Non-stop rain taking its toll on farmers

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copyright the Chronicle July 19, 201

 

by Tena Starr

 

Farmers, who have been accused of complaining about the weather even more than most Vermonters, have good reason this year.

It’s rained, and it’s rained some more, making it nearly impossible to get in dry hay. Plus it’s often been on the chilly side. And in few places did corn reach the hoped for knee high by the Fourth of July stage.

It’s no one’s imagination that it’s been raining a lot, but since that rain has frequently come in the form of showers rather than a uniform, steady rainfall, some places have fared a little better than others.

At the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury, it rained 18 out of 31 days in May; 18 out of 30 days in June; and half of the first 16 days in July.

At meteorologist Steve Maleski’s weather station in Sutton, measurable rain was recorded 21 out of 31 days in May, including nine out of the first ten days; 20 out of 30 days in June, including six consecutive days to start the month, and 11 out of 12 days between June 19 and June 30. It rained nine out of the first 16 days of July.

The Chronicle’s recent weather records, which are from Brownington, say that between June 13 and July 17 it rained 23 out of 35 days.

Gary Lyman of West Glover said this is his forty-third year farming, and he’s “never been through anything like this year. It’s wicked tough.”

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Justice Deptartment asked to look at legality of Act 46

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copyright the Chronicle July 19, 2017

 

by Tena Starr

 

Two former school board members from Franklin County have asked the federal Department of Justice to investigate the legality of Act 46, the Vermont law that requires school districts to consolidate.

Jay Denault and James Jewitt have filed a complaint saying it’s their belief that Act 46 violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as well as two other sections of federal law that prohibit intimidation, threatening, or coercion of voters.

Essentially, they assert, the law contains what amounts to both bribes and threats aimed at pushing people toward voting how the state wants them to vote.

“…said legislation contains descriptions of coercion and multiple, significant financial rewards, being provided in exchange for an affirmative vote by the electorate to implement the requirements of Act 46,” the complaint says. “Further, this legislation contains specific language which details threats and intimidation of the electorate for failing to comply with the requirements of Act 46. Such threats include, but are not limited to, the authority provided by Act 46 to the Vermont State Department of Education to force compliance with the requirement of Act 46 against the will of the people.”

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Peggy Day Gibson steps aside at the Old Stone House Museum

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copyright the Chronicle July 12, 201

 

by Tena Starr

 

BROWNINGTON — For the past ten years or so Peggy Day Gibson has turned her capable and enthusiastic hand to transforming the picturesque Brownington neighborhood that’s home to the Old Stone Museum into vibrant history, as well as a destination.

She leaves the job of museum director in October and hopes her replacement has the vision to follow the museum’s recent trajectory. Brownington’s historic district is a remarkable place, she said, a repository of a region’s history and stories with old buildings as well as vast collections that chronicle a time, a place, a way of doing things, and the lives of people who knew how to do those things.

Ms. Gibson hopes that whoever follows her will see that the historic district is a place so special that it’s poised to earn its own income through bus tours, events, and facility rentals. It has all the potential to become a destination spot, she said.

Under Ms. Gibson’s tenure, the property, owned by the Orleans County Historical Society, has expanded. It includes seven historic buildings; some new buildings, meant to replicate some old ones; as well as additions. The neighborhood, Ms. Gibson said in an interview last week, is currently pretty much what it was in the 1830s when Alexander Twilight was principal of the Orleans County Grammar School, which returned to its original location, hauled there by 23 teams of oxen, last summer.

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Maple production nears historic levels

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copyright the Chronicle June 28, 201

 

by Tena Starr

 

Although maple sugaring in Vermont has grown at a startling rate in the past decade, it still hasn’t reached pre1935 levels, at least in terms of the number of trees tapped.

That’s according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (UDSA), which last week released its annual statistic on maple syrup production. This year, 5.4 million Vermont trees were tapped, the USDA said. Before 1935, though, between 5.5 and 6 million trees were tapped on a regular basis.

The USDA also said that Vermont’s 2017 maple syrup production totaled 1.98 million gallons, which was the second highest production on record. That’s up 12 percent from 2016 “and the largest number of taps since 1935,” according to USDA statistics.

Sugaring’s dramatic growth is due, in part, to the fact that it also fell dramatically. The number of trees tapped dipped to around 1.5 million in the 1960s, according to the USDA. In 2003, it climbed to 2.12 million. Growth has been pretty steady since 2007 except for a sharp dip in 2011.

“There used to be a lot more agriculture in the state,” said Tim Perkins, director of the Proctor Maple Research Center in Underhill. “Back at that time, people didn’t do much of anything else.”

In early spring, farmers could either cut firewood or make syrup, he said. Syrup was a cash crop, and almost every dairy farm had a sugarbush that farmers made good use of.

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Dollar General penalized for scanner violations

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copyright the Chronicle June 21, 201

 

by Tena Starr

 

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture has penalized Dollar General in the amount of more than $210,000 for 47 separate price scanner violations since 2013, including $24,000 in penalties this year.

“Agency inspectors have observed repeated pricing inaccuracies, which could shortchange customers, such as discrepancies between the posted shelf price and the price charged at the register,” an Agency of Agriculture press release says.

The Agriculture Agency’s Consumer Protection Section sends out investigators who check the accuracy of weights at stores that use them. They also look for price scanner violations. For the first violation, the agency issues an official notice. If trouble persists, the agency might issue a penalty and take other action.

“The Agency of Agriculture has levied increasing monetary penalties against Dollar General over the past four years,” said Kristin Haas, head of the Agriculture Agency’s Food Safety and Consumer Protection Division.

“We feel it’s important that consumers are aware of these inaccuracies, so they can take an active role in ensuring they’re charged accurately, by checking their receipts and paying close attention in the store.”

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Pet thieves posing as “humane officers?”

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copyright the Chronicle June 21, 201

 

by Tena Starr

 

The owners of two dogs in Albany believe the animals were stolen last week by someone posing as a representative of P.E.T.S of the Kingdom, a nonprofit that checks on animal welfare.

Ronald Mason said his wife Melissa’s dog and his youngest daughter’s dog were taken from the Albany home where a relative has been caring for them. The Masons recently moved from Albany to Lyndonville and can’t keep pets there, so they left them in Albany with their nephew.

“He came home from work and the dogs were gone,” Mr. Mason said. “My nephew called P.E.T.S., and they said they didn’t take them.”

Mr. Mason said a woman had come around to the Albany home where the dogs were, saying she was doing neighborhood checks of animals and wondered if they would like to get rid of the dogs.

“We were like, no, we don’t want to get rid of them,” Mr. Mason said. “We’ve had these dogs since they were puppies. I just think it’s pretty damned bad when somebody takes something that doesn’t belong to you. Pets can be like family. I’m just plain disgusted.”

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Study examines how maple trees fare tapping

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copyright the Chronicle June 14, 2017

 

by Tena Starr

 

The Proctor Maple Research Center in Underhill has launched a first-of-its kind study. It’s looking at the long-term effects of tapping a maple tree.

Like others, Derby sugarmaker Steve Wheeler said he was astonished that concrete information about how drilling holes into a tree and sucking its sap out year after year hasn’t previously been collected.

Mr. Wheeler, who is an organic sugarmaker, said he was among those who called for the study. Organic sugarmakers as well as those whose land is in the Current Use program, are required to follow best practices for sugaring. Among other things, they want scientific, rather than anecdotal, data to support those best practices, Mr. Wheeler said.

“I’m one of the guys who has said, hey, we really need this study. The whole thing about organic is it’s about the long-term sustainability of the sugarbush.”

Research assistant professor Abby van den Berg at the Proctor Center said the study will last ten years. The goal is to collect empirical data on what effect tapping and collecting sap has on the health and growth of maples.

The fact that no one has ever studied that rather big subject is, in part, because “we have been doing this for a hundred plus years over and over again, and the trees are still healthy and thriving,” said Ms. van den Berg about sugaring. “That, anecdotally, gives us the answer to that question. We know we are not detrimentally impacting trees when we’re following good practices.”

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Former Candlepin has new owners

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copyright the Chronicle June 7, 2017

 

by Tena Starr

 

BARTON — The former Candlepin restaurant, long empty, has been sold to Matthew Wright and Cassy Moulton of Derby.

The couple does not currently plan to turn the property back into the full-service restaurant it was throughout most of its life.

The purchase happened rather quickly, Ms. Moulton said, and ideas are still swirling around in the new owners’ heads. For the moment, however, they know for sure that Ms. Moulton’s catering business will operate out of the former restaurant, and it’s almost guaranteed there will be an ice cream shop there, as well.

It’s a long-term project, Ms. Moulton said. The property needs maintenance, and the first stage will be to fix it up. Besides the restaurant, there’s a big house, and the barn, which, at one time, housed a popular bowling alley. That building has problems with both mold and its roof.

Ms. Moulton is operating manager at Louis Garneau, Inc., in Derby. She’s a busy woman, who also runs a catering business called For the Love of Food on weekends. She said she caters weddings, showers, and other events, including some for the Army National Guard.

But she hasn’t had a home base. For some time, she’s thought about having a place where customers might come to her for functions, as well.

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LRUHS — A very good school has a very good year

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copyright the Chronicle June 7, 2017

 

by Tena Starr

 

Lake Region Union High School Principal Andre Messier had nothing but good to say about this year’s graduating class at the school’s annual awards night last Thursday. Awards night recognizes students in all grades, but Mr. Messier focused on the seniors and the school itself, which U.S. News and World Report has once again ranked in the top ten high schools in Vermont. This year it’s eighth.

“This is my favorite night of the year,” Mr. Messier said. Students get recognition when they win in sports and other events, he noted. “But rarely do we get to focus on the academic side.”

Towards the end of the program when he handed out the Presidential Awards for Academic Excellence, he said: “This group of seniors has set the bar, the standard, for this school. Those of you who are younger have something to chase.” He added that he fully expects them to do that, of course.

Eighteen students received the Presidential Award: They are: Maria Brosseau, Hunter Cota, Rebecca Doucet, Hunter Duquette, Margo Foster, Emily Klar, Elizabeth Locke, Avery Marcotte, Ashley Morrill, Olivia Owens, Andrew Parkinson, Colton Porter, April Streeter, Katherine Whipple, Alexis Rodgers, Sam King, Zachary Hale, and Erin Smith.

Mr. Messier also noted that this is the sixth year in a row that U.S. News has recognized Lake Region for outstanding achievement.

“That’s something this community should be extremely proud of,” he said. “That’s six consecutive years that the students who have come through Lake Region have maintained this.”

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Keeping our food safe was Sutton man’s career

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copyright the Chronicle May 31, 2017

 

by Tena Starr

 

This country frets about terrorism a lot. But one of its more potentially effective, if less splashy, forms — attacking the food supply — has occurred with surprising infrequency.

Hank Parker, an agroterrorism specialist who has retired to Sutton, is among those who have played a part in that.

Mr. Parker is a scientist, and one of the things he’s spent his long and unusual career thinking about is the safety of U.S. agriculture and food. He was a fellow at the National Defense University, where he wrote a treatise on what the federal government could do to protect American agriculture and the food supply. He’s been acting director for homeland security for the U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture (USDA). And in retirement he teaches a graduate level class in agroterrorism at Georgetown University.

Before September 11, 2001, he said in a recent interview, the U.S. food system was highly vulnerable — and in many ways still is. But back then agriculture wasn’t even considered a critical infrastructure, he said.

Yes, there were people in the federal government who recognized the potential threat, but it took the September 11 attacks to improve coordination of security in general. There was also a more serious effort to make sure that Americans don’t have to worry about eating, at least not because of terrorists.

Mr. Parker’s career has not run in a straight line. He started out in biological oceanography, specializing in aquaculture. Basically, that’s fish farming. The USDA hired him as coordinator of its aquaculture program in 1992, and over time, he got involved in research programs.

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