July 25, 2012

by Joseph Gresser

GREENSBORO — On Sunday morning Peter Gebbie had finished milking.  The truck from the St. Albans co-op was loading and his hands were moving out to get the second cut of hay in.

But there was more for him to do.  He and his wife, Sandra, headed toward a new building behind one of his barns.  A sign on the door wisely warned against entering without hearing protection.  Inside an engine roared.

Mr. Gebbie grabbed a clipboard and walked around the room checking readouts at various points along a complicated series of pipes.

He looked pleased at the results.  “Eighty kilowatts,” he said.  When they first started the generator about two weeks ago, it produced only 20 kilowatts.

When it is running at full speed the methane generator will produce 150 kilowatts of power.

Switching the generator on was the culmination of a process that began in Newport a little more than five years ago at a meeting sponsored by the state Agency of Agriculture.  That meeting at the East Side Restaurant brought together dairy farmers who were interested in the process of turning manure and other organic matter into methane and eventually electricity.

At the time the Gebbies were milking 200 cows at Maplehurst Farm.  The farmers who were getting into the electricity business had herds ten times the size of his.

On Sunday, Mr. Gebbie recalled that when he first started calling firms that design and install methane digesters he was turned away.

“The guys who sold digesters laughed at you,” he said, “unless you were at least a 1,000-cow farm.”

Mr. Gebbie persisted and eventually his calls started getting returned.  He said that it seemed to him that the digester builders had worked their way through the big farmers and were ready to deal with someone his size.

While they were investigating the possibility of building a methane digester, the Gebbies doubled the size of their herd to 400 cows.

They were fortunate in having long before set up their barns with slatted floors through which the cows tread their manure and bedding.  Gravity was enough to move this fuel into the digester, a round tank with a flexible cover.

Manure will produce methane with or without special equipment, but left to nature the volatile hydrocarbon will go into the atmosphere where it is a potent greenhouse gas.

Mr. Gebbie said he has heard it has a 24 to 25 times greater effect than carbon dioxide.

The Gebbies knew that things were going well when they saw the cover on the digester begin to balloon upwards.  That indicated that gas was beginning to build up a head of pressure.

From the digester the gas goes into a scrubber which removes impurities to protect the engine of the generator.  Mr. Gebbie said he is lucky because the gas produced by his manure is low in sulfur.

From the scrubber the gas goes to the generator or, if for some reason the generator is down for a while, through an upright pipe which is set up to burn extra gas to keep it from going into the atmosphere.

Once the manure is run through the digester, it could be spread on fields.  The Gebbies have chosen to separate the liquids from the solids, spread the former and use the latter as bedding.

Levels need to be checked throughout the system. Peter Gebbie stands in front of the tank that cleans the methane before it is fed into the generator.

Sawmills used to give away sawdust, Mr. Gebbie noted.  Today they use everything, and the price of bedding is a major cost of doing business.  By producing his own bedding, Mr. Gebbie said, he can save as much as $20,000 a year.

Studies show the bedding produced by digesters reduces the incidence of mastitis and results in a lower somatic cell count, an indicator of a healthy cow, Mr. Gebbie said.

Of course, electricity is the main product of the system.  The Gebbies have a contract to supply 150 kilowatts of power to the Hardwick Electric Company through the state’s Sustainably Priced Energy Enterprise Development (SPEED) program.

They are guaranteed a price of 14 cents a kilowatt-hour, well above the current market price of four cents.  In addition they can sell Renewable Energy Credits (REC) through the Cow Power program started by Central Vermont Public Service and now under the auspices of Green Mountain Power.

Mr. Gebbie said the REC credits bring in an additional three to four cents a kilowatt-hour, less a small brokerage fee.

The system cannot operate at full capacity with only the manure produced on his farm, Mr. Gebbie said.  To get to the full 150 kilowatts, he will need to find an outside source of carbon.

Typically that means a liquid such as whey, he said.

The 150-kilowatt limit is convenient in one regard.  Power from the system can be moved on a simple single-phase line, the sort that typically serves a home.

Large scale generators on the farms in Franklin and Addison counties may generate more than a megawatt of power and require a very expensive three-phase service to move electricity off the farm.

In addition to power and bedding, the generator can also provide heat for the Gebbies’ home and milking parlor, and hot water, Mr. Gebbie said.  The potential savings could be as great as those from the bedding, but they will require substantial investment in underground pipes, he added.

The digester cost “$1.5-million and climbing,” Mr. Gebbie said.  Grants from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Department of Energy and the state Department of Public Service’s Clean Energy Development Fund helped pay between half and three-quarters of the cost, he added.

“Most people would like to see things paid in five years,” Mr. Gebbie said.

contact Joseph Gresser at [email protected]

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


Circus Smirkus season opens July 1

Circus Smirkus opens its season at the headquarters in Greensboro on July 1, with two shows, at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.

This year’s theme is “Topsy Turvy Time Travel:  A Blast from the Past & Fun from the Future.”  The troop is taking a trip though the ages, as performers — ages 11 to 18 — work intensely with coaches to bring the theme to life on trapeze, wire, fabric, trampoline and cradle, and with clowning, acrobatics, juggling, unicycling and more. Circus Smirkus has two directors (creative and artistic), a costume designer, a choreographer, a composer, counselors, tent crew, cooks, sound and lighting technicians, equipment riggers, concessionaires and more.

Circus Smirkus is celebrating its silver anniversary with a new book, “Circus Smirkus:  25 Years of Running Home to the Circus,” by founder Rob Mermin and journalist Rob Gurwitt.  Solar panels have been added at the Greensboro headquarters, along with improvements to lighting, concessions and recycling. The circus is launching a Capital CAMPaign to match a $1-million donation for us to build its ownb Smirkus Camp facility (details soon).

After the first shows in Greensboro, the circus packs it all up and takes it on the road.  It takes eight hours to set up the 750-seat big top, backstage and concession tents, and organize 200 costume pieces, 100 props, 70 spotlights and a mile of electrical cable.  Then the troop is ready to welcome its summer audience of 50,000 fans!

Over on the campus of Lyndon Institute in Lyndon Center, Circus Smirkus Camp already welcomed its first campers last week, with a new, one-day Intro to Smirkus session.  Smirkling Camp is starting as six-to-nine year-olds arrive for their first overnight circus adventure.

For more information or to order tickets, see:


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.

Greensboro brewer has big dreams

by Joseph Gresser
copyright the Chronicle, May 19, 2010
GREENSBORO — Shaun Hill says he feels a sense of responsibility, both to the ancestors who first farmed his family’s plot of land in the 1780s, and to the god of beer.  He hopes to live up to both his family and his muse by producing fine beers.  In the process, he also hopes to make a living for himself and to make beer lovers happy.
“If I can honor the muse, certainly the general public will approve,” Mr. Hill said.
Although he is only in his early thirties, Mr. Hill has already backed his ambition up with accolades worthy of a much older person.
At this year’s biennial World Beer Cup in Chicago, judges tasted 3,330 beers from 642 breweries made in 90 styles.  They recognized Mr. Hill with two gold awards and one silver.
He received one gold award for a barley wine style ale and one for an American style imperial stout.  An American style sour ale that Mr. Hill crafted won a silver award in its class.
Mr. Hill created all three beers during the two years he spent working as brew master at a microbrewery in Copenhagen, Denmark.
In his small garage, a collection of kettles, fermenters, and casks makes up the production facilities of Hill Farmstead Brewery.  Near the front of the single room, a small area is set aside as the retail space, where on weekday and Saturday afternoons, Mr. Hill sells growlers of his beer, T-shirts, and beer glasses with the brewery’s logo.
That logo, like the farm, has some serious history behind it.  Mr. Hill said he took the wine glass that forms part of the design from a tavern sign that Lewis Hill had in his house.  The sign and tavern belonged to Aaron Hill, the brewer’s great-great-great-great-great-grandfather in the 1840s.
In recent conversations, Mr. Hill said that his brewery is the realization of a decade-old dream.  He said his first experience making beer was while he was a student at Hazen Union High School in Hardwick.  He said he did a demonstration of brewing for a science project.
While in college, he studied philosophy and pursued his interest in the brewer’s art.  The self-trained beermaker found work after graduation as brew master for the Shed in Stowe.  After two years there, he spent a year overseeing the brewing at Trout River in Lyndonville.
Those experiences provided him with the connections to find work at Nørrebro Bryghus, a microbrewery and restaurant where he created his prize-winning brews.
The awards raised the expectations of serious beer lovers, Mr. Hill said.  But he’s probably the most unforgiving consumer of his own product.  He said that in his early days as a homebrewer the idea that he had produced beer was a thrill to him and the friends he shared it with.  Nowadays he can’t allow himself to listen to people who praise a product that fails to live up to his standards.
To add to his self-generated pressure, Mr. Hill has chosen to name his brews after his forebears.  His India Pale Ale (IPA) is named Edward in honor of his grandfather, who farmed the land where the brewery stands, as did his father, Abner, for whom an Imperial IPA is named.
That ale has an 8.2 percent alcohol content and measures 170 International Bitterness Units (IBU), an indication of the quantity of hops used in brewing.  While one might suppose this would indicate an undrinkably bitter beer, the reality is very different.
That’s because Mr. Hill aims to produce beers with a harmonious balance of flavors, in which none overpower the others.
“I want to produce beers that are more like wines, only without the tannins,” he said.  Despite the high alcohol content of his Abner ale, Mr. Hill said he prefers to craft beers that are less alcoholic.
“I personally don’t like to get drunk,” he said.  He said he prefers beer to act as a “social lubricant,” stimulating evenings of conversation between friends.
Right now, Hill Farmstead Brewery can produce up to 400 gallons of beer a week, he said.  Although that may seem like a sizeable amount of beer, it’s not enough to satisfy the demand, Mr. Hill said.  So far, every drop he can produce is spoken for, he said.
 He said that people who want to try his beer can occasionally find it at Parker Pie in West Glover, Claire’s Restaurant in Hardwick, the Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier or American Flatbread
in Burlington.  Otherwise, people will have to make a pilgrimage to the source out on the Hill Road in Greensboro.
The curious will have an extra incentive to visit the brewery on Saturday, May 29, for Mr. Hill’s grand opening celebration.  Although he isn’t giving away free beer, he will have his creations on tap, as well as food catered by Parker Pie.
In addition, drummer P.J. Davidian and keyboard player Parker Shper will be on hand with two of their friends to provide music for the occasion.
Now that his brewery is up and running with help from his family, Mr. Hill said he hopes to move into the black soon.  “I think I can start paying myself a salary by September,” he said.
He said his future plans do not call for his brewery to conquer the world.  He hopes one day to expand his capacity to four times its present size in a new brewery he’d like to build on the site where his family’s barn once stood.
Mr. Hill said he plans to adhere to a business model that he considers truly sustainable.  He has another ambition, too.
“My goal is to make the best beer in the world,” he said.